Alys Fowler

Late August gardening

As August draws to a close thoughts turn to how to keep your garden in good order. Follow Alys' top tips on how to make the best of your garden this month.

I do not need to tell you how hot this August has been. Hopefully you’ve been basking in the garden enjoying it or perhaps away on your holidays. Whatever you’ve been up to the garden is bound to look a little tired. That’s August for you. It will revive again, it always does. After the first few cool evenings the dew will collect, but you may have to help it along with some good, heavy watering in the meantime.

Watering is best done either early in the morning before the heat has set in or early evening. Water in the heat of the day and most of it will be lost to evaporation and however hard the hot weather has been on the lawn it’s not worth watering it. It will spring back into life in autumn and needs such volumes to stay lush in August that it’s really too much of an environmental waste. That is unless you want to use your bath water (cooled first). 

Pots however need lots of attention. A good deep watering is much more beneficial than just a sprinkling. You should water until you see it flow out of the bottom of the pot and rise on the surface so it pools. When this happens it means the entire pot is saturated with water. This is important because if the plant only receives a sprinkling of water on the top of the pot, it encourages the roots to grow in the top surface of the soil. Here they are subjected to the extremes of heat and often burn if the weather is very hot.

Deep watering encourages deep rooting down into the cool base of the pot. A saucer under the pot helps to conserve any run off so the plant can sup it up after watering. However no plant likes to sit in water all day, so if it's still there after a couple of hours drain it away.

Vegetables in the ground may need watering too, though they tend to fair better than pot subjects, but as fruit starts to swell, more water is needed. Again watering in the morning or evening is best. Mulching with compost, bark or even grass clippings after watering will help conserve moisture, keep down weeds and slowly rot back into the ground restoring fertility.

Courgettes, pumpkins, tomatoes, kales, sprouting broccoli and beans will all benefit from a mulch at this time of year. Grass clippings are particularly good because as they break down they release nitrogen back into the ground giving a gentle feed to the plants and are very good at suppressing weeds.

Outdoor tomatoes start to ripen from August, though the bulk tends to be in September. You can stop intermediate or cordon tomatoes now so that you ensure fruit production. You want no more than 5-8 trusses of tomatoes per plant if you want them to all ripen. You can also remove any foliage to about half way up the plant so that they receive more light and air. The more sun they get the sweeter they will taste.

If you’ve been growing basil with your tomatoes you might find that they are starting to flower. You have two choices you can let it flower; the bees will love you, and collect the seed. You can either use the seed to sow more basil indoors on your windowsill over the winter or you can cut back the whole plant and process the leaves for pesto. Once the plant flowers the leaves tend to get much smaller and tougher.

If you have any potatoes left in the ground now is the time to get these up too. If you have any signs of blight (brown splodges on the foliage) cut it back to ground level and bin it or bury it deep in your compost. If you haven’t planted blight resistant potatoes (mainly from the Sarpo group) you may find the blight has gone to the tubers. Eat them up quick because they won’t store for any amount of time.

There are few things you can sow now. I like to sow in the cool of the evening or after a bout of rain. Seeds need moisture to germinate and sow in the middle of the day and they may dry out at a critical point of germination. Japanese bunching onions, parsley, coriander, Swiss Chard, kales, winter hardy lettuce, miner lettuce, American land cress, lamb’s lettuce and nearly any oriental green such as mizuna or mustards can all be sown from now till the middle of September. Lettuce, herbs and oriental green tend to do best with some sort of protection from October onwards, although they are frost hardy (all except coriander) they tend to get rather tough and the spicy flavours are too pronounced.