Time to sort out perennials
CUT BACK TIRED PERENNIALS AND PLANT MORE
Worn out perennials that have been flowering their socks off all summer can be tidied up now. Cut stems back to the crown or base of the plant and if there’s any new growth, then cut just above it. In very cold areas, don’t cut back so severely. Leave some woody stems to protect the crown from frost. Shred or compost the old growth except for diseased leaves and unwanted seedheads. Don’t be too swift with the secateurs though.
Spare the sedums, echinacea and other flowers that hold their shape well and feed birds over winter. Now that we’ve had some rain but the soil is still warm, it’s a good time to plant those garden centre impulse purchases or any divisions taken from established clumps. Pictured here is Helenium ‘Lord of Flanders’ which can grow to 1.5m. The deep bronze-red flowers on stiff, erect stems start in mid-February and last until late autumn. Buy plants by mail order from Marshwood Gardens
WHAT WOULD WE DO WITHOUT EGG CARTONS?
Protecting eggs is just one use for egg cartons. Apart from being a stalwart of preschool craft projects and storing Christmas ornaments, they are handy garden gadgets too. They’re often touted as being good for raising seedlings. The idea is to plant the cardboard segment along with the seedling so the roots are not disturbed. I’m not convinced by this method. I don’t think the segments hold enough seed raising mix and they dry out easily. But if it works for you, go for it. At my place, cartons that aren’t passed on to chicken-owning friends end up as the top insulation layer in my worm farm or compost bin. They’re also excellent holders for potatoes while they are chitting so the shoots don’t get knocked about. Egg cartons are good for storing tulip and hyacinth bulbs while chilling in the fridge too as they allow good air circulation.
NZ Gardener editor Jo McCarroll foils birds by picking her figs early and keeping them in a handy egg carton until they’re ripe enough to make figs in spiced brandy. Ripe figs are so soft they squash easily if carried in a bag. For more information on figs and how to grow them, see Kate Marshall’s feature in the April issue of NZ Gardener, on sale now.
SAVE SEED OF SHIELD BEETLE- FOILING CLEOME
Every year I grow cleome (spider flowers) as a catch crop to attract green shield beetles away from my beans and tomatoes. Cleome are enthusiastic self-sowers. Every flowering stem produces many long slim spidery pods. When ripe, the pods explode and send seeds in all directions. I haven’t had to buy seed for years – I just move opportunistic seedlings to better locations. Surplus seedlings are easy to pull out so mine have not become weeds. Some particularly pretty white ones cropped up in the mixed patch of pink and purple cleome this year. I’ve saved some seeds. I’m not sure if they’ll come true but it would be nice if they do. My townhouse is built of orange bricks which make an unfortunate colour combination with pink and purple! Pick the seed pods as they start to turn brown but before they’re completely ripe. If you leave it too late the slightest touch triggers a seed-dispersing explosion. Spread seeds out on a paper towel in a wellventilated place until they‘re completely dry. Store in an air-tight container (with a packet of silica desiccant if possible) in a cool room or the fridge. Cleome seeds don’t stay viable for long so make a note in your diary to plant them next spring or early summer.
HOW FULL OF MIX DO POTS NEED TO BE?
Shallow-rooted crops in a big container don’t need all that extra potting mix. I usually use big chunks of polystyrene to save on mix and make the pot lighter but half-full containers work too. Seedlings get off to a good start as they are sheltered from the wind and are easy to cover with frost cloth, bird netting or clear plastic as required. Don’t try this with root crops or plants with big root systems and
be aware that shallow potting mix in a small pot dries out much more quickly than a larger volume.
WEED, FEED, SOW AND DEAL TO PESTS
Warm temperatures plus rain equals weeds. Pull them out now before they take over. Give citrus their autumn feed. Spread fertiliser when rain is forecast so it gets watered in easily. Sow green crops in beds not needed for winter crops. Sow broad beans, beetroot, spinach and peas, and transplant brassica seedlings. Thin out rows of carrots, radishes, beetroots and turnips. Deal to black aphids on onions with a dose of soapy water. It’s your last chance to tackle scale with summer-strength spraying oil.
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