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

Gardening: A fragrant solution

By Justin Newcombe

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Landscape gardener and Life columnist Justin answers your questions.

Lavender gives off a fragrant scent that is said to aid sleep and relaxation. Photo / Wairarapa Times-Age
Lavender gives off a fragrant scent that is said to aid sleep and relaxation. Photo / Wairarapa Times-Age

I've got beds of fragrant lavenders under my clothes line - a mix of English and French varieties - which scent the sheets as they are drying. But after nearly four years they were starting to look straggly and woody, so I cut some back quite hard. It looks like I might have killed them. How should I have treated them? Will they come back in the spring or should I just pull them out and start again? When should I plant new ones - now or wait till spring?
- Kate

Hi Kate

Using lavender to perfume your sheets is a great idea as lavender is meant to help you sleep. I have found in the past that my lavender has usually had a shelf life of around four years but that is probably due to neglect on my part. Your lavender may grow back when the weather warms so don't give up just yet. Firstly check the soil. If your plants are experiencing wet feet then the prognosis is rather dire as lavender can't tolerate wet or heavy conditions. Your lavender also needs a fair amount of calcium which is often deficient in a lot of New Zealand soils, so try top dressing with gypsum or mulching with crunched shell over thick newspaper.

If your plants become unhealthy they can quickly suffer from fungal infections through the foliage or even root system. If you need to replant your lavender make sure they get full sun, mound the soil so the drainage is at its best and dress the hole with lime and crushed shells. Prune just after flowering no more than a third of the existing growth.

I'd like to espalier two new apple trees that I've just planted in my garden to make a flattish fence/wall. I don't actually have a wall or fence to grow them against, but have read that you can tie them to posts in the direction you want them to grow without actually wiring them to a wall. What should I use? When should I prune the branches - next summer or autumn?
- Eileen

Yes, you can organise your apples into an espalier without using a wall, in fact they create a rather charming wall of their own. You will need to install a couple of stout posts per plant, approximately three metres apart with the tree in the middle and run either wire or timber to train the branches along. Over the years the apples will establish strong branches and these supports will become unnecessary; however the posts should remain in place and the branches should remain attached to these. Make sure to prune your trees after fruiting has finished. If you have not done this already, do it as soon as you can so you are ready for spring. The new branches that come away when the weather warms up will be supple and easy to manipulate.

Do bamboo prunings decompose in the compost bin or are they like avocado shells and just stay whole and hard? I've cut off the biggest stems to use as stakes in the garden, but wondered if the prunings and smaller stems will ever break down?
- Grant

Bamboo will eventually break down but if you compost it, depending on the varieties, you run the risk of it sprouting in your compost bin. Do a test by crushing a small bit using a mallet or sledge hammer, then cover with a layer of soil, wet with the hose and cover with a sheet of plastic. Check it in a month or two, if it has decomposed then do this on a larger scale. A high-carbon material like bamboo does take a bit more work to break down but the results really improves the tilth of the soil.

Recently we moved into a house which has a permanent bean frame and I had been looking forward to planting sweet peas to grow on it, however I read your article on sweet peas which puts paid to this idea. Will I need to grow another crop for a year before planting sweet peas or should I just clear out the remains of the beans and leave the ground bare for a year?
- Noelene

I would plant some fast growing leafy green crops in the spring followed by some tomatoes which would make great use of your climbing frame. Next winter concentrate on root crops then go for sweet peas. Look at our earlier article on crop rotation to give you an idea of what to plant after what.

Weekend checklist

* Vegetate, hibernate and rejuvenate

* Sow onions, sweet peas, and plant garlic.

* In the flower garden sow ... alyssum, calendula, candytufts, dianthus, delphinium, forget-me-not, larkspur, linaria, lupin, nemesia, pansy, snapdragon, statice, stock, sweet peas, sweet williams and violas.

* Transplant trees, being careful to look after the root ball. A good-sized hole is also important as well as plenty of organic material. Drainage issues should also be addressed and remember to mulch.

* Clean out the shed. Be honest, are you really going to use all that stuff you said you would or are you just making an obstacle course for your lawn mower to get around?

* Sharpen and oil all your tools including rakes and spades.

* Clear out any old poisons and dispose of them responsibly.

* Keep planting beetroot, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, parsnip, and silverbeet, but not in soaking wet soil; dress with blood and bone.

* Protect seedlings from slugs and snails. Use slug bait or, for an organic method, surrounding your young plants with bird netting, works a treat.

* Mulch celery with seaweed, brassicas with torn-up comfrey leaves and mound up leeks. Again make sure your soil is not soaking wet.

* Seed potatoes can be sprouted in trays in preparation for early planting. Try doing this on a windowsill or in a cold frame.

* Topdress all garden beds with compost ready for springtime. Any unused beds should be mulched with pea straw.

* Plant potted colour.

* Plant gladioli corms.

* Prune fruit trees and grapevines and seal cuts with pruning paste. Pruning now will promote vigorous spring growth.

* Transplant strawberries.

* Re-pot pot plants.

- NZ Herald

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