April 18, 2008 Weekly Garden Guide

The heavy rain this week almost certainly heralded the end of our protracted Indian summer and the quick transition to full scale autumn. The drought is highly unlikely to return now. So while we may moan about the showers and greyness (are some of us never satisfied?) it does mean you can get back into the garden with a vengeance and start planting, dividing and moving.

  • Keep an eye on your favourite garden centres. They will be taking delivery of new season’s stock now and it pays to get in early because it is not always possible for them to re-order.
  • It is autumn clean up time in the ornamental garden, particularly with perennials. You may like to take note of what feeds the birds before you get too carried away with cutting back. Perennials really need to be lifted and divided every few years (few meaning three to four years) and if you can’t see yourself getting around to it, you can excavate some of the congested clump out as you cut back the top foliage. Top dress with some compost to keep things tidy and to add goodness to the soil.
  • Make the final cut to large plants you are wrenching in preparation for relocation and plan to get them moved over the next three weeks or so to give them time to re-establish roots before the cold and wet of winter strikes. For the same reason, early autumn is the best planting time for all trees and shrubs, especially in areas which are prone to dry summers.
  • Now is a suitable time for pruning and shaping most evergreen shrubs and trees but if you are giving them a haircut, you will be taking off the flower buds. Think of shaping now and haircutting later (after flowering). Shaping uses saws (a chainsaw even), loppers and secateurs. Haircutting uses hedge clippers.
  • Planting in the vegetable garden at this time is geared up for harvest in spring. If you are keen, you plant garlic and onions in May but prepare the ground now to give it time to settle. They grow better in ground which is a little more compacted than freshly dug fluff. Beds are often better raised a little for winter crops. Autumn is the traditional time for composting all gardens, especially the vegetable garden. If you are continually harvesting from the same area of garden, you have to keep adding humus to the soil or it will become poor and depleted. Synthetic fertilisers are a poor substitute for green crops and good compost. They add short term nutrients but not humus.
  • With the wet weather, keeping a copper spray on the tomatoes is even more important to extend the season if they have not already succumbed to blight.

If you have a surplus of cucumbers, The Curious Gardeners Almanac says that they were much cherished by the Ancient Egyptians who made a drink by cutting a hole in one end and stirring up the flesh with a stick. To us this just indicates a diet which is sadly lacking in greater delights such as fresh coconut, pineapple or even orange juice.