Gardening: Stay on top

By Meg Liptrot

Don't let plants and weeds get away in the warmer weather, writes Meg Liptrot.

With a bit of early-summer attention the grapevine will flourish while you are away. Photo / Thinkstock
With a bit of early-summer attention the grapevine will flourish while you are away. Photo / Thinkstock

It's time to tie up your loose ends in the garden before you head off for the summer holidays. Fruit and vegetable gardens are likely to be in full swing at present, putting on lush green growth as the soil temperature warms and daylight hours increase. All of a sudden your garden might feel out of control as weeds pop up, new green branches block pathways and grapevines threaten to enter the house. Okay, so I'm talking about our house, but I'm sure I'm not the only one with a little garden and an over-enthusiastic planting scheme.

Plenty of chores pop up in our garden in summer. When tomatoes reach knee height they require staking then tying with soft ties to keep some order. Snipping off the side-shoots, or laterals, is important as it enables the central stem to grow strongly and allows air circulation around your plant to ward off fungal disease.

I experimented with a rogue tomato a few years ago which popped up next to our compost bin, allowing it to run rampant, and didn't bother to stake or delateral it. The plant spread over a large area and produced plenty of tomatoes.

For the most part though, it makes sense to keep the plant growing vertically and staked to make room for the rest of your veges.

Cherry tomatoes can be grown either way. By all means, let your plant ramble if you have space, otherwise train it up the inside of a loosely woven willow teepee.

Rambling grapevines also need attention. I found tying a string to the base of the trunk, then gently winding chosen strong stems along the string in the direction in which I wanted the grape to grow worked well. I then attached the end of the string to a nearby point, in our case a maple tree. The vine could then climb through the tree's structure. The trick is to keep the vine low enough that you can cover it with bird netting as the grapes ripen. I encircled the vines with net held together with clothes pegs. This ensured a good harvest on our return from summer holidays.

Leafy greens in the vege garden do well with foliar feeding every couple of weeks to keep growth lush and strong. Try using seaweed and fish-based liquid fertiliser, well diluted and applied to foliage with a watering can in the morning or evening.

Alternatively, make your own foliar feed with the liquid black gold from worm bins, diluted to a weak tea colour. You can also make a compost tea by running water through home-made compost and saving the resulting liquid. This brew can help prevent powdery mildew in the leaves of susceptible vegetables such as zucchini and cucumber.

If you have areas where weed seedlings are popping up, such as exposed soil in the vege garden or in shell paths, grab a hoe on a sunny day and lightly skim just below the surface, decapitating or uprooting the weeds as you go. This is a quick and satisfying way to dispatch weeds before they get too big. The sun works quickly to vanquish the invaders by parching them in the heat.

Just ensure that you're not vanquished too - wear a hat and sunscreen and get your shirking spouse or kids to bring you home-made lemonade as you work.

The 'to do' list

* Thin fruit before it develops on young trees. Mature fruit are heavy and can break branches.

* Prune excess summer growth from fruit trees to allow air circulation. Prune inward-facing branches and anything crossing a main branch.

* Put up yellow sticky traps around crops susceptible to white fly.

* Lightly trim excess growth on grapevines to allow better sunlight through to your grapes as they ripen.

* Plant flowers such as alyssum, marigold, phacelia, cleome and daisies in and around your vege patch to help combat pests (some flowers attract beneficial insects, others distract or repel pests).

* Remember to mulch your garden to retain precious soil moisture.

- Herald on Sunday

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