Tag Archives: this week

In the Garden this week: January 14, 2011

The first corn cobs of the season

The first corn cobs of the season

• A bit of a treat here this week with the very first servings of fresh corn on the cob for the season. Corn being Mark’s number one favourite vegetable, he has been planting successive crops and we will continue eating it from here to June. You can still sow corn from seed with the expectation of getting it through in time this season.

• Keep sowing leafy greens, salad veg, carrots, beetroot, and dwarf beans. The dieticians’ advice is that at least half your dinner plate should be comprised of vegetables (excluding starchy carbs) and it is much easier to achieve this state of affairs if you can harvest your own veg and have plenty of leafy greens to bulk out salads.

• Preparation will be starting for winter veg planting which mostly takes place in February though any spare areas in our veg patch are getting filled with annuals to feed the butterflies. The monarchs are around in abundance here. Having sufficient swan plants to feed the burgeoning caterpillar population is only half the equation. Providing nectar rich flowers for the butterflies encourages them to stay around. Marigolds, cosmos, poppies, phaecelia, zinnias and the like will all provide food.

• Keep mounding soil up over potato plants to keep the tubers deep, cool and away from light.

• Keep tomato plants to one or two stems only and remove laterals (side shoots), along with excessive foliage around the forming fruit. You want maximum warmth, sun and air movement around the crop.

• It is time to get a copper and summer oil spray onto citrus trees. This can help prevent the premature drop of fruit later in the season and cleans up various other nasties.

• Make sure you keep up the daily watering on container plants. If you have let your pots dry out too much, a few drops of detergent on the top can help the water penetrate rather than running straight off (called a surfactant).

• Having advised readers to get onto digging and dividing or planting autumn bulbs last week, I would counsel you not to delay. The nerines are already showing fresh white roots and others will not be far behind. In fact, it is already the time to be thinking of seeing to winter and early spring bulbs – snowdrops, jonquils and even other narcissi, lachenalias and the host of other options.

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In the Garden this Week: December 17, 2010

• The rain earlier this week was welcome for those of us who received it, but hardly sufficient to break the drought. However, it is easier to keep water levels up than to let everything dry out to dust before you start to water again. That said, in our conditions, it should only be necessary to water recent plantings, container plants, fresh sown seed and parts of the vegetable garden. Devotees of roses will water them too. The rest of it can pretty much take care of itself unless you are on fine, sandy soils right on the coast.

• We watched aghast as the Yates representative on Prime TV’s Get Growing programme last Sunday demonstrated the use of Blitzem slug and snail pellets. She poured what must have been half a packet in a carpet of green on a very small area. Don’t copy her. You do not use this poison like fertiliser. You do not need to lay so much that every snail and slug must trip over it. The pellets have an attractant and you only need to use a few – no more than you can count on the fingers of one hand – in each target spot. These pellets can be fatal to pets and poultry and are not great for humans. Use very sparingly.

• If you are a traditionalist with a proper tree (as in one that used to be growing til it was lopped off in its prime to serve as a framework for your lights and decorations), keep the water topped up. If it is on the agenda for this weekend, the best way to extend its life is to re-cut the base as soon as you get it home and then plunge it into a bucket of cold water. Forget the aspirin in the water and the other suggestions – a fresh cut and plenty of fresh water is all that is required to make it last the distance.

• If Christmas dinner this year is at your place and you need to tidy up in a hurry, in order of importance the following steps will have the biggest impact: mowing the grass, removing large debris and rubbish, sweeping paved areas and entranceways, cutting clean edges to lawns and gardens and removing weeds from paved areas (boiling water is the fastest way). You may be surprised how quickly you can give the appearance of sprucing up.

• Give roses a summer feed to encourage them to keep healthy and produce more flowers. Clip off the spent flowers and diseased foliage as you go and remove them to the rubbish, not the compost.

• Give planting brassicas (the cauli, broc, cabbage family) a break over summer unless you are willing to wage constant war on white butterflies. There are many other crops you can grow instead, including most of the leafy greens which mature quickly. It is too late to sow peas now (we have had the best ever crop this year), but you can still be planting sweet corn, green beans, potatoes, carrots, courgettes, pumpkin and beetroot.

In the garden this week: December 10, 2010

Alas, not from our garden

Alas, not from our garden

Better late than never - covering the strawberries

Better late than never - covering the strawberries

· The bright side of the current dry spell is that fungal diseases are not as common as usual. These tend to flourish more in times of high humidity. Despite that, it is a good idea to get a copper spray on to citrus trees as flowering finishes. We will not stay this dry and a copper spray can prevent premature fruit drop and a tendency to drop leaves.

· Pinch out laterals on tomatoes to keep them to one or two stems only. You want the plant to put its energy into forming fruit, not leafy growth.

· You can still plant for a late crop of tomatoes but you need to use small plants now, rather than seed. Get pumpkins and main crop potatoes in without delay.

· With summer just starting, it may seem far from your mind, but get leeks and celery in now if you want to be eating them in winter. They need all summer to reach a decent size.

· It is the last chance to start annuals from seed for late summer and autumn colour.

· There is not a lot you can be doing in the ornamental garden in this current extended dry spell, but continue with deadheading and deal to weeds. Push-hoeing is ideal in the current weather because the weeds will wither and die very quickly.

· The first flush of monarch caterpillars has eaten the swan plants of many, as far as I can tell from Google searches. You can finish off relatively large caterpillars on sliced pumpkin but it is not a total diet so no good for little ones. If you have the space, sowing a row of swan plant seed right now and making sure you keep it covered, will give you feed for later flushes of caterpillars. We target the late season, so we can get the monarchs wintering over in the garden, by sowing seed now but you do have to protect the crop to stop any eggs being laid on small plants. Very hungry caterpillars will demolish the lot extremely quickly with no regard for later generations.

· Mulch asparagus beds and let the remaining spears develop into leaf to strengthen the crowns for next season. Asparagus is a permanent crop but the crowns do have a finite lifespan – usually said to be about 15 years. Ours are considerably older than that but the crop this year was so poor, despite regular care, that we have had to resign ourselves to the thought that the bed has passed its use by date.

· Shamed by the very handsome strawberries I brought home from a local PYO place, Mark finally built an impressive netting cover for our bed, using our own bamboo, and we look forward to beating the birds to fresh fruit on Christmas Day.

In the Garden: November 12, 2010

Gloves and covered footwear should always be worn when spraying

Gloves and covered footwear should always be worn when spraying

• Mark was unimpressed to see public sector employees who were not wearing protective gloves, out with knapsack sprayers recently in Waitara. As far as he is concerned, even with safer modern chemicals and modern spray units which do not leak like the old ones, gloves and covered footwear should always be worn when spraying. It is a good rule for the home gardener too.

• It is getting late for planting out woody trees and shrubs and we are into an unusually dry spell (after an unusually wet, early spring). If you are still planting, make sure you plunge the whole plant into a large container of water and hold it down until the bubbles stop rising, or leave it there for an hour so the whole root ball can get wet before planting. And be prepared to water for the next couple of months. Better practice is to heel such plants into your vegetable garden where the soil is already friable and well cultivated and plant them out to their final location in autumn. This includes fruit trees as well as ornamentals.

• Herbaceous plants (those without trunks and woody stems) are more forgiving and can be planted out at pretty well any time as long as you are willing to water for the first two or three weeks.

• The vegetable garden should be calling you. Plant everything now for summer harvest. Successional planting is what extends the season – getting repeat crops sown every couple of weeks. This works for green beans (great crop in our climate), corn, peas and all the salad greens and leafy greens. Radishes too, if you grow them – fun for children to grow because they are a quick crop but few will enjoy eating them.

• If you feel compelled to grow celery, get it in now as it needs a long growing season. We prefer Florence fennel which is easier to grow and fills a similar niche in the diet.

• Keep an eye on roses for aphid infestations. Digital control is usually all that is required if you catch them early enough (in other words, gently running your finger and thumb over the infested areas and squashing them). I have used fly spray in the past (pyrethrum) and I am told soapy water works. Get rid of any flowers or seed heads on hellebores to reduce breeding grounds for aphids.

• Winter pruning is all but over now. Spring deadheading should be happening – rhododendrons, azaleas, pieris and roses. Truly dedicated gardeners (usually those in small gardens) also deadhead perennials and annuals to extend the flowering season.

• Snip back the laterals on your grapes to prevent them breaking off in the wind and you can start summer pruning apple trees by nipping back the over long growths.

In the Garden this Week – October 15, 2010

• I headed overseas for three weeks and came home to find that I had successfully missed two weeks of hideous weather and the season had changed completely in the third week. The pressure is on in the garden. Most plants are putting on their main growth spurt for the year and that includes the weeds. If you can eliminate the first round of germinating weeds this season, you can do a lot to break the cycle.

• When you have done a weeding round, pile on the mulch to nourish the soil, suppress the next series of weed seeds which will be wanting to germinate and stop the garden from drying out over summer. We favour a thick layer of compost which we make ourselves (but you need to make sure your compost is free of weed seeds). Leaf litter, bark or woodchip, calf shed shavings, old silage, barley straw, pine needles or pea straw are other options.

• Get woody trees and shrubs planted as soon as possible. That includes any new hedging and fruit trees. They need time to settle in and make some fresh root growth before the heat and dry of summer. This is even more important if you live close to the coast where soils are usually lighter or in South Taranaki which dries out faster than the north.

• The cold snap earlier this week was a good reminder as to why it does not pay to rush planting out summer vegetables like tomatoes, capsicums and corn. Labour Weekend is the traditional time but it may pay to wait a little longer until it is clear that we are consistently warmer. These plants don’t like cold changes.

• Get peas sown now. You are running out of time for this season. Planted now, you may have your timing right for fresh peas for Christmas dinner.

• You should be planting out main crop potatoes and in warmer areas, kumara runners can go in soon. Kumara need a long growing season.

• If you have your vegetable garden dug over and prepared for planting, go in with the rake every few days. You will keep cultivating the soil to a fine tilth and hoeing off successive waves of germinating seeds.

• If you persist with the opinion that our native plants are boring, take a look at the island bed on Courtenay Street outside the fire station. It stopped me dead in my tracks from right across the road and I had to go and have a closer look. It is as good a combination of plants as you will ever see. The fact that they are natives is almost irrelevant to the fact that it is just an exceptionally pleasing and interesting small public planting.

In the garden this week: September 24, 2010

  • Cut the spent flowers off your hellebores to stop the likely infestation of aphids, which find them a pleasant home, and to prevent them self seeding.
  • You still have time to start your own summer veg from seed but don’t delay with tomatoes, cucumbers, melons, aubergines, capsicums and the like. These are all started off sown in trays or pots for planting out in the garden later next month. If you only want one or two plants, it is probably just as cheap to buy the plants as packets of seed but sowing seed gives you the chance to be generous and share plants with friends and family.
  • Mark will be starting his corn in baby pots here. It is too early to plant out in the open yet but this being his most favourite vegetable of all, he likes to maximize the season and to get an early start with established plants.
  • Cloches come into their own at this time of the year. They will warm the soil more quickly, so allowing earlier planting out. They will also protect young crops and keep rain splash off micro greens.
  • In the ornamental garden, dahlias can be lifted and divided.
  • Feed roses if you have yet to do so. They are in full growth now so will have maximum uptake of fertiliser. If you are laying mulch around your roses, keep it well clear of the rose crown near the ground.
  • Kumara can be chitted, like potatoes. Place them on damp sawdust, straw or even crumpled newspaper in a warm, dark spot to encourage them to start sprouting. Kumara are another crop that needs maximum growing time, so the timing of planting out is important.
  • Get a copper spray onto deciduous fruit trees as they break dormancy. This is a key application to prevent problems later and is the single most important spray of the season.

In the Garden this week: September 10, 2010

Daphne genkwa looked fantastic last year - but died when I pruned it after flowering

Daphne genkwa looked fantastic last year - but died when I pruned it after flowering

  • The common daphne is odora and does not appreciate hard pruning. Dainty Daphne x burkwoodii can also be touchy. Keep pruning to a light haircut each year rather than a major cut-back. The Himalayan Daphne bholua has a more robust constitution and can get rather large, scruffy and leggy if left to its own devices. This one you can cut back hard. Now is the time to prune those daphnes which are finishing their winter flowering. The beautiful blue Daphne genkwa will be coming into flower soon – don’t even prune this one. I killed a splendid, established specimen last year by cutting it back after flowering.
  • If you can reduce your number of slugs and snails now, you will be reducing the breeding population when they get frisky as spring temperatures warm up.
  • Keep an eye on emerging hostas because you can be sure that all slugs and snails are watching closely for this manna from the soil. Jenny Oakley from Manaia swears by the use of crushed eggshells sprinkled on the crown of the hosta before the leaves unfurl to deter early munchers though she also follows up with bait later. Ringing the plants in sand, coffee grounds, sawdust or anything gritty is said to discourage some slimy predators though Mark is sceptical of this claim. However, the bakers bran liberally sprinkled around plants under attack worked a treat and is an environmentally friendly technique – the birds eat the bloated slugs and snails.
  • It is the last chance to get a crop of late broad beans sown. If you leave it any later, it won’t be worth the effort and space. Get carrots sown soon. Don’t fertilise carrots but they need well cultivated soil to get their roots down. Fresh animal manure is a particular no-no for carrots and causes forking of the carrot and too much leafy top growth.
  • If you want to plant yams, you can be setting them to sprout in trays now. Yams are frost tender but need a long growing season (five to six months) so you want to get them started as soon as the danger of late frosts is over.
  • You can continue lifting and dividing perennials as they come into growth because they have the energy to overcome the havoc and destruction you wreak on their root systems and crowns. If you have many to do, prioritise the spring perennials and then follow up with summer ones like coreopsis, asters and chrysanthemums.