May 8 2009 In the Garden

• Well, we did warn about the imminent probability of cold weather but Wednesday’s decided drop in temperatures had Mark out with a cloche to cover his crop of late beans. We will hover between autumn and winter for a while longer but do not delay on getting into the autumn clean-up while you can.
• If you are planning to cut the foliage off your helleborus orientalis (the common ones) then do it now because the triggers to encourage them into fresh growth and flowers are all on. If you leave it any longer, you have to carefully cut around all the fresh growth which takes a great deal longer. If the foliage is not infested with aphids, you can leave it lying as mulch though it takes a while to rot down.
• Lift and divide polyanthus. These are gentle performers in the garden but with a modicum of TLC, they will flower for months. If you had one plant and it seems to have morphed into a clump of 10 smaller rosettes of leaves, that is a sign that it will respond well to being lifted and thinned. Till the soil before you replant individual divisions and if you add some compost, the polys will be even more responsive.
• Garlic and broad beans are the main crops to be planted in the vegetable garden over winter. Besides some fiddle-faddle with winter lettuce, spinach, silver beet and brassicas on an ongoing basis, many gardens will have some bare areas left. Clean up now. Get rid of diseased tomato plants. These can be composted if you add lawn clippings and do a hot mix. Otherwise burn them or put them out with the rubbish to avoid spreading fungal diseases. Dig potatoes. If you leave them in the ground, bugs and slugs tend to eat holes in them. Break down old sweet corn plants and either compost them or leave them to rot on the top of the ground. Hoe and rake off weeds. Sow green crops in any bare areas.
• As you do the autumn clean up in the ornamental garden, continue the dig and divide routine on clumping perennials.
• If you are keen to try some cuttings, taking fuchsia and vireya rhododendron cuttings is a bit of an insurance policy against winter deaths. You can try some early rose cuttings but if there are any leaves left, remove them.
• Mark is sure that Taranaki ducks do go to the safe haven of the lakes at Pukekura. He is of the view that a panic response to the sound of a gunshot is learned behaviour, not genetically programmed (in ducks at least). He recalls looking at a crowded lake in Pukekura one morning in duck shooting season and provocatively popping a paper bag. The entire lake erupted with an instant and mass evacuation of ducks which was a bit of a surprise to him, matched only by the very dirty looks he received from the parents with their little kiddies feeding out bread.