Down in the Patch

Get garlic beds ready for planting next month. Dig over your planting bed to at least a spade depth and add plenty of compost, sheep fertiliser or well-rotted sheep manure.

The traditional time to plant is the shortest day and it's harvested in early summer (December- January). However, there are no hard and fast rules so planting is still fine through the winter months.

It's possible to start buying garlic bulbs from garden centres. To help garlic on its way break the cloves apart and sprout them in a seed tray. Fill up the tray with seed raising mix and push cloves down so just their tips are showing. If you plant directly into the garden and don't get the conditions quite right the cloves can rot. In the seed trays, once little green shoots appear, there should be corresponding collections of roots at the base of the clove.

Elephant garlic is large in size but less mighty in flavour. However, it's good for roasting because of the generous hunks you can whack in your oven tray. If your elephant garlic produces a flower it's a good idea to pick it off to help the bulb better mature.

The autumn cleanup includes a tidy up and spray with copper and oil. Citrus verrucosis is a fungal disease that makes citrus tree leaves turn wrinkly and warty, while the skin of the fruit develops lumps. It's cosmetic and the flavour of the juice shouldn't be affected. To combat this disease spray at least several times once it has finished flowering.

The breaking up of perennials is also a good autumn task. Day lilies, for example, can be cut back and divided up into clumps so at least three or four fans are retained in each. It's too early for pruning plants such as hydrangeas - do it now and new growth might appear, only to be knocked back during the inevitable cold spell still to come.

The fantastic autumn weather has prompted gorgeous leaf colour. Leaves are holding on because of the lack of rain and blustery days. When they do fall, rake them up as they make great material for the compost, although check for infected leaves.

Lily bulbs can be planted for early summer flowering. Put a stake in before you plant, which helps remind you where the bulb has gone in and avoids the irritation of inadvertently putting a spade through it. Liles should be planted deep - at least 10 centimetres - to encourage root growth. Roots grow upwards at the point where the stalk and bulb join. These are the essential feeding roots and shallow planting will thwart their development.

Contemplating a new hedge? Now is a great time to plant. Korokia varieties are popular while a new, more compact olive called 'Olive El Greco' can work well. It's hardy and can tolerate poor soils. Photinia 'Red Robin' is an old standby, notable for its red tips, while the small leaved camellias are elegant and some have attractive dainty flowers. 'Knight Rider' is a dwarf variety with a red flower . Griselinia littoralis continues to be a good seller. An option for those wanting to replace their blight-stricken buxus hedge is the Korean boxwood, which is still a buxus.

Information supplied by Vince Naus of Big Jim's Garden Centre. Additional tips from the NZ Gardener, Garden Diary

Taranaki Daily News