In the garden this week: December 10, 2010

Alas, not from our garden

Alas, not from our garden

Better late than never - covering the strawberries

Better late than never - covering the strawberries

· The bright side of the current dry spell is that fungal diseases are not as common as usual. These tend to flourish more in times of high humidity. Despite that, it is a good idea to get a copper spray on to citrus trees as flowering finishes. We will not stay this dry and a copper spray can prevent premature fruit drop and a tendency to drop leaves.

· Pinch out laterals on tomatoes to keep them to one or two stems only. You want the plant to put its energy into forming fruit, not leafy growth.

· You can still plant for a late crop of tomatoes but you need to use small plants now, rather than seed. Get pumpkins and main crop potatoes in without delay.

· With summer just starting, it may seem far from your mind, but get leeks and celery in now if you want to be eating them in winter. They need all summer to reach a decent size.

· It is the last chance to start annuals from seed for late summer and autumn colour.

· There is not a lot you can be doing in the ornamental garden in this current extended dry spell, but continue with deadheading and deal to weeds. Push-hoeing is ideal in the current weather because the weeds will wither and die very quickly.

· The first flush of monarch caterpillars has eaten the swan plants of many, as far as I can tell from Google searches. You can finish off relatively large caterpillars on sliced pumpkin but it is not a total diet so no good for little ones. If you have the space, sowing a row of swan plant seed right now and making sure you keep it covered, will give you feed for later flushes of caterpillars. We target the late season, so we can get the monarchs wintering over in the garden, by sowing seed now but you do have to protect the crop to stop any eggs being laid on small plants. Very hungry caterpillars will demolish the lot extremely quickly with no regard for later generations.

· Mulch asparagus beds and let the remaining spears develop into leaf to strengthen the crowns for next season. Asparagus is a permanent crop but the crowns do have a finite lifespan – usually said to be about 15 years. Ours are considerably older than that but the crop this year was so poor, despite regular care, that we have had to resign ourselves to the thought that the bed has passed its use by date.

· Shamed by the very handsome strawberries I brought home from a local PYO place, Mark finally built an impressive netting cover for our bed, using our own bamboo, and we look forward to beating the birds to fresh fruit on Christmas Day.