In the garden: March 19, 2010

  • Don’t be tempted to sow lawns until we have quite a bit more rain and the moisture has penetrated deeper down. If you scratch around the soil, you are mostly likely to find that it is as dry as a bone a few centimetres down. However, the more work you do getting the ground levelled and taking off successive waves of germinating weeds, the better your lawn will be when the grass seed germinates. We favour a mix of fescue and rye for lawns here though in reality there are now many other micro greens in our grass. We try and keep out flat weeds, onehunga weed, kikuya and paspalum but beyond that, as long as it is green when mown, we are resigned to our mixed colony. We prefer that to the constant application of chemicals necessary to maintain a pristine lawn.
  • Root vegetable crops take longer to grow and mature so you have pretty much missed the boat on winter root veg but you can still plant the leafy harvests such as winter spinach, silver beet and winter lettuce along with the brassica family. It is the leafy crops which require most fertiliser so be generous with the compost or liquid feed. Vegetable gardening is like any form of cropping – you can’t keep taking harvests and expect the soils to remain fertile unless you keep feeding and replacing the goodness that is being stripped out. Using composts, green crops and manures is more sustainable than continually relying on proprietary fertilisers and also helps to build good soil structure and texture.
  • Compost chicken manure before use because when fresh, it can burn plants. If you don’t want to compost it, at least leave it until it is mature. Seaweed can be spread directly onto the soil and does not need to be washed first. Horse, cattle, pig and sheep manure can be spread directly on the soil. You may prefer to compost all fresh manure or leaving it to dry for several months before spreading around edible crops.
  • If you are not planting all your area in winter vegetables then plant a green crop as you take out the autumn harvests. At this time of the year, we recommend lupins, oats, ryegrass or mustard. We are trying vetch for the first time. You should avoid using lupins where you have been growing beans or peas because they come from the same legume family and it is wise to rotate crops.
  • As cooler temperatures set in, mice will start to migrate indoors so make sure you have any seed you are storing in rodent-proof conditions.. A disused fridge in the shed is good or plastic containers for smaller quantities. However, while rodent proofing is necessary, some seed, including fleshy types, do not want to be sealed off from all air so you may need to devise some compromise if the plastic containers have a tight seal.
  • If your strawberry plants have put out strong runners, these can be planted now to give vigorous cropping plants next spring. Strawberry plants are best replaced entirely every two years and some gardeners replant every year, using runners and divisions. If you plan to leave existing plants for another year, cut any runners off.
  • If you enjoy the mass display of annuals, you can sow seed now for an early spring show. Pansies, cineraria, alyssum, lobelia and snapdragons are all easy and reliable. Hollyhocks get badly mildewed in our climate, alas. Some perennials such as aquilegia, wallflowers, carnations and gypsophila can also be done easily from seed. Use seed trays for much better results. Don’t delay on taking cuttings of perennials and fuchsias. Hydrangea cuttings are best left until winter now and treated as deciduous cuttings.