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I love the July garden, even mine, which although a work in progress has borders beautifully full to bursting and full of colour and scent. Ideally at this time of year we should all be enjoying our gardens and the fruits of our labour. Everything is at its peak and looking great so we should be kicking back and pouring something long and cold and basking in the sun and enjoying life al fresco. However, as usual with gardening, there is very little chance to do nothing and there are a few jobs that I would advise tackling, some more strenuous than others!
If you have any late spring flowering shrubs which are coming to the end of their flowering or have finished flowering such as Philadelphus, Weigela, Physocarpus, Ceonothus, Escallonia to name but a few, this is a good time to prune them. In the case of Philadelphus, Physocarpus and Weigela prune out old stems to encourage new flowering growth for next year or for Ceonothus and Escallonia lightly trim to remove old flowers. The basic rule of thumb being that if something has finished flowering around now give it some attention rather than leave it until the winter months. It is not too late to prune any plants that have recently finished flowering. If you are not sure, it’s worth checking online or any of the numerous gardening books available. The RHS and BBC both have excellent websites full of useful advice.
Wisteria will also benefit from a going-over around this time. So cut back any whippy long shoots to about six leaves from the main stem and this will encourage more flowering this year as well as a more compact habit. It’s also a good time to unwind any bits that have started growing around downpipes or cables or anywhere they should not be. If you have bearded Irises and they are getting on a bit, it is a good idea to divide the rhizomes now to encourage more flowers for next year. This also gives you a chance to clear any weeds that have got stuck in amongst the iris clumps. Once the flowers are over, lift the clump with a fork, carefully separating out the younger pieces and throw away the older parts. Cut across the remaining leaves at about 15cms from the root and replant in small groups of four or five in a shallow planting. Sometimes I pin the rhizomes down with some wire to help them get established when they are shallowly rooted. Make sure to give them a good watering in moving.
Keep deadheading everything too, including roses as this will also encourage new buds and prolong the flowering life of the plant. Deadheading is a more peaceful and pottering pastime than wrestling with shrubs so if you don’t feel like doing the pruning bit, it won’t hurt to leave until autumn. Cut back faded flowers on any perennials to encourage later flowering. Hardy geraniums can be sheared to the ground and will produce fresh new foliage and any spiky taller flowers like foxgloves, delphiniums, lupins etc can be cut back and will then possibly re-flower if you are lucky and the snails have not had them first!
Slugs and snails continue their relentless march through my garden, so July will involve my usual cursing over munched plants with redoubled efforts to get the beasts away from the borders. I have found this year that they have turned their attentions to plants that they previously ignored. I favour the use of Growing Success, which seems effective, does not kill other wildlife and is shower-resistant, so you do need to reapply from time to time. It sends the snails and slugs on their way to die elsewhere so you are not left with the awful slimey mess and piles of small dead bodies.
On a brighter note, and if you are inclined, now is also a great time to collect seed for next year. Aim for a warm, dry, calm day and arm yourself with a few small brown paper bags and gently knock whichever flower heads you want to save into the bags and remember to write the names immediately on the bag! Likewise this is a good time to take semi-ripe cuttings from shrubs.
If you keep up with the watering, feeding and maintaining of pots and containers they can last really beautifully into the autumn but have a tendency to start looking a bit ratty in July, so deadhead, water and prune bits off if the pots start to look too full, if plants start crowding each other out they can start to die back and leave gaps. It’s also a good time to extend the flowering of your borders by filling any spaces with annuals and these could flower right through to the first frosts.