Time to prepare for spring
TIDY UP HELLEBORES
If you didn’t tidy up your hellebores in autumn, trim off any tired, snail-chewed leaves so that fresh, new foliage can set off the flowers and improve pollination. Ken Telford from Clifton Homestead Nursery recommends wearing long sleeves and gloves as the leaves are serrated and can cause skin damage. Hellebores make a wonderful ground cover as they set seed readily and spread easily without becoming a weedy menace. Self-sown plants are unlikely to have outstanding blooms and indeed take years before they flower. If you’re after a lowmaintenance groundcover in dry shade under trees, just leave them to do their thing. If, however, you are particular about the colour and form of the flowers, plant named hybrids and deadhead them before they set seed.
MAKE YOUR OWN STRAW BALE GARDEN
Straw bale gardens are highly productive and, as a bonus, are excellent soil improvers as well. You can start a new garden bed on clay without any digging or add valuable moisture-retaining humus to sandy soil. You don’t even need soil at all – a straw bale garden could sit on a paved or concreted surface, on the lawn or even a deck – providing the surface is protected. Use pea, barley or wheat straw rather than hay –which is full of weed seeds. Now’s the time to start preparing straw bales so they’ll be ready for planting.
Straw needs to be broken down by decomposition in order to release the nutrients required for plant growth. If placing on clay, sprinkle gypsum (Clay Breaker) underneath. This isn’t necessary for the straw bale garden but you may as well start improving the clay while it’s sitting under the bale for six months. Do not cut the baling twine! The bale will eventually fall apart as it breaks down. Sturdy stakes placed at the corners can help keep things in place and double as supports for climbing plants too. Water well, or just let the weather do this step for you. Inocculate the bales with the micro-organisms needed for decomposition by adding a 5cm layer of a mixture of fresh compost, worm castings, chicken manure plus some blood and bone, or a generous handful of general garden fertiliser (not slow-release). The bales will heat up as they start composting. Leave for a minimum of three weeks or a couple of weeks longer until the straw at a hand’s depth inside the bale has cooled from uncomfortably hot to barely warm. To plant – pull the straw apart, scoop in some compost or potting mix, plant a seedling and pull back the straw around it. You can plant the sides too. Last year, I planted dwarf bean seeds and potatoes in the sides of my straw bales thinking they’d grow towards the nearest light source and sprout out the sides. Instead they headed straight up and had to wrestle for space among the tomatoes and lettuces growing on top. This year I am going to plant loose-leaf lettuce seedlings on the shady side of the bales. The sunny side is hard up against a Climbing Jack frame which will support tomatoes and ‘Lebanese’ cucumbers when the broad beans are finished.
MAKE A SELF-WATERING CUTTINGS POT
Taking cuttings is an easy way to increase your supply of plants. Here’s how to keep the cuttings in evenly-moist potting mix. Use two terracotta pots – one a couple of centimetres smaller than the other. Seal the drainage hole in the smaller pot with a cork, Blutack or plasticine. Partially fill the This column is adapted from the weekly e-zine, get growing, from New Zealand Gardener magazine. For gardening advice delivered to your inbox every Friday, sign up for get growing at: getgrowing.co.nz larger pot with seed-raising mix. Put the smaller pot in the middle and fill in the gap with more soil. Fill the smaller pot with water and poke the cuttings in around the edge of the larger pot. The water slowly seeps through the terracotta and keeps the mix moist but not saturated. Keep the cuttings under shelter.
Temperatures have been so mild so far this winter that snail reproduction hasn’t slowed down one bit. Every snail you dispose of now will help curb the population explosion. Early evening is a good time for snail hunting with a torch and a bucket
of water. Look under pots, in wood piles and among the foliage of plants like irises, renga rengas and brassicas. Feed snails to the birds or chickens – if you have them.
Hellebores make great ground cover.