In the Garden this week: Saturday 23 April, 2011

• I was wrong. The first wintery blast did not wait for Easter but arrived last Monday morning. Fortunately we should not stay cold for a while yet, but it was a good reminder to make the most of remaining mild autumn weather in the garden. Nothing saps gardening motivation faster than cold, wet conditions.

• Easter should signal the time to be out doing the autumn clean up. Tell yourself that you are working off the extra calories consumed by most of us at this time. Remove spent crops in the vegetable garden and do a weeding round. If you don’t need to use all the area for winter and spring crops, either sow down bare areas in a green crop or at least mulch it to keep the invading weeds at bay.

• Silver beet is a rewarding vegetable to grow for those who are willing to eat it (and apparently some people like it) because you can continue harvesting repeatedly from the same plants. It is also hardy so makes a good winter stand-by. It is best to put in small plants this late in the season. There is not a lot of growing time left before winter.

• In the ornamental garden, the time for autumn feeding is over in colder, inland areas and fast running out in milder parts. The idea of feeding now is to allow the plant to take up the goodness before growth slows down or stops during winter. There is no point in feeding dormant plants.

• Last gasp, too, for perennial cuttings this season. After this, perennials need to be increased by division, not cuttings.

• Slugs and snails are undeterred by the cold. Watch for signs of them around emerging spring bulbs and set up bait stations if need be. We often use a low-sided plastic bottle top such as those from milk containers with a paua shell covering it to stop the bait from dissolving.

• Wrench plants which you intend to move to another site. Wrenching involves making straight cuts down two sides of the plant’s roots now, following up with cutting the other sides in two or three weeks’ time. This reduces the stress on the plant but is only necessary for well established plants which have been in the ground for some time (as in more than a year or two). Plan to take as large a mass of roots as you can physically manage.

• If you have not yet given hedges a tidy up trim, don’t delay on it. Trimming forces a new flush of growth and you don’t want it so fresh and tender that the first hint of frost will burn it off.