The Back Yard

Justin Newcombe's tips for creating a gorgeous and productive garden

Brighten the garden with clivia

By Justin Newcombe

Add a comment

Landscape gardener and Life columnist Justin answers your questions.

Clivia is an ideal way to add colour to damp, dark corners of the garden. Photo / Supplied
Clivia is an ideal way to add colour to damp, dark corners of the garden. Photo / Supplied

Clivia is an ideal way to add colour to damp, dark corners of the garden.I have a shady, damp corner of my yard that I'd like to get some colour into to brighten it up. I know most flowers don't like the shade - can you recommend a couple that do, or other sorts of plants that would add colour?
- Megan Downs

In this situation the landscaper's best friend is clivia. A hardy, attractive, thick fleshy leaf with a cluster of bright, usually orange, flowers in the spring, clivia loves dry shade and is easy to propagate from pups (small plants which grow off the side of the larger parent plant). Hellebores are also very good, with bountiful elegant blooms. Its common name is the winter rose. In semi-shade (dappled light or two to four hours sun a day) you could try some varieties of Rhododendron vireya (check the label or ask your local Kings expert), or Iresine herbstii which has a soft crimson foliage with pink veins running through it. Sub-tropical cabbage trees and bromeliads are bright, and of course there are cyclamen (check my previous article here). Taro can look good in the shade - keep an eye out for the South American varieties which are massive.

I want to plant potatoes in between boysenberry and raspberry bushes I planted last year. Are they compatible or "enemies"? I know tomatoes and potatoes are not friendly.
- Chris O'Sullivan

Boysenberries and raspberries attract blight which spuds are very susceptible to. Other bad spud company includes tomatoes, sunflowers, onion, garlic and pumpkin. If you want good companions then go for broad beans, or let beneficial plants like nasturtiums ramble around your crop. If in doubt, marigolds go with everything.

We have a palm that we think is a Washingtonia robusta growing in a constricted spot. We'd like to move it - can you just dig it up and shift it or is more care required to ensure its survival?
- Mandy Watkin

Washingtonia robusta are very hardy palms, and big too, so replant well away from the house. It's best to let the soil dry out around the plant to make it easier to remove. When you have the plant out of the ground, gently rub off around a third of the soil and trim back the root ball. Look out for any pathogens, especially mealy bugs. If these are present soak the plant in a strong Orthene mixture (which you'll find at Kings) before replanting. A good replacement that is just as hardy and gives a similar look is the Chamaerops humilis which has a much smaller growing habit.

Last summer we had quite a problem with mosquitoes in our garden - every time we sat out from dusk onwards we were attacked and had to have repellent at hand. Are there plants that will keep the mozzie population down, or even drive them away?
- Heather Cromwell

Scented geranium (Citronella), lemon thyme, lemon basil, lemon grass - even lavender and tea tree - are all meant to help, but I have my doubts. You can use these plants to create an effective repellent similar to what you might buy, but the best form of defence is prevention. Check around your property for stagnant water sources (including guttering), no matter how small, and get rid of them. Big trees may have stagnant water in the "armpit" of a branch. Encourage good air flow. Air can stagnate just like water and as a rule mosquitoes don't like being blown around, so some selective pruning may be in order this spring around your entertainment area.

We've had pretty patchy results resowing parts of our lawn in the past - what's your number one tip for getting lush, even regrowth?
- Dave Williamson

The biggest mistake I see is lack of water. You need to nurse those grass plants out of the ground. In my experience the proprietor (that's you) will insist that the grass is getting plenty of water but when I look, the soil is quite dry. Grass plants like sandy free-draining soil, which requires lots of water so don't be shy with the sprinkler. Don't just throw the grass seed on top of the ground. Make sure you lightly rake the seed into your new soil. Once the grass has come up, give it a feed with a light lawn fertiliser. The N (nitrogen) on the N P K reading should be no higher than 6, which you'll find at Kings. The N on full-strength lawn fertiliser will be in the 20s and is too strong for new shoots. I also use urine diluted eight to one with water. Works great.

Weekend checklist

* Get potatoes, strawberries, fruit trees and grapes in the ground.

* Mulch your avocado as it comes into flower - I use a mixture of seaweed and straw. Watch out for fungus infections on the leaves - get in early and spray with copper oxy chloride. Try to keep an open canopy to allow good air circulation.

* Bury kumara tubers in a box of potting mix and keep watered and in a warm sunny place. Once the shoots appear remove them from the tuber and plant them into the ground (around October).

* Sow onions, coriander, capsicum, peppers and tomatoes, and summer flowers including poppies, marigolds, lobelia, snapdragons and sunflowers.

* Keep small amounts of beets, radish and lettuce coming on by sowing every two weeks.

* Green crop with lupins any beds that may lie dormant for the next few months.

* Compost and dig over beds which will be planted in the next few weeks.

* Re-pot (in fresh potting mix) any patio plants that are looking tired or yellow.

* Finish off any pruning.

* Turn your compost, again.

* Mow your lawn short, rake out the dead grass from the thatch with a leaf rake, apply a soil and sand mix and rake in more seed if necessary. Feed and water. The next time you mow, mow it long - at least an inch and a half. It still looks tidy and will seem a lot more lush.

* To ask Justin a question, click on the email link below.

- NZ Herald

Have your say

We aim to have healthy debate. But we won't publish comments that abuse others. View commenting guidelines.

1200 characters left

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

Assembled by: (static) on production bpcf02 at 19 Dec 2014 17:04:30 Processing Time: 501ms