* There we were thinking that a Taranaki winter is not so bad after all, when wham bang. Winter struck with a vengeance on Tuesday. A nasty little frost was not even followed by a sunny day, as is usual. Instead cloud kept the temperatures low and then the rain started. Nobody in their right mind would have been outside gardening in the prevailing weather as I started to write this but then Wednesday dawned calm and sunny. We are only two weeks off August which means a short space of time until magnolia season starts and temperatures rise. Our winters may be patchy, but they are also enviably brief.
* It is seed catalogue season. Italian Seeds Pronto have their new catalogue of heirloom vegetables and herbs of Italian origin. On a bleak winter’s day, it is wonderfully evocative of an Italian summer. Find them on line at http://www.italianseedspronto.co.nz or at Vetro or Fresha Food in New Plymouth. Lots of Italian style and big packets of seed which mean plenty to share with friends.
* The latest catalogue from Kings Seeds has also arrived in the mail. This is a large format affair which covers flowers, herbs, organic seed, microgreens, seeds for sprouting and all manner of vegetables from utility to gourmet. There is quite a lot of information packed into it. You can go on line at http://www.kingsseeds.co.nz or send $7.50 (a cheque or even in 50c stamps) to PO Box 283, Katikati 3166 if you want to get a copy. Inspirational stuff.
* We have been asked about pruning feijoas. The rule of thumb is that the wonderfully forgiving feijoa does not require routine pruning. The only reasons to prune are to keep the bush to a smaller size or if the fruit was disappointingly small this year. If you rejuvenate the bush you will get larger fruit, fewer in number but larger. Thin the plant by taking out firstly any dead wood, then weak branches, then the oldest branches. Removing a third of the canopy is safe and you will get the best fruit on vigorous young growth. Use secateurs and loppers, not hedgeclippers because you are taking entire branches out, not just shortening the leafy growth. Do not shear the plant like a hedge if you want a crop next season as you will cut off the flower buds which are concentrated at the tips.
* The same pruning principles apply to olives and guavas. Prune soon after harvest.
* If you are buying feijoas, buy named cultivars (not cheap seedlings). If you are only planting one, check that you have a variety which is self fertile. Not all of them are and without a pollinator, you may not get fruit. This is one South American fruit that we have virtually made our own in New Zealand.
* Keep digging and dividing clumping plants – time will run out for this soon.
* Continue the winter pruning round on roses, wisterias, hydrangeas and all the rest.
* Last call for getting your spring bulbs planted out if you still have some poor anemones, ranunculus, daffies or similar sitting around. You have just about missed the boat on them.
* In the vegetable garden it is onion time. Seed can be sown directly into the ground but onions are gross feeders and like well cultivated soil so take the time to dig over the bed well. The rule of thumb is to sow onions where you had a heavily fertilised crop such as corn or tomatoes growing last summer.