Time to pre­pare for spring



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.


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.


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.

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