The nitty-gritty

Cac­tus cut­tings aren’t the only plants that ben­e­fit from a bit of gravel in their soil – be lib­eral with the stony stuff, says Mary Lovell-smith.

The Dominion Post - Your Weekend (Dominion Post) - - Gardening -

ORNAMENTALS • Take cut­tings of cacti by cut­ting off a shoot, leav­ing for a day or so for a skin to form over the cut (and pre­vent rot­ting when planted) be­fore plac­ing in pots, which should be half-full of stones, then topped with a 50:50 mix of river sand and pot­ting mix. Do not wa­ter un­til the cut­tings start to get very, very dry. • Pea gravel or grit, about 5-6mm di­am­e­ter is help­ful in al­lay­ing the ef­fects of over­wa­ter­ing and con­se­quent damp­ing-off of seedlings or other plants in pots. Put bro­ken china, or lar­gish stones in the bot­tom, then a layer of sphag­num moss or co­conut fiber, then top it off with a mix of leaf­mould (or com­post), gar­den soil and grit. • Gen­er­ous quan­ti­ties of grit mixed into with soil in the gar­den also helps open up heavy soils, es­pe­cially for plants that hate wet feet, such as irises and many bulbs.

EDIBLES • Ten­der veg­eta­bles, such as aubergines, cour­gettes, mel­ons, pump­kins, pep­pers and toma­toes may be sown un­der cover – such as a sunny win­dow sill, glasshouse, ve­ran­dah and so on. They should not be sown out­side in the gar­den (or even trans­planted out) for an­other month or so in any but the warm­est dis­tricts, as cold snaps will check for growth, or in the case of a late frost, even kill them. • Ear­lier sown crops might need thin­ning, to stop the seedlings com­pet­ing for sun, wa­ter, space and so on, which will lead to poor and less healthy yields. • Give ni­tro­gen-hun­gry tamar­il­los, straw­ber­ries and pas­sion­fruit a boost with a hand­ful around each of blood and bone, hen or sheep pel­lets, or worm­casts (if you have your own worm farm). Should you have hens, use the ma­nure from their house floor. If you have straw or (un­treated) wood shav­ings on the floor, the whole lot can be put around es­tab­lished plants. How­ever, pure chook drop­pings will need to be com­posted be­fore ap­ply­ing as they are am­mo­nia-rich and can burn the plants. • Should you see horse ma­nure for sale on the side of the road, grab it. Not only is it nu­tri­ent rich but it also pro­vides a lot of or­ganic mat­ter for your soil. As it usu­ally con­tains an abun­dance of weed seeds, it is best com­posted be­fore ap­ply­ing to the gar­den – ei­ther in a pile on its own, or in the com­post heap.

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