Wow what a storm we have had earlier this week. Wind, rain and hail for us here in Whanganui - what a reminder of the vulgarities of spring weather!
It always pays to have frost cloth/ cloches and any other necessary coverings on hand to offer protection to young plantings of seedlings or other sensitive plants.
It is also wise to stake and regularly tie up soft new growth to avoid damage from winds. New growth on roses can be particularly vulnerable.
Gardening has many facets to it. It has a practical or functional aspect that merges into aesthetic which becomes quite fashion driven.
A lush leafy green tropical and semi tropical structural look combined with colour is highly desirable at the current time.
There are certain plants within these areas that I am noticing a change happening both from a consumer interest perspective and in nursery production with some of these plants becoming more readily available.
There is increasing availability of palms, bromeliads and succulents which are encompassed in this trend.
There is high interest in growing bananas both ornamental and edible. After being hard to come by for the past 18 months we have just landed the edible banana Misi Luki into the garden centre.
The increasing interest in subtropical fruit plants and their increasing availability has seen more people starting to grow previously unavailable Cherimoya and Casimiroa.
There is unprecedented demand by home gardeners for avocado trees which are attainable in garden centres for portions of the year.
Other favourite subtropical fruits, the passionfruit and tamarillo, are experiencing demand like never before.
We have now had many mild winters in Whanganui with few frosts, being highly advantageous for establishing more cold sensitive plants such as these.
Tamarillo, or tree-tomato as they are also known, have long been a favourite of mine.
They are one of those fruits that are always expensive when purchased from the supermarket and are only available for a limited time each year.
The fruiting time for tamarillo is during the winter months from May to July. This timing makes them a great fruit to grow as this can be a time of year when fruit and vegetables can be more expensive to purchase.
The red varieties tend to be tart and a sprinkling of sugar can be needed, while the yellow varieties tend to be sweeter.
Tamarillo plants are fast growing small trees which will fruit in their second year.
They will reach full production capacity around four years from planting. They are relatively short lived with an average tree fruiting for around 7-12 years before giving up.
They can be propagated easily in the home garden by cuttings or from seed collected from the fruit.
Seed raised trees tend to grow straight up with a single leader which is best chopped to encourage a lower branching canopy, whereas cutting grown varieties seem to have a natural tendency to branching lower down. All tamarillo are self-fertile so you can plant just one plant, though cross pollination by having more than one plant can increase the crop size. The growth habit is a fast growing tree with large heart shaped leaves that are soft and hairy. Size 3m x 2m.
When looking to plant a tamarillo tree there are four varieties grown by incredible edibles which perform particularly well and have good sized fruit.
Tamarillo Bold Gold
Clusters of pink fragrant flowers appear in spring within 18 months from planting. Followed by large golden fruit which is sweet and less acidic than the red varieties.
Tamarillo Teds Red
Clusters of pink fragrant flowers appear in spring within 18 months from planting. Followed by large almost round bright red fruit.
Clusters of pink fragrant flowers appear in spring within 18 months from planting. Followed by medium sized red/orange fruit. Very sweet and low acidity. Produced and marketed by incredible edibles in association with Plant & Food Research - available in garden centres.
Tamarillo Lairds Large
This is a new variety on the market for 2020. It is described as a heavy yielding variety producing large red tangy fruit.
Some people love them, while others detest them.
But tamarillo can be used in a wide range of different meal options.
They are most commonly eaten raw where they are cut in half and eaten with a teaspoon – much like a kiwifruit.
Tamarillo are also delicious cooked on toast, made into fruit pies, chutneys, sauces, used on cheesecakes, stewed with apple, added to salad greens and I'm sure there are other uses too.
When planting a tamarillo tree site selection is important.
The most successful growing situation will be a sunny, well drained, as frost free as possible and sheltered from the wind.
They are shallow rooted and benefit from being staked, tamarillo can be susceptible to mildew and whitefly which can be controlled by Yates Fungus Fighter and Yates Mavrik. This insect spray will also protect against infection from the tomato/potato psylid.
It is beneficial to water well during the dry summer months where the new growth formed is the basis for the winter harvest. Feed tamarillo trees in spring before pruning, a second feed a month after pruning and a third feed in February to aid fruit development. A good fertiliser to use is Tui Citrus Food or Novatec.
The two biggest enemies to watch out for when growing tamarillo are frost and wind.
Although not quite as hardy as citrus, they can generally be grown in areas where citrus is grown. In Whanganui they grow readily in the many frost free pockets, and with winter frost protection where frost is heavier.
Where there is frost, tamarillo will be naturally pruned.
Where no frost occurs pruning should be undertaken in spring. Fruit is formed on new spring growth so a hard prune will help maintain the shape of the plant as well as maximise the fruiting potential for the following year.
On plants that have sustained some frost damage removal of any dead, damaged or old wood should be pruned during spring after danger of further frosts has passed.
Another subtropical favourite is passionfruit.
They like a similar growing situation to tamarillos but are a climbing plant, the most ideal site being a north facing wall with some sort of climbing frame provided for the tendrils to attach themselves to.
Passionfruit are heavy feeders and benefit from regular applications of citrus fertiliser and if the soil is poor then the use of organic based Ican Vegetable Food will both help to improve soil structure as well as feeding the plant.
They are not wind hardy so need protection from cold winds and do not grow well in salty maritime locations.
While they are relatively frost tender, they will grow back from the base if burnt lightly from frost.
It is important that vines are well watered during summer particularly while the plants are young and also in late summer when fruits are maturing.
Be aware though that any waterlogging will rot these plants. If you do have a heavy soil plant in a mound to make sure there is good drainage.
So if you would like to add some tropical flavour to your garden and plate then give growing one of these plants a go.
Have a good week
•Gareth Carter is general manager of Springvale Garden Centre