Dig It - July tips from the Secret Gardener

Peacock

Looking after nectar plants

Your garden should be a riot of colour now with butterflies nectaring on the shrubs, perennials, annual bedding plants, native wildflowers and herbs, which are all in bloom. 

While recording your sightings for the Big Butterfly Count, make a note of which flowers are preferred by the butterflies, so you can make changes to your selection of plants for the following year if needed.

To maintain the floral profusion and the nectar banquet for butterflies, it is important to water regularly in hot weather and to remove dying or fading flowers.

Most annuals and perennials in beds, borders, hanging baskets and pots will benefit from deadheading. This improves the appearance of the plants and prevents them from producing seed, so the energy goes into producing new growth and more flowers. 

To deadhead, you can use your finger and thumb to snap off any spent blooms, or a pair of scissors if the stem is tougher. Clip the stalk back to a bud or the first set of leaves below the flower. 

Native wildflowers are best left alone and not deadheaded so they can reseed for the following season.

Shrubs like Buddleia have large flower heads, which can be removed when all of the many nectar-containing florets have died. For shrubs that self-seed, deadheading will prevent unwanted seedlings from growing.

To keep plants blooming, it is also important to water them well in hot weather. They should be watered before they start to wilt as it takes more energy for them to recover.

Water in the evening or early morning, when it is cooler so less water is lost to evaporation. However, if you water in the evening, the soil and the plants will stay wet most of the night, possibly promoting disease and fungal growth.

Give the ground a good soaking at the base of the plant. If the surface is only sprinkled with water, the roots will stay near the surface, rather than growing deeper into the moist subsoil.

Obviously, if possible try to use collected rainwater or domestic wastewater. If you run the tap until the hot water comes through, why not collect the lukewarm water rather than wasting it.

Be careful not to overwater, which can be as damaging as a lack of water, because roots are deprived of oxygen in waterlogged soil.

Caring for your plants will help to provide a good source of nectar throughout the summer and into autumn.

 The Big Butterfly Count runs from 20 Jul to 11 Aug

Happy Gardening,

The BC Towers 'Secret Gardener'