How to bring a neglected summer garden back to life

Your holiday may be finished, but your garden needn't be [PA Photo/thinkstockphotos]

Your holiday may be finished, but your garden needn't be [PA Photo/thinkstockphotos] - Credit: Archant

The rain we’ve had this summer may have gone some way to saving flower borders, but containers left in sheltered spots may have dried out without the luxury of an automatic irrigation system, or a friendly neighbour to water them in your absence.

A period of neglect can be reversed [PA Photo/thinkstockphotos]

A period of neglect can be reversed [PA Photo/thinkstockphotos] - Credit: Archant

Don’t despair. Guy Barter, RHS chief horticultural adviser, reckons that if your bedding plants haven’t dried out completely, you should have a month of good growing weather left in the south of the country and a little less in the north.

“The recent wet weather will have helped gardens enormously, but containers are still likely to be fairly dry, so you need to give them a really good soak, deadhead the flowers and give plants a good feed,” he advises.

Cut back and feed container plants

Lupin good: There's a lot you can do to turn a tired garden around [PA Photo/Hannah Stephenson]

Lupin good: There's a lot you can do to turn a tired garden around [PA Photo/Hannah Stephenson] - Credit: Archant

Container plants, including petunias, can be cut back and should produce another burst of growth, provided the slugs haven’t devoured the base of the plants during the rainy period, he says.

You should also be able to give trailing plants such as lobelia and bacopa a haircut and a feed, to prompt them into further flowering.

Watch out for slugs

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“People who have been away during the wet weather should be prepared to come back to find a lot of slug damage,” he adds. “They will eat petunias around the base and feast on hosta leaves, and the plants will not produce more leaves this year.”

It may be wise to feed vulnerable plants with nematodes, biological controls which are specifically designed to attack slugs and vine weevil.

Be aware that many biological controls become less reliable when the temperature drops, as the predatory insects which provide the control then multiply more slowly. Check for greenfly and blackfly and take off shoots on plants which are infested and dispose of them.

Grab plant bargains

“You can also get some plant bargains at garden centres at this time of year, including herbaceous perennials such as delphiniums and lupins, which have finished flowering, but should grow strongly next year and hopefully be free of mildew.”

Tackle overgrown lawns

You may be returning to long grass, which will have been growing thanks to the mixed weather we’ve had this summer. When tackling it, Guy recommends not taking off more than a third at a time until it has recovered and not feeding the lawn until autumn.

As for vegetables, you should be returning home to bumper crops, although tomato blight tends to appear in warm, wet weather and if your plants succumb, there’s not a lot you can do apart from consign them to the bonfire.

Giant veg may have to be ditched

“You may have enormous marrows when you actually wanted courgettes and rather tough, stringy beans which have been left too long for picking. But some of the overgrown veg could go into chutneys,” Guy says.

Lettuces may have bolted or been damaged by slugs and if they are, lift them and replace them with other crops such as Chinese leaves and spinach, while mustard seeds can also be sown for green manure. Spring onions can also be sown now, where they are to mature and left to overwinter until they are ready for harvesting in spring.

Fill gaps in borders

Fill gaps in flowerbeds with dahlias, which can be lifted at the first frosts, the tubers stored in a frost-free dry place, then replanted next year.

Dunk container plants

Containers holding year-round-interest plants, such as shrubs or evergreens, may benefit from being submerged in a bucket of water to re-wet the compost, but it is difficult to tell if the compost is thoroughly soaked and important not to waterlog the plants.

After re-wetting, robust architectural plants, such as phormiums and box, can be lifted out of their containers with their root system intact, so you can see if the compost has been completely soaked through.

Continue to deadhead roses and cut back finished summer-flowering perennials, removing supports which propped up the plants that have stopped flowering. These can be cleaned with a mild detergent and put away until next year.

And if all else fails...

Steal a march on the cooler months by clearing out wilted bedding plants from pots and invest in some spring bulbs and other plants for autumn and winter.