The whole year reaches for and aspires to the month of June. The days reach their peak on the 21st and Midsummers Day – June 24th is the high point of the year. So the first, most obvious but far the most important thing is to enjoy your garden as much as possible in every way possible. Do not let a moment slip by .
There is a palpable sense of arrival with a sense of freshness underlying the lush green that frames the garden. As well as warmth and light it means that the tender plants that we have been protecting for half the year can now come out and grow freely both in the borders and vegetable garden and the garden can assume its rich summer clothes. Bananas, cannas and dahlias are planted out into the Jewel garden along with all the tender annuals we have been raising from seed throughout the colder spring months. The vegetable garden – which is always surprisingly slow to get going, really starts to take off and tender vegetables and herbs jostle for available space.
But best of all, for this gardener at least, are the long, long evenings when we can stay outside, gardening or just watching the swifts and swallows circle the sky, until after ten at night.
Hot June days are a joy but the garden still glows looks fabulous in a month dogged by rain and unseasonable cold. Colour arrives like a carnival and should be celebrated with high abandon. There are Oriental poppies with huge orange blooms, Bearded Irises topped with some of the richest colours in the whole floral world, large-flowering clematis and, as the month unfurls, roses, glorious roses of every shade of pink, white, red and yellow. The only sane response to this panoply of flowers is to bathe luxuriously in the colour.
Although trees, hedges and shrubs now have all their full summer foliage everything still has the freshness and inner glow of spring. Nothing is jaded. Nothing has yet been taken for granted. June is growing and every moment is a celebration. In fact the weather can often be too cold, too wet or, just occasionally, too hot. No matter. This is minor stuff. The British garden – and countryside – is at its very best and I adore every second of it.
What to do in the garden this month:
The vegetable garden is coming out of the ‘Hungry Gap’ – that period between the last of the winter crops and the first of summer’s harvest but there is still time to start a vegetable garden from scratch although there should be some urgency to do so.
Tomato plants, courgettes, squashes, runner beans and sweetcorn can all be planted outside now the nights are warming up and aubergines, peppers, melons, cucumbers and more tomatoes grown in a greenhouse.
It is important to keep a succession of lettuce going this month making small sowings every two or three weeks to ensure a steady supply of fresh salad leaves.
Regularly pinch out side-shoots on tomatoes. It is best – and easiest – to do this first thing in the morning when the plant is turgid and they will snap off easily in your fingers.
June is a month when weeds really kick into action so all vegetable plots need regular weeding and nothing beats a hoe for this. The secret of effective hoing is to always do it in dry weather and preferably in the morning so that the weeds will cut cleanly from the soil and then dry out and die during the day. They can then be raked up in the afternoon and taken to the compost heap.
THIN APPLES, PEARS & DESERT GRAPES TO ENSURE GOOD SIZED FRUIT
If your apple or pear trees suddenly deposit hundreds of small fruits on the ground you might feel something is going horribly wrong but this is perfectly normal and known as the ‘June Drop’. The tree is just reducing the quantity of fruit they carry in order to successfully ripen those that remain. However it is indiscriminate about which fruit it lets go, so it is a good idea to selectively remove the smallest fruit at this time of year before the tree does it for you.
Reduce each cluster on a spur to just two fruits that are not touching each other. Not only will these grow and ripen better as a result but also the risk of damaging the branches by the weight of the fruit later in the year is greatly reduced. With all fruit that is to be eaten rather than juiced, quality is much more important than quantity. You can always buy average apples but if you grow them yourself then you should always aim for them to be as good as possible.
DEAD-HEAD ROSES TO PROLONG FLOWERING
Dead-heading roses is really worth doing at least once a week- and preferably daily – in mid summer.
When you dead-head you are effectively pruning and thus stimulating fresh side shoots which will bear new flower buds and therefore extend the flowering season. Dead-heading also stops the plant developing seed and so increases the chance of repeat flowering as seed always takes precedence from the plant’s supplies of nutrients and water.
Just pulling off the old flower heads will help but by far the best approach is to use a pair of secateurs and to cut back to the first leaf below the spent flower. A new shoot will then grow from this point.
Of course some roses, especially the species bushes, have glorious hips in autumn and these will only develop if the flowers are allowed to set seed and fruit., so enjoy the flowers as long as they last and then wait for the autumnal display that they will produce from their fruit.
PRUNE WISTERIA CUTTING BACK ALL NEW GROWTH TO SIX INCHES
Wisteria produces its flowers on new growth, which in turn emerges from spurs off the main shoots. When they have finished flowering – and for most of us that is around the middle of June – is the best time to prune all this years new shoots back to a spur leaving no more than about about 6 inches of growth. In the process the whole plant can be tidied, trained and tied in so that there are no loose, trailing shoots.
If there is any doubt about how hard to prune, err on the side of cutting too lightly and then in the the new year, when the foliage has all died back, you can prune again, reducing each side shoot to just 2 or 3 inches.
PRUNE EARLY FLOWERING SHRUBS
The Spring flowering shrubs such as Philadelphus, Amelanchier, Deutzia, Weigela and Rubus all produce their flowers on shoots grown the previous summer so should be pruned now. This will give the new growth plenty of time to ripen before winter and thus bear maximum flowers next Spring.
Mature shrubs should be pruned hard, cutting back most of the flowering stems to a healthy new shoot and taking the oldest growth (but no more than a third or quarter of the plant) right back to the base so it is completely renewed every three or four years. A very overgrown shrub should be renewed in this gradual manner too. Young shrubs should have the weakest growth cut back with the remainder pruned just to shape and size.
Weed, water and mulch with compost after pruning is done and take semi ripe cuttings from healthy, straight non-flowering pruned stems.
It is amazing how forgiving the eye is of the broad expanses of hedge, grass, border or anything really, as long as the edges, in any direction, are suitably straight and clean cut. It is too early to cut hedges because not all young birds have left the nest, but you can cut all entrances and exits and vertical planes in gaps in hedges to crispen them up and whilst this is quick and easy to do and clear up, it can transform the garden. Then, in a month’s time, all the hedges can have a proper trim and your edges, which by then will have become a little fuzzy again, can have their second cut.
TRIM BOX HEDGES
Until 10 years ago Box hedges and topiary were almost ubiquitous in British gardens. But the combination of box blight and box moth caterpillar have made one of the stalwarts of the garden look very much under threat and it may be that fewer and fewer of us can successfully grow box at all.
However if you do then early June is the best time to give it a trim. Always use really sharp shears or hedge trimmer as this will avoid burning and tearing the cut edges which makes them turn brown.
Also always do this job when you know that you are going to have a few days of dry weather as the cut leaves and stems are extra susceptible to the box blight fungus when the wounds are fresh. Dry weather will stop the spores being active and allow time for the wounds to quickly scar over and become less vulnerable.
By June a million gardens are regularly humming – and at times unpleasantly roaring – with the sound of motor- mowers keeping the grass trim and under control. But at Longmeadow we restrict this to paths and try and let as much grass as possible grow long and planted up with spring bulbs and wildflowers. This looks beautiful and is so much better for insects and all forms of wildlife than a neatly mown lawn.
However it is important to time the cutting of this long grass to maximise the performance of the bulbs next spring and of the grasses themselves. Nothing should be cut at all until after the longest day on June 21st. This gives the foliage of the bulbs time to die back and feed next year’s bulb and subsequent flowering. The grass can then be cut if it as been hot and dry although sometimes I leave this as late as mid August.
Whenever you make this first cut of the long grass, you must collect it all up and take it to the compost heap to stop it adding nutrition to the ground which would encourage lusher, coarser grasses at the expense of the flowers.