- 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.
- 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.
- Potted colour (flowering annuals which are sold in larger pots rather than in small punnets) are often ridiculously cheap and can give instant flowering oomph to gardens, but it pays to be severe and cut off all flowers, flower buds and any spent flowers as you plant them if you want them to be more than a one week wonder. They can then recover from the stress of being planted out before putting their energies into flowering and setting seed.
- Be very cautious from here on about planting out woody trees and shrubs which can suffer from terminal stress over summer. If in doubt, heeling the plant into well cultivated soil such as the vegetable garden over summer may be wise. You can then relocate to its permanent position when autumn arrives.
- The really successful harvests here at the moment are the strawberries and the broad beans. Shame about the missing lettuces… Mark blames the rabbits but I think it would have helped to have planted them in the first place.
- We make no apology for offering our annual advice to deal to convolvulus and wandering jew now. If you are not organic, Woody Weedkiller or Banvine is an effective option for the former and Shortcut, Amitrol or Grazon for the latter. Glyphosate does not touch wandering jew and is not particularly easy to use on convolvulus because it kills the host plant as well as the vine. If you are organic, you are probably going to have to hand pull these weeds and then place them in black plastic rubbish bags to cook in the sun. Every piece of wandering jew that you do not cook will grow again.
- Our first crop of peas has now finished but if you continue to sow them, you can still get in one or two more crops before the heat of summer. Make sure your main crop potatoes are in and Mark is planting kumara runners now. It is the last chance for kumara. Yams and pumpkins should be planted by now but you can still get a crop if you plant them now. Use plants, not seed.
Beverley Nicholls (so-named before the feminisation of his Christian name) wrote in 1932: I had never “taken a cutting” before….
Do you not realize that the whole thing is miraculous? It is exactly as though you were to cut off your wife’s leg, stick it in the lawn, and be greeted on the following day by an entirely new woman, sprung from the leg, advancing across the lawn to meet you.
Writing as ones who have taken many hundreds of thousands of cuttings in our time, the magic of such activity has long ago escaped us but it would be safe to say that Mr Nicholls’ perspective is not one which has ever struck us before. However, Mark lives in hope. And a neighbour has given a new perspective on this. He put his hydrangea prunings through the mulcher, spread the mulch and now has hundreds of budding young hydrangeas in his garden. Micro propagation? Who needs to try cuttings when you have a mulcher?
We are not great on growing annuals (my expensive packet of white cosmos seed failed to germinate), but if you use annuals for bedding, you will be wanting to get plants in now for a display when the family turn up for Christmas… If you can be bothered deadheading annuals, it greatly extends their display time because their instinct is to flower, set seed to ensure their continued survival and then die. So delaying the seeding stage forces them to put up more flowers.
- Ornamental pots are remarkably cheap these days and a simple pot planted with annuals now can make a charming gift for Christmas Day – a good gift for widowed aunts or people who like flowers but do not garden much. If you want to do it well, buy a potting mix with a quick release fertiliser added, pop in the baby plants and keep watered and disbudded so the plants grow to fill the pot before you let them set flower buds a couple of weeks out from Christmas.
- Wisterias can be rampant growers and are putting on their spring growth in a bid for world domination. Cut back the long, waving shoots to more manageable proportions – three or four leaf buds out from the branch is all they need. It is the same principle with apple trees which need an early summer prune as soon as the growths sprint away.
- From here on, the ornamental garden is more about summer maintenance – pruning, shaping, mulching and staying on top of weeds. There is a limit to how much creative work and planting you can do over the summer months.
- But it is all go in the vegetable garden where you should be sowing and planting successional crops of all the staples – corn, peas, beans and salad vegetables. Main crop potatoes, kumara, pumpkins and other cucurbits can all be planted. Watch out for pests such as whitefly, aphids, leaf roller caterpillars and the like. Early vigilance can hold them at bay and prevent major problems developing.
- Queen wasps are still on the wing, building up their nests. Mark can be seen out with pyrethrum spray stalking both the queen wasps and the narcissi fly. Getting rid of the queens now holds wasp infestations at bay.
- The one lawn weed worth spraying for is prickly Onehunga weed which makes it impossible to walk barefooted. We should have reminded you earlier to do it – if you have a problem with it, ask at your local garden centre for advice on which spray is currently recommended and permitted and make it a priority.
And a quote from Anon this week: God made rainy days so gardeners could get the housework done.
The sudden arrival of sunshine, heat and dry this week was slightly surprising after the severe cold of the previous week but we have been warning readers for some time about the need to get woody trees and shrubs into the ground as soon as possible. Make sure you soak plants in a bucket of water until the bubbles stop rising before planting, to ensure that the root ball is wet right through. If you are planting into full sun, you may need to acclimatise plants to the bright light by spending a few days having them in full sun for a couple of hours only. Many plants are grown in shady conditions (or under shade cloth) and can burn quickly in our bright sun.
- You can keep on planting out perennials and annuals in the ornamental garden as long as you are willing to water regularly while they settle in. Perennials can be lifted and divided while they are in full growth.
- Autumn flowering bulbs are generally going dormant now so you can lift them and fluff over them from now on if they looked as if they needed some attention earlier this year.
- It is probably safe to mow off your daffodil foliage now even if they have not yet died down. Removing the foliage a little early reduces infestation by the dreaded narcissi fly which lays its eggs in the crown of the bulb so the larvae can hatch and eat it out.
- Top priority this week should be getting mulch onto your garden if you have not yet done so. Bare earth is not good earth. Cover it with compost or some layer of humus to condition the soil and to reduce moisture loss.
- Absolutely last chance to sow seed of delights such as melons, aubergines, tomatoes and capsicums if you hope to get a full crop through. Buying plants is a better option now because they need as long a growing season as possible.
- Continue sowing corn, green beans and main crop potatoes.
- Get a copper spray onto tomatoes to prevent blight.
- Stay on top of the weeds. The push hoe is more friendly to the environment than glyphosate.
- Monarch butterfly enthusiasts will need to keep an eye on over wintered swan plants. The yellow aphid is invading the plants and needs to be destroyed because they do not disappear on their own like other aphids. Digital control (squashing them between your fingers) is the first line of defence as the first of your monarch caterpillars will be coming through and spraying with pyrethrum will kill them as well as the aphids.
If it is all too much for male readers, heed the advice of one T.H. Everett (whoever he may have been): A man should never plant a garden larger than his wife can take care of.