· Narcissi fly are on the wing, circling in search of somewhere to lay their eggs. It is the hatched larvae which will burrow in and consume bulbs, causing the damage from inside out. The flies start circling in the heat of the day. Mark can be found in our rockery stalking them individually with his little sprayer of Decis, which is a synthetic pyrethroid. The non chemical alternative is to stalk them with a fly swat in hand but you have to be very quick to get them. Removing spent foliage and mounding the soil a little deeper over the bulbs will also help protect them. Narcissi (daffodils) need 65 days of growth in order to make the bulbs strong for next season so as long as you recall seeing the foliage emerging by late August, it is safe to strip it off now. Narcissi fly attack daffodils, hippeastrums, snowdrops, snowflakes and quite a number of other bulbs growing in sunny positions. The offender looks like an inoffensive small blowfly but with a yellow lower abdomen.
· In the vegetable garden, leave the brassicas now til the end of summer (that is the cabbage, broc, cauli family) because the white butterfly will decimate summer crops but you can be planting pretty much anything and everything else now – lettuces and all salad veg, peas, green beans, runner beans, cucurbits, main crop potatoes, kumara, yams, tomatoes. If space is very limited, go for quick turnaround greens and higher value crops rather than those that take up a lot of space (in other words lettuces and capsicums rather than gherkins and pumpkins).
· Stay on top of the weeding. Regular push hoeing before plants have a chance to set seed is very effective, especially done on a hot, sunny day so the weeds wither and die quickly. Push hoeing also keeps the soil tilled and friable. It is easier if you keep your push hoe sharpened – you can do this with a file from time to time.
· If you have not covered your strawberries yet, you are risking your harvest. The birds don’t understand about waiting until they are ripe – as soon as they showing any sign of red, they will be into them. Use bird netting held up with cane hoops or something similar. Laying straw or dried grass beneath the plants helps keep the fruit clean and reduces the chances of rotting if we get a wet spell.
· Water container plants daily now unless we get rain. A little often is the mantra.
· Coating your fingers in cooking oil before going out to deadhead rhododendrons stops the sticky goop on your fingers.
· If you have small children in your life, plant a few sunflower seeds with them and go for the giant heads. They will need staking and tying in due course but it is a pretty amazing experience for little ones to see plants which will grow quickly to three or four metres and have a spectacular flower head. They won’t forget it.