Slow and steamy

news: Slow and steamy

SUMMER CAN be disappointing, especially if you don’t live here for a full gardening year. Even with full irrigation, many plants more or less stand still during July and August. This is a perfectly natural characteristic of Mediterranean climates.

Many plants and trees purchased from the garden centre remain in near hibernation until autumn rains arrive, so don’t drown them with fertiliser and feed. It is far better to keep them ticking over allowing them to establish roots, rather than force lush top growth.

Careful water management is especially important during the current drought, with many boreholes running below normal capacity or running dry completely, and mains water pressure down or off for long periods. Now is the time to consider turning your irrigation system off and only running zones on a manual basis as necessary. Alternatively, careful hand watering once a week before dusk, using a hosepipe fitted with a sprinkler nozzle, can be far more effective than running automatic watering for only a few minutes every day or so. The trick is to keep a close watch for plants that are showing signs of stress rather than trying to soak the whole garden or achieve fast growth. I know manuals are not the most interesting reading, but it is worth discovering the finer points of your irrigation computer – if it has gone missing, most manufacturers publish manuals on the web.

Be prepared to take some harsh decisions on what is worth watering. It is better to have clear areas containing strong specimen plants instead of borders covered in scrappy plants. A ceramic pot or ornament such as a sphere look far better than faded flowers and sprawling stems, which only lead to wasted water. Get rid of bedding plants and perennials that are not responding to reduced watering. Now is the time to pull up fuchsias planted for spring bedding, as they do not like hot sun no matter how much they are watered to compensate.

Beware of over watering

Cut Osteospermums and other cape daisies back very hard after flowering, so they do not have to support non flowering top growth during the summer. Plants have different ways of dealing with drought. For example, Pelargoniums shed leaves and form tight flowers and foliage heads, which tend to encourage over watering – but this is simply part of their natural survival strategy.

Deadheading and removing faded leaves does far more than regular soaking because plants survive best with woody stems and bunched leaves – not long floppy stalks and broad foliage. Other plants that suffer from over watering include Portulacas and Santolina, especially when situated in a mixed bed.

Regular readers may remember I wrote about the huge Agave Americana flowering in my garden. Well, it has now topped seven metres tall in as many weeks and is in full flower. If you have access to one of these botanical marvels, it is really worth taking a closer look at the individual flower heads radiating from the main stem. I braced myself to catch one, after cutting it off with a high level pruner, but quickly stepped aside as the 50cm sticky head came crashing to earth! The flowers resemble a yellow headed mop and have a strange sweet oaty scent.

Mature is not always best

We are regularly asked to supply large old fruit trees on the basis they provide instant maturity to new gardens. This is certainly the case, but increasingly trees are being savagely pruned, dug up from orchards, crammed into pots and sold on before becoming settled in.

When choosing an old specimen tree, look for clues as to how long it has been potted. Avoid ones with fresh soil and lacking small roots; also check large pruned branch ends protruding from the main trunk. If they are grey and lacking bark, it is likely that the tree is not going to make it. Often, the tree will use up existing sap to shoot leaves and even fruit during its first season, but gradually decline thereafter. A medium size, pot grown fruit tree is infinitely better than an old one on its last legs. Olive trees, however, are in a completely different category and normally survive however badly treated.

By Clive Goodacre,

PlantScape Garden

Centre, Almadena