Snip away the old for spring success
THE end of this month always brings in late winter rains. Often the ground remains cold and saturated for weeks and some vegetables, especially broad beans and peas, can rot in the ground.
If water can be kept moving through soil, most plants are able to survive even long periods of heavy rainfalls.
I could be wrong of course, but my primitive gardening instinct tells me we’re in for particularly wet conditions over the next few weeks. So I’ve been busy, digging drainage channels around those beds at risk from overwet conditions.
Berryfruit plants such as raspberry, black and red currant, strawberry, blueberry and brambleberries are now available for immediate planting into well- manured, deeply dug soil. All grow and fruit to perfection in Tasmania.
Pruning existing raspberry and brambleberry plants is nothing more than cutting to the ground all the canes that bore fruit last summer. They are easily identified because they are dead. The remaining living canes can be loosely tied in bundles to provide self-support when heavy with fruit.
Pruning peaches, nectarines, apricots and plums can be restricted to removing dead wood and all mummified, disease- carrying fruit. The best time to prune most stonefruit trees is immediately after harvesting in summer.
Apple and pear trees can still be winter pruned, especially those trained on the open-centre management system. This involves removing all inward- growing branches. Long, sky- reaching leaders are better controlled in spring by cutting them back or tying them down in late September.
Citrus trees, especially old, neglected and highly congested lemon trees such as Eureka and Lisbon may be pruned now, but only to remove any low branches that come into contact with the soil. The main pruning of citrus trees is best carried out in October if needed.
Ornamental parts of the garden need special treatment now. Weeds flourish despite the cold, but can be dealt with without sprays by heavy mulching.
Lawn clippings are too wet and sappy to be used now because they become slimy and attract slugs. They are best mixed with straw, fallen leaves and compost.
Weeds flourish despite the cold, but can be dealt with without sprays by heavy mulching
Thick layers, spread over overlapping newsprint make outstanding weed- suppressing mulches. Add sheep manure mixed with blood and bone to create a feeding mulch to spread around rhododendrons, azaleas, camellias, pierises and other shallow- rooted plants.
For late winter and spring colour, punnets of hardy seedlings are now on sale. They include tough bloomers, such as pot marigold, primula, viola, pansy and stock.
Pansy seedlings grow rapidly from the end of this month to produce displays that can go on right through spring and most of summer. The secret is dead- heading and very weak manure water applied every fortnight.
Most true perennials have now died back to food- swollen roots, so, apart from a bit of untidy dead material, very little is visible above the surface. Other herbaceous plants, such as lupins, foxgloves, hollyhocks, columbines and campanulas, will be showing just a few miserable leaves, but all are awaiting spring, ready to sprout into action.
It’s a great time to rejuvenate an old, slightly exhausted flower border. Most of these plants can be lifted and put to one side so the soil can be given a new life. Spread cow or sheep manure and blood and bone over the bed, and work it in with a garden fork. Lupins, foxgloves and hollyhocks don’t like being shifted so leave them alone and work around them. Most bulbs are already coming into leaf so are easily avoided.
Any overcrowded perennial clumps, mainly old delphiniums, herbaceous peonies and Shasta daisies can be divided and replanted with lots of new divisions to give away or pot up as fund- raisers.
When mowing lawns at this time of the year, always use a grass catcher. Great lumps of soggy grass lying over the surface during winter causes disfiguring yellow blotches where sunlight is unable to penetrate.
Is there a better, more productive way of keeping warm during cold weather?