February 28 2009, In the Garden this Week

  • Gardeners who prefer ornamentals to vegetables will be pleased that the heat of summer is disappearing and we have had some rains because it means you can get back into the garden. The summer rest is almost over. You can be dividing spring and early summer flowering perennials at this time, but if you dig up entire clumps, water them back in. Perennials do much better in well cultivated ground and when they are not too congested and solid. If you are a novice and wondering what a perennial is, they are the clumping plants without woody stems and trunks which build up below ground with many growth points – plants like begonias, bergenias and most of the daisy family.
  • Get on to lifting and dividing spring bulbs now because many are starting to put out fresh white roots.
  • Deadhead agapanthus as they finish flowering if you have plants bordering streams or reserves. They are such a significant part of our summer landscape that we would be the poorer without them but some seed alarmingly and we don’t need them classified as a noxious weed, as in Northland.
  • • If you have plans for laying fresh lawns this year, start work on them now by levelling and getting rid of weeds. It is too early to sow seed or lay lawn but the effort made now to drastically reduce resident weed seeds will pay dividends when you do get your lawn in.
  • Do not think you will green up dry, tired looking existing lawns by sprinkling fertiliser at this time. You are more likely to kill the remaining grass. Wait for the rains to come and then get out the fertiliser if you must. Using a mulcher mower means that you don’t usually need to fertilise. You can deal to flat weeds in the lawn at this time, either by hand (an old carving knife is a good tool) or by selective sprays if you are still using them.
  • In the vegetable garden, it is time to be a busy beaver getting in crops for winter. Sowing a few cabbages, cauliflower and broccoli each fortnight is better than doing one big hit because you want them to mature in stages. You can also be planting winter lettuce (which is leafy not hearting), Florence fennel (truly the most versatile of vegetables), beetroot, peas, green beans and carrots. It is nearly the end of green bean time so give these priority.
  • Sow micro greens in a tray if you want a delicious quick turn around of salad veg which would cost you a great deal more to buy. At this time of the year, it is only a matter of weeks before you can start harvesting tender leaves.
  • If your monarch caterpillars have stripped your swan plant supply, you can raise the larger sized caterpillars on pumpkin. Watch where you are walking because they will migrate in search of more food and they will also chrysalis sooner when faced with the threat of starvation.

It being harvest time for sweetcorn, the Curious Gardener’s Almanac tells us not only that sex is good but not as good as fresh sweet corn (!) but that if you lack kindling wood, the stalks of sweetcorn plants when dried and stored make excellent firelighters.