Eight ways to create a resilient and healthy garden this summer
Gardening is a classic national pastime enjoyed by people throughout the country. Whether you tend a small plot on an allotment or have a few acres of outdoor space to look after, gardening is a hobby that helps us connect with nature and can give us an enormous sense of well-being.
If you’re lucky enough to have a garden, managing it in a way which benefits both you and nature can be incredibly rewarding. 47% of our native wildlife species have declined in numbers since 1970, nature really does need a helping hand.
With this in mind, we've compiled a series of top gardening tips for keeping your garden in shape, to ensure it stays healthy all year long.
1. Weeding and removing invasive plants
While far from the most exciting or glamorous garden task, removing unwanted plants from your garden should form a regular part of your garden maintenance. When removing weeds from your garden, it’s important to identify what you are removing, and consider why you are removing it. If a weed is not impacting the other plants in your garden, there’s no rule saying you have to remove it.
Many plants that we consider to be weeds are simply native plants that flourish in the local environment, which can do wonders for your garden’s overall health. But that’s not always the case; some invasive species can be a gardener’s worst nightmare and should be removed as soon as they are spotted. For example, Japanese Knotweed is a highly invasive plant that spreads very quickly and can be difficult to remove if allowed to take root.
Simply put, it is best to keep a close eye on the plants in your garden, identifying those that you didn’t place there yourself and making an informed decision about whether to remove them. Additionally, if you’re having difficulty removing a weed that keeps coming back, ask your local garden centre for advice.
2. Adapt your garden to the UK's variable weather
Gardens in the UK need to withstand all manner of weather, from cold winter frosts to scorching summer heatwaves. This means that the overall design of your garden is essential in ensuring that you can enjoy your outdoor space no matter the season.
One of the best ways to make your garden more hospitable is to create multiple areas of shade. In the summer, these areas offer solace from the harshest sunlight, creating a cool oasis around your garden, while in the winter, they can help to retain heat, protecting your plants from frost and snowfall.
Shaded areas can be created in many ways, from planting a variety of trees and large plants that cast shadows onto your garden, to placing garden walling, fences or hedges around the perimeter of your outdoor space.
These walls and barriers don't just provide shade but can also help divide your garden into different sections, from dedicated lawn space to herb gardens and flower beds. Dividing your garden up in this way will provide multiple points of interest, help with spacial definition and create windbreaks to protect it during stormy weather.
3. Keep your garden hydrated with a water butt
In recent years, our hot UK summers have brought periods of extended drought, with weeks of little to no rainfall, leaving gardens too dry with some plants struggling to survive. This issue intensifies when the inevitable hosepipe bans come into effect, meaning it's almost impossible to keep your garden well-hydrated.
To counter these problematic periods, installing a water butt in your garden is an excellent way to give you a reserve of water that can be used for watering, even if there's a hosepipe ban.
Water butts range in size and depending on your outdoor space, you might consider having more than one to build up extra reserves. Not only will this help keep your garden healthy and hydrated, but it will reduce the demand of an already limited resource and potentially the overall cost of your water bill, as you recycle rainwater instead of turning on the tap.
4. Improve your garden's drainage
The spring and summer months are the ideal time to change your garden. With more daylight and pleasant weather, spending long hours in the garden is as enjoyable as it is beneficial. With the inevitable rain and blustery weather of autumn just around the corner, it's the ideal time to update your garden's drainage to prevent it from becoming waterlogged.
An effective way of increasing how much water your garden can absorb is to install a rain garden, creating a depression and filling it with gravel of graded sizes with a layer of planting material such as garden compost and horticultural grit. Incorporating plants which thrive in both wet and dry conditions can add more interest to the garden and help to stop drains becoming inundated during intense rainfall. Good options are Iris, varieties of Joe Pye weed, Rudbeckia, and Jeruselem sage.
You can also help support drainage in your garden by installing permeable patios, which use unique paving slabs to help absorb excess water rather than allowing it to pool on the surface. Regular garden maintenance is also vital to keeping your garden well-drained, such as regularly clearing drains and gutters of debris that builds up throughout the year.
5. Don't ignore soil quality
Understanding the soil quality in your garden is vital if you're looking to grow healthy plants that come back year after year. Over time, the quality of your soil can fall as the repeated growing cycles of plants can leave it drained of nutrients and even change the soil's pH, making it more acidic or alkaline. This is especially true if you're growing fruit and vegetables, as they often require much more significant amounts of nutrients to produce a healthy crop.
A great way to counter this is to compost your garden waste and much of your kitchen waste, such as the bits of fruit and vegetables you trim when cooking. Installing a compost heap at the end of your garden allows these organic materials to break down over time until you are left with a rich compost that can be mixed with the soil in your garden to replenish those lost nutrients.
If you have the space, a three-tier compost system is widely thought to be the most efficient method for this, but smaller compost bins and boxes are just as good if you're short on space. Composting is an excellent way of reducing your carbon footprint by reusing waste materials that would otherwise go to landfill.
When planting new species in your garden, you may want to test the acidity of the soil to make sure it is suitable for the plant you want to grow. You can find DIY pH testing kits for garden soil in many garden centres, making it an easy process that can pay dividends down the line.
6. Trim those garden plants
One of the simplest ways to ensure healthy growth on your garden plants is to give them a proper trim. By removing any dead or withering branches or stems, you can help them to focus their energy and encourage new growth. This is especially important for certain species of plants, such as apple trees or roses, where a little pruning can go a long way to ensuring a bumper crop of apples or a larger bouquet of flowers.
Keeping your garden well-trimmed is also essential for preventing slower-growing and more delicate plants from being overrun or smothered by their faster-growing neighbours. Be aware of the shadows cast by large shrubs and bushes, as these can block out any sun from reaching smaller plants that may surround them.
Additionally, all of those trimmings and clippings can be recycled by adding them to your compost heap, decomposing and forming new soil to replenish the nutrients in your garden.
7. Weeding and removing invasive plants
While far from the most exciting or glamorous garden task, removing unwanted plants from your garden should form a regular part of your garden maintenance. When removing weeds from your garden, it's essential to identify what you are removing and consider why you are removing it. If a weed is not impacting the other plants in your garden, there's no rule saying you have to remove it.
Many plants we consider to be weeds are simply native plants that flourish in the local environment, which can do wonders for your garden's overall health. But that's not always the case; some invasive species can be a gardener's worst nightmare and should be removed as soon as they are spotted. For example, Japanese Knotweed is a highly invasive plant that spreads very quickly and can be difficult to remove if allowed to take root.
Simply put, it is best to keep a close eye on the plants in your garden, identifying those that you didn't place there yourself and making an informed decision about whether to remove them. Additionally, if you're having difficulty removing a weed that keeps returning, ask your local garden centre for advice.
8. Encourage pollinators with specially selected plants
A healthy garden is abuzz with wildlife, particularly insects which play a vital role in maintaining a healthy garden ecosystem. The most important role that insects play in the garden is pollination, moving pollen from one plant to another, allowing them to naturally reproduce.
Recent years have seen the number of pollinators plummet in the UK, which could have terrible repercussions for our plants and wildlife. An effective way to counter this in your garden is to choose plants that attract pollinating insects, such as bees, hoverflies and butterflies. Including a diverse range of plant species is an excellent way of creating a pollinator- friendly garden, especially native plants that are the natural food source of these species.
If you are considering adding a tree to your garden, species such as apple, wild cherry, willow and hazel produce large volumes of blossom that insects will love. Native wildflowers such as toadflax, cornflowers, honeysuckle and cowslip are great additions as their numbers have fallen dramatically in the wild due to increased agriculture and development in their natural habitats. Other common plants that pollinators will love include lavender, primroses and heather.
If you want to create the perfect environment for pollinators to thrive, you should avoid using pesticides in the garden and anything which contains Glyphosate which is lethal to bees. Common lawn weeds such as white clover, red clover and dandelions are also a naturally occurring source of food for bees, so resisting the urge to pull these out will really help our little pollinating friends.
9. Support biodiversity with wildlife-friendly features
One of the best signs of a healthy garden is its biodiversity, with the most healthy gardens supporting various birds, animals and insects. All of these visiting creatures help to regulate the ecosystem within your garden, pollinating plants, consuming pests and helping to fertilise the soil. Not only that, but the wide variety of species you can spot in a healthy garden is a joy to behold.
Installing bird boxes, either high up in trees or on the side of your property, provides different bird species with a place to nest and raise their young while installing a bird bath gives animals a place to drink and cool off in the warm summer months. Adding bird feeders or a bird table are also great ways of encouraging visitors to your garden, from colourful songbirds to doves, sparrows and squirrels. Try and add nest boxes on north facing walls, and bee habitats on south facing.
Another addition you can make to your garden is an insect hotel, which can be bought from most garden centres or made at home as a fun project for the whole family. Hedgehog houses are also a fun habitat you can construct in the corner of your garden to provide additional habitats for local wildlife, and cutting a small hole in your garden fences will allow hedgehogs to travel from garden to garden in search of food, though make sure to ask your neighbour's permission beforehand!