5 minute gardener: this weekend's garden tasks
If you consider your soil too cold and wet for growing salad greens, try planting them in pots, which can then be moved out of any particularly harsh weather. Fill pots with a mix of garden soil and compost; or if you don't have any compost try a mix of proprietal growing mix and garden soil – it's cheaper and adds a bit of weight to the mixes.
Or, if your soil is not too heavy (and cold and waterlogged) or you have raised beds then plant seedlings directly into the soil and cover with cloches. The ends of soft-drink bottles make cheap and easy ones. For a tad more glamour, plastic bell cloches are available from many garden centres and hardwares. Or go for gold with glass bell cloches. The Company Shed (ph 03 7411 15) has small ones, about 20cm by 20cm.
In early spring, cloches may be used to warm soil for early sowing, and will protect precious crops from birds as well as the elements.
A cold frame constructed out of old windows is also useful for chivvying seedlings and seeds along in the cold.
Sow peas and broad beans – these may be pretty much all you can sow outside now in all but the warmest districts.
Sow sweet peas under glass. If you do not have a glasshouse, a sunny window sill or even a sunny verandah is as good. Just give them plenty of sunlight. Come spring the seedlings will be ready to plant out in the garden.
Start preparing a bed for these sweet peas now, remembering that they are gross feeders, so add heaps of compost and organic matter; and that they like free-draining soil, lots of sun and something to climb up.
With flowers few and far between at this time of year, you might want to maximise any you do have. Cutting off old leaves of hellebores and some of the leaves of Iris unguicularis will expose their flowers more without harming the plants.
Iris unguicularis, aka Iris stylosa or Algerian iris, is an undemanding little plant, shyly offering elegant, fine and scented blooms right when winter seems longest and cruellest. For the vase, they are best picked while still at bud stage as the flowers are very short-lived. They thrive on neglect and poor soil – in their homelands of Greece, Turkey, western Syria and Tunisia, their habitat is lightly shaded rocky spots. Plants will take some time to flower.
- NZ Gardener