Tara Maloney of White Dove Nurseries tackles some of our most pressing summer garden queries…
What natural/organic pest repellents can I use that won’t harm other wildlife?
One of the best natural pest treatments is Neem Oil, from the tree Azadirachta indica. Synthetic pesticides that work on contact often build up in the surrounding environment, leaving toxic residue behind that can harm and even kill pets and other animals in the area. Neem oil, on the other hand, is biodegradable and non-toxic. It’s safe for birds, pets, fish, livestock or other area wildlife when used. It’s also effective against grey moulds and rusts, fungi that can seriously affect plant health and flowering ability. With the trend of houseplants on the rise, you might notice infestations of whitefly, or sooty mould attacking your plants – often the whitefly will leave plant leaves sticky and dull, so spray the leaves with a neem oil dilution, and then gently wipe clean with a moist cloth a few days later. The plant will have taken the Neem into its system, protecting from future attacks.
For the dreaded slugs and snails, beer traps in borders and copper wire rings around the bases of plants do a great job. You can also buy copper tape that sticks around the rims of pots that deter them while leaving them slug pellet free for the birds to enjoy. In fact, have lots of bird feeders, baths and houses around to attract the best natural predator to set up home in your eco-system. Hedgehog houses and feed are a great help too – these prickly friends will eat up to 50 slugs over a day, really denting the population.
How many times a day should I water plants during dry spells?
Watering plants is always best done in the early evening. As the temperatures cool, the rate of evaporation slows, and it’s more efficient. You should aim to thoroughly water a garden full of pots and planters at least twice a week in summer. Using a hose or can, trickle water into your pots and baskets until it flows out of the base. After letting this initial water soak in, give them another soak, especially if it’s been windy or the plants are in a peat-free compost – these composts dry out a lot quicker than peat based soil mediums, so need extra attention for watering. Some species of plants like their feet wet all the time, others don’t. Of course, we might not all have evenings spare to tinker around with a can so early mornings are good too. Never water plant leaves and flowers in the daytime – the sun will scorch or burn leaves and flowers as it shines on the water droplets and damp leaves are a magnet for moulds, rusts and fungi. If you’re not able to dedicate yourself to a regular watering regime, there’s plenty of plants that thrive on a certain level of dryness – Phormiums, the silvery spikes of Astelia, as well as palms and succulents make stylish pot plants for dry locations and also alpine plants potted in terracotta pots with a gravel topping look well dotted around a patio. Topping your soil with gravel is a great way to reduce soil moisture evaporation, and looks good too.
Flower beds are best watered with the hose on a slow trickle, and left at the base of all your plants for half hour or so, as often as needed – this wets the surrounding soil throughly, and deeply. Showering the surface with a hose never gets the moisture efficiently deep enough, and only encourages plant roots to grow upwards to the surface for moisture, where naturally it is drier, creating a vicious circle of dried out plants!
Vegetable gardens need regular and consistent amounts when watering.
Peaks of moisture and troughs of dryness mean fruit, such as tomatoes, grow inconsistently, and can burst their skin before ripening. Blossom End Rot, a black patch that appears on the base of tomatoes is a result of inconsistent watering and dry plants become susceptible to moulds and pests.
Why haven’t my flowering plants flowered?
Depending upon the plant – quite a few reasons! Plant could be in the wrong place – Plants that need full sun that have been planted too deeply in shade wont flower well, if at all. The plant might not be getting enough nutrients – Potassium is what plants need to flower, so a feeding regime with a ‘straight’ fertiliser rather than a ready mixed product might be needed. Other flowers like Peonies for example – have delicate requirements – plant too shallow or too deeply and they will not flower. Some plants such as Cordylines will only flower in warmer climates. Roses are very hungry plants, and if their beds are not mulched and freshened with new compost and rotted manure every spring, they flower very meanly and with smaller blooms. So plant well, and feed through the growing season (March – September). Pots and hanging baskets need special attention as when watering, most of the soil nutrient will be washed away. Use a controlled release fertiliser tablet such as Osmocote – the tablet stays in the soil, and slowly releases a little feed every time you moisten the soil, just as the plants need it.
When can I start trimming back hedges again?
Country (field and farm) hedges can only be trimmed October to March for the protection of nesting birds and wildlife. In cities, the time to prune your hedge will depend upon the species of plant.
One of the most common hedge plants is Ligustrum or Privet. It’s semi evergreen, so during the summer it will be growing quite fast. It can be trimmed neatly into shape and is dense and lush. Most people give it the first trim of the year after it has flowered. Buxus hedge is traditionally only trimmed once a year, between The Grand National and Derby Day! Escallonia, a flowering hedge plant is best trimmed after its first flush of flower and then once again in late summer. Laurel hedge is best trimmed with secateurs two or three times a year, hedgecutting machinery rips and shreds the leaves and stems, leaving it rough and the large leaves damaged. Leyland cypress needs regular cutting with hedge trimmers to achieve the dense, dark green hedge shape – left to their own devices the will become tall and very woody at the base.
What are your tips for mixed baskets/pots?
In pots, I’d recommend growing plants that will also give you cut flowers for the house as well as colour outside. Dahlia tubers can be grown in large pots, and everyone loves their amazing flowers in arrangements – feed well and cut flowers regularly to promote blooms – you could also try Antirrhinums or Snapdragons, Cosmos daisies, Ranunculus, Zinnias and perennial plants like Verbena bonariensis, Heuchera, and Nepeta do well in pots for a year or two. For some height and movement you can’t equal grasses – from the architectural strikingly striped and upright form of Miscanthus zebrinus, to the soft and feathery graceful plumes of Miscanthus sinensis there is a grass for every pot. You might have an old sink or tub that collects water, this would make a perfect bog garden container – try the spiral grass Juncus spiralis or forms of papyrus grass, they love their feet wet! If you fancy something tropical, Bananas and Cannas will give you the large leaf jungle feel, and Colocassias, especially the black leafed form grow huge elephant ear shaped leaves in pots.
In baskets, why not go for a touch of greenery, in keeping with this year’s colour trend, and use foliage plants – Ivy can withstand most environments, even growing well indoors, and evergreen ferns and trailing Lysimachia species look lush when trailing over the sides. Use silvery Santolina or Rosemary for a scented touch. Small grasses in blues and browns Festuca gluaca and Carex Coman’s bronze are perfect or this. Use no more than three types of plants per basket for a more structured look.
Article by: Kayleigh Ziolo