Summer gardening tips: from our garden to yours
We're excited to start welcoming you back to your favourite gardens. But we realise that it may be a while before many of you can experience the summer blooms at the places we care for. So we'll continue bringing the best of our gardens to you at home and help you make the most of your own garden or growing space.
Our gardeners will be sharing their tips and updates on a variety of topics including roses, container growing, flower borders, and much more.
While you've been away, a small number of our gardeners have been working hard to look after the gardens in our care. They have been irrigating precious plants in glasshouses, managing the weeds, and carrying out lots of other vital work.
We'll continue to take your gardening questions. Beccy, Kate and Simon, our gardening experts, have already started answering our members' gardening questions, and will continue to do so during the coming weeks.
August: keeping the show on the road
Many gardens begin to look tired by August, as they have been flowering hard all summer and now feel the time has come to go to seed. The weather has been fairly kind this year, so that at least we have had some summer rain to keep things going, but there are some other tricks of the trade to make sure there is some colour amongst the foliage.
Remove leaves from around pest or disease-prone plants such as roses, box or horse chestnut trees. The shed leaves can harbour diseases during the winter.
Rake up leaves to make leaf mold to feed next year’s plants.
Going beyond the lawn with grass
Grasses are an excellent way to bring colour, height and movement to a late summer border, as going to seed is what they do best.
Choose a late flowering Clematis viticella to bring colour to walls and pergolas – they are also the easiest to prune as they need cutting right down in February, making them great partners to climbing roses.
Summer haircuts for herbaceous perennials
Lots of flowering plants come back stronger than ever after a trim at the right time. The Chelsea Chop is done at the end of May to ensure that some plants that would otherwise need staking are stockier, sturdier and flower a little later. The Hampton Court Hack is normally in July when the famous flower show happens, and encourages a second flush.
Now we have invented the Lockdown Lop as flowers flag at the end of the summer, just as we humans emerge from Covid incarceration. Hardy Geraniums, Alchemilla mollis, Linaria and even Aquilegia will reward you with fresh foliage and even flowers, given a well-timed trim.
In a normal year, cutting back just as you leave to go on holiday ensures a verdant welcome home two weeks later (as long as you water and mulch well before you go). This year, perhaps you will be enjoying watching those fresh leaves emerge during a well-earned staycation.
Paul Micklewright from Scotney Castle in Kent, says: 'Grass is very good at dealing with a lack of water, even if it turns brown it will bounce back when the rains return later in the year.'
'It’s best to water first thing in the morning or last thing at night to avoid damaging plants,' says Paul from Scotney. When the sun shines on water it can act like a magnifying glass, burning the leaves below.
Regular shallow watering encourages plant roots to stay at the surface. More infrequent but thorough watering teaches them to go deeper and become far more resilient to drought.
Avoid digging in hot, dry weather as it can destroy the structure of the soil, increase moisture loss and disturb plant roots.
Should I feed birds during spring and summer?
What garden birds and their young most need during the breeding season is a natural diet of insects and caterpillars. Well mulched beds and borders provide a rich menu of prey, including worms, caterpillars and beetles.
How can I control greenfly on my roses without harmful chemicals?
Firstly, don’t worry about a few pests as they provide food for insects like ladybirds and help to maintain a balance. For major outbreaks, use ‘contact’ insecticides like soap-based ones that are less harmful.
Caring for cucurbits
Courgettes, cucumbers, squashes and pumpkins are closely related and collectively known as cucurbits. These all like plenty of sun and regular watering.
Courgettes and summer squash are some of the easiest and most prolific plants to grow and should be beginning to produce fruit now. Common problems early in the season are flowers appearing but not forming fruit, or tiny fruits developing but then dropping off. The usual explanation for this is that they haven’t been pollinated by bees or other insects. Don’t worry, within a few weeks there should be plenty of male and female flowers with insects moving between them, leading to pollination and good fruit.
Cucumbers can be grown outdoors or in a greenhouse, depending on the type. Outdoor ones tend to have thicker skin that needs to be peeled before eating but they are delicious and very prolific. Greenhouse ones have been bred to set fruit without being pollinated, as there are no bees indoors.
All cucurbits are prone to powdery mildew, which is worse in late summer and autumn. Spacing plants well apart for good airflow helps avoid this, as does watering during dry weather. If your plants begin to show signs of mildew, water them well at the base and try picking off the worst affected leaves to slow the spread. Mildew looks ugly but won’t usually stop the plants from fruiting.
Summer-fruiting raspberries are just starting to fruit now. The berries develop on long canes, which grew last year and get cut down at the end of summer. Autumn-fruiting raspberries grow differently and won’t be ready until August.
Harvest broad beans in batches every few days, taking the biggest first. The first fresh, young beans are perfect for salads. If your plants have blackfly, just rub them off from time-to-time or use a hose to jet-wash the plants.
Probably the perfect picnic food, strawberries are in their prime right now. Many creatures love them just as much as we do, so keep them covered with netting and put a jam jar with a little beer in nearby, to lure away slugs and snails.
Keep sowing salads
Rocket and lettuce can be harvested now for salads and sandwiches. For a regular supply of young leaves, make new sowings every month, either in large containers or veg beds. For windowsill harvests, try growing cress.
Tomatoes should be in flower now and your first harvest not far off. Feed them regularly with a liquid tomato feed. If they are cordon types which grow up a pole or string, keep pinching off the unwanted side shoots.
Radishes are very easy to grow and can be sliced into salads and pickles or eaten whole. New sowings can be made all summer, whenever you have a gap in the veg patch or an empty container.
Summer lawn care
Summer is when we use our lawns most but also when hot and dry weather can put them under stress. If your lawn is looking a little brown, try to resist the urge to water it. Tap water has been treated to make it drinkable and is wasted on lawns. Grass is very tough and, even if lawns go completely brown, they will bounce back when the rains return. If your lawn feels a little spiky to lie on, just use a towel or picnic blanket.
Don’t be tempted to get the mower out too often at this time of year either. Leaving grass to grow longer than normal can help it cope better with heat and drought. Letting areas grow long can also allow lawn weeds such as clover and daisies to flower, which looks lovely and provides food for insects. You may also be surprised how pretty grass seed heads can be. To create places to sit or sunbathe, simply mow an inviting path or clearing through the grass.
Feeding, raking and weed control are also not needed in summer when lawns are growing slowly. Leave these tasks until autumn or next spring, when grass is more able to cope. For now, just spread out a blanket or position a deckchair, sit back and relax. You might even hear the bees buzzing in the buttercups.
Roses are a firm favourite with many gardeners. Not only do roses look and smell amazing they are also incredibly versatile and can be grown over fences, walls, arches and even in pots. The roses at the gardens in our care are in full bloom at the moment and we want you to experience the beauty of these flowers at home. From choosing sweet-smelling or thornless varieties to dealing with flowers affected by black spot, we've covered all the important topics so you can get the most out of your roses this year.
Strongest scented roses
Old damask and bourbon roses are some of the most deeply scented, used to create perfumes and flavourings. Try ‘Ispahan’, ‘Louise Odier’ or ‘Madame Isaac Péreire’. Newer varieties with delicious scents include ‘Constance Spry’, ‘Gertrude Jekyll’ and ‘The Poet’s Wife’.
Roses for garden fences
Stick to small climbers for garden fences, such as golden yellow ‘Teasing Georgia’ and pink ‘Blush Noisette’. Or you can simply fan out the branches of a shrub rose so it is flat against the fence. The more horizontally you can train the branches, the more flowers you will get.
Roses for pots
Patio roses such as ‘Queen Mother’ are the most suitable for growing in containers. Choose a pot that’s at least 40 cm deep and fill it with loam-based compost or a mix of peat-free, multipurpose compost and garden soil. It will need feeding and watering throughout the growing season.
Keeping roses healthy
Roses like to be planted in a fertile, moisture-retentive soil and be mulched with garden compost or well-rotted manure. Remember to prune each winter to stop branches becoming over-crowded. When buying new roses, look for varieties which are more resistant to diseases.
Less thorny varieties
Some roses have a lot less thorns than others. To keep children and pets scratch-free, try scented, deep pink shrub roses ‘Zéphirine Drouhin’ or ‘Reine des Violettes’, English rose ‘Kew Gardens’ with its clusters of small white flowers, or purple rambler ‘Veilchenblau’.
Once-flowering ramblers and old roses don’t need to be deadheaded and will form attractive hips. For repeat-flowering roses such as climbers and hybrid teas, regular deadheading will encourage more flowers. Stop in late summer to let a few hips form for the birds.
How do I tackle blackspot?
Blackspot is a very common fungal disease that causes dark spots to develop on leaves, causing them to fall off. Some roses are more prone to it than others, but almost all will succumb if they are stressed from drought, poor soil, congestion or all three.
If your rose has a small amount of blackspot, you can pick off the affected leaves to help slow the spread. Watering and liquid feeding the plant – and even spraying the foliage with a foliar feed, rose tonic or plant invigorator – may also help boost its health. If the plant is badly affected, you may wish to try a fungicide – look for products that don’t also contain an insecticide, which can harm pollinating insects.
The most important treatment will be in winter when you should clear up all the fallen leaves, pick off any still hanging on the plant, prune out any damaged stems and put a thick mulch of garden compost or well-rotted manure around the base of the rose. This way there will be far fewer fungal spores overwintering to re-infect the plant in spring.
If your rose succumbs to the disease every year, no matter what you do, it might be time to dig it out and try a more disease-resistant variety in a new position. Rugosa roses are very tough and almost never affected by blackspot.
Keeping on top of the weeding
Are all weeds bad?
No! Weeds growing around garden plants are best removed as they compete for light, water and nutrients but weeds like nettles in the corner of the garden and dandelions in the lawn are great for wildlife.
How do I get rid of weeds?
Annual weeds which grow from seed now have small roots and can just be pulled off by hand. Perennial weeds often have deeper roots and you need to use a handfork to get them out.
Can I ever get rid of bindweed?
Yes. Use a fork to dig deeply and pull out all the annoying white roots. Even a little bit left in the ground will regrow but if you keep digging it out, every time it appears, it will give up eventually.
What do I do with all my garden waste?
You can compost it. Weeds, grass clippings and hedge-trimmings mixed together compost brilliantly. If you don’t have a compost bin, make one with boards or an old dustbin or even just pile it up. If you have space, two bins is ideal.
What else can I add to my compost heap?
Add your veg peelings, eggs shells, egg boxes and coffee granules to your compost heap but avoid any cooked food which could attract unwanted visitors such as foxes or rats.
What do I use compost for?
Compost made from garden waste is great for adding to the soil in flower beds and veg plots. It can be dug in or spread on top. It is different from multi-purpose potting compost which has been specially formulated for growing plants in.
National Trust Podcast Episode 78: The ice shelf garden
In this episode we’re bringing you another story to inspire you during lockdown. Paul Zabel, an engineer and novice gardener, was sent to work in his first greenhouse in one of the most extreme locations on Earth. At the end of his isolation, as Paul eased his way back into society, he realised he had discovered some valuable life lessons which we could learn from as we go through the same motions.