Snipping off buds before going on holiday

How to garden in unpredictable summers

Gardening in the Great British Summer isn't always easy as the weather can change so quickly. Here's how to get the best out of your garden, whatever the weather.

Many gardens look their best in summer, but the British climate is notorious for being unpredictable. Summer weather can mean heavy downpours, flash flooding, drought and gales, so it pays to be prepared.

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Find out how to prepare your borders for summer.

Here’s how to keep your garden looking good in summer, whatever the weather.

Summer weather can mean heavy downpours, flash flooding, drought and gales, so it pays to be prepared.

Keep weeding

Be ruthless with weeds – the compete with cultivated plants for moisture, light and growing space. In dry weather they’ll take all the available water, while in damp weather they harbour pests – particularly slugs and snails – and diseases such as mildews.

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Control your feeding

Add controlled-release feed granules to all containers – they come either in loose granules or tablets (shown). Controlled-release products only discharge nutrients when conditions are right, so plants are automatically kept correctly fed for several months. In warm, moist weather they release more food than when it’s cool and dry.

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Keep roots cool

Use pebbles to cover the surface of compost in year-round tubs of shrubs, clematis, lilies, topiary and standard fuchsias. This protects shallow roots from overheating in strong sun. The stones also trap moisture, and condensation collects on the undersides of stones at night, helping to keep the roots cool.

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Harvest vegetables

Regularly pick veg, such as beans and courgettes, as soon as they reach usable size. This encourages plants to keep cropping heavily, instead of producing a few tough giant crops or setting seed. Also, sow lettuce and other salad leaves little and often to maintain supplies. Don’t transplant them in summer – sow in situ and thin out instead. It’s more effective and reduces watering.

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Leave the grass long

When mowing, don’t cut too short, hoping it will last longer between cuts. It will turn brown in hot spells, which allows weeds to invade. Instead, raise the mower blades slightly as longer grass acts as its own weatherproof buffer, keeping moisture in.

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Shade containers

If you don’t have anyone to water when you go on holiday, move baskets and containers into the shade. If possible, sink their bases into moist soil, then water well before leaving. Snip off all open flowers, plus well-developed buds, so that annuals are just producing a new flush when you return, instead of running to seed.

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Stake and tie in

Tying in and staking are essential so that the soft, floppy young growth of climbers is safely supported and brittle spikes of perennial flowers or tall annuals aren’t broken off by heavy rains or winds.

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Prioritise watering

Veg plants in containers or a greenhouse have the biggest need for water. Trees and shrubs have the least, as they have deeper roots that can dig right down into the soil. Water thoroughly instead of splashing it over the soil surface or the foliage, otherwise the moisture evaporates without doing any good.

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Choose the right plants

Choosing the right plant for the right place in your garden will ensure that they thrive. For example, drought-tolerant plants have silver, felty or waxy leaves to protect them from water loss. Or, only grow very easygoing plants such as viburnum, forsythia, ornamental elders, rubus, hardy fuchsia and species roses.

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Mulch

Any thing newly planted or shallow rooted – or soft fruit – should be mulched with bark chippings or compost. Do this when the soil is damp. Mulching keeps in moisture and smothers annual weeds, and insulates roots from heat or cold.  It also stops soil splashing onto foliage, flowers or fruit, which can encourage disease.

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Add gel crystals

You can add water-retaining gel crystals to containers you’ve already planted up. Make a series of holes a few inches deep between plants with a pencil and trickle small amounts of crystals or made- up gel into the compost. This will hold moisture between waterings, releasing it slowly as plants dry out. It also ‘locks up’ water after heavy rain.

Install an automatic watering system

Set up an automatic watering system with a timer to keep at-risk plants, such as greenhouse tomatoes, moist. If can run off either an outdoor tap or a rainwater butt that can be topped up by hose, or via guttering from a nearby shed or greenhouse roof.

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Choose large containers

Substitute masses of small, fussy pots for a few, big showy containers. Small pots dry out fast, so are higher maintenance.

Don’t plant now

Postpone new planting plans until autumn or next spring – hardy plants will become established far better then, and you won’t have to worry about keeping them watered and weeded, or protected from surrounding plants.