Looking after helping hands
WINTER HOMES FOR GARDEN WILDLIFE
Cold weather is a tough time for the birds, lizards and insects that pollinate our crops, eat pests and bring interest and movement to our gardens. Some insects avoid the issue by hibernating or passing the winter as an egg or a pupa. Others require a cosy place to hunker down and also need food and water. Keep bird baths clean and refill them if the rain doesn’t do it for you. As you’d expect, gardens with bird feeders report more species during the annual Garden Bird Survey. This year’s survey is on from June 24 to July 2. Visit Landcare Research for information about what’s been learned since the first survey in 2007 and to take part this year.
Lure birds to your garden with sugar water for nectar feeders, plus fruit, suet and seeds that provide better nutrition than bread.
Lizards are cold-blooded so need a cosy winter home and a place to bask in the sun. You can build a special lizard lounge or just leave a stack of firewood in a sunny corner. Bumblebee queens look for a cosy spot under leaf litter, in old mouse holes, or a compost bin to spend the winter sheltered from frosts.
With the first hint of spring, the queen goes on the lookout for a more permanent position for her nest, so get a bumblebee hotel ready. And don’t forget weta. They are gobbled up by rats and hedgehogs and need safe retreats. For weta motels, lizard lounges and bumblebee hotels, visit www.stuff.co.nz.
Bees and pollinators are still about in winter. Include flowering trees and shrubs in your garden to supply nectar. Tree fuchsia, five-finger, wattle and sasanqua camellias cover the winter hunger gap.
GIVE ANNUALS THE CHOP FOR MORE BLOOMS
Harden your heart and nip off the first blooms of annuals, pinching back leggy stems to a sprouting node further down. It’s hard to do this, especially when the flowers are the only the colour showing in a mass of weed seedlings. But it’s worth it in the long run as two new stems will grow from the node you cut back to and you will end up with a sturdier, compact plant with more flowers.
Tidy up around winter annuals too. Little annual weed seedlings and self-sown cleome and cosmos seedlings like those pictured don’t need to be completely removed. Just pretend that they’re a green crop. Uproot with a hoe or wire weeder and leave them where they fall. They will soon disappear. If the garden club is visiting or appearances matter, just cover with a sprinkling of mulch. Hoeing around the flower bed and the vegetable patch not only keeps the weeds down, it also provides aeration and helps saturated soil dry out. Just be careful not to damage any delicate feeder roots near the surface. Treat your winter bloomers to regular doses of slightly-warmed, diluted seaweed fertiliser or worm tea. It’s not too late to plant more annuals for winter and spring flowers. Choose seedlings rather than seeds for a faster result. Have a look at the potted colour and seedling displays at your garden centre as they should be selling plants suitable for the season in your area. Try Iceland poppies, cineraria, snapdragons, stocks, sweet peas, sweet william, pansies, violas, Primula malacoides, primroses, polyanthus, alyssum and nemesia. Protect from snails and slugs and provide frost protection if needed.
STOP ALGAE DEAD IN ITS TRACKS
Warm weather and lots of rain has led to a moss and algae population explosion. Keeping outdoor furniture clean helps keeps the paint in good condition and prevents the wood from deteriorating. Plus you won’t get green smears on your clothes when you take a seat. Scrub with soapy water and rinse with the hose. Spray or wipe down with a diluted solution of bleach to slow down the return of this creeping green invasion. Remember to clean underneath as well! This chair didn’t look too bad on the top, but there was a snail colony encamped in the mossy fernery flourishing below. Put furniture that won’t be used during winter under cover if you can so it won’t get damaged.
GIVE SCRUFFY BROMELIADS A TIDY UP
Spruce up outdoor plants shrouded in spider webs or clogged up with autumn leaves. A blast with the hose will usually do the trick. Remove any dead or tatty leaves and wear long sleeves and gloves – those leaves are sharp! It’s also the perfect time to separate any offshoots (pups) for replanting. Cut off pups about a third the height of the main plant, remove a couple of outer leaves to expose the stem and replant. Wedge in place with stones until roots form. If you have bromeliads growing under deciduous trees consider copying this idea from Auckland potter and gardener, Kevin Kilsby. Each autumn he stretches bird netting hammocks above his extensive bromeliad beds to catch all the falling leaves.
Food and water are the key to growing celery. Celery needs far more fertiliser than green crops like lettuce and must never be allowed to dry out or it will bolt to seed. Growing celery over winter is much easier than having to water it all summer. In my garden, I don’t
aspire to large supermarket-sized bunches. Instead I just pick a couple of outer stems off each plant and toss them into stock, soups and casseroles – leaves and all. You can still plant celery now but keep protected from frosts or grow in a glasshouse. Prepare the soil with plenty of compost, blood and bone or general fertiliser. Side dress with blood and bone monthly or feed with liquid fertiliser every few weeks. Serious celery growers blanch the stems by wrapping a sleeve of cardboard around each plant. Milk cartons with the tops and bottoms cut off can be used in the same way. Keep in place for a week before harvest. Watch out for earwigs, and snails munching on the stems.
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