Easter is a well recognised time to get into the garden. Having the extra couple of days off, this year is amplified with Anzac Day the same week and gives some serious time to get stuck into a decent-sized project.

This “gardening break” falls smack bang in the middle of autumn this year. As I have said before autumn is the perfect planting time. The soil is moist and easy to dig after recent rainfall and cooler temperatures mean new plantings are not stressed from hot sun. Planting in April and May gives seven months for plants to develop good root systems before summer arrives again.

There is also so much to choose from; whether you want establish greater privacy or shelter by planting a hedge, or use some strategically placed large growing shrubs or trees. Do you want to harvest your own fruit and vegetables?

There are plenty of fruit and vegetables that can be planted in autumn, whether is broccoli to harvest in a few months or blueberries and a mandarin tree to give you years of harvesting – now is a good time to do it.

The weather should stay relatively warm for another five or so weeks, so make the most of this perfect planting time. Below I have compiled a summary of work to be done in different areas of the garden.

A lot about gardening is forward-planning and the autumn months are very important for ensuring the garden’s performance over winter and spring. Now is the main bulb planting season for spring flowering bulbs and there are some amazing varieties to choose to suit every sized garden. From tiny growing crocus suitable for a small pot, to bulk bags of daffodils and tulips for the planting of large drifts. Each and all can make a magnificent display- but they need to be planted now.

The vegetable garden should have a first and even second crop of brassicas growing and now is time to plant another subsequent crop to ensure an ongoing supply of vegetables in the coming months.

The biggest determining factor in the success of the vegetable garden is very much a reflection of the soil, so the regular addition of organic material and nutrients is important. Some good additions include; mushroom compost, vegetable mix, poultry compost, Ican blood and bone, Ican organic vegetable food and sheep pellets.

Broad beans and peas can also be planted now. These are best sown direct into the soil.
A highly recommended pea variety is Chef’s Best Pea Magic – from the Ican seed range. It produces dark green pods on vigorous high yielding plants.

Good resistance to fusarium and powdery mildew means you keep on picking to the last pod produced. Magic has large tendrils which ensure upright growth with minimal support. It is rich in protein, vitamins, anti-oxidants, and dietary fibre.

Also try Chef’s Best Broad Bean – Mr Green Seed from the Ican seed range. This is a broad bean that looks and tastes good. It remains green after cooking and is rich in minerals, vitamins A and C, and dietary fibre.

Fruit trees are all at varying stages at this time of the year. Deciduous varieties such as plums, peaches etc will be heading towards dormancy. With the long hot summer we have experienced this is a good time to start clean up sprays.

The summer has seen an explosion in the insect and disease population on many plants which should be treated to ensure that eggs, larvae and spore numbers do not simply hibernate and the problem accentuates next summer.

If you, like many of us, want to minimise the use of chemicals in the garden then the clean spray programme is a good one to do. Using the organic certified Grosafe Freeflo Copper mixed with Grosafe Enspray 99 these sprays work to eliminate and minimise a wide range of fungal and insect diseases including curly leaf.

They work on direct contact to the tree and insects so should be applied a few times from autumn and through the winter with specific timings in spring on peaches and nectarines to prevent brown rot. There are brochures available in the garden centre around this topic if you want further information.

Other fruit trees such as feijoas are in season now, and are fruiting prolifically. Citrus fruits are covered in fruit that is developing for harvest in a few months.

These should be fertilised now with citrus fertiliser to keep plants healthy and fruit developing. Check the undersides of leaves for mite and scale infestations and spray with Grosafe Enspray 99 mixed with Yates Mavrik to control.

Tamarillos should be developing fruit now, these are at risk from the tomato/potato psylid and should be sprayed regularly with Yates Mavrik which will also help control whitefly and aphids.

Fertilising now with citrus fertiliser is also beneficial.

Now is also a good time to fertilise rhododendrons, camellias and daphne. These acid loving plants are all now developing their flower buds for a hopefully spectacular floral display later in the year. Feeding now with Tui Acid Fertiliser will aid in the bud development and maintain a strong healthy plant. If the soil structure could do with improvement then buying a peat bale and spreading on top of the soil around the base of the plant is a better option, and is far more suited to the acid loving plants than compost is.

If pots and patio areas are looking tired then now is the time to plant some winter and spring flowering annuals. These can give bright cheerful colour during the cool winter months. Pansies, primulas, cinerarias, polyanthus, cyclamen, dianthus and more. If planted now these plants will still be flowering right through till late September.

Autumn is a great time of the year to make your own compost. As leaves fall they can be gathered into a pile and turned into a rich fertile composition which can then be used in spring to enrich the soil and your summer gardening. The addition of compost is a very effective way to improve the soil and is a natural source of nutrients. Good quality compost will enrich your soil and will reward you many times over with consistent and improved harvests and plant performance.

Here are some tips from the Yates Garden Guide on composting.

Decide what sort of container you’re going to use for your compost heap.
If your compost is going to be in contact with the soil, put a layer of sticks or coarse material on the base.

Gradually build up layers of wets and dries (generally more dries than wets). Dries are high carbon ingredients such as dead leaves, sawdust, shredded paper, straw, dry lawn clippings. Wets are soft materials such as vege scraps, fresh lawn clippings and manure.

Don’t use meat, pet manure, weeds with seeds or perennial parts (such as onion weed) or herbicide-treated grass clippings. As well as these ingredients, compost needs air, moisture and a reasonable temperature (not too hot, not too cold).

Occasionally sprinkle some soil, ready-made compost, blood and bone or some dynamic lifter pellets to add extra micro-organisms (these get the breaking down process under way). Or use some compost maker.

Wet the heap every so often so that it stays moist, without becoming sloppy.
Use a garden fork or compost tool to turn the heap every week or so to aerate it. (This won’t be necessary if you’re using a tumbler or a self-aerating bin).
A couple of handfuls of garden lime will sweeten the composting process.

When your compost is ready to use, it can be mixed into the soil, added to mulch or incorporated into potting mix. Compost is considered to be one of the best natural sources of nutrients and soil improvement. For more information check out www.yates.co.nz

Have a good week

Gareth Carter is general manager of Springvale Garden Centre


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