In the Garden: December 3, 2010

• The lack of rain is really starting to bite now. Our garden is looking more like February than the beginning of December and there appears to be no respite in sight. Mow your lawns less frequently with the height set up a notch or two to reduce stress. Never fertilise a dry lawn. Most Taranaki gardens are fine without water so don’t water just for the sake of it. However, recent new plantings will need water every few days. Container plants need daily watering, hanging baskets twice daily. Watch the level on fish ponds and top them up as required.

• Vegetable gardens are the one area that may need regular water, especially for leafy greens and quick growing crops. Don’t blast water out at high volume with your hose. Try and copy the action of a sprinkler – going over and over areas with a light spray so that the soils can absorb it gradually. Wetting the top merely keeps down dust. Gentle soaking is the answer to getting the water lower down to root level where it can be absorbed. Mornings and evenings are better watering times because there is less evaporation.

• Declare war on convolvulus and wandering jew. Both can rocket away and stage a takeover bid if you turn your back. For non organic gardeners, the recommended sprays are still Woody Weedkiller for convolvulus and Shortcut for wandering jew. Organic gardeners have few options other than hard graft, hand pulling, digging and careful disposal of the waste – because any bits not killed will regrow.

• There are times I think that the only thing separating wisterias from the previous two noxious weeds are their pretty flowers. Give them a summer prune now. Hedgeclippers are fine or, if you are more precise, cut back the wayward growths to four leaf buds from the main stems. If you prize your wisteria, check for borer holes and pour some oil down any you find. A spray of CRC works or fill the hole with flyspray. Borer can kill even substantial branches on a wisteria.

• Main crop potatoes can still be planted, as can pumpkin, tomatoes, kumara and corn and all the leafy greens. Make sure you water your kumara runners and any small plants in or they will fry.

• If you plan on planting up containers of annuals to give as Christmas gifts, try and get them done soon for a better display. This is a great activity with children. Plain terracotta pots are cheap to buy and easily painted by even very young children using acrylic paints. A 20cm pot (measured by the diameter of the top) only needs about three small plants to fill it so two punnets are sufficient for maybe four pots. Cheap potting mix is fine for annuals. Keep the water up to them every day and watch out for slugs and snails. By Christmas, you can have pots brimming over with flowering pansies, petunias, lobelias, ageratum or similar show stoppers.