In the Garden: March 4, 2011

• It is now officially autumn, a much more favourable season for keen gardeners but it does bring a slight sense of melancholy to many. This is exacerbated by the national sense of shock at the Christchurch earthquake. Friends who are currently refugees from that fair city tell me that they knew that there was up and down movement as well as the more common sideways vibration because any plants in their garden which were not very well established with big root systems were thrust upwards, right out of the ground, like corks bursting out from a bottle of bubbly. Their former garden is littered with plants pushed up, tossed sideways and now lying some distance away. Sadly, that is the least of their problems but they found it an interesting phenomenon.

Cover grape vines urgently

Cover grape vines urgently

• If you have yet to cover your grapevines with bird netting, get onto it. Today. Otherwise you will have no crop because the birds will get there first. Even netted in, wily blackbirds will find the smallest opening but it does slow down the onslaught.

• With autumn rains threatening, harvest onions and pumpkins. It does not do them any good to be left out in the weather. Your garlic should have been gathered already.

• Most of the garden centres have their autumn bulbs in stock and the earlier you buy them, the better condition they will be in. If you are not ready to plant them, store them in the fridge but in paper bags, not plastic, so they can still breathe. Many bulbs appreciate that chill before being planted and it is recommended for anemones and ranunculus. Remember to plant anemones with the pointy side down and ranunculus with the claws down.

• Tulips are not easy to keep in our climate which is why mass displays of them are not common. Freshly purchased bulbs should give a wonderful display this spring but future seasons will be all downhill unless you live halfway up the mountain or in cold inland areas. They need winter chill to keep performing well. Even so, many of the spectacular displays in Europe depend on replanting every year and discarding the bulbs that have already flowered.

• Hyacinths are even worse in our climate which is a shame for such lovely flowers. Really, you have to see them as an annual here.

• Take out spent canes on raspberries. Next season’s crop comes on the new canes.