In the garden: April 1, 2010

  • If you have harvested potatoes with a nasty brown split and blemish inside tubers which look perfect from the outer (our Agria are particularly badly afflicted this year), Plant Doctor Andrew Maloy says the most common cause is a fungal blight. As the spores remain active in the soil, make sure you plant your potatoes in a new area next time where you have not grown solanums (potatoes, tomatoes, aubergines, capsicums etc) for several years. Fungal diseases are exacerbated by heavy soils, too much water and too little air movement so free drainage, full sun and space will reduce dependence on fungicides.
  • Easter, like Labour Weekend, is a big time for garden centres – long weekends and the change of seasons gets people focussing on gardening. Quite often there are clearance sales of last season’s woody plants and if you are tempted by these, they may need some TLC to thrive. Water, water, water to combat our dry soils. Make sure the root ball is saturated because if it is very dry it can actually repel water, even after planting. That is why you soak the root ball before planting. Cultivate the soil well – don’t just dig a hole that fits the plant. Dig at least twice the size and break up clods of dirt well so the roots have some good soil to extend into. Make sharp cuts down the root ball if it is really congested, cutting through any roots which have wound round and round the pot or bag. Cut the bottom of the root ball if it has folded in to its planter bag (like an envelope). Resist the temptation to tease out the roots – you will do more damage than good. Put any fertiliser around the roots at the side, rather than sprinkling on top and mulch with compost.
  • Sow your new lawns this weekend and over sow bare patches in existing lawns.
  • It is time to do the big autumn clean up in the vegetable garden. Remove any badly blighted or mildewed plants altogether to reduce future infestations. Don’t dig them in and only compost them if you are very confident that you make a hot compost mix. Ditto any seed heads.
  • Save seed of crops as you harvest – beans, peas, corn, tomatoes, capsicums, melons etc. Most experienced veg gardeners agree that saving your own seed is a most satisfying part of the cycle. Always save the seed from the very best, strongest, healthiest specimen not some poor thing that is hardly worth eating.
  • There was an alarming news item at the weekend to the effect that fresh fruit and vegetable sales dropped by over 30% during our latest recession. While I hoped that this might be an indicator that more people were growing at home (it is enormously satisfying to walk briskly through the produce section at the supermarket without needing to stop because you are self sufficient), the fact that takeaway food sales increased massively tends to suggest this is not the case. So be virtuous and get out to the garden this weekend to plant winter vegetables while there is still a month or longer of warm weather to get them growing. All the brassica family except Brussels sprouts, winter leafy greens, broad beans and even a late crop of beetroot can be planted.