Down in the patch

With autumn approaching, now is a good time to start preparing the site for sowing new lawns. Prepare by levelling off the surface and apply a good dressing of lime. By raking this into the top layer it will help make the soil more friable and suitable for seed sowing. If the soil is clay or has a clay base with a thin layer of topsoil, the lime will also help aerate the clay and encourage the young grass roots to go deeper. If you are intending to use the older type superphosphate (sulfate of ammonia blend) fertiliser, you need to apply this at least a week to 10 days before sowing to prevent burning the germinating seeds. To overcome this problem, use new slow-release lawn foods in pellet form. These pellets can be raked into the surface at time of sowing.

Always choose a quality lawn seed from an outlet known to have a regular throughput as old seed can lose its viability and can be frustrating for the sower. The modern turf rye blends perform well here in Taranaki, quickly producing a thick sward of lush, dark-green turf in either sun or shade. Autumn is by far the best time to grow lawns because you get less weeds and damping off fungi and the young grass has the winter and following spring to establish before next summer's heat and drought conditions. Lightly prune your roses as the second flush of flowers finishes. Continue with a regular spray programme for rust, mites and mildews, in particular, as this time of year roses are most vulnerable to these problems.

For winter cover in the flower garden or in pots or troughs on the patio or deck, it's time to plant pansies, viola, primulas and lobelia. If in containers and the proposed site is still receiving bright hot sunshine, you can still go ahead and pot up but place the containers in a cool shady spot until the permanent position is cooler. The range of colours and forms of pansies seems to get bigger and brighter every year so be sure to try something different this autumn.

Winter crops of vegetables sown or planted last month will need regular side dressings of a general NPK food while the soil is still warm and growth is still taking place. The cool autumn nights encourage rust and mildew on celery and silverbeet crops. To prevent this occurring, dose every two weeks with a copper spray and wetting agent.

Now is also a good time to apply Diazinon or neem to heuchera, primulas, primroses and any other flowers prone to grass grub attack. These little critters are active around now and will chew through all roots of targeted plants, leaving the top sitting neatly on the surface to wilt and then die.

Keep up regular visits to your plant centre and watch for new additions to their spring bulb range. A lot of spring bulbs are in limited supply and you could easily miss out. Always check on the size and grade of the bulb you are buying as cut-price offers can be second grade and not always of a flowering size the first season.

These tips have been supplied by Adrian McLeod and his crew at Fairfields Garden Centre on the outskirts of New Plymouth.

Taranaki Daily News