COL­LECT A HERB

North Shore Times - - GARDENING -

MULCH, THEN MULCH AGAIN

I was mis­taken if I thought I had a cou­ple of weeks up my sleeve be­fore I needed to start think­ing about mulch, be­cause just one week af­ter fill­ing our raised beds, our pre­cious and pricey or­ganic vege mix al­ready has a thin and crispy layer on top. Mulching is cru­cial for vege gar­dens in spring and sum­mer be­cause it slows down wa­ter loss through evap­o­ra­tion and sup­presses weeds (so they don’t hog all the re­sources your pre­cious plants need). Plants that are stressed by a lack of wa­ter are less pro­duc­tive and more likely to be mauled by suck­ing bugs like aphids and green shield bee­tles. Be­cause mulch breaks down over time, it adds or­ganic mat­ter to the soil too. We’re mulching with old fei­joa leaves that we put though a mulcher, but you can use with what­ever you can lay your hands on – lawn clip­pings (but not too much at once), shred­ded card­board, sheep dags, bark and com­post. You can also buy com­mer­cial mulches, plus mulch and com­post mixes, from gar­den cen­tres.

SET UP A REG­U­LAR DATE WITH YOUR HOSE

I got the botan­i­cal guilts yesterday when I saw some new pun­nets of seedlings and a lovely red geum that is wait­ing to be planted keel­ing over in a wilted pile. I’d only wa­tered them two days be­fore, so it’s clear that daily watering is now on the sched­ule. Wa­ter seed trays, pots and hang­ing bas­kets in the morn­ing and check them again at night. All berry and vege crops that have been planted out need plenty of wa­ter to get fruit­ing and while they are swelling, so give them a thor­ough soak once or twice a week. Let­tuces and other salad greens, which are full of wa­ter, should be grown in soil that is con­stantly moist to avoid them dry­ing out and be­com­ing bit­ter. Check how ef­fec­tive your watering is by putting your thumb or a trowel into the dirt af­ter watering to make sure you’ve pen­e­trated the soil deeply enough. Wa­ter in the morn­ing or evening when it is cool to avoid wa­ter loss through evap­o­ra­tion and re­mem­ber to wa­ter around the root zone and not the leaves to avoid invit­ing fun­gal dis­ease which thrives in warm damp con­di­tions. Don’t blast your plants with a vi­o­lent jet of wa­ter ei­ther (my kids love to do this). Not only does that waste wa­ter as it splashes onto paths and lawns and up onto fo­liage, but this also can cre­ate a thin dry crust on the top layer of soil which can pre­vent the wa­ter from pen­e­trat­ing fur­ther down to the plant’s roots. For a DIY ap­proach, bury a drink bot­tle up­side down with its base cut off and fill it with wa­ter ev­ery few days which will then slowly seep into the soil. If you don’t have time to wa­ter or you’re go­ing away, set up a watering sys­tem that runs on a timer.

I’ve de­cided that I’m go­ing to grow as many types of thyme as I can: le­mon, woolly, wild, golden var­ie­gated and so on. I’ll sing ‘Thyme Af­ter Thyme’ in my best Cyndi Lau­per voice as I wa­ter them all. Check out the wide selec­tion of dif­fer­ent herb va­ri­eties avail­able at your lo­cal gar­den cen­tre or from Kings Seeds or swap cut­tings with friends. To take soft­wood cut­tings, cut off 5–8cm stems (if the new growth is too fresh it will wilt in­stantly, so snip the tops off if that hap­pens), strip off the low­est leaves and poke the stems into con­tain­ers of fine pot­ting mix to grow on. Large clumps of thyme can also be di­vided now. Dig up your plant, work your fin­gers into the root ball and gen­tly pull apart. Re­plant straight away.

SOW & GROW WA­TER­MEL­ONS

Mel­ons aren’t the eas­i­est sum­mer crop to grow and can re­quire a bit of space, but when my five-year-old, ea­gerly ran up to me with a seedling at the gar­den cen­tre, I agreed to give up some pre­cious space. In re­gions with re­li­ably hot, long sum­mers, you’re spoilt for choice when it comes to wa­ter­mel­ons. Sow Yates ‘Coun­try Sweet’ or Kings Seeds snake­skinned ‘Ge­or­gia Rat­tlesnake’. In smaller gar­dens, or in re­gions where sum­mers can be short, plant smaller-fruit­ing va­ri­eties, as these are much more likely to ripen be­fore the heat re­treats. We’re grow­ing the base­ball­sized, dark-skinned ‘Sugar Baby’ (any fruit or veg­etable with ‘sugar’ in the name im­me­di­ately has kid ap­peal). Mel­ons love hot spot and lots of wa­ter while the fruit is de­vel­op­ing. In cooler ar­eas, sow the seeds along the base of a north-fac­ing wall or fence so they can soak up the re­flected heat. Feed with the same liq­uid fer­tiliser you’re us­ing for toma­toes.

IT’S AC­TU­ALLY ROSEVEMBER

Novem­ber be­longs to roses so give them some TLC this month. Lay sum­mer mulch – a thin layer of grass clip­pings is fine. Gen­tly hoe the soil around them first if it has be­come dry and com­pacted. An ap­pli­ca­tion of Dal­ton’s Rose & Flower Fer­tiliser in the soil at a rate of 200g per m2 will pro­mote healthy growth. Ban­ish aphids by squash­ing them be­tween your fin­gers or blast­ing them with a hose, then spray the fo­liage at three-weekly in­ter­vals with liq­uid fer­tiliser – fish or sea­weed – which aphids loathe! NZ Gar­dener’s rosar­ian Bar­bara Lea Tay­lor rec­om­mends mix­ing your spray with half skim milk/half wa­ter to help dis­cour­age fun­gal dis­ease. Morn­ing or evening is the best time to spray. Never spray in hot sun­light to avoid scorch­ing the fo­liage. Don’t for­get to gather your rose­buds while ye may and cut them for vase. The best place is just above a growth bud as this stim­u­lates the plant to pro­duce more growth.

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