Icy crystals target susceptible plants
WATCH OUT FOR FROST
You might be able to simply enjoy the phenomenon and the beauty its icy crystals bring – my camera comes out on frosty mornings and I crunch around the neighbourhood taking photographs of leaves and stalks bearded with frost – but you might have plants that do badly when frozen and you’ll need to take measures to protect them. The simplest frost-proofing is a cap of newspaper, draped over any frost-intolerant plants and left in place till mid-morning when the white rime has been burned off by the sun. My brugmansia and lemon trees get this treatment, when I remember to do it, and it keeps them safe from the cell-exploding action of a hard frost. Purpose-woven anti-frost cloths can be purchased from garden centres and they work well, though have to be disposed of eventually, once their fibres have disintegrated. Newspaper – cheaper and more readily found – can go into the soil or fireplace. Structures covered in burlap are traditional protections for valuable frost-tender plants and can remain in place throughout winter, providing shelter from unexpected late frosts.
There’s a rust that’s threatening the family of plants that feijoa belongs to, but we shouldn’t abandon favourite plants just because there’s a new pest in town.
The myrtle rust that’s arrived looks to be a big problem for the myrtle family, but there’s always the possibility that your garden and the plants growing in it might be the ones that have resistance or show signs of resilience when the attack comes – that they’ll be the basis for a recovery for the variety and the industry it’s part of. It’s perhaps a little far-fetched to think that your own little garden might play a valuable part in the saving of a species, but it might, you can never know. In any case, feijoas are fabulous fruits and taste wonderful freshly picked from your own garden. This one (pictured) grew on the feijoa variety, ‘Kaiteri’ and reached an impressive size, considering the location, one step away from Antarctica. Look for trees at garden centres now.
DON’T BE TOO FASTIDIOUS IN THE GARDEN
Take extra care when moving anything you’ve left stacked on the ground over this wetter season. Small creatures like frogs or these gorgeous leaf-vein slugs are likely to be resting, hibernating even, beneath planks, bricks, stacks of pots or whatever you may have piled up in an out-of-the-way corner.
This handsome little slug had nestled into the basin of this fallen apple and must have been surprised when I gathered it up on my windfall round of the late-bearing apple trees.
I put him and the apple back onto the ground. Populations of sensitively-skinned creatures like these, and the whistling frogs that shelter under the stacks of timber beside my tunnel-house, are easily lost when gardens are kept too tidy and their habitat is removed.
GIVE FLAX AND ASTELIA A CHOP
Trim your astelia and flax bushes back from the paths they are so often planted beside. Strap-leafed plants like these are marvellous foreground features; they are soft to brush past and grow low enough to look over, into the wider garden, but they can also get thick and sprawling if not attended to with some sort of sharp tool. The best of those tools, in my opinion, is the Niwashi Shark, a saw-toothed, Japanesemade draw-knife that makes short work of trimming back the blades of any floppy plant. A quick and decisive pull through the lower part of the leaf of flax, toetoe or astelia is all it takes to bring those plants back into order and favour.
Don’t drop the severed leaves onto the path; they become very slippery in the rain and you’ll have visitors sliding off into the shrubbery if they try to walk over them. Niwashi Sharks can be ordered online and remain sharp for a very long time.
DON’T PRUNE WINTERSWEET
Prune everything that would benefit from a careful trim, but stay well away from your wintersweet! I pruned mine for years, growing as it did underneath the kitchen window and trying with all its might to block my view as I washed the dishes. I had to trim it every year or lose the morning sun.
I did wonder as I snipped away, why my wintersweet flowered so poorly, while others around the district were dripping with blooms and redolent with the exquisite scent that wintersweet is famous for. Finally, I twigged – I was pruning off the flowering bits. Wintersweet requires to left alone, remain uncut, untrimmed and unmolested, so I’ve taken action. I couldn’t move the kitchen, so I shifted the shrub. The wintersweet now stands where it can grow tall and wide and won’t be visited by a secateur-wielding me.
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