May 29, 2009 In the Garden

· Queen’s Birthday Weekend is always rose weekend at garden centres for some unfathomable reason. This means that most will have their largest range in stock now. Most roses will have been dug very recently from the open ground and given a trim back of sorts. When planting, trim any damaged roots and plant into well cultivated soil with plenty of humus. Follow up at some stage soon with a proper prune of the bits of the plant above the ground. Most roses don’t ever develop big root systems so they need good growing conditions. Full sun and plenty of air movement helps to reduce disease later.

· There is a great deal of mystique and strongly held opinion about the when and how of rose pruning which we will attempt to decode on these pages this winter. However, the bottom line appears to be that you can do your rose pruning any time from now through until August. The signal to the rose to spring back into growth in early spring is related to temperature, not time of pruning so cutting back now does not trick the plant into flowering earlier. Be very careful of skin wounds (think potential cellulitis) because roses harbour some nasty bacteria and fungi. Don’t try and compost or chip rose prunings. All you do is spread their diseases and they don’t rot down at all easily. They need to be burned or put out to landfill. We think that is what our wheelie bin is for at this time of year.

· If you have saucers sitting underneath any outdoor container plants, remove them. You don’t want the pots sitting in a small reservoir all winter. It can be fatal for the plants.

· Reduce watering house plants to once a week or less. Over winter, most only need watering when they start to look a little floppy. Move any really frost tender plants away from window sills to protect them cold.

· Last week’s bad weather saw an unexpectedly early frost here. We can see a little damage to vireya rhododendrons, it took out the African marigolds and Mark has hastily constructed his winter shelter for his prized banana plants as well as moving the choicest tender plants into our sun porch. Batten down the hatches if you have frost tender material which needs winter protection because there will be more frosts to come.

· It is time to be preparing for planting garlic. No matter whether you still spray your lawn with hormone based applications, defiantly eat pork without knowing its provenance and drive an SUV, you should not be buying imported Chinese garlic. It is destroying our local garlic industry; it is inferior in flavour; it should never be grown because it apparently carries virus. Buy New Zealand grown garlic or better still, grow your own. Ask at your supermarket to ensure that you have local garlic or if you want to be certain of virus-free cloves for growing, buy them from a reputable garden centre.

· Shallots can also be planted now and these, like garlic, are grown from cloves or segments.

· Don’t delay on getting strawberries in. If you had a patch last spring, you will probably find runners which can be cut off and planted in fresh ground. Strawberry beds crop best if started anew every two years.

Quote of the week is from early Alan Titchmarsh (inimitable gardener and media personality and currently the unlikely High Sheriff of the Isle of Wight): “Avant-gardeners do not have lawns; they have grass. But not much. The ‘bowling green’ lawn is a feature that belongs in front of council houses where it is surrounded by borders of lobelia, alyssum, French marigolds and salvias with standard fuchsias used as ‘dot plants’. The avant-gardener’s grass is intermingled with daisies, plantains, buttercups, … dandelions and plenty of moss (usually at least 50% of the total coverage). This is a state of affairs to be encouraged.”