The start of a new fortnightly series first published in the Weekend Gardener and reproduced here with their permission.
With our garden festival currently in full swing (now styled the Powerco Taranaki Garden Spectacular), all our efforts in the garden have been on presentation for the most important days of our garden visitor year. We call this garden grooming – a bit like giving your car a valet treatment. It doesn’t last long but it looks great in the meantime. When it comes to the lawns, we have made a deliberate decision to avoid chemical use where possible, both for weed control and fertilising. We use a mulcher mower, an edger and we hand dig flat weeds. As long as the rest is comprised of small, fine leafed green plants which mow well, we are willing to live with a mixed colony rather than just rye grass and fescue. At least our lawns are not toxic.
We don’t worry too much about moss in the lawns – it occurs most in shade where the grasses struggle. And if we were Japanese, we would revere the moss. But with our high rainfalls and humid conditions, we get a lot of moss growth on paths, brickwork and stonework. Often I will sprinkle soda ash (which is simply powdered washing soda crystals available from bulk bins) which kills the moss overnight. Indeed, cold water washing powders work equally well though I have found the leading brands are better than the budget brands – perhaps they have more water softener in them. Our chemist daughter reassures me that there should not be any problems of toxicity in using soda ash or washing powder to kill moss though if you get too carried away over time, you will be altering the pH of your soils because they are alkaline. I have experimented on grass and it kills moss without harming the grass. Do not do as someone I know – use so much that when it rained, his entire lawn foamed. The moss dies but does not disappear so you have to rake it out of lawns and brush it off hard surfaces.
1) Deadheading rhododendrons. While conventional wisdom is that all rhododendrons including vireyas need deadheading, in fact only those that set seed need it. Setting too much seed can weaken a plant and even cause it to die over time. The others just look better for having it done.
2) Mulching garden beds. There is no point in mulching dry soils so we like to get it on before summer. We mulch frequently with homemade hot compost mix which means we rarely need to fertilise garden borders.
3) Getting the planting out of this season’s trees and shrubs completed. November is getting late for this but we soak all root balls thoroughly and can generally rely on regular rainfall here in North Taranaki.