February 8, 2008 Weekly Garden Guide

With no rain forecast yet and the need to conserve water, there is not a whole lot most of us can be doing in the garden. We don’t expect this sort of extended dry spell in Taranaki but other parts of the country cope with it most years. And at least the autumn rains will come in due course, unlike large parts of Australia who have no such prospect.

  • So a reminder that moving container plants to shaded areas or plunging them in the garden will reduce their need for water. If the water flows out the bottom of the pot as fast as you pour it in the top, it means you are wasting water because the mix is so dry that the water is running straight through and not being absorbed. Using a surfactant will help water absorption. A squirt of liquid detergent will also work.
  • Watering in the evening or early morning will mean that more water is absorbed. Rather than leaving a hose in one place to give a deep soak, repeatedly passing over an area with a fine spray (in other words, copying the action of banned sprinklers or emulating a light rain) will do more to soak an area and direct the water to where it is most needed. It takes longer but if you do it properly, you won’t have to do it so often.
  • Do not forget to keep an eye on the water level in the goldfish pond. If the level drops too much and the water heats up, it is not good for the fish.
  • Many of the spring bulbs are starting to move already and as soon as the rains come, they will all bolt in to growth. You can tell when they are starting to grow by the fresh white root which forms. So do not delay on digging up overcrowded patches that you may have earmarked for attention last spring. By far the largest proportion of our bulbs in this country are South African in origin, particularly those whose growth is triggered by autumn rains.
  • Spray citrus trees with summer strength copper and oil for mites. This also helps protect against botrytis which can strike later on and makes the leaves turn brown and cause the fruit to fall off.
  • A further reminder to prune flowering cherry trees now. We will admit that Mark still has to do ours. Remove witches brooms (the patches of dense foliage which look different to the main part of the tree – these will never flower and tend to take over) and shape the trees as required.
  • An update on monarch butterflies – if you have run out of swan plants, bigger caterpillars at least will eat pumpkin and pupate. Their golden excrement has a certain novelty value and is an indicator that they are happily digesting the pumpkin. It does not appear that you can raise young caterpillars entirely on pumpkin.