Summer gardens: prune the problems and get your garden summer-ready
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Recent weather conditions may suggest otherwise, but it really is summer. So, let’s laugh in the face of torrential downpours and spruce up our outside spaces in readiness for a spot of sun. In case you have a few small problems to rectify first, we’ve recruited local garden guru Jane Thomas, of Jane Thomas Landscape & Garden Design, to help you get a great outdoors.
Problem: Too small
Jane suggests smartening up a small space with modular deck tiles, colourful planters, or an artificial grass ‘rug’. Using seats that double up as storage helps maximise space, while light-coloured neutral boundaries and floor surfaces make an area look larger. “Painting a rear boundary fence or wall a dark colour will give the impression that it is receding, giving more depth to the garden,” Jane says. Another way of making the most of a small space is vertical gardening, using climbers on boundaries, tiered planters, succulent wall art, or wall-mounted pots or planters.
If your garden looks like a wilderness, fear not, as there are many quick fix solutions. Jane recommends updating tired terracotta pots with a lick of paint or defining a lawn using permanent edging solutions such as Everedge, a flexible metal edging.
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“Try not to leave jobs to build up,” says Jane, who recommends tackling tasks such as weeding with a ‘little and often’ approach. “Don’t take on too much, either,” she adds. “And avoid high maintenance gardening such as topiary sculptures, rose gardens or fine lawns, or plants that are prone to pests, such as hostas. Choose a style that can look good with less structure and minimal maintenance, for example a cottage garden, with hardy perenniels.”
If your outside space is on the smaller side, consider ditching the lawn altogether, as it will need mowing once or twice a week during the summer months. Jane also suggests cutting down on maintenance-heavy containers if you’re struggling to look after them, adding that bedding schemes are also to be avoided if maintenance is an issue – and shrubs that don’t require too much pruning are the way forward.
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If slugs are proving problematic, use biological control, for example microscopic nematodes watered into the soil, to nip them in the bud. “The nematodes enter the slugs’ bodies and infect them with bacteria,” says Jane. “This doesn’t affect other types of animal.” The best time to de-slug is when the soil is warm and moist, ideally in early spring and early autumn. As we’ve missed this window, Jane suggests placing traps, such as a scooped-out half orange part-filled with beer, near to vulnerable plants. Alternatively, use barriers such as gel repellents, copper tapes around pots or matting impregnated with copper salts.
If you’re feeling fearless, take a torch and hand-pick slugs in the evenings, moving them to a field or patch of waste ground. Another option is encouraging birds, frogs, toads, hedgehogs, slow-worms and ground beetles into the garden, as they all enjoy eating slugs.
Finally, there’s the chemical approach. “Use slug pellets thinly around vulnerable plants, seedlings, vegetables, young shoots on herbaceous plants,” says Jane. “They need to be stored safely and spread thinly as they’re harmful to other wildlife, pets and young children if eaten in quantity.”
Chemical weedkillers, such as RoundUp, tend only to be used on driveways or paths, not on planting beds. Jane recommends placing mulches, such as chipped bark or well-rotted manure, on the surface of the soil as a means of keeping the weeds at bay. She says: “This helps to retain the soil’s moisture, saving on watering. Weeds are then easily raked off.”
Avoid leaving bare patches of soil, and fill your planting beds so the weeds can’t take hold between the plants. Another tip is to use weed-suppressant membrane, cut holes into it for planting, then cover with a gravel mulch.
Problem: Tired wooden furniture
Given some of the recent bizarre weather conditions, your outdoor dining set may have been out of action for some time. Annual treatments with a specific oil or stain will help get it summer-ready, however.
“Woods with a waxy finish should be cleaned with a dry, soft cloth, while hardwoods can be scrubbed with warm, soapy water,” says Jane.
The wood will age into a silver patina colour, which you can preserve by using two coats of a clear hardwood oil. If you want to retain the rich original colour of the wood then Jane recommends using stained oil - or you can introduce a new look altogether with a two or three coats of paint.
“If treated regularly, wooden furniture should be safe to keep outdoors over winter,” says Jane. “When not in use, keep it in a shaded area to reduce the risk of warping in the sunlight. To really extend the life of your garden furniture when not in use, you should store it under rain and UV-proof covers, or in a warm, dry shed or garage.”
Problem: Dodgy decking
While decking is quick and relatively easy to install, it ideally requires annual maintenance. If your decking has turned grey or looks a bit weathered - or you’re worried it will do - you can put on a restorer to return it to its former glory. First, use a stiff brush or a pressure washer to remove debris. “Use a decking cleaner to remove moss, mould, algae and general grease and dirt,” Jane says. “Scrub the surface immediately with a stiff brush after you’ve put on the cleaner, and leave it to stand. Then rinse off thoroughly with clean water using a hose, ensuring you’ve washed away all residue.” Finally, allow at least two days for your decking to dry before you apply a decking protector, such as a translucent protector, decking stain or oil, working it into the surface of the wood with a pad or brush.
Problem: Patchy plants
If your plants are flagging, there’s many a means of bringing them back to life.
Jane recommends copious watering direct to the roots, aiming a hosepipe for ten minutes, and keeping this up for a week or two.
Pot plants on their last legs? Remove them and sit them in the bath for two hours, if space allows. Another option is applying a liquid feed, such as an organic seaweed mixture, after watering. Or, enrich the soil around the plants by adding organic matter, such as leaf mould, garden compost or well-rotted manure. Spread over a thick layer (about 5cm) and fork into the surface, then prune off any dead, diseased or damaged shoots.
If you’re looking to invest in new, low-maintenance plants, your best bets for a sunny space include purple lavender, red sedums, emerald hebes, red-stemmed cornus, irises, hardy geraniums, agapanthus, or ornamental grasses, such as carex oshimensis. Shady spots are better-suited to weigela, camellia, scented sarcococca, Japanese anemone, red skimmia, ferns or purple periwinkle, according to Jane. All noted? Then you’re good to go. The only problem we need to solve now is the weather…