Gardening: Spring into action

Meg Liptrot has some items to add to your list of garden tasks

Now is a good time to prune fruit trees and roses - but leave stonefruit trees until the end of summer to avoid silverleaf disease. Photo / Thinkstock
Now is a good time to prune fruit trees and roses - but leave stonefruit trees until the end of summer to avoid silverleaf disease. Photo / Thinkstock

Spring can be a very wet season but still you'll be itching to get out in the garden.

To anticipate the rain and avoid digging in wet, gluggy soil, it pays to dig beds over now, as July has been drier than usual and the soil is not too heavy.

A technique to keep soil in tip-top shape is to mulch with a layer of brown cardboard and hay to keep the rain off the top soil and preserve nutrients.

If you've sown a green manure or cover crop into your vege beds for winter, chop up the greens and dig them in now so they will be well-rotted come planting time in spring.

Dig in a handful of dolomite lime or garden lime per square metre, and basalt rock dust to help remineralise the soil after the winter rain. Rock dust is available from Environmental Fertilisers or Agrissentials and can be bought mixed with other ingredients such as seaweed and fishmeal, which is perfect for vege beds and flower gardens.

Remember to avoid compacting your soil by trampling all over it. Soil structure that is open and uncompacted allows air penetration to the roots, which is vital to the good health of your plants.

Use a plank to spread your weight and stand on that instead. The bonus is your boots will stay clean, too.

Pruning

If you've neglected your fruit trees, prune them now on a dry day while their structure is apparent. It is easy to see any dead or diseased branches. Ensure you clean your gear with meths between cuts to prevent the spread of fungal or bacterial diseases.

Undercut the branch first to ensure a heavy limb doesn't tear bark down the tree. With medium-large branches, avoid cutting hard against the trunk - leave the branch collar (around 1-3cm). This is a subtle rounded part that contains the growing material, which will in time form a callus (donut of new wood) to protect the cut surface from bacterial and fungal invasion. Leave pruning of stone fruit until summer to avoid silverleaf disease.

Prune roses if you haven't already. With bush roses, open up the centre of the shrub and remove any dead wood. Prune good wood back by removing half of the length of the main stem to an outward-facing bud. Focus on strong framework; remove spindly stems.

Spray with a winter oil such as Aquaticus Glow to finish off any scale, aphids or mealy bugs, and a seaweed foliar spray to prevent fungal problems on new growth. Prune ramblers and climbers and tie down your chosen healthy stems to near horizontal to force plenty of flower buds.

Hopefully, the coldest part of winter is over, but if your region is prone to late frost, hold off pruning sensitive plants such as hydrangeas until the risk of frost is gone. Prune a third of older mop-head hydrangeas hard, focusing on removing older, weaker stems, as per bush roses. Deadhead the remainder of the stems to the nearest leaf bud and leave them long to ensure summer flowering.

You can prune any summer flowering shrubs to maintain good air flow through the plant, and remove any diseased or broken branches. Hold off on spring-flowering shrubs for obvious reasons - you'll cut the flower buds off. Prune Camellia japonica shrubs for shape after flowering at the end of winter if your shrub needs a bit of training, and cut Camellia sasanqua hedges, too, once they've flowered.

Kitchen garden

AsparagusAsparagus crowns are available now at most garden centres.

How to plant: Choose a dedicated spot - asparagus plants can live for up to 20 years. Ensure soil is light and well-prepared.

A raised bed is ideal if you have heavy soil. Incorporate sand, chopped seaweed and aged manure into the soil and dig down deeply.

Create ridges 15cm below final soil level and spread the star-shaped asparagus roots over the ridge, spaced 30cm apart, in rows around 60cm apart.

Cover the crowns with just enough soil so the dormant shoots are 2cm below the
surface. Slowly cover with soil and layers of compost as the canes grow.

Harvesting: Growing asparagus is a long-term commitment and you'll need to be patient. You should leave the spears entirely alone in the first year so the plants get strong.

Cut 40 per cent the following year, then up to 80 per cent in subsequent years, always allowing some spears a chance to grow into the full fern and die back naturally.

Cut the fern back, once dry and wait for the spears to emerge next spring.

On a budget?

If you want a large crop of asparagus and can't afford the hefty price of ready-to-plant crowns, purchase asparagus seed instead. In a year or so you'll have plenty of your own crowns to plant out.

Kings Seeds have three types of asparagus available including Sweet Purple to add interest to your vege plot.

Varieties: Male plants are more productive than female plants.

The latter put the effort into producing fruit rather than shoots and have thin spears (the berries on the ferns are poisonous and can't be eaten).

Jersey Giant is a variety which is available to purchase at garden centres as crowns are primarily male plants.

If you are growing other varieties from seed you will need to plant twice the number of resulting crowns you grow from this seed, or remove the female plants to maximise your crop.

- Herald on Sunday

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