April 3, 2009 In the garden this week

· It is countdown to the autumn rains. These will arrive soon; we are just not sure which day but some time around Easter would be a safe bet. As soon as the rains come, it is a sign that you can be out with the grass seed to sow new lawns or to over sow bare patches in existing lawns. In preparation for this, get out again with the push hoe once again to level any weeds on the site.

· Autumn is the better planting time for trees and shrubs than the more usual spring schedule, but you need to wait for the rain to penetrate the soil first and this will take a couple of days of steady precipitation. At this time of the year, you may well be planting last season’s stock and there is nothing wrong with this as long as you handle it properly. Plunge the whole plant, pot and all, into a bucket of water and weight it down. Leave it for several minutes at the very least, and longer if bubbles are still rising. If the plant is very rootbound, cut the pot or bag off and look at the roots. If they are coiled round and round, you need to make about three or four vertical cuts down the sides. If they are folded in like a parcel at the bottom, cut these back. We don’t recommend trying to tease out fine roots, or indeed any roots. You are more likely to cause damage. If the root system looks too small for the top, prune the top. Plant into well cultivated soil with plenty of compost, water and mulch. Plant once and plant well is the rule of thumb here.

· There is still a good month of warm growing weather in April, a little longer for those who live in mild, coastal areas so there is time to get winter vegetables into the garden. But don’t delay or you will get a disappointingly patchy harvest later. If you are a beginner, you are likely to have more success now with leafy greens and brassicas because it is late for slower growing root crops.

· Non gardeners may like to try sowing micro greens or mesclun into trays. You can be cutting salad greens in a matter of a few weeks. You need trays with drainage holes (we are still recycling polystyrene mushroom trays) and about 12cm of depth. Our preference is to use a layer of soil, then the main layer of compost with about 2cm of potting mix on top of the seeds. Or you may find buying seed raising mix is easier. Once planted, keep the trays in full sun, give them a light water each day and keep them up off the ground to escape slugs and snails, let alone cats who may think it is kitty litter. The barbecue table can be a good spot for the trays or a sunroom or conservatory.

· If you are saving your own vegetable or flower seed, save seed from the very best plants only. In the veg garden, this may mean sacrificing the best specimens of crops like carrots and beans so that they can set seed. Others, like tomatoes, melons and capsicums, can be gathered in the kitchen as you prepare the food. Spread the seed to dry on a piece of paper and store in old envelopes. It is only a matter of months before you will be sowing them.

· If your flower borders are looking a little worse for the wear, take heart from Sara Stein: “I appreciate the misunderstanding I have had with Nature over my perennial border. I think it is a flower garden; she thinks it is a meadow lacking grass, and tries to correct the error.”