Jo Whittingham: Keep summer displays going for as long as you can

Deadheading will pay dividends in the garden as summer fades. Picture: Getty Images/iStockphoto
Deadheading will pay dividends in the garden as summer fades. Picture: Getty Images/iStockphoto
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Most of us would call August late summer, but in Scotland I always feel there is a whiff of autumn in the air this month – unless we are very lucky with the weather.

I am not ready to give up on summer just yet, though, so will be doing all I can to keep the garden looking vibrant and full of colour for as long as possible.

The top trick for keeping the flowers coming is to deadhead. When plants set seeds, their reproductive work is done and they produce a chemical message stopping flower production.

This is bad news for the gardener, but the flowering period of many plants can be extended by simply snipping off spent blooms regularly. Dahlias, roses, cosmos, pelargoniums and penstemons all respond well to this treatment and will flower into autumn if you can keep it up.

In a soggy summer, deadheading also reduces fungal problems on bedding plants, the large heads of which can quickly go mouldy as they fade.

Feeding is the second key to late summer colour, as many plants will be nearing exhaustion after blooming for months. Boost container displays, hanging baskets and flagging specimens in borders with a weekly dose of liquid tomato food. This fertiliser is high in potash, which promotes flowering, rather than leafy, green growth. Regular watering is vital for any plants in pots and under cover too.

Thirdly, if the garden is looking drab, then go out and buy some fantastic plants to create some impact in August. Many herbaceous perennials, including Rudbeckia ‘Goldstrum’, Sedum ‘Ruby Glow’, heleniums and salvias, are at their peak and can be planted now unless conditions are hot and dry.

But while summer clings on, we gardeners can’t help but look ahead. Pruning climbing and rambling roses, Wisteria and summer-flowering shrubs feels like the curtain call for this year’s colour, but it is actually preparing the plants to flower well next season. Do the same for camellias and rhododendrons by keeping them well watered this month, as the flower buds for spring are beginning to form. Begin buying and planting spring-flowering bulbs now too, especially daffodils.

Pigeons have been a huge problem in my garden this year. The only solution that I have is to net whatever they have their beady eyes on, be it brassicas, peas, salads or fruit. It is worth investing in good quality woven netting, rather than the flimsy, green plastic variety, which seems to tear very easily under the weight of a well-fed bird.