Sharpen up those secateurs please, and get out there to tackle the jungle that has sprung up over the recent weeks when, if you have been paying attention to your garden at all, you have simply enjoyed watching your creepers, climbers and shrubs in general, grow away to their hearts’ content and get completely out of hand in the process.
This is liable to be particularly true of that dependable, almost unstoppable, the far from humble bougainvillea which loves nothing more than to run completely riot all summer long and, if allowed to have its own way, will smother every other plant — to say nothing of houses, walls, garages, and nor is it hesitant about taking on complete apartment blocks, small ones, too — in the immediate vicinity.
Many gardeners are, for some unknown reason, rather wary of pruning back their bougainvilleas as hard as should be done. August is, however, the perfect month in which to prune these glorious climbers of all their long, beautifully arching growth as, painful as the task may be — aesthetically and personally if the thorns get to grips with you — you are actually doing both yourself and the plant a major favour. Bougainvillea, if left untended, eventually begins to look very scruffy indeed and will, over time, ‘flower’ — the colourful show is actually from the brightly hued leaf bracts surrounding the almost invisible, tiny, white flowers — less and less as, like many other flowering shrubs, creepers and climbers, it ‘flowers’ on new growth. Pruning it hard back will result in a major outburst of new growth and, therefore, a major splash of colour in the months to come as long as, that is, you do not over-water the plants: Treating bougainvilleas to copious amounts of water, at any time of the year, simply makes them send up lots and lots of long new shoots smothered in green leaves and they are so happy doing this that, at least 90pc of those thus watered, completely forget to burst into bloom. Hold back the water and they will ‘flower’ in intense profusion which, in these water starved days, makes them the perfect plant to indulge in on a large scale if you have the space available.
It used to be that bougainvillea was available only in blazing carmine pink shades or white but this changed a few years ago with the introduction of oranges, yellows, mauves, crimson, pale pink and white, plus, bi-colours and double flowered varieties predominantly from the Far East. Dwarf and bush varieties of bougainvillea were also brought in as were bonsai specimens and all, even massive climbers, are just as happy to be cultivated in large pots as when they are grown directly in the ground.
Other climbers that will benefit from being pruned back this month include grape vines (if they have finished fruiting or are not yet of a fruiting age), ivies of all kinds and any shrubs, acalypha being a good example, which have sent out masses of unwanted, long shoots and suckers. You can, of course, use suitable shoots and suckers to propagate more plants which, if you don’t have room to keep, you can give away to friends and neighbours who may be delighted to provide them with a loving a home.
Elsewhere on the flower front this month: Divide up overcrowded clumps of those gorgeous gerberas, replant the resultant plants in a suitable border all of their own, dot them around the garden or plant some in clay pots to enjoy on balconies, verandas and in rooftop gardens. Then there are those dahlia tubers you have been wondering when to put in — the waiting is over as they can go in right now as can any dahlia seedlings you started off last month and, in case you still have dahlia seed hanging around, sow it — in seed trays or clay pots — in good quality organic compost. Keep these out of direct sunlight and provide protection from heavy rains and, in no time at all, you will have lots and lots of interesting new dahlia plants with which to create a marvellous display. I say ‘interesting’ because if they have been grown from home collected seed, the results can be startling as the new plants are unlikely to bear the slightest resemblance to their parents when they burst into bloom so you will have some major surprises when, one after the other, they decide to open their petals.
You can also, if you haven’t already done so last month, busy yourself in sowing seeds of petunias, dianthus, antirrhinum, salvia, cineraria, gerbera, carnation, geranium, hollyhocks, rudbeckia, begonia, phlox, scabosia and many more autumn and winter flower annuals although hang on to your sweet peas for a while yet.
On the increasingly important vegetable and herb front, sow seed for early cauliflower — remember to try the purple variety if you can get it, early and winter cabbages of all varieties including the red ones, carrots, beetroot, lettuce, tomatoes, green onions, celery, lovage, borage, radishes, spinach, leaf beet/Swiss chard, giant red mustard, mustard mizuna, endive and a whole lot more but please, before purchasing any packets of seeds from anywhere at all, read all of the small print on the label and do not buy if the words ‘GMO’ or ‘BT’ are there. I will explain about both of these in a separate article very soon.
Meanwhile, it’s on with organic gardening — avoiding all and any use of chemical interventions in any shape or form if, and I know that you do, you value your own and your families’ health and well-being and care, as everyone should, about the long term, environmental sustainability of the planet which is our only home.
Organic gardening runs on a natural basis which, unsurprisingly, includes the massive use of homemade (or purchased if you cannot make it yourself) organic compost with additional and always on-going soil food and health being catered for by mulching everything in the garden with purely organic materials — all of which have been discussed here before and which will, in due course, be brought to your attention again in forthcoming columns.
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