Tag Archives: autumn planting

Garden Lore

“Our trees rise in cones, globes and pyramids. We see the marks of scissors upon every plant and bush….I would rather look upon a tree in all its luxuriancy and diffusion of boughs and branches, then when it is thus cut and trimmed into a mathematical figure; and cannot but fancy that an orchard in flower looks infinitely more delightful, than all the little labyrinths of the most finished parterre.”

Joseph Addison (1672 – 1719)

058Autumn planting

Autumn is about more than colouring foliage. Despite an indifferent summer, we are gently morphing into autumn. When the autumn rains arrive – which they will and probably sooner rather than later – it is a signal that optimal planting time is here, particularly for woody trees and shrubs which includes hedges. Planting in autumn gives time for root systems to start developing before growth slows down or stops in winter, positioning the plants to take full advantage of spring growth. It means most plants will be well established before the potential stress of drought next summer. The more traditional spring planting dates back to the days when garden centres did not get delivery of new season stock until late winter. Nowadays, most nursery stock is container grown and available all year round but old gardening habits die hard. The more drought-prone you are, the more important it is that you plant before winter, not after it.

While you are waiting for the autumn rains, you can be planting out winter vegetables. The reference to “winter veg” does not mean you plant them in winter. They need to be planted in autumn because they make most of their growth before winter and can then be held in the ground through the lower temperatures to be harvested fresh as required. White butterflies are still very active, so if you are planting winter brassicas (and that includes rocket and many of the Chinese greens as well as the usual cabbage, cauli and broc), you may need to erect some sort of cover to stop them becoming caterpillar fodder in the early stages.

First published in the Waikato Times and reprinted here with their permission.

Garden lore

“My garden, that skirted the avenue of the Manse, was of precisely the right extent. An hour or two of morning labour was all that it required. But I used to visit and revisit it a dozen times a day, and stand in deep contemplation over my vegetable progeny with a love that nobody could share or conceive of, who had never taken part in the process of creation.”

Nathaniel Hawthorne, Mosses from an Old Manse (1846).

002 - CopyAutumn planting

Autumn is the best planting time. That is not garden industry hype to encourage sales. It is simple fact, though often ignored by gardeners who only get inspired in spring and therefore drive peak sales at that time of the year. When you autumn-plant trees and shrubs, which includes all hedges, roses and fruit trees, they have time to establish their root systems during late autumn and winter before all their energy goes in to spring growth and flowering. This makes them much better placed to withstand the stress of subsequent summer heat and possible drought.

We are still very dry for this time of the year but there is much less evaporation happening as temperatures have cooled. Make sure you soak the root balls of the plants thoroughly before planting. This is best done by plunging the entire plant, pot or bag and all, into a bucket or tub of water and leave it there until the bubbles stop rising. This can take at least 20 minutes. If your soils are still bone dry, place the plant in the hole and then fill it up with water before you back fill the soil. With the light rains we are getting, this is probably enough to keep the plant moist without additional watering, until wetter times return.

First published in the Waikato Times and reprinted here with their permission.

In the Garden this week: March 18, 2011

Freezing surplus tomatoes

Freezing surplus tomatoes

• Now that the heat of summer has passed and we are getting into autumn, you can be thinking about planting woody trees and shrubs. Novice gardeners get inspired in spring but more experienced gardeners know that mid autumn is an optimum planting time. It gives plants a chance to get their roots established before the spring flush and the threat of a dry summer. Hedges, specimen trees, avenues and orchards – start frequenting your favourite garden centres to see what they have available. There is no rush. You are better to plant when we have had a few days of good rain and there is a six to eight week spell of good autumn planting weather.

• Garden centres are advertising spring bulbs. Remember when planting bulbs that most do not need super rich soils. Good drainage is the critical aspect so they don’t rot out when dormant. Light, friable soils are more hospitable than great clods of dirt but lay off the fertilisers. Digging in some leaf mulch or a little compost is all that most bulbs require. In the wild, many bulbs have evolved to survive in quite difficult conditions and mollycoddling can result in too much leafy growth to the detriment of flowers.

• You can do autumn cuttings of plants like fuchsias, pelargoniums, vireya rhododendrons and perennials which don’t clump so need to be increased by cuttings – dianthus (pinks), oenothera (evening primrose), erysimum (wallflowers) and the like. These types of plants root easily and don’t generally need rooting hormone. Use firm wood from this season’s growth and reduce the leaves by about half to stop the cutting drying out too quickly.

• You have pretty much missed the boat now on sowing root crops for winter because they need a longer growing season. If you have space, you could try carrots but they will only make baby grade. However, you are fine to continue planting brassicas, Florence fennel (finocchio), peas, winter spinach, winter lettuce and quick maturing Asian greens.

• If you have an abundance of tomatoes, we have found the easiest way yet to prepare them for freezing. Wash them, cut out any damaged bits and the central stem area. Pile them into big roasting dishes and bake in the oven until cooked. Cool. Drain off the clear liquid (tasty as juice or frozen for soups). Pull off the skins which are now very loose. Freeze in small containers. They become concentrated and ideal for using later in the year.

• As long as you can get a hosepipe within reach, it should safe to sow new lawns after the next good rain.

Tikorangi notes: April 9, 2010

1) April 9, 2010 Our chaenomeles never get bletted – Abbie’s column.
2) April 9, 2010 Autumn is the best planting time here for the ornamental garden – garden tasks this week.
3) April 7, 2010 Summer has hardly waved goodbye but it must be autumn – the early camellias are in flower. Camellia brevistyla.

You wouldn’t credit how pleased I am with my new clothesline prop. While 95% of this country favours the rotary clothesline (originally styled the Hill’s Hoist, I am told), I quite like the nostalgia of the one wire strung between a dead tree trunk and another that looks as if it may be on the way out. This wire has served the house inhabitants well for 60 years and who am I to change traditions? The bamboo prop, however, requires replacement every five years or so. Fortunately we have a stand of this giant clumping variety on a small island in our park. Mark says he thinks this particular bamboo is one of the dendrocalamus family. There has been some resistance here to the suggestion that we could follow Asian traditions and build our own bamboo scaffolding when the upper story of the house next requires painting. The do-it-yourself ethos does not extend quite that far.

In the garden: March 12, 2010

  • With temperatures cooling, particularly at night, conditions are good for gardening. Leave planting or shifting of woody trees and shrubs until later in autumn but you can turn your attention to clumping plants and perennials. Lifting overcrowded plants and splitting them up at this time of the year means that the plants can recover and re-establish before winter. This can avoid bare patches in the garden in spring which is particularly important for those who open their gardens. Always dig the ground over to loosen up the soil and add some compost or other soil conditioner along with a dressing of fertiliser. To reduce the shock to the plants, cut back the top foliage by about half and water the plants in well. Keep watering for a few days if we don’t get rain.
  • While working with your perennials, you may want to try taking some cuttings from types which only grow from a few stems rather than forming a clump of many shoots. We demonstrated this in an earlier Outdoor Classroom but the rule of thumb is to use firm new season’s growth and to take off any flower buds or stems. We are about to do some gypsophila cuttings.
  • Flaxes, astelias and grasses will respond very well to being divided at this time of the year but they need their tops cut back. The Mohican hair cut is not a good look but done now, the clumps will spring into fresh growth and cover that. Done later, you will have the ugly cut leaves until late spring.
  • A sharp spade makes digging and cutting hugely easier. We sharpen our spades by securing them in a bench-top vice and using a file. Remember to only sharpen the side which faces outwards when you use it. Once you have used a sharp spade, you will appreciate just what a big difference it makes.
  • In the vegetable garden, you are really too late now for Brussels sprout, leeks, carrots and parsnips but you can still plant Florence fennel, winter spinach, peas, winter lettuce and all the obliging brassica family.
  • Gardeners in colder, inland areas should be thinking about starting the autumn hedge trimming round. The trick to timing is to allow the hedge to make a light flush of fresh growth only and have time to harden it slightly before the onset of winter stops all growth. Get a man in, was the suggestion of friends over dinner at the weekend. We own up to having just such a treasure here (and he is not Mark) who is a perfectionist when trimming sharp hedges, even using a string line to keep the levels straight.