Gardening in August: Summer wanes as autumn fruits appear

by Keith Jordan

thermometerThe schools are out for summer and the holidays are in full flow but, with some regret, every year there are some subtle changes in the natural world in early/mid August that signal the summer is on the wane! The start of the football season is another reminder! Campers also find that clear nights and heavy dews can be a feature of mid August. My garden thermometer dropped to 6 deg C the other night here and it went down to about 4 C in Thetford.

About one week after the Cambridge Folk Festival finishes the swifts that have been flying and screeching over our houses are noticeably absent. They are already on the move, following their epic twice-yearly journey to Africa along with some of the warblers and other migrant birds that have graced our neighbourhoods.

Trees are laden with developing fruits, nuts and berries – especially Rowan (Mountain Ash) that are prized by assertive territorial blackbirds! I think it is going to be a generally poor year for fruits that flowered early – plums, wild cherry plums, damsons – when the cold easterly winds in spring were blowing straight from central Europe. An early-flowering almond by the centre I work at has no fruits on it – usually it is laden.


Blackberries are just beginning to ripen (about a week or more later than normal) – fantastic tasty fruits that will go well with the first apples that are ready from the end of August. Now is the time to start summer pruning apple trees (as opposed to more structural pruning work in the winter). If your tree or cordons have reached the size that you want this pruning encourages more flowering/fruiting buds to form and allows more light to ripen the developing fruits. The technique involves cutting all of this years growth back to one or two buds and especially any shoots that are weak and spindly or too crowded. The top leader growths can be left if the tree has not reached its full size. Leave any major pruning, say if renovating an old or overgrown tree, until after lead drop in the autumn. Thin out any apple fruits where the branches may be bending over due to an excellent pollination. If there is a choice take any that are misshapen or have holes or damage caused by Coldlin moth caterpillars – these can affect many apple crops.


Garden spiders (the ones that weave a web right across the garden path or greenhouse entrance!) are getting bigger, on a diet of daddy long legs and other insects. Small ‘teenage’ grasshoppers are also hopping around on my allotment and the first Painted Lady (a migratory butterfly from southern Europe) frequented my allotment flowers. Although insect numbers (e.g. lady birds) are apparently fewer in numbers this year, due to the cold / wet spells we have had in the last 2 years, I’m pleased to see a good number of bees and butterflies on my plot. In fact it was a ‘Bee & Butterfly fest’ the other day with masses of bumblebees and butterflies (Gatekeeper, Peacocks, Painted lady, Brimstone and Common Blue) busily partaking in the nectar from a bed of marjoram, oregano, lavender and scabious flowers. Plant these if you want to encourage these beautiful and vital pollinators to your garden next year. Bees were busily visiting the flowers of autumn fruiting raspberries – another crop to come soon. Prune to the ground all old stems of summer raspberries, loganberries and similar berries, but keep the new fresh stems that will produce next years crop.

Good to time to sow some fast growing lettuce, rocket, radish and other salad crops now. Keep well watered and covering with fleece really helps.

August 15, 2013

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