To misquote John Cleese; ‘Don’t mention the rain’! It has been the most extraordinary year for precipitation; it started as soon as the hosepipe ban was announced. Low temperatures and lack of sunshine, has meant plant growth has often been at a standstill. Normally restricted growth forms of gooseberries, redcurrants and apples, like fans and espaliers would be pruned by the end of July, as growth slows, but leave it later this year, until the first two weeks of August, as plants are putting on so much growth. It is difficult to tell from the picture, but some of the new growth on my redcurrants has reached 2’ long – it is normally about 6” at this time of year!
Prune back new growths of red and white currant cordons to 4-5 leaves, then cut them back to 1-2 buds in spring, cutting back the leading stem to one bud. Apple and pear cordons and espaliers are pruned in a similar fashion, cutting back new shoots arising from the main stem to about 9” above the basal cluster of three leaves and cutting back shoots on existing spurs back to one inch. You may want to thin fruit at the same time, so you have fewer larger fruits. Cooking apples should be 6-9” apart as you want the fruit to be larger, dessert apples should be 4-6” apart, removing the ‘king fruit’, the one in the centre, which is usually malformed. Thinning may not be necessary due to poor fruit crops in some areas this year, so check your plants before starting. Plums are notorious for over cropping, leaving all of the fruit on the tree could lead to poor crops next year. These should be thinned, leaving one plum every 2-3”.
Continue breaking off the side shoots from cordon tomatoes, when they are 1” long, using your finger and thumb, all of the energy then goes into the developing fruit, and any sunlight can reach them, too. Once plants have reached the top of the greenhouse or have produced seven trusses of fruit, pinch out the main shoot two leaves above the top truss and continue feeding with high potash tomato fertiliser to help ripening.
It’s important to make arrangements for someone to look after your smaller houseplants while you’re on holiday. Ideally ask a neighbour who’s keen on gardening. If your kitchen draining board is away from scorching sunshine, group all your houseplants there, write down the instructions clearly on a piece of paper or stick the instructions on the side of each pot and take them through their individual needs before you leave. Alternatively, stand them all on an old towel or capillary matting with one end dipped in a sink full of water to act as a wick; single plants can be watered using a wick of a cotton shoelace or a piece of wool. They can also be put outdoors in a shady spot outdoors – houseplants enjoy a holiday too and can stand outdoors once the danger of frost has passed and be brought in before the first frosts of autumn. I’m off to France this month, so expect the weather to improve, as soon as I leave! Happy Gardening! Matt