Try as we might, there are always things that don’t go according to plan in the garden. Plants can be attacked by pests, or simply fail to thrive, while weeds can pose a problem if left to grow unchecked. But, with a little ingenuity and forward planning, many of these irritations can be solved.
Browse our list of common summer gardening problems, and how to solve them, below.
Problem: insect attacks
Solution: if you’re an organic gardener, you’ll need to look at ways of limiting attack – including growing a wide range of plants, mixing them up and avoiding plants that are martyrs to greenfly or whitefly. Encourage birds (many of which eat insects) to come into your garden. Ladybirds, lacewings, hoverflies and wasps also eat aphids, and can be encouraged in by planting flowers. As a last resort, squirt off pests with a powerful jet from a hose. If you choose to spray with an insecticide, bear in mind that you are probably also killing beneficial species that are already controlling the pests for you. Learn when to turn a blind eye – plants that are well grown, well fed and watered, are more capable of shrugging off attack than feeble ones that are struggling.
Problem: plants stopping flowering
Solution: many plants – such as sweet peas – will stop flowering if you let them run to seed. Keep picking flowers to bring indoors, and deadhead regularly to keep plants flowering right through summer and into autumn. Not only is this technique useful for prolonging flowering, but the garden will also look better for being free of faded flowers. Verbena (pictured) flowers for a long time even without deadheading, but you may find it spreads its seed a little too freely. So, remove faded flowers to keep it looking neat and stop it popping up where it’s not wanted.
Problem: brown lawn
Solution: if we have a scorching summer, your lawn is going to go brown, so don’t waste water trying to keep it green. Grass is surprisingly resilient, and the lawn will green up once the first shower of rain comes. What you can do during prolonged dry spells is raise the height of cut on the lawn mower, which will slow down the rate of browning.
Solution: there are all manner of tricks you can try to discourage moles: push children’s windmills into them so that the vibration deters the mole, or sink empty wine bottles – neck upwards – in the hills so that the wind whistling across the top sends them packing. There are special ‘mole movers’ – vibrating metal spikes that can be pushed into the ground and that work reasonably well on clay soil but are not particularly effective on sandy earth. In extreme circumstances, some people may resort to calling in a mole catcher.
Problem: wilting plants
Solution: pots and hanging baskets are totally reliant on you for their moisture supply. Let them dry out, and growth slows and stops, and if the situation continues the plants will die. Larger tubs dry out less rapidly, so increase the size of your containers. Ask a neighbour to water them in the evening if you are away (the water will be absorbed before it evaporates, which can happen if you water in the midday sun). If you have a lot of pots, rig up an irrigation system that can be controlled by a timer fitted to the tap. They are relatively inexpensive and will save you pounds in lost plants. In your borders, concentrate on watering the plants that need it most – young plants and annuals including veg. Established shrubs and trees, growing in good soil, should have sufficient roots to be able to find water in all but the driest spells. (Turn to page 111 for ,ore watering advice from Alan)
Solution: wasps are the gardener’s friend – eating insect pests and caterpillars – but they also eat fruit in late summer and can make outdoor dining a pain. Trap them in narrow-necked jars of jam and water, or try hanging up those paper imitation wasps’ nests which are reputedly effective.
Problem: green pond
Solution: crystal-clear water is what you want, but in summer it may well turn the colour of pea soup and be filled with green strands of blanket weed. New ponds will always turn green, but the water should clear once that mystical stage known as ‘a balance’ has been achieved. This balance is the result of sufficient submerged oxygenating plants being given a chance to work their magic, and some of the pool’s surface being covered by water lily leaves or other floating aquatics, providing shade and absorbing nutrients. Very tiny ponds will heat up quickly and blanket weed will be a constant problem. The ideal depth at the centre is 60-100cm so that temperatures are more constant. Blanket weed can be removed by twisting it round a garden cane and hauling it out.
Problem: rabbits and deer
Solution: you will find lists of rabbit and deer-resistant plants online, but in the long term, the only answer is fencing. For deer, it needs to be about 3m high and for rabbits 1-1.25m high with 45cm of netting buried in the ground to prevent them burrowing underneath. Done once properly, it’ll give you peace of mind.
Problem: mildew and blackspot on roses
Solution: these fungus diseases often strike when the plants are under stress – usually on account of a lack of food and water. Climbers against house walls are especially prone to attack. Make sure that food and water are in good supply, and mulch the ground around the plants with well-rotted manure, compost or chipped bark to retain moisture in dry spells. If your varieties are prone to these diseases, swap them for leathery-leaved, disease resistant varieties, which are less likely to be attacked. That way, you and your plants will be happier.
Solution: the key to a weed-free garden is to make sure they have nowhere to grow. Start planting beds more densely so that space is colonised rapidly by cultivated plants rather than weeds – if there’s no bare soil it’s more difficult for weeds to gain a foothold. If you’re planting a new border, make sure the ground is cleared properly at the outset. Thick perennial weed roots such as ground elder and bindweed will regrow from tiny bits that break off. Make sure you have removed as much as possible, then apply a 5cm-thick layer of mulch around your plants. Where perennial weeds are particularly difficult to get rid of, spread a weed-suppressing membrane over the entire area and plant through holes cut into it before laying a mulch of bark chips on top. Hoe off annual weed seedlings when they are tiny, ideally on a warm, dry day, and they will shrivel in the sun. Let them get too large and they will start to compete with your plants for light and nutrients.
Problem: greenhouse overheating
Solution: in summer, these crystal palaces turn into furnaces. Make sure you have enough ventilators in your greenhouse – in the ridge and on the sides to allow a through-flow of air – and invest in blinds, which will cut the amount of direct sunlight penetrating the glass and prevent temperatures from soaring. Whitewash for glass is cheaper, but is a pain to apply and remove.
Problem: birds eating fruit
Solution: there’s only one way to make sure that you − and not the birds − eat your raspberries and strawberries, and that is to cover them with netting. Not loose netting in which the birds can become entangled, but a proper fruit cage (tall for raspberries, lower for strawberries). It really is as simple as that, and the netting can be removed and stored after cropping so that your garden doesn’t look as though it has its own tennis court.