In the Garden: June 18, 2010

Pleione bulbs

Pleione bulbs - discard the mushy, dark ones like the specimen to the left

  • The winter solstice or shortest day of the year is nigh – this coming Monday in fact. Alas the worst of the winter weather hits after the shortest day but at least you can console yourself with the thought that the days are lengthening again.
  • Traditionalists will be out planting their garlic (ours is in already). If you don’t have big fat cloves saved from last season, then make sure you only buy New Zealand garlic for planting. The cheap Chinese garlic comes from the wrong hemisphere so is out of its seasonal cycle and is reputedly riddled with virus which threatens our local garlic industry. You also have no idea what it has been treated with so it is all round bad practice to buy cheap imported garlic for planting.
  • Asparagus is a luxury crop for the home gardener because it is a permanent plant which takes up space all year for a harvest lasting only six weeks or so. It also takes a few years to start cropping well so is unsuitable unless you are planning on staying in the same place. But for those with space and the long term commitment, heading out to pick some spears in spring is a gourmet experience. If you have a patch, now is the time to clean it up and spread a blanket of compost to feed the crowns below the ground and to suppress weeds. If you have plans to plant an asparagus patch this spring, then get in now and dig the area. Then double dig it. Add as much compost and manure as you can and dig it yet again. Then let it rest and mature before planting in a couple of months time.
  • Winter is the time for pruning all deciduous plants except for cherries (both ornamental and edible) and plums which are summer pruned to prevent silver blight getting in. Gardeners in cold, frost-prone areas are best to leave their hydrangeas until last (pruning encourages growth which can then get burned by frost). But wisterias, roses, apples, grapevines and the rest can all be tackled over the next six weeks.
  • We did Outdoor Classrooms last year on pruning wisterias and grapevines (these are on and on Stuff (Deb, are these still accessible on the Fairfax site?) We will be looking at pruning roses and hydrangeas shortly. Don’t cut your wisteria off at ground level if you want flowers this spring.
  • Most spring bulbs are in growth already so it is time to look at planting or lifting and dividing the summer bulbs – particularly lilies.
  • Pleione orchids are spring flowering but now is the time to clean up clumps and repot because they are still dormant. These are a most attractive and hardy ground orchid, often called the teacup orchid. If you look after them, they build up quite quickly and we find them useful for carpeting woodland margins where conditions are open. The prized yellow ones like a winter chill so will do better inland and in the south but we find the pinks, lilacs and whites are equally at home in milder areas. It pays to clean them up now (discard the soft, mushy black bulbs and keep the fresh green or red ones, trimming off last season’s dead roots) because root disturbance on pleiones once they are in growth is a no-no.