It was pleasing to have some rain this past week. This is very good for ensuring a good water table going into summer and it extends our active planting season.
While the soil is moist, it is a good time to apply mulch to the garden. This will reduce water loss from evaporation, keeping soil moisture levels higher for longer as we go into the drier summer months.
Bagged products such as Tui Mulch and Feed are very effective. It is a bark-based mulch mixture of poultry compost and gypsum, with added hydraflo (water retention). This product is designed to fertilise, improve soil structure and retain moisture.
Pea straw is great in the garden. Adding a thick layer of newspaper or some cardboard on the garden then covering this with straw will give weed suppression for 9-12 months. It will aid water retention, increasing soil moisture levels, and improve soil fertility and structure as it breaks down.
Plants grow and perform well in moist, warm conditions. Locking in the moisture by mulching your garden will give the plants health and resilience, ensuring that plant growth continues at a rapid rate.
It will be necessary to give extra water to your plants during the coming months. When you do, make sure you water in the early morning and evening to avoid scorching your plants. We are lucky in Whanganui to have a good water supply without restrictions. The golden rule to watering is to water less often, but to water more deeply; this will encourage roots to go further down, giving them more resilience in dry spells. Light watering on the surface every day has the opposite effect. For most gardens, a couple of times a week for a long period is better than every evening for a short time.
Roses in flower are looking stunning at present in the gardens of many homes around the city, and summer annuals planted during September and October are starting to look a real picture.
You can still plant out summer bedding (flowering) plants and create a colourful and magnificent show. Petunias, marigolds, verbena and gazanias are popular for hot, sunny spots and impatiens, begonia and lobelia will grow where there is shade.
Garden borders, containers and hanging baskets can be rejuvenated. Remove weeds and fork liberal amounts of compost and fertiliser into garden plots as preparation for planting. Hanging baskets and containers have a better chance of surviving summer if they are filled with potting mixes that have storage and re-wetting granules and controlled slow-release fertiliser added. In addition, feed every 10-14 days with liquid fertiliser such as Ican Fast Food. Please read the container labels carefully and follow the directions given.
It is time to stake herbaceous and perennial plants as they are getting taller. Tie in climbing plants to their supports or frames, otherwise winds can result in whole branches snapping off.
The warm temperatures that are promoting good growth in the garden are also resulting in a rapidly expanding population of aphids, whitefly, caterpillars, scale, potato/tomato psyllid and other attacking insects. A good bee-friendly insect spray is Yates Mavrik, which works on contact with the insect. This means that to break the life cycle of an infestation a few sprays in quick succession will be needed to knock back the population. Follow all packet directions carefully when spraying pests and diseases; care should be taken so that the spray reaches both sides of the leaves to get an effective result. An organic product, Naturally Neem, can be used for aphid, whitefly, thrip and mealybug.
I have recently read of a recommendation of mixing these two products to good effect. Mavrik works by contact and ingestion, while Naturally Neem stops feeding and disrupts the breeding cycle. A mixture of Yates Mavrik with Naturally Neem offers a two-pronged attack, giving particularly effective results. This combo works on all chewing and sucking insects. Once the spray is dry, it is bee-safe. It can be used on vegetables and has a three-day withholding period.
Combat 3 in One for Roses is a good rose spray. Combat is the only three in one - insecticide, fungicide and fertiliser - especially for roses. Combat is marketed as a rose spray but is also suitable for other ornamental plants. This weather has been great for the bugs - beat them to the draw with Combat.
Some of you will be obtaining a cut pine tree to decorate as your Christmas tree. To preserve your tree from drying out too quickly you can spray it (outside) before you decorate with Vaporguard, an organic anti-transpirant spray for plants. This product has numerous uses including reducing transplant stress on seedlings and as a sunscreen for plants. It is useful for moisture retention in hanging basket plants and as a leaf polish on pot plants and ornamentals. It is also useful in reducing wind and salt burn damage.
Hydrangeas are star performers in the summer garden. The most familiar are hybrids of H. macrophylla, which means long or large leaves. The bold heads bloom in white, pink, red and blue in summer. Although many exist with little or no attention, they do respond to pruning and feeding. Colours can be controlled and intensified and blooms greatly enlarged. Fortnightly liquid feeding now during the growth period after the flowers have formed will encourage enormous-sized flower heads. Hydrangeas vary in flower colour according to soil acidity or alkalinity. Blue colours may be retained, with aluminium sulphate applied at two- to three-week intervals, and red and pink colours are retained with applications of garden lime. These pH adjusting products are available in the garden centre in both liquid and powder forms.
Most house plants should be repotted by now. If you have not done this yet, it should be given some urgency so that your plants grow well this summer. Use a fresh new potting mix with long-term fertiliser and wetting agent added. Apply a supplementary soluble houseplant feed every two to four weeks during the growth season. Ican Fast Food is popular for this. If your houseplants don't require repotting, apply slow-release fertiliser such as Osmocote or ICan Slow Food.
• Gareth Carter is general manager of Springvale Garden Centre