Basil grows well through the summer months

Basil grows well through the summer months. Archive photo.

09-07-2019A. VALENTE

Having commented just a few weeks ago that I had seen where the Municipal gardeners had cut the Oleanders down to mere stumps, that what local gardeners do is a good enough indication that we should do the same. It won't be long before we see the miles of this shrub that are all along the centre divide of our motorways also given the same treatment. When you think of all the colour we enjoy during this shrubs flowering season then here is a sure indication that we should do the same. In fact I feel sure I have seen more colour than ever on the Oleanders everywhere. Obviously the Oleander responds to being pruned every year.

Now a reader asks, what about other shrubs, let's say Hibiscus? Here is another case of ‘spare the knife and spoil the shrub’ well that’s just a simple way of putting it. The Hibiscus can grow really tall and in so doing often thins out at the top. There will be flowers all the time but not that attractive bushy shrub so here is where we have to help it along. I do admit that when I have a good healthy plant no matter how tall, but full of flower I find it very difficult to start cutting them back but I must be firm with myself. It all depends how tall you want the shrub to be and start cutting back probably as much as half its height.

Every garden is different and the age of the shrub will often dictate as to where to cut. Be sure to make the cut at an angle so that any moisture will drain off. This of course is common with a lot of pruning, a straight cut will allow that little puddle of water to sit and slowly rot the cut tip of the branch. When you have finished your cutting back why not try planting some of the offcuts? Start by trimming off several sets of leaves from the cut upwards to have a clean little bit of the branch to push down into the soil, you never know you could well end up with a couple more young bushes if they take a hold and grow roots. You can dip the cut end into ‘rooting powder’ which is said not only to enhance growing but to help avoid the wood rotting in the moist soil, it is known as ‘Enraizante’ and as always can be found in garden shops and the co-op.

Another question has come from a young man who has just taken up his own residence and wants to enhance his terrace with potted plants starting with culinary herbs. He is now dissapointed to see the the Sweet Basil is dying back. Here I had to inform him that some plants, of which this is one, are annuals which means they only last one season and then have to be planted up again next year. Basil likes warmth and sunshine and of course frequent watering. Cut back hard every so often before forming flower heads it will bush out and last for all of the summer months. The secret of course is never to let the flower heads mature, simply cut the growing tip back to the next pair of healthy leaves and it will keep on growing. I have seen more pots of Basil for sale in supermarkets recently at well under a euro per pot with a dozen or more seedlings so it looks like one can take a chance on keeping Basil growing well into the winter months. Naturally it will need a warmer spot sheltered from the wind, it tends to be a little more delicate than its other culinary mates.

So, let's take a look at them. Mint goes on forever, in fact that plant left to its own devices will take over the whole garden so is probably best kept in a tub or pot of some sort. It may well be looking a bit leggy at the moment so cut it back to within an inch of its life and you will see just how quickly it thickens out and looks healthy again to pop a sprig in the pot with those new potatoes that are just coming onto the market stalls again!

Parsley is another perennial that will grow for years, just snip off the leaves you want for the kitchen and be sure to cut out the flower head as it matures to always have Parsley. Once again I have seen new pots of Parsley on supermarket shelves for under 1 euro a pot with several healthy seedlings. I have bought several of these different herbs from time to time and find that re-potting into a larger plant pot they seem to go on for ever.

Totally different is Rosemary, that matures into a delightful ground hugging shrub. It can be found growing wild in some places, usually fairly stoney ground that is well drained and the mature plants doesn’t seem to need much water. It has a lovely fragrance that when you touch has spikey leaves and always has tiny mauve flowers, a delight to have along the garden path or in a pot. This is a little shrub that takes easily simply from a snippet broken off the parent plant and popped into the soil. Take two or three cuttings and you can be sure one of them will take root if not all of them.

Sage is another evergreen, as its name says it is sage green in colour with mauve flowers and grows into a small bush. This herb is usually used in a dried form, cut off a few little bits, tie them together and hang where the air can get to all the leaves, when totally dried, rub them down to a powder to add to sage and onion stuffing or even make your own sausage meat for sausage rolls with a good spoonful of dried sage to enhance the flavour. Oh dear, I am encroaching onto the cooking pages, sorry Andrew, there again that is what a vegetable garden is all about!

Just to finish, another easy to grow aromatic shrub is Lavender, break off that little bit and pop it into a pot or the bare ground. I love making Lavender bags and Lavender wands so can never have too many of these delightful little shrubs in any spare corner of the garden. Once again, this shrub doesn’t demand a great deal of water in the heat of the summer so is easy to have around. Good luck with your herbs and aromatic shrubs they are a delight to have in the garden or on any terrace.

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