Many signs of spring are popping up everywhere. The days are now noticeably longer and around the city some of the early flowering cherries and magnolias are creating stunning displays.
The Prunus Campanulata Felix Jury in flower are one of my favourites attracting Tui and Wood Pigeon. Another favourite and especially good for smaller gardens is Prunus Jims Delight. Almond trees are in flower and buds on many plums trees are showing first signs of colour and some have burst open.
There is much to do now, particularly in the vegetable garden. Green crops should be dug in, weeds cleared, soil improved with poultry compost or mushroom compost and fed with 'Ican Organic Vegetable Food' in preparation for planting.
Seed potatoes that have been sprouted should be planted now. If they have not yet sprouted place them in a warm cupboard for a few days to encourage this more quickly.
At this time of year, plant them fairly shallow, no more than a spade blade depth; make a shallow furrow and plant them about 300mm apart. Just cover with soil and as the sprouts grow through the ground mound up the soil over them, spread more potato fertiliser along the mound surface each time. Mounding will protect young growth from frosts. Ensure that tops are covered also on evenings that may be frosty.
Once the mound is of sufficient height then you may need to use frost cloth to protect your plants. The fastest early to mature potatoes to plant now are 'Rocket' and 'Swift' taking 60-90 days depending upon conditions. Planted now these would be ready for harvest in late October/ early November. Ilam Hardy is an early maturing potato and generally takes 110-120 days. Planted now they should be ready in November. Rua a main crop potato takes another month or so.
Three favourite varieties are Agria; an early main cropper, long oval shaped with yellow flesh it is a great all rounder. Heather; this main crop potato has a distinctive purple skin, it is oval shaped with white flesh and like Agria is versatile in its range of uses. Jersey Benne; this early variety is an oval to kidney shaped potato with white skin and white flesh, it is an excellent potato for mashing or boiling. If planting potatoes now you should have a nice new crop for Christmas.
This is an excellent time to plant brassicas; cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, kale. Also sow seeds in the garden now of carrots, parsnips, peas, onions and broad beans. Coming into the spring they grow relatively quickly and will be ready for harvest before the white butterfly caterpillars arrive around late November and December.
Early Tomatoes can be planted in greenhouses, although it is too early to plant them outside. You don't have to have a glasshouse to grow early tomatoes. With a black 35L pot filled with Tui Tomato Mix and placed in a warm porch or sheltered spot even behind a chimney and - you too could be picking juicy red tomatoes in November. Vegetables which need temperatures to not drop below 10C cucurbits, capsicum, egg plants and peppers, maybe started from seed indoors or in a greenhouse. If possible start in individual peat pots so they can be eventually planted out without root disturbance. Warm conditions are needed for seed germination of these plants.
Gareth Carter is General Manager of Springvale Garden Centre