British Summer time is officially here; it’s light outside until impossible o’clock, there are days in a row without rainfall (in some parts of the country at least) and the heating is now unequivocally decommissioned for several months (we hope). The air is tinged with the smoky scent of neighbouring BBQs and people are confidently emerging outside their homes in fewer, brighter clothes, turning various shades whilst sunbathing in parks and all manner of public spaces. Pubs are spilling over outdoors with laughter, car soft tops are down with windows wide open to kindly share loud music from within, and there are an ever increasing variety of concerts, outdoor theatre and cinemas to attend.
The planted world in June is awash with as much sound, texture and colour as its human counterpart. However, it does not take the same leap of faith into such dramatic seasonal behaviours because the flowering species have been segueing seamlessly from one season to the next for some time now. This month, for example, the flowering, pinky cones of Red valerian (Centranthus rubra), the star shaped red campion (Silene dioica), and bright orange and yellow English marigolds are still showing well from last month while the blue starry flowers of Love–in–the–Mist (Nigella), the jolly bright red blooms of Geum ‘Mrs Bradshaw’, and the vivid orange bowl shaped flowers of the Californian poppy (Eschscholzia californica) are emerging. Meanwhile, in the wings, there are flower buds forming on lavenders, poppies, Papaver sp. and corncockle (Agrostemma githago), which should all begin to open this month and go on well in July and beyond. Plants such as Teasle (Dipsacus Fullonum), Cone flowers (Echinecea sp.) and Sneezewarts (Helenium sp.) are still putting on height and weight and prepping for a late summer showing whilst Allium hollandicum ‘Purple Sensation’ pom pom flower heads, and trumpeting Columbines (Aquilegia sp.) are transitioning into to seed heads. It is a sensory explosion of the planted variety.
Wildlife to watch our for
Wildlife is certainly busy this month. Many birds are still fledging and in search of food for their young whether it is juicy grubs in the soil or seeds and mealworms laid on by kind home owners. Pollinators of all shapes and sizes are busy, busy, busy seeking nectar, and some lucky people may come across a magnificent but rare stag beetle (Lucanus cervus), emerging to find a mate from a long period as larvae in decaying wood underground. These are big beetles and quite scary looking to some but they are completely harmless and super rare so please do not disturb or harm them.
These longer, hotter June days can quickly dry out the soil and put many plants, especially those recently planted or in pots, under stress. There is nothing more sad in a garden than to witness a series of wilting, dying plants gasping for the nutrients in the soil to be delivered up their stems in water. Keep an eye on the soil and be ready to give isolated plants or whole beds a good long drink once a week or more. I have a reputation for an almost comic intolerance of bad watering technique so please indulge me while I list a few key points below to hold in mind while holding the hose or watering can.
- A good soaking is much more effective than a light spray, which will barely penetrate the soil and encourage shallow, horizontal roots.
- Water close to the base of the plant to ensure that its roots are reached and rotate the water source to and fro between the plants so that it can be absorbed gradually. Take time to ensure that the water reaches beyond the base of its roots to encourage them to grow a strong network downwards, which makes for a stronger, happier plant that can seek out water in times of water stress.
- Do not be fooled into thinking that if water sits on the top of the soil it means that the soil is well irrigated, it is more likely to mean that the soil is hard to penetrate.
- If the soil is compacted, carefully scratch the surface around the plants with a mini fork, a hoe or a three pronged mini fork to loosen it and make it more receptive to watering.
- Plants in container are especially vulnerable to water stress and are likely to need a good soaking two to three times weekly, so that the water just dribbles out of the base. Do not be fooled to thinking that containers are irrigated by even the heaviest of rainfall as this rain water is more likely to drip from the plant’s foliage over the edge of the pot and nowhere near the soil.
Deadheading spent blooms
Deadheading is a task to be keeping an eye out for this month as several spring blooms are beginning to fade. This is not, as some might think, necessarily to keep a plant looking tidy, (in fact many seed heads are jolly attractive and good value for wildlife too, but more of that later in the season) but rather to encourage more blooms by removing the energy put into seed production and back into flowering on plants such as the repeat flowering roses (Rosa) and hardy geraniums. Simply cut to above a healthy bud further down the flowering stem and let the plant do the hard work. I have just snipped out the fading blooms of my red campion (Silene dioica) to see if I can’t encourage a few more flowers before I allow the seed heads to develop and remain on the plant as wildlife habitat later in the season.
Camelias and rhododendrons should have spent blooms pinched out this month too. For these it is mostly because they are rather unsightly and have no wildlife value. Be careful with removing the withered blooms as the news ones are developing close behind them.
Some of the spring flowering blooms that have not been deadheaded will already have an abundance of seeds ready to harvest in June and these will provide a fantastic bounty for next season’s crop. I have had my eyes on these holly leaved hellebores (Helleborus argutifolius) for some time now, just waiting for the right moment to harvest the seeds before the seed pods explode and cascade into the beds below. Use secateurs to snip out these pods carefully because all hellebores have an irritable sap. I did not know this as a junior exploratory gardener some years ago and after a session pinching the pods out with my fingertips my hands swelled up like balloons and were sore for days.
English marigold seed heads (Calendula officinalis) are not nearly so feisty and can be lightly crumbled out of their base and sown directly into the soil or saved for sowing next year. Store all seeds in a cool, dry, dark place such as paper envelope in a cupboard. Remember to label the container with the plant name and date of collection as many seeds look very similar away from their parent plant.
Keep an eye out for weeds that are competing for nutrients and water with more favoured plants. It is amazing how weeds can sneak in and grow to quite a height even in the most well observed gardens. Take this groundsel (Senecio vulgaris) that I came across in my garden earlier that is well grown and about to flower happily. I see no harm to let it flower on for now as it has made it this far after all, the foliage is hardly offensive and the flowers are a good source of nectar for pollinators. However, it might be worth snipping out the faded flower in time before it sets seed and multiplies 100 fold!
I am much less tolerant of the hedge bind weed (Calystegia sepium) a highly appropriate moniker for this strangulating beast that will twist around and suffocate other plants super-fast. Like any constrictor, once it gets a hold it can be tough work to loosen its grip so it is wise to snip out any emerging shoots as soon as they are spotted. If they are already winding tightly around another plant stem then carefully snip at the bind weed stem at various junctions to pull it off bit by bit. Failing that, sever its base and wait for the plant to wither before gently pulling it away. Infestations require much more tenacious work as the plant spreads underground but these little emerging plants can be snipped out to prevent a plant gaining ground above the soil.
Wildlife-friendly lawn care
A lawn can be a cooling, soft space for us humans that can also provide useful shelter for wildlife. Sadly, more and more people are installing fake grass these days as they are tired of what appears to be a rigorous mowing and lawn care regime. Perhaps a shift in view of what a lawn is supposed to be and how it is supposed to look is helpful before opting for the plastic option?
First try to reduce the rigorous (and admittedly rather boring) mowing regime; only mow every couple of weeks or so on a slightly higher blade setting to allow the grass to grow longer and softer. Also allow for even longer edges on the borders of paths and planted beds. Apart from further reducing the work load by taking out the fiddly job of cutting the grassy edges, it creates an attractive, graded planted edge and provides effective transitional habitat for ground based wildlife.
Prune spring flowering shrubs
June is a good time to prune back spring flowering shrubs such as mock orange, Philadelphus, Weigela, and Deutzia, but not until the flowers have faded. For established plants and using sharp tools firstly removed dead or damaged stems cutting back to a healthy stem joint or leaf. Then remove about a third of the oldest and thickest stems back to the ground to reduce congestion. It may help to stand back and assess the plant after each cut to maintain an even form. Water, feed with a general organic fertiliser and mulch the plant to give it a boost to put on new flowering stems for next year.
General tidy up
Giving the beds a general tidy up every now and then will keep the garden looking tidy without compromising on its natural beauty or charm. The spent spring bulb foliage can be removed now if it is scruffy as it is about 6 weeks since the blooms faded and the bulbs should be well and truly replenished; a snip here and a snip there to remove dead foliage or broken stems on other plants and a bucket will soon be filled for composting. Just in time to stop for the day and sit down in the garden with a refreshing drink to enjoy.
Gardening tasks in June
- Water plants well at least once a week during periods of dry weather. A good soaking is better than a quick spray. Container grown plants are likely to require more watering.
- Deadhead plants using sharp secateurs such as repeat flowering roses and hardy geraniums to encourage further blooms this season. Pinch out the faded blooms from camellia and rhododendrons taking care not to damage next year’s buds and also lilac (Syringa sp.) by cutting back the flowering stem to above a pair of leaves or buds.
- Collect seeds for next season. Wear gloves for the job and use secateurs if the plant has an irritable sap. Store seeds in a cool, dry and dark place. Label the containers with the plant name and date of collection.
- Remove competitive weeds by hand or using a hoe. Aim to catch them while they are small but also consider having some tolerance for less invasive weeds while bearing in mind that they may self-seed and become much more invasive in time!
- Prune early flowering shrubs to give them time to develop new flowering stems for next year’s display.
- Have a general tidy of dead and damaged foliage on plants throughout the garden.
- Keep an eye out for pest and diseases. Check for unusual scarring, stickiness, webbing, curling, lumps or discolouration on stems, leaves and flowers. Remembering to check under the leaves too. Look for the presence of insects, larvae or pupae, which appear static or in abundance. Identify if there is problem with a pest of a disease and remedy as appropriate using organic and biological methods. Bear in mind that many problems with pest and diseases can be prevented and controlled by good garden hygiene and growing and feeding practices.