Tag Archives: garden tasks

In the garden this fortnight: June 7, 2012

A fortnightly series first published in the Weekend Gardener and reproduced here with their permission.

Naturalising bulbs in conditions of rampant grass growth

Naturalising bulbs in conditions of rampant grass growth

Meadows of naturalised bulbs are a complete delight and a contrast to the highly cultivated type of garden most of us have. But they are best suited to places where there isn’t vigorous grass growth and regular rain. This means that good dairy country like Taranaki is by definition not suitable for bulb meadows. All that grass overpowers and hides them. But we are undeterred. Mark has been working on a bulb hillside in recent years where we have a native microlaena grass (probably M. stipoides) which is much finer and less vigorous than introduced pasture and lawn grasses. He likes the bulbs on a hill because it is possible to get closer and to look up at the flowers from a pathway. He is very pleased with how the dwarf narcissi, species cyclamen, colchicums, snowdrops (mostly Galanthus S. Arnott) and pleione orchids have settled in over the last three years and started multiplying. The bluebells (hyacinthoides) are more robust and build up well in open areas under the trees where we can control the grass with a weed-eater. The exercise is getting the last grass trimming round done before the bulb foliage is too far through the ground with flower spikes formed.

Lachenalia bulbifera

Lachenalia bulbifera

In a different area of the garden, in recent years I have been planting surplus bulbs around the trunks of large trees where the grass won’t grow because the ground is too dry and poor. These are ideal conditions for some bulbs and the lachenalias from South Africa, stronger growing dwarf narcissi like the bulbocodiums and peacock iris (Moraea villosa) don’t mind at all. There is plenty of light because these trees have dropped all their lower limbs over time. It is not quite the meadow we would like with big drifts, but it is what we can manage in our climate.

The Theatre of the Banana

The Theatre of the Banana

Top tasks:

1) Get the winter cage erected around the bananas. They are the only plants we wrap up for winter but we are very marginal banana growing territory and we are willing to work at trying to get a home grown banana crop. I refer to the construction as the Theatre of the Banana.

2) Sort out the compost heaps. We make quite large quantities of compost but at the moment, the waste is accumulating faster than we are layering it into compost piles. We work a three heap system – the heap we are currently using, the heap that is curing and the one we are building. At the moment there seems to be enough for two new compost heaps.

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In the Garden: December 2, 2011

A fortnightly series first published in the Weekend Gardener and reproduced here with their permission.

Rhodohypoxis - one of the showiest late spring bulbs here

Rhodohypoxis - one of the showiest late spring bulbs here


Vireya rhododendrons can force dormant leaf buds from low down

Vireya rhododendrons can force dormant leaf buds from low down

It snowed in mid August. To say we were stunned would be an understatement – in the 130 years of family history here, there is no record of it ever snowing before. But it wasn’t the snow that did the damage, it was the killer frost the following morning. While we get occasional light frosts, the plants are not hardened off so a more extreme freeze can cause considerable damage. But after 3 months, some of the vireya rhododendrons which looked stone dead are forcing out fresh leaf buds from lower down the plant. They are a good reminder why it pays not to rip out plants too quickly. Clematis are also known to rally sometimes from apparent death caused by stem wilt. We will leave the vireyas to their own devices until the new growth is hardening off, at which time we will feed them and cut off all the dead wood. Vireyas have the ability to push out dormant leaf buds from quite old, woody stems but those where the bark has split in a vertical line to soil level will be a goner.

Other frost tender to subtropical material that got clobbered by the frost included the pawpaws, Michelia alba, bananas and Eupatorium sordidum. These all showed some burning and defoliation but are now covered in fresh spring growth.

Amongst the very late spring bulbs, the rhodohypoxis and tritonias are the showiest. The former are small, neat and pretty – the only danger is that they are very anonymous when dormant so hard to spot when digging in the garden or pulling out weeds. The tritonias are very orange and showy. Their downside is that, like some of the species gladioli, the flowers come out when the foliage is already starting to look scruffy.

Reminder to self: deadhead the yellow Primula helodoxa

Reminder to self: deadhead the yellow Primula helodoxa

Top tasks:

1) Stay on top of the weeding. The old saying is one year’s seeding leads to seven years’ weeding. We try hard to stop any weeds from getting to the seeding stage.
2) Deadhead the Primula helodoxa planted by the stream. They put on a wonderful display of sunshine yellow in mid spring but can seed too freely and one person’s ornamentals can become the neighbour’s weeds, especially where waterways are concerned.
3) Dig and divide my bed of Grandma’s violets. In fact these are probably a legacy of Mark’s great-grandma, but they are a little too enthusiastic about their reinstatement as a groundcover. Last year I tried to thin them but it was hard my arthriticky fingers. I think it will be easier to dig them all out this year, cultivate the bed and replant divisions.

In the Garden: November 4, 2011

The start of a new fortnightly series first published in the Weekend Gardener and reproduced here with their permission.

An easy method of killing unwanted moss

An easy method of killing unwanted moss

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.

Rhododendron seed head, missed from last year

Rhododendron seed head, missed from last year

Top tasks:
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.

In the Garden this week: Friday 13 May, 2011

* The Chief Weed Controller here (aka Mark) advises that the weeds are germinating in abundance and to make a weeding round a priority. If you get on top of this wave of weeds, you should have a largely weed-free winter and delayed start to spring infestations, especially if you lay a mulch after dealing to the blighters. We are a bit too wet now and there is not enough heat in the sun to make push hoeing effective unless you rake it all up immediately and remove it. Hand weeding or glyphosate (weed spraying, on a dry day) are the usual techniques for this time of year.

* If you are a less than enthusiastic gardener, get out to do the big autumn clean up before the weather turns cold and miserable. Otherwise you will spend the winter looking out the windows at a messy garden. If you do a trim, tidy and weed now, you can get through the next few months with the occasional mow and raking up the debris.

* Rake up autumn leaves in discreet piles so they can break down to give you rich leaf mould to rake back out onto the garden later. They will rot down more quickly in a heap.

* Cover your compost heap or bin, if you have not yet done so. It keeps the compost warmer and stops the goodness being leached out by the winter rains.

* Gardeners in inland areas should be battening down the hatches in preparation for early frosts. Take cuttings of frost prone plants like fuchsias, begonias and vireya rhododendrons as an insurance. Coastal gardeners probably don’t need to worry about this in our milder conditions.

* Remove saucers from beneath container plants, both indoors and out. It is not good for plants to sit around in cold water during winter. Cut back your watering of indoor plants – they are better kept on the dry side now.

* Part of your tidy up round of the vegetable garden is to sow all vacant areas in a green crop – urgently. Lupins, oats, even plain ryegrass will help. Green crops condition and nourish the soil in preparation for spring planting but even more helpfully, their roots stop the ground from compacting and make it much easier to dig over later, particularly in heavy soils.

In the garden this week: May 6, 2011

• Get green crops sown urgently in bare areas of the vegetable garden. You are running out of time for the seeds to germinate and start growing before winter slows all growth.

• Finish the autumn feeding round as a priority. There is no point in feeding plants which have stopped growing for winter but we still have a little warmth left before the full blast of winter returns to stay.

• Make the final cuts to the root balls of large plants you plan to move soon. You should have cut the first two sides some weeks ago. Cut the other two sides and beneath the plant and leave it to rest for another week or two before moving it. You can move quite substantial plants as long as you have enough combined physical strength (or mechanical equipment) to take a very large root mass with it. Prepare the new location in advance so when you come to do the move, the plant is not left with its roots exposed to drying winds or light for long.

• It is the very last chance to sow seed of quick maturing green vegetables such as mizuna and other Asian greens, spinach and winter lettuce if you are to ensure continued supply through the colder times.

• As winter looms, sowing microgreens in seed trays can be a quick and nutritious harvest, especially if you have a glasshouse, conservatory or large eaves to protect the germinating seeds and to lift the temperature. Pretty well any and every vegetable can be eaten as a microgreen which is when the first half dozen young and tender leaves appear. BBC Gardeners’ World was recommending it as a great way to use up leftover seeds remaining in open packets from last year which seemed sensible.

• The grass seed should be calling you if you still have bare areas to sow. You will get better results if you do it immediately rather than in the depths of winter.

• The very large stinky plant shown on our newspaper’s garden pages last week was in fact the Titan Arum by common name (or Amorphophallus titanum, to be more botanically correct). It has one of the largest flowers in the world and smells so revolting because it relies on tricking beetles and flies that usually feed on rotting meat in order to be pollinated.

Plant Collector: Vireya Rhododendron Rio Rita

Large, luscious and fragrant - vireya Rio Rita

Large, luscious and fragrant - vireya Rio Rita

Rio Rita was bred by the late Os Blumhardt, one of this country’s foremost plantsmen and plant breeders in his time. It was named for the irrepressible Rita Watson and it always makes us smile because the flower is so well suited to the bold personality and immaculate grooming of the namesake. Rita was very keen on vireya rhododendrons and her North Shore garden boasted some of the best grown plants we have ever seen in a garden situation though we were told she subsequently gave up growing vireyas and took up line dancing instead. Rio Rita is a leucogigas hybrid (crossed with Dr Sleumer) and the flowers are voluptuous and fragrant. There are five flowers to a truss and this photograph is of two trusses side by side, which is why it looks quite so full. Each flower is about 10 cm across, which is large.

Most vireyas don’t have a set flowering season because they come from the equatorial areas where day and night length is pretty much the same all year. This means you can have some in flower all the time if you have sufficient plants and different varieties. However, they won’t tolerate more than a degree or two of frost and wet feet will kill them very quickly. As a guide, the bigger and more lusciously fragrant the flowers are and the larger the leaves, the more susceptible they will be to cold temperatures and less than ideal conditions. This means that Rio Rita is by no means the easiest vireya to grow well, let alone keep alive at all, but if you have the right conditions, it certainly puts on a show.

In the garden this week: Friday April 29, 2011

Prunus serrula would have been better kept to a single leader when it was a young plant

Prunus serrula would have been better kept to a single leader when it was a young plant

• Get any spring bulbs planted without delay. They need to be growing now to give you the anticipated display later.

• Rhubarb is a clumping perennial and benefits from being lifted and divided. It is a gross feeder and likes really well cultivated soil. So double dig the area (dig, then dig again) and add plenty of compost before replanting big divisions.

• Broad beans can be planted now for harvest in spring. Picked when young and tender, they are truly tasty. If they get away on you and go old and tough, dry them. They are also known as fava beans and are delicious when soaked, skinned and used in bean dishes or added to falafel.

• A reminder to get your strawberry runners planted without delay so they can get established and build enough strength to start cropping on cue in spring.

• It is only tradition that says garlic should be planted on the shortest day of the year. We have had good success planting considerably earlier, in May. The plants are stronger and better able to withstand the very wet early spring weather we can get here when temperatures are still cold. If you are going to plant your garlic early (and long keeping brown onions can be done at the same time), prepare the ground now. Dig it over well, adding plenty of compost and maybe some animal manure. Then leave it to sit for a few weeks before planting. These crops need excellent drainage, but they do better when the soil has settled a little rather than being freshly fluffed up.

• It is good pruning and shaping time on woody trees and shrubs (though best done when the overhead branches are not showering you in water). A good pruning job is when it is not clear by looking at the plant where you have been, despite the mountain of branches on the path beside you. Rather than hacking the entire bush, being selective about which branches you remove or shorten and cutting flush to the main stems makes a big difference. However, there are times when drastic action is required – such as the shabby camellia in Outdoor Classroom this week.

• Most trees are best kept to a single leader – one trunk. Where a trunk is forked near the base, it is a structural weakness in the tree which can lead to it eventually splitting apart. The earlier this is done to a tree, the easier it is to train what remains to a good shape.