This week has been the epitome of autumn weather – cool mornings and warm sunny blue-sky days.
Soil moisture levels are still on the light side so watering is needed on new plantings and lighter soils particularly.
Where this is offered growth in the garden is good. Planting now and making the most of the warm daytime temperatures is recommended especially in the vegetable and flower gardens.
To establish vegetable seedlings for winter harvest the time to plant is now. If you have not done so already get those winter vegetables planted.
If it is left much later they may not get enough growth on before the weather gets really cold in June.
Then the crops will sit in the garden all winter and not come ready until the spring. One week's growth during March and April is equivalent to one month's growth in winter – so don't delay.
The remnants of summer crops that have finished should be removed and composted.
Here is a guide of vegetables to plant now:
The Yates NZ website nicely groups vegetables to their growing season.
Cool season vegetables: Grow best when temperatures are between 10-20C or even lower. They include broad beans, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, onions, peas, spinach and turnips.
Intermediate season vegetables: These are best between temperatures of 15-25C and include beetroot, carrot, parsnip, celery, leek, lettuce, radish, silverbeet.
Warm season vegetables: Are grown best when temperatures are above 20C and include beans, capsicum, eggplant, potato, sweetcorn, sweet potato, tomato and cucurbits (including cucumbers, zucchini, pumpkins etc).
In Whanganui's temperate climate we can grow both cool season vegetables and intermediate season vegetables through the winter months.
To ensure a good crop of winter vegetables thoroughly prepare the soil which, in conjunction with the weather, will be the biggest determining factor in the success of our gardening endeavours.
Autumn is also the time to be replacing finished summer flowers. Petunias, impatiens, marigolds etc that are looking tatty should be removed and replanted with cool season varieties.
There is a good selection available now including pansies, dianthus, viscaria, cineraria, lobelia (in sheltered areas), poppies, sweet William and violas to name a few.
While planting out flowers for winter display it is also time to think about spring flowering bulbs.
These too need to be planted out during autumn. Planting bulbs is thinking ahead, looking at the pictures on the packets and imagining how they would look in your garden.
Now is the time to buy bulbs. Daffodils, jonquils, anemones, freesias, ranunculus, crocus, dutch iris and others can all be planted straight away. Tulips and hyacinths should be kept somewhere cool and dry and later need to be put into the fridge to be chilled for planting in May.
Freesias are one of the darlings of the spring garden, prized as much for fragrance as for cut flowers.
The cultivated species are from South Africa and are suitable for planting in clumps in the foreground of borders, and in gardens around the house so their delightful fragrance can be appreciated.
Freesias also do well in pots on the patio, either on their own or over-planted with pansies, violas or polyanthus.
Freesias grow well in the garden for many years without lifting and dividing.
They prefer well drained light fertile soil in a warm sunny position. Apply Tui Bulb Food to the soil monthly to maintain healthy green foliage and promote strong and plentiful flowers.
If planting freesias in pots, use Tui Bulb Potting Mix and liquid feed with Ican Fast Food. They are available in many colours and in double and single flowers.
Hyacinths, with their fragrant spikes of starry flowers, come from the cold mountainous regions of southern Europe.
They are often called dutch hyacinths because much of the breeding work to develop modern varieties has been carried out in Holland.
Placing hyacinth bulbs in the fridge replicates the cold winter temperatures they experience in their native habitat and helps them to perform better in our warmer temperate climate.
Hyacinths also give better results if the plants are gradually introduced to more heat and light once they have started to grow.
This again is easy to understand because spring comes timidly in their cold native habitat.
Often it is easier for us to grow hyacinths in pots filled with a bulb growing potting mix.
Refrigerate the bulbs first then, after planting, cover the pot with another of similar size to exclude the light.
Next, put it into a cool shaded spot (preferably sinking the base down into the soil).
After the hyacinth shoot has emerged, take off the cover and gradually move the pot into more light.
The more slowly the hyacinth is exposed to increased heat and light, the better it will perform. If the flowers emerge from down near the base, or leaves and stems are floppy, it usually means that the hyacinth growth has developed far too quickly.
Hyacinth cultivars are ideal for pot cultivation and can be moved around the garden or brought indoors as a cheerful signal of the coming of spring.
If growing hyacinths in a special glass or flask, place the bulb so that it just touches the water with a little charcoal to keep the water from souring and add fresh water as required.
Put in a cool dark position until roots form. When the flower buds begin to show colour, move the rooted hyacinth into a warm bright room.
The flowering shoots will then develop and produce blooms. After flowering, discard the exhausted bulb since it is unlikely to provide a good display the following year.
Bulbs are such a welcome sight when they appear at the end of winter - not a lot else is flowering and you know once the daffodils start to emerge spring is about to arrive.
They are also a great investment as once you have bulbs in your garden they will multiply and produce bigger and better displays in the years to come.
So there's plenty to do in the garden and with reasonable rain in the past weeks it is ripe for planting!
Have a good week.
• Gareth Carter is general manager of Springvale Garden Centre