We are now into the last calendar month of summer and what a summer it has been! We can only guess what the next few months will bring but often in Whanganui, we tend to have settled weather which can roll on into April and even May some years.

Since the rain in early January, growth has been phenomenal. Many have commented about the frequency that they have had to be mowing their lawns. As I write this we are forecast to get some more rain from the effects of tropical cyclone Fehi which will make our gardens and lawns continue to grow wildly.

Gardens benefit from being covered with mulch particularly during the summer months. This helps to retain moisture after rainfall as well as adding organic matter to the soil as the mulch breaks down. Applications of compost, strawbales or 'feeding mulch' are a useful means of helping to retain soil moisture around plants susceptible to drying out.

If trimming back plants, cut up the trimmings and use as a mulch. Note that many plants form "Sun" leaves and "Shade" leaves and if all the sun leaves are trimmed off the plant may not survive. A good practice when plants are under stress and particularly with hedges is to trim one side only and to trim the other side when some recovery growth has occurred on the side previously trimmed.

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If you have a glasshouse or plastic covered tunnel house or frame you may wish to shade it to help keep it cooler. An old technique was to lime wash the glass or plastic of your hot house. Using watered down white acrylic paint solution (10% paint, 90% water).

Another alternative is to cover it with shade cloth.

If you like to have a succession of brassica during the autumn and into winter then now is the time to start planting. Cabbage, cauliflower and brussel sprouts all take considerable time to reach harvest and need to be planted well before winter if they are to be harvested during those months. Broccoli is a few weeks quicker but starting these crops from now on is also recommended.

You will need to provide protection from white butterfly caterpillars while these bugs are still prevalent, but by the time it is close to harvest the weather is usually cooler and the bugs scarce. These can be controlled with bug netting (a very fine meshed product that lets light and moisture through but not these insects) or by spraying with Yates Mavrik, Yates Success or by sprinkling Derris Dust on your seedlings.

It is now time to also plant leeks and it is time to make new sowings of carrot and beetroot for a tasty autumn/winter crop. I highly recommend the new Ican Chefs Best Seed Range. This is a range of 15 of the best vegetable seed categories. These varieties are where there has been a focus on breeding for Superior Taste, Improved Pest and Disease resistance, Increased Vigour and Yield. A number of the varieties are also more compact, and faster maturing, which results in a larger range from less space, and the ability to produce more crops through the season. Many are ideal for raised planter beds and container gardening.

The following Carrot & Beetroot are in the range with the following description;
Beetroot Red Lightening; Sweet & tender. Strong & vigorous early maturing, upright grower, producing uniform size deep red globe shaped roots. The best variety available.
Carrot Europa; Strong, vigorous germination and rapid growth. Long straight carrot with good disease resistance and tolerance to 'bolting'. This is best home garden carrot yet developed.

When sowing seeds direct into the garden ensure the ground is well dug over and broken down to a fine soil. Once germinated thin out plants for a better crop and keep moist and weed free. Protect seedlings with slug bait and feed regularly with liquid fertilizer 'Ican Fast Food'. Very few pest and disease problems are encountered when growing beetroot
Have a good week and don't forget to Slip, Slop, Slap as the saying goes and wear a sunhat when outside!

Gareth Carter is General Manager of Springvale Garden Centre
See also
Hibiscus enjoy the summer heat
Gardening: Lawn drought damage
Gardening: New year and all-you-can-eat excitement
Gardening: gardens set to reach their full beauty

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