13 reasons why you'd be mad not to get out in the garden over Easter
The long Easter weekend is perfect for spending time in the garden. It's still warm enough to be outside and, if you can dodge the worst of the rain and wind, the timing is just right for tidying and planting.
Garden centres are gearing up for a busy long weekend. Daniel Kubler from the St Lukes branch of Kings Plant Barn in Auckland says that Easter is the second only to Labour Weekend as their busiest time of the year.
"People get all enthusiastic about gardening in spring but really autumn should be even busier. Back in the day, gardeners knew that autumn is the best time to plant trees and shrubs. Plants can get their roots established before winter and you don't need to spend all your time watering as there is regular rain."
Daniel Kubler says that customers are most likely to buy bulbs, lawn seed, pruning tools, spades for planting, evergreen fruit trees, winter vege seedlings plus cyclamen and pansies for winter flowers. Potted colour, hedging plants and large-grade trees are all reduced for their Easter Garage Sale. All the Kings Plant Barn branches will be open from 8.30-5pm every day.
13 REASONS TO SPEND TIME IN THE GARDEN OVER EASTER
1. Plant bulbs
Now is the perfect time to plant spring-flowering bulbs. Daffodils, tulips, hyacinths, narcissus, freesia and Dutch irises can all be planted in pots or garden beds. Choose a sunny spot with well-drained soil. Plant the bulbs so that their top is at least two times as deep as the bulb is high. Plant bulbs deeper in light soils than in heavy soils. Use a bulb fertiliser high on potash and low on nitrogen.
2. Plant vegetables
Some vegetables do better in winter. In summer all brassicas (broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, kale and Brussels sprouts) are martyrs to the hungry caterpillars of the cabbage white butterfly which munch through the leaves until they look like lace. These pests take a break over winter so you can safely grow brassicas without holes in their leaves and unwelcome passengers inside. Broad beans, leeks, swedes and turnips are other good winter standbys. Lettuce, spinach and coriander are less likely to bolt to seed in cooler weather.
3. Put your beds to bed
Cover up any vegetable or flower beds that won't be needed over winter. Bare earth will be taken over by weeds or even washed away by winter rains. Sowing a green crop will protect the soil, prevent weeds germinating and when it is dug in spring will add valuable nutrients and humus. The type you use depends on what you've been growing and what you plan to grow. Mustard is a brassica, for instance, so don't use it as a green crop in a bed where you plan to grow cabbages and broccoli.
Or cover beds with a thick layer of mulch, autumn leaves or shredded hedge and tree prunings. It will prevent weeds germinating and by spring it will have broken down enough to be dug into the soil.
4. Plant an orchard
Soils are moist and it's still warm enough for trees to get established before winter. Start or extend your home orchard with fruit and nut trees. Check the pollination requirements. Even self-fertile trees will fruit better if a compatible pollinating tree is planted nearby. There are trees for small sections. Slim, columnar apple trees of the Ballerina series for example only grow to 3-4m tall by 30cm wide. With careful planning, those with more room can pick fresh fruit all year round.
5. Rich pickings
Autumn is not called the season of mellow fruitfulness for nothing. Pick apples, pears, feijoas and guavas. Chillies and eggplants are ripe in the vege patch. All the wet weather points to a great season for fungi. You might have a crop of mushrooms on the lawn but only eat fungi if you are sure they are edible. Pick flowers and seed heads for autumn bouquets.
6. Welcome in some wild life
Winter is a tough time for the birds, lizards and insects that pollinate our crops, eat pests and bring interest and movement to our gardens. Set up a bird feeder. Sugar water for nectar feeders, fruit, suet and seeds provide better nutrition than bread. Build a lizard lounge for skinks and a bug hotel for beneficial insects. Bumble bee queens are looking for a cosy spot under leaf litter, in old mouse holes, or a compost bin to spend the winter sheltered from frosts. When the first hint of spring is in the air, the queen goes on the lookout for a more permanent position for the beginnings of her nest so get a bumble bee hotel ready.
7. Improve the view
There will be plenty of miserable winter days to come when you won't feel like venturing out into the garden. Plant some winter-flowering annuals in the beds and pots you look out onto from the living room and the kitchen. When you are stuck inside you'll have something cheerful to look at.
Ornamental kale is tough enough to colour up all winter long or try pansies, violas, Iceland poppies, cyclamen, primulas and polyanthus. All are available as seedlings in punnets or larger grade potted colour.
8. Tidy up, but not too much
Clip the hedges, mow the lawn, trim the edges and rake up autumn leaves. Clear out the spent vege plants and cut back summer-flowering perennials. Tackle seedling weeds now so they don't get out of control. Prune off overhanging branches that will drip on you on wet winter days. Get everything tidied up but there's no need to overdo it. A neglected corner of long grasses or a wood pile gives shelter to wildlife and seed heads left in the flower bed over winter provide food for birds.
9. Be thrifty
Big swathes of the same plant always look more effective than one lonely specimen but that gets expensive. Save money by sowing next summer's annuals and perennials now. A packet of seed now is cheaper than the punnets of seedlings and much cheaper than large-grade plants that will be in garden centres next spring. It's even cheaper to sow seed collected from your own plants. Try cowslip, honesty, sweet william, delphiniums, eryngium, larkspur, stock and sweet peas. Other ways to make more plants are by taking cuttings or splitting up and dividing perennials. This works well for daylilies, Japanese anenomes, astes, gaillardia, campanula, lamb's ears and achillea.
Don't waste all that green material from tidying up the garden either. Don't send it to the transfer station and buy it back later as compost. Turn it into mulch by running over small bits with the lawnmower and chopping up bigger branches with a garden shredder.
10. Pest patrol
Both the adults and fluffy-bummed juvenile passionvine hoppers are jumping nuisances. They transfer diseases (cabbage tree dieback) as they feed by injecting saliva into leaves and the honey dew they excrete supports the growth of sooty mould. Control is tricky as both adults and juveniles just hop out of the way of sprays. But you can reduce next season's population by understanding their life cycle. No adults live through winter. In autumn adults lay eggs in long dotted lines on twigs, tendrils and even wooden fence panels. Prune off twigs with egg cases on them and burn or put in the rubbish.
11. Stop the rot
Protect next year's peaches and nectarines from brown rot with a clean-up spray of a copper fungicide. Remove any "mummies", dried out diseased fruit hanging on the tree and any fallen leaves. Burn or dispose of diseased material in the rubbish not the compost. Copper sprays can be used for organic gardening and also target peach leaf curl, powdery mildew, black spot, rust, anthracnose, fire blight and bacterial leaf spot. Use on vegetables, roses, fruit and grass but follow all the precautions on the labels.
13. Enjoy your garden
Relax and appreciate the unique space that you have created. Invite friends and family over to enjoy it too.
- NZ Gardener