The cold is upon us and while some days are crisp and frosty the glorious winter sun draws us out into the garden, armed with a nice hot cuppa, some good gloves, and a sharp pair of secateurs. The calm pace of winter gardening is a sharp contrast to the frenzy of planting that takes place in spring and autumn. There’s still plenty to do in the garden in July if you are feeling active, but if not you can just rake in some green manure seed and hibernate for the month.
- If you have established fruit trees now is the time to get pruning to increase your fruit yield in summer. The first rule is to prune out any dead, diseased or dying wood, and then any branches that are crossing each other. Do some research into the particular tree you are working on so you can recognise the fruiting wood and avoid inadvertently pruning it off. Keep your prunings to stick into garden beds to deter birds and cats. Nice long, straight twigs can even be dried out and used as stakes.
- Bare root fruit and nut trees can be planted now. Consider a double graft to ensure you have good pollination and maximise space.
- Citrus gall wasp should be pruned out now to prevent them hatching and re-infecting your tree in spring. The infected stems should be bagged for a few months to solarise them.
- Use the quiet time to reflect on your garden design and build any structures that will improve your growing space. Climbing peas will be looking for something to hold onto so get out the stakes and string and make some tripods. For broad beans place some stakes around the perimeter of your patch and tie some string around them to prevent fragile stems from blowing over in the wind.
- Rain can leach precious nutrients out of the winter vege patch so top up with liquid fertiliser such as worm juice or fish emulsion. Plant more spinach, lettuce, parsley, coriander, asian greens and sprouting broccoli to ensure a steady supply of greens. Beetroot is also a great crop as the tops can be harvested for a colourful salad mix.
- Compost is breaking down slowly this time of year but will benefit greatly from aeration and the addition of carbon (shredded paper, cardboard, dry leaves). If you haven’t already got a worm farm think about establishing one before it starts to get warmer.
- There are some great edible weeds about like young nettles and chickweed. Go for a forage and look up some new recipes!
As we head into the final winter month there is an anticipatory thrill in the air. Either that or a winter malaise that’s hard to shake off…those that have been on tropical holidays are wishing they were still there, those that didn’t go away are wishing they had! However you’re feeling it’s definitely time to start thinking about spring in the garden. Planning and preparing is paramount at this time, as when the soil warms up it will be a planting frenzy! To help get you in the mood just look at our native plants, an absolute joy at this time of year. Boronia is in bud and will soon fill the air with its heady fragrance. Hardenbergia is flowering and the golden haze of wattle starts to dot the landscape.
- Plant asparagus, seed potatoes, bare rooted strawberries and rhubarb crowns.
- If you haven’t already sprayed your stone fruit trees for leaf curl, do it now before the buds open. You need to spray with a copper spray or lime sulphur – preferably in July while the tree is completely dormant, and then again, at bud swell. Leaf curl affects peach, nectarines, almonds and other Prunus species. Once the blistered, curled foliage appears on your tree it is too late to spray, but be careful to practice good garden hygiene by picking up any fallen affected leaves.
- Continue to plant leafy greens including spinach, lettuce, kale, sorrel, mibuna, mizuna as well as parsley, rocket, coriander. Plant beetroot, spring onion, sprouting broccoli and radishes and a late crop of peas.
- Prepare the beds that you aren’t using. Dig in compost and manure and add a layer of pea straw in preparation for spring planting.
- Plant green manure seed to improve the soil in fallow beds, adding nitrogen and organic matter to create rich fertile soil.
- Give your citrus trees a once over. Prune out any citrus gall wasp galls before the end of August. It is important to do this before spring as the wasps will emerge at this time. We do not recommend the use of yellow sticky traps for gall wasp as they also trap beneficial insects.
- Plant flowers for joy and for attracting beneficial insects. Nasturtium, lobelia, alyssum, pansies, violas and many more can be planted now for spring colour.
- Go for a bush walk. A favourite activity of mine is searching for terrestrial orchids in late winter. I love seeing them, tiny and important, growing in their minuscule majesty under tall trees or on heathlands. We are very lucky to have hundreds of native orchid species and many of them can be found very close to Melbourne.
September is such an exciting time of year for gardeners and nature lovers and here at CERES Nursery we are keen to enhance your spring experience whether you are a new or established gardener. When I speak to customers in the nursery there is a great sense of eagerness (impatience?) for spring planting to be underway and I find myself advising many times over that it is important to wait.
- Wait for the soil to warm up. Wait for the temperature to become consistently warmer at night.
- Wait until seedlings are big and strong enough to be planted out into the garden.
- Prepare the soil for planting. Incorporate plenty of compost and well-rotted manure into the soil.
- Top this off with a mulch such as pea-straw, lucerne or sugar cane mulch. You can also add other products such as dolomite lime, rock dust and potash if you wish to boost nutrient levels in the soil for vegetable production.
- Propagate seeds in mini hothouses or on a sunny windowsill.
- Continue to plant coriander, rocket, parsley, spring onions, lettuce, kale, mizuna, mibuna, tatsoi,carrots, beetroot and spinach.
- Mid to late September if the weather warms up consider planting zucchini, cucumber, pumpkin, tomatoes, squash, chillies, eggplant, capsicum and beans.
- Don’t forget flowers! Plant borage, chamomile, violas, marigolds, nasturtiums, snapdragons, cosmos and sunflowers to add colour and attract insects.
October in the garden is a joyful and busy time for gardeners as we see plants surge forth as the weather warms up. If you planted seedlings a bit too early over September they may not have grown much but should start to take off now. Kick off your shoes and enjoy!
- Plant summer vegetables including tomatoes, cucumber, pumpkin, zucchini, corn, chilli, capsicum, eggplant, beans.
- Try some new varieties of tomatoes or grow baby watermelons for the kids.
- Plant sunflowers, cosmos, marigolds, alyssum, violas and lobelia to add colour and diversity to the garden.
- Continue to plant year round veggies such as spring onions, silverbeet, beetroot, carrots and kale.
- Keep weeds under control with ongoing hand weeding. Weeds compete with other plants for water, space and nutrition. Use mulch to smother them and out-compete them with prostrate herbs and flowers.
- Collect snails and slugs to reduce the population in the garden and check underneath leaves for caterpillars, aphids and whitefly.
- Protect seedlings with fine gauge netting to prevent chewing insects and possums feasting on them.
In Melbourne, November is known as the traditional time to plant out tomato seedlings. Cup Day is the first Tuesday of the month and is earmarked by many as their tomato planting day. Other jobs in November include continuing to plant out summer veggies as the weather warms up and to generally get things in order before it gets too hot.
- Make sure you have mulched your vegetable garden with straw-based mulch. This will suppress weeds, trap moisture and draw worms and other microorganisms to the surface. As the mulch breaks down it will help to build a lovely soil, rich in organic matter.
- Plant tomatoes and remember to stake them at the time of planting.
- Earwigs are prevalent at this time of year. They chew on young seedlings. A few tips include an upside down cardboard box that they will hide in and you can empty it out in the morning. Some screwed-up newspaper will attract them also. A takeaway container with the lid on with a layer of tuna oil is also a great trap for earwigs. Simply punch some small holes around the container with a skewer and the earwigs won’t be able to get back out.
- Ensure that you are watering enough, especially if you are growing in containers. Container grown plants will dry out very quickly and need thorough watering at least once a day, more in excessively hot weather. Do not rely on the rain for container plants as it does not penetrate very far.
- Vegetables growing in pots need regular feeding as well. Add an organic fertiliser at the time of planting and supplement this with fortnightly liquid feed. This can be fish, seaweed or liquid from a worm farm.
December & January
In summer there are delights and challenges that face the home gardener. The delight of seeing your spring plantings take shape in the summer sun and the pleasure of harvesting those first tomatoes and zucchinis, tempered by the challenge of keeping plants alive and looking good under extreme heat conditions. Here are a few ways to cope and stay cool and happy in the process.
- Ensure that you have mulched adequately. Mulch will protect the soil from heat and keep roots cool and moist. It also encourages earthworms and other soil friends to rise to the surface and improve the soil.
- Water at the base of the plant. Direct the water where it needs to go and avoid damaging foliage, encouraging fungal problems and waste.
- Water early or late. Watering in the middle of the day is not effective but if you need to do it sometimes go right ahead. Water pot plants every single day.
- Drape bed sheets over plants on very hot days to prevent burnt foliage and damaged fruit. The sun will burn ripe tomatoes and other vegetables. Putting up a shade umbrella in the afternoon will also help.
- Don’t try to garden in the heat. Relax and save gardening for the morning or evening and not at all on very hot days. Create a cool shady spot in the garden from which you can observe and plan what exciting things you’ll do in autumn!
A few cool days and even some rain have us all musing about the cool autumn garden times that lie ahead. But don’t put the hose down yet! There is still potential for hot spells that could shrivel your final harvests for the season! In February we still enjoying the fruits of our summer plantings and also picking up the pieces of a sun ravaged and possibly holiday neglected garden. It’s a great time for clearing out spent crops, weeding paths and perennial plantings, and pruning and tidying up natives. For the keen seed savers it is also time to select and mark the disease free fruits and plants for seed saving next month.
- Weeding around garden beds and in among summer plantings will allow for better air flow and less competition for moisture with crops. This will help prevent diseases and prolong the harvest time of summer veg.
- Powdery mildew is unavoidably creeping onto the zucchinis and other cucurbits such as watermelons and pumpkins. Pruning off the worst affected leaves, maintaining soil moisture and using a milk spray can prevent further infestation so you get the best out of these crops
- Planting! You can continue to plant leafy greens, Asian greens, parsley, coriander and dill so that you can keep eating them!
- If you are super keen you can plant early peas and broad beans but you must take care to protect flowers on any chance hot days.
- Brassicas such as Brussels sprouts and cabbage need a long growing season so it is a good time to plant them too, but avoid planting them where you have had heavy powdery mildew on the previous crops. Bi-carb and milk sprays can help to prevent early infection.
- Clearing garden beds for your autumn plantings is always exciting. Consider an in-between green manure crop to add some organic matter and nitrogen and encourage those soil dwelling/creating creatures to thrive.
- Summer pruning fruit trees to reduce canopy size, increase airflow and control vigorous growth is advisable at this time. Also a good time to fertilize citrus in the early phases of fruit formation.
It’s supposed to be cooling down, although we are still experiencing some residual heat. But it is time to think about your autumn garden plans! Not only is it a good time to propagate seedlings and plant out your veggie patch, if you happen to love native plants or ornamentals, now is also the time to add to your collection, fill any gaps and tweak your design. Weeding and refreshing garden beds with compost and manure, planting seed directly, taking soft-wood cuttings and seed saving are all on the cards.
- Legumes such as peas, snowpeas, sugarsnaps, sweetpeas (for color and scent) and broad beans can all be sown direct. Make sure that you have good trellis structures set up at the time of planting peas and you may need to support your broad beans later in the season.
- If you have planted broad beans in February as a green manure, you may be tempted at this point to let them keep growing and provide you with lovely beans… if you do this you will be sacrificing the benefits of this plants ability to store nitrogen in your soil. This is due to the fact that as soon as they fruit, the nitrogen in and around the roots will be turned into protein in the beans!
- It is also time for brassicas, kale, cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower and Brussels sprouts. Think in advance about how you will protect against cabbage moth because they are always lurking and if you use fine netting you can exclude them from the start. If that is not possible you can use a Dipel spray which is very effective and safe for most other insects as it contains a bacteria to target only caterpillars.
- Apples, pears and quinces are fruiting in abundance now. It is a good idea to clean up fallen fruit and woody debris from around the base of trees to discourage codling moth next season. Grazing your (or your neighbors) chooks under your trees can take care of any larvae that might overwinter in the soil and mulch.
- If you have any fruit trees that you suspect might be struggling with heavy soil, sow some alfalfa around them to later chop and drop in place as mulch. The deep penetrating alfalfa roots will help to break up the soil to improve water holding capacity.
- When planting natives and ornamentals be sure to choose your locations carefully, taking into account the conditions the plant requires. If you are careful about planting where there is the right light, soil and water availability for the plant, it is much more likely succeed.
We are coming close to the winter solstice and it’s time to plant some fruit trees! This is when the widest range of deciduous fruit and nut trees are available in nurseries because it’s best to plant them while they are dormant in the winter. And of course it gives us an excuse to get back out there and warm up with some vigorous digging!
- Think about where the light falls in your garden in summer as well as winter, and about how much space you have before you rush out and come home with a car load of trees. Dwarf fruit trees are a great option for smaller gardens and can even be grown in large pots. Vines like grapes and kiwi fruits give wonderful shade in summer and let precious winter sun in. Also their ability to take up vertical space is a plus. Berries provide a fantastic yield in a small space, whether they are cane berries like raspberries and boysenberries, or bush berries like blueberries and currants. Bare-rooted plants should be pruned before they are planted out with the exception of apricots and sweet cherries which are best pruned while the sap is still flowing in Autumn. Dig in some compost before you plant and you’ll be giving your trees the best chance of success.
- Get your pruning gear in good shape for the work it will be doing in July on established fruit and nut trees in the garden. Sharp and clean secateurs and pruning saws will save you time and energy and prevent damage to your trees.
- Use all those lovely crisp brown leaves falling from deciduous street trees to your advantage and rake them up for the compost. Leaves provide much needed carbon and having a bag of them in the shed is a sure-fire way to get your carbon-nitrogen ratio correct and speed up your compost.
- There is still time to get your garlic and shallot bulbs planted, and don’t forget about leeks and spring onions. Intermediate and long day onions like NZ Cream Gold can still be planted for a January harvest.
- Divide your strawberries, jerusalem artichokes, horseradish, turmeric, rhubarb and asparagus. Many of these plants will be available now as bare root stock so prepare the soil and think about how many you can fit in! Remember asparagus is a long game and needs room to develop extensive roots but the payoff is worth it.
- Protect young seedlings from slugs and snails with copper tape around old pots with the bottoms cut out, and place some beer traps around level with the soil in the veggie patch.
- Succession sow coriander, rocket and mizuna every fortnight to have a regular supply. Try a few different winter leafy greens like mustard, tatsoi, mibuna, lamb’s lettuce, rapini, radicchio, endive and chinese broccoli. Stunners like kohlrabi, romanesco broccoli and purple cauliflower can brighten up the winter veggie patch and the kitchen table. Edible flowers like nasturtiums, calendulas, pansies and violas supply gorgeous colour on cold rainy days.
- Move your indoor plants into the brightest position possible and wait to do any re-potting until spring or early summer as they can suffer worse transplant shock in the cold weather. If you have heating on remember that house plants can dry out quickly so check soil for moisture levels. Bring any small tropical plants you have in pots onto a deck or inside to reduce their damage from the cold.