Time to get serious about sowing seeds
START SOWING HEAT-LOVING SUMMER CROPS
It’s time to get your summer-growing vegetables underway, however be aware that there is still the chance of cold weather and late frosts in southern and central areas.
Direct sow in garden beds seeds of dwarf and climbing beans, beetroot, carrots, parsnips, lettuces, peas, radishes and silverbeet. Sow cucumber, leeks, sweetcorn, zucchini, eggplants, pumpkins and tomatoes under cover
in seed trays. Don’t rush to plant out seedlings of heat-lovers like eggplants, tomatoes and chillies. Early transplants will often just sit and sulk until the weather warms up. Seedlings transplanted in November tend to do better and overtake those early ones. It’s tempting to fill up every inch of the vege bed, but leave space for plants to grow to their full potential and allow for airflow. Stressed and crowded plants are more likely to succumb to disease. Leave room for succession planting too so your crops don’t all mature at the same time.
TUCK UP YOUR STRAWBERRIES
Early strawberries are flowering and starting to ripen, so make sure there is mulch in place to help keep the berries up off the soil. Pea straw is the classic mulch but may be in short supply due to the pea weevil infestation in the Wairarapa.
In July, the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) placed a ban on growing peas within a specified area and placed controls on moving pea material (both seed and untreated pea straw) within, in and out of this area for the next two years.
An alternative to pea straw is Strawberry Mulch which is made from sphagnum moss that has been impregnated with activated seaweed. The chopped, semi-dried moss can be dug into the planting hole and used as mulch around the base of plants. Not only will it reduce evaporation from the soil, sphagnum moss also has natural fungicidal properties so will help protect berries from fungal infections. Last year an earwig population erupted in the pea straw around my strawberries. Applying diatomaceous earth (from DENZ – www.denz.co.nz) kept them at bay, but I will be very interested to see if a mossy mulch affects them at all. You will also need to defend your berries from birds. I use bird mesh pinned over wire hoops which works well but there are more elaborate berry barricades and fruit fortresses out there.
HOW TO CARE FOR YOUR EPIDENDRUMS
These spectacular reed-stemmed epidendrums – grown by Lee and Roy Neale at Leroy Orchids – are descendants of those commonly found in Auckland gardens but they have tennis-ball sized flowers that look like colourful fireworks. Roy selects for sturdy, multistemmed plants with flowers held erect. They need a little more cosseting than the originals but are still easy to care for. Epidendrums prefer bright filtered light and temperatures from 10-27°C. They need protection from frost and should be moved indoors during winter. In summer, allow them to almost dry out before watering and don’t leave them standing in water. Feed with a half-strength fertiliser at every summer watering. Don’t feed them in winter and only water when the plants are dry – every 1-2 weeks is enough. Water in the morning but not if a frost is expected that night.
Repot when their containers are full of roots and the plants are looking top-heavy. Once a stem has flowered, prune it to half its length to encourage multiple shoots from the base of the plants. More information and plants from firstname.lastname@example.org.
HARDEN OFF SEEDLINGS FOR TRANSPLANTING
Window sills all over the country should be lined with hopeful punnets of seedlings almost ready to be planted outside in the garden. Preparing those seedlings for the harsh reality of life outdoors is a process known as hardening-off. Spring weather can be incredibly changeable – balmy and still one day and freezing wind and rain the next, so seedlings need to be tough enough to cope so their growth isn’t halted. Shift punnets to a sheltered spot outside or open cloches so the plants are exposed
to sunlight and air movement. Start with just a few hours each day, then pop them back under cover. Gradually increase the exposure time each day until they’re ready for transplanting. Keep inside if there’s an especially cold or stormy period. Even after hardening-off, seedlings still need some form of protection – perhaps a cloche in stormy weather or a little shade in particularly hot or windy conditions.
SUPPORT SUMMER BULBS
Tall summer bulbs and sprawling perennials need support to display their blooms to best advantage. Put props in place early and let the new stems and leaves grow up to hide them. There are advantages to installing supports at planting time. Firstly the rootballs, corms or bulbs won’t be damaged by a stake if the support is already in place beside the planting hole. Secondly, it’s less likely that foliage will be damaged while tying in the stems. Thirdly, it’s a lot less work. Many plants will look after themselves if the support is the right size and shape. An upturned hanging basket (pictured) makes an almost invisible frame for a small perennial. Plastic trellis mesh and metal sheep mesh work well as DIY frames, as do pruned branches and grape vines.
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