No go to a hoe down

HANNA ZWARTZ
Last updated 05:00 10/01/2012
gard std
FAIRFAX NZ
NO GO: Plants don't like it when their soil is disrupted - if you have to weed, at least do it when it is moist and wet.

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Isn't it ironic? January, just when many people finally have time off work to garden, is one of the worst times of year to plant or weed.

Planting is best done in consistently damp weather (though some years, Wellington's summer fits that description).

Hoeing weeds is a great job for a sunny, breezy day but it only kills young seedlings, those small enough to be sliced off at ground level. Major weeding, of well-established or perennial weeds, is a job for when the soil is damp.

It may sound like a bad excuse - but once weeds have got their roots down into the soil, pulling them out can seriously disturb soil structure and dry out other plant roots.

If you have seriously weedy areas, the main priority now is not to dig out weeds but to cut off their flower and seed heads, preventing them from reproducing. One year's seeding, they say, makes for seven years' weeding.

Once you're sick of lying around in that hammock however . . .

* Keep topping up mulch. Despite a slow start, Niwa is still predicting a hot, dry late summer.

* If you got busy planting in spring, you'll be reaping the rewards now. Otherwise, it's still not too late to prepare for March and April harvests by planting beans, zucchini, corn or basil. You'll have to work a little harder than with spring plantings to keep young plants from drying out, at least until their roots get down to more moist layers of the soil. Use lots of compost, it holds water like a sponge.

* Summer pruning of grapes and figs can be done now. Pinch the tips out of fig trees to keep them compact, so fruits remain within picking distance. Cut grapes back to one or two leaves past the last bunch. This helps the sun get in to ripen the fruit. In general, cutting off excess leafy growth now won't stimulate new growth the way winter pruning does. If you have lots of vertical leafy growth on fruit trees, for instance, now is a good time to remove it.

* Plant leeks now for winter harvest, to fatten up (but not flower) before winter hits. They can then sit in the garden to be harvested as needed over the colder months. Likewise, start sowing winter brassicas like broccoli and cabbage, to be planted out in March. Leave other plantings, like shrubs or flowers, for autumn, when you won't have to spend hours on the end of a hose to keep them alive.

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* As spring annuals dry off and die back, any holes in your garden design become apparent. Make a note now of where you want more colour, or different colour, or more shade, or where something will need to be moved (the best time for that being early winter.)

* Enjoy your harvests, whatever their size, along with the relaxation that being in the garden can bring.

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