Lazy hazy days of July (part 2)

The summer solstice at the end of June has gifted us with up to 18 hours daylight each day to enjoy and so July is the month when a long, long, long list of plants are coming into their flowering own and savouring the long days as much as us humans.

(In fact, there’s so much to do in the garden, and so much time to do it, we’ve split this month’s blog into two parts!)

Wildlife in the garden

Spiky Ladybird Larvae

Spiky Ladybird Larvae, Michael Palmer, CC BY-SA

All of this flowering delight is highly attractive to butterflies, which are becoming more common to spot day by day and joining the rest of the nectar loving hordes to feast on and pollinate the variety of plants on offer. Birds are still nesting, often with repeat clutches through July and the earlier batches of fledgling chicks are finding their wings. Aphids and other garden bugs are a reliable food source for fledgling birds but there is no harm to continue topping up the bird feeders and to provide fresh water for birds too. Be alert for baby blackbirds that may have left the nest and be unable to fly for a couple of days yet. Their parents will still be keeping an eye them so do not get too close unless they are very visible or obstructing a busy path, for example, in which case carefully reposition them somewhere close but sheltered.

Spiky Ladybird Larvae

The Harlequin Ladybird, Harmonia axyridis, comes in a variety of colours and patterns, ©entomart

The more diversity of plants in the garden the better it is both for our visual pleasure but also the better to attract as much beneficial wildlife diversity as possible to keep a balance with the less desired pests and predators that are inevitable invaders. Ladybird adults and larvae, Coccinellidae sp, are a frontline defence beetle that feed on aphids, thrips, whitefly and mites amongst other pests with each of these little, rounded, spotty adult beetles able to eat up to 5000 aphids on their watch. A female ladybird will lay her eggs on the underside of leaves often near larval food such as aphids and the emergent larvae will munch on these and also wander some distance in search of more dinner. Be aware that the flightless ladybird larvae look nothing like their adult selves and are often mistaken for a pest when in fact they are a great pest munching ally.

Sadly, the non-native Harlequin Ladybird, Harmonia axyridis, has landed in Britain and is fast invading the country. It is much bigger and spottier than our native species and is predicted to spread rapidly and possibly outcompete our homegrown ladybirds and other insect groups too. There’s more information at The Harlequin Ladybird Survey where you can help track their spread.

Seed collection

California poppy, Eschscholzia californica

California poppy, Eschscholzia californica, Johnathan J. Stegeman, GDFL 1.2

Keep harvesting seed from plants for future sowing. This week I have collected Columbine, Aquilegia; various poppies, Papaver sp; red campion, Silene dioica; and Californan poppy, Escholtzia, amongst others. Tufty seeds are fairly easy to pluck away from the parent plant but take care not to disperse too many seeds whilst removing capsule type seed heads, which are designed to disperse their bounty through movement. I angle a seed head towards the collection receptacle – a cup or envelope for example – and sharply snip the stem away from below it so that it falls neatly into the envelope or cup. Be sure to label with name and date of collection. If the plant is unknown leave the seed head intact for future identification.

Try to leave some seed heads on their parent plant as they are often attractive to look at and can provide useful shelter for beneficial insects and food for birds.

Pond care

A pond elevates the biodiversity value of a garden in many ways. It is a habitat for aquatic flora and fauna and also provides shelter and water for a range of other garden wildlife. Ponds are also fascinating and educative features for young and old alike and can function well in even a small space. Sadly, more and more ponds are being filled in due to the perceived risks of standing water, which creates an unfortunate loss of neighbourhood habitat.

For those lucky enough to have a wildlife pond do keep an eye on the water level, which can drop fast due to a combination of the longer, warmer days and thirsty plants and animals. Topping up with rainwater from a water butt is ideal, but it is perfectly fine to top up with tap water. In the latter case, do so on a fine spray setting with a hose and over time to allow the water to aerate and its temperature to raise a little as well as for chlorine levels in it to disperse.

Many amphibians will have left the pond to hang out in cool damp areas of the garden by July. Be watchful for them on garden inspections and try to leave them undisturbed. Their absence from the water provides a window of opportunity to remove dead foliage from a pond this month to prevent debris building up at the bottom, which can turn sludgy, take up valuable space and create a stink.

Prune Wisteria

July is a good time to prune established Wisteria once it has finished flowering. This will control its growth, reduce congestion and improve air flow and light access into the plant as well as giving time for wood to develop for the next years flower buds to form. Cut back the lateral and side shoots that have grown since spring to just a above the fifth or sixth set of leaves on each stem – or back to the appropriate shoot it the stem has grown to its allotted space. Tie in the stems to their support as necessary. Be careful on the higher branches and hire in professionals if unsteady on a ladder.

Step back and consider

Ox eye daisy, Leucanthemum vulgare

Ox eye daisy, Leucanthemum vulgare, Keith Moseley, CC BY-SA

Now that the borders are in full throttle it is a good time to assess the display for plants that look out of place and to take notes for remedial action later in the season when they are past their best. Perhaps there is a colour clash or too much height difference or plants that are too dominant or overgrown and congested and may need dividing.

I have allowed a drift of ox eye daisy, Leucanthemum vulgare, to take over a bed and it has crowded out many other species and as it fade the whole space is looking tatty as there aren’t other plants in succession to take the flowering baton. Come autumn I am planning to thin the ox eye by 60% or more and introduce some new plants into the bed for next year.

Sit back and enjoy

This is an important task to be completed all month as it is a wonderful time to enjoy the garden during one of the longer, warmer evenings when it is at its peak form in July perhaps with a tasty drink or supper outside to reward all of the hard work earlier in the year.

Gardening tasks in July

  • 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 and be sure to water these so that the water just dribbles out of the bottom of the pot.
  • Visit public and private gardens open as part of the National Gardens Scheme https://www.ngs.org.uk for planting inspiration.
  • Prune Wisteria. Cut back the lateral and side shoots that have grown since spring to just a above the fifth or sixth set of leaves on each stem – or back to the appropriate shoot it the stem has grown to its allotted space.
  • Keep ponds topped up with harvested rain water or on a fine spray setting with a hose. Clear dead foliage from the pond to avoid it building up to a stinky sludge.
  • Step back and take note of the beds for autumn remedial works on plants that are in the wrong place due to poor height, colour or texture combination or those that will need of dividing.
  • Deadhead plants such as repeat flowering roses and hardy geraniums to encourage further blooms this season.
  • Collect seeds for next season. 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 of course bearing in mind that they may self seed and become much more invasive in time!
  • Have a general tidy of dead and damaged foliage on plants throughout the garden. Thin out competitive plants to give their neighbours some space
  • 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.
Elaine Hughes

ELAINE HUGHES

Elaine is an RHS Gold Medal award winning landscape designer with a special interest in creating beautiful and functional spaces that are also as biodiverse and sustainable as possible. She has designed a wide range of projects including private gardens, community gardens, public areas, schools and community sites.