Time to plot as­para­gus patch

The Tribune (NZ) - - GARDENING - BAR­BARA SMITH

PRE­PARE A BED FOR AS­PARA­GUS

If you’ve got space, an as­para­gus bed will re­ward you with spring treats for many years. Look out for bare-rooted as­para­gus crowns ap­pear­ing at gar­den cen­tres from the end of July or or­der from NZ’s only as­para­gus breeder, Dr Peter Fal­lon, at As­para Pa­cific. Keep dor­mant crowns in a tray of damp pot­ting mix un­til the soil warms up to around 12°C – mid-Septem­ber up north but wait un­til Oc­to­ber down south – to avoid the risk of them rot­ting.

Mean­while get their per­ma­nent home ready. An as­para­gus bed will pro­duce for more than 20 years so it’s worth putting the ef­fort in. Choose a spot in full sun with good drainage where you can keep it wa­tered. Dig it over and in­cor­po­rate com­post, blood and bone, sheep pel­lets, aged an­i­mal ma­nure for added hu­mus and dolomite lime for a slightly al­ka­line pH (6.0-6.5). Let it set­tle for a few weeks be­fore plant­ing. Hoe down any weeds that pop up and dig out peren­nial weeds. You might want to add an in­su­lat­ing layer of weed-sup­press­ing mulch as well.

When you’re ready to plant, dig a hole 20cm wide and 20cm deep with a flat base for each crown. Al­low 20cm be­tween each – a di­ag­o­nal grid pat­tern makes ef­fi­cient use of space. Dig­ging 20cm wide trenches will speed things up if you have a lot of plants. A stag­gered dou­ble row al­lows you to pick the spears with­out walk­ing on the beds, but there’s room for more plants in large rec­tan­gu­lar beds and it’s much eas­ier to con­tain the ex­u­ber­ant but rather messy ferny fronds.

Dr Fal­lon rec­om­mends cov­er­ing as­para­gus crowns with 5cm of loose

soil. This will en­sure they get away to a strong start. Dur­ing the fol­low­ing sum­mer and au­tumn slowly fill the trench with soil as you hoe any weeds on the sides of the trench. By the fol­low­ing win­ter, the trench should be filled with soil and the sur­face should be flat again.

PRE­PARE FOR SPRING SOW­ING

If you grow toma­toes, egg­plants, and chill­ies from seed it’s time to get crack­ing in or­der to have ro­bust seedlings ready to plant in Oc­to­ber or Novem­ber. Make sure you’ve got ev­ery­thing ready, even if you don’t ac­tu­ally start sow­ing un­til Au­gust. Sort out your seed stash and buy re­place­ments or try some new va­ri­eties. Clean pun­nets and seed trays. Buy fresh seed-rais­ing mix. Make some plant la­bels. Above all, work out how you are go­ing to keep your seed trays warm and shel­tered. Many seeds won’t ger­mi­nate if the soil is too cold. For ex­am­ple the op­ti­mum soil tem­per­a­ture for ger­mi­nat­ing toma­toes is 20-25ºC. Kings Seeds has the ger­mi­na­tion tem­per­a­tures for their seeds on­line and in their cat­a­logue. Heat pads with a ther­mo­stat are a bit pricey but last for years and are worth it if you are grow­ing a lot of plants from seed. To cut costs, look for sec­ond-hand ones on com­mu­nity sites such as www.neigh­bourly.co.nz. Home­made heat pads can be made from LED rope lights or re­cy­cled wa­terbed heaters. But be care­ful! Wa­ter and elec­tric­ity are not a good mix. Be sure they don’t over­heat and cook your plants. For smaller batches of seedlings think about the warm spots in your house like on the top of your fridge. At my place, the un­der­floor heat­ing works a treat but I imag­ine this wouldn’t work for house­holds with ei­ther pets or tod­dlers!

PLANT HERBS IN GRAVEL

I love the look of herbs grow­ing in my stone paths and they smell won­der­ful when I brush past them. Low-grow­ing herbs stop soil from wash­ing off slop­ing beds and con­ceal awk­ward cor­ners and gaps where re­tain­ing walls don’t meet the paths. How­ever, to grow well, thyme, mar­jo­ram, sage and rose­mary all need good drainage. At my place, the wa­ter ta­ble is just be­low the top of the stones for weeks at a time over win­ter. The herbs sur­vive be­cause each one has a pocket of gravel un­der­neath. If your patch doesn’t have the con­di­tions these Mediter­ranean herbs pre­fer you can mod­ify a spot to suit them. Dig a hole four times wider and twice as deep as the root­ball of the herb. Put a layer of gravel or crushed sco­ria in the bot­tom. Be gen­er­ous and al­low for the size of the full-grown plant – a 2-litre con­tainer’s worth for thyme but half a bucket for a large rose­mary. Place the plant so that the top of the root­ball will be level with the sur­face of the stones or other mulch. Back­fill the plant­ing hole with the orig­i­nal soil mixed with more gravel. Al­ter­na­tively, grow herbs in pots, raised beds or small mounds to help keep the roots out of cold, wa­ter-logged soil over win­ter.

STEAM MOP WEED CON­TROL!

Boil­ing wa­ter is death to weeds but it’s dif­fi­cult to keep the wa­ter hot for long enough if the weedy patch is right at the back of the gar­den. I used to use a very long ex­ten­sion cord to boil the jug in situ but now I’ve got a new weapon for the war on weeds. A steam mop keeps my kitchen floor cleaner than ever be­fore and also wilts weeds in a jiffy. The de­tach­able hand-held mini steamer is per­fect for blitz­ing the cracks in the drive and the weeds en­croach­ing un­der the fence. It is great for spot weed­ing in be­tween other plants and for ver­ti­cal sur­faces too. A cut down plas­tic bot­tle con­cen­trates the steam onto the in­tended vic­tim and pro­tects nearby pre­cious plants.

GROW YOUR OWN GIN­GER

The eas­i­est way to grow your own ed­i­ble root gin­ger

is to buy a plump piece from the su­per­mar­ket. From late win­ter to spring the roots are com­ing out of dor­mancy so shoots might al­ready be form­ing (pic­tured). Al­though it’s a trop­i­cal plant, gin­ger can be grown in the vege gar­den out­doors in warmer parts of New Zealand or in a green­house. It likes light soil en­riched with ma­nure and com­post. Raised gar­den beds and pots work well as they pro­vide good drainage. The dor­mant roots are at risk of rot­ting if left in cold, wet soil over win­ter. Plant gin­ger out­doors in spring or sum­mer in a bright po­si­tion but where there’s dap­pled shade dur­ing the hottest part of the day. Keep moist and feed with liq­uid fer­tiliser to en­cour­age the rhi­zomes to plump up. You can har­vest from the ac­tively-grow­ing plant once it’s es­tab­lished. Care­fully dig down to un­cover some of the older root and cut off what you need with­out dis­turb­ing the rest of the plant too much. The plant will die back in late au­tumn. You can dig up the plant in win­ter, har­vest some and re­plant any bits with shoots.

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

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