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Welcome to New Zealands Plant Portal. Wally Richards Weekly Garden Tips & Advice.

Gardening Articles for week ending

11th AUGUST 2007
Written by Wally Richards

Next month is the first month of spring, according to our yearly calendar, but often the weather dictates an earlier or later time. One fact that remains constant is the number of hours of light between dawn and dusk as each day a few more minutes are added, till we reach the peak around about the 21st of December. My dear old mum (since passed on) often said that once years ago, it was definitely the longest day for her as she gave birth to me on that day.
Relatively mild temperatures and the increasing hours of light each day mean that plants and weeds are growing steadily in our gardens at this time.
The weeds we do not want and the best way to deal with them is with a sharp knife or Dutch hoe cutting the tops off just below the soil surface. The cut weeds should be gathered and along with some lime and animal manure layered in the compost bin. Weeding in this manner does a very important thing, it leaves the roots intact in the soil which means the beneficial fungi, that attaches itself to the roots of plants, is not disturbed and the soil life will find a great food source from the decaying roots.
This is the ultimate recycling of plant and weed roots that gives your garden soils the most benefits.
A light application of Rapid Lime or Dolomite after weeding will benefit the soil life also.
All your gardening activities should be focused on looking after your garden soils, do this and your soil will look after whatever plants you wish to grow. Too often gardeners make the mistake of looking after their plants instead of the soil and that is why these gardeners are always having to spray and feed, trying to keep their plants healthy and looking good. If you change your way of thinking and instead of being a plant gardener become a soil gardener, then you will achieve successes you never dreamed of.
Getting ready for spring means for many of us, the germination of seed. Seeds need a certain amount of heat along with adequate moisture to germinate and then the young seedlings need ample overhead light to grow sturdy.
A heat pad is a great boon for the germination of seeds at this time. These should be available from most garden centres, if not go to a farm supply place for a piggy pad. Some will use a hot water cupboard to germinate, but a twice daily check needs to be done to ensure the mix does not become dry.
A bench in the shed or a table in a spare room are ideal to locate your heat pad. Obtain a suitable sized bit of polystyrene sheet to sit the heat pad on. This directs all the heat upwards so you get the maximum benefit of the power you are using. Seedling trays, plug trays can be purchased but any suitable plastic container will do including all those used punnets you likely have stacked away in the shed.
What to use as a seedling mix? From all my years of nursery experience I have found that a good potting mix is best. Seed raising mixes are too expensive in comparison and most of the time give poor results. There are two basic materials used to make potting mixes, bark fines and peat moss, both are sterile and sometimes combined for some potting mixes. I prefer the bark fines as they give less problems when compared to peat moss mixes. A combination is ok. Added to the potting mix when it is made is things like lime, dolomite, slow release fertilisers, wetting agents and water retention agents.
What is in the mix will vary from one to another brand, with the more expensive ones having a greater amount of additives. There are some excellent mixes and some very poor ones available and even some of the more expensive are not very good.
The mix should be friable and varying in particle size. Fill the seedling container two thirds full of the straight potting mix and place the container on a tray of water to allow the mix to wet down. Then with the aid of a kitchen strainer, sieve some potting mix to place a layer of fine material a couple of millimeters deep over the original potting mix. Next space out or scatter (which ever is best for the seed you are sowing) onto this layer. Then in a trigger sprayer, make up a solution of Magic Botanical Liquid at 20 mils per litre rate and mist the seeds so they are nice and moist. Next sieve a little more mix to barely cover the seeds and then mist again. Onto the heat pad and twice a day moisten the mix with your mister. With many types of seeds it only takes a few day or up to a week or so before you start to see germination taking place. The first two leaves are embryo leaves and not true leaves and as soon as there is a reasonable show of these, you must move the seedling tray to a full natural light situation such as a glasshouse. A window sill is no good as the light only comes from one direction and the seedlings will stretch to that light and losses can easily occur.
If you do not have a glasshouse take an old drawer and place a couple of sheets of glass over it.
The seedling trays can be placed inside the drawer, which will be placed in a sheltered spot outside.
A table by the back door would be good. The seedlings will not require as much watering as when they were on the heat pad and likely a light misting once a day will be all that is needed.
If you fear a frost at night simply place a few sheets of newspaper over the glass with stones to hold in place. Remove the paper next morning. As the seedlings grow taller then remove the glass off the drawer on nice sunny days to place back in the evening. Beware of damage from birds during the day and a bit of bird netting stretched over the drawer can be used when the glass is removed.
The glass will prevent snails from getting the seedlings at night.
When the seedlings are big enough to handle, they are ready to be pricked out and placed ideally into cell packs or small pots. Before pricking out, place the tray into a container of water to ensure the mix is very wet. This allows you to lift the seedlings out with the minimum of root damage. (Now you will see why a fine bark mix is best as the roots come away easily from the particles) A tool should be used to separate and lift the individual seedlings. I used to have a miniature spade from a set of tools for use on container plants until it wore out after transplanting millions of seedlings over the years.
I replaced it with a teaspoon that I flattened and ground to a blunt point. Not as comfortable to use as my old spade but then I don't do anywhere the number of seedlings as when I had a nursery.
Once into their new pots or cell pack they can go back into the drawer or glasshouse to grow on where they can stay till ready to either plant out or pot up. You can also save yourself a lot of trouble and time by spraying the seedlings, a few days before transplanting, with Vaporgard.
The film protects them against the elements, removing the need to harden off. It also makes a big difference in the re-establishing time.
Gardeners that like to grow kumera plants should now be selecting a few kumera from the green grocery for shooting or sprouting. A few days in a hot water cupboard maybe needed to break dormancy and once the eyes start to move place the tubers in trays of potting mix buried about 2-3 cm deep.
Keep moist but do not over water. Ideally place the trays in the glasshouse or a sunny spot with frost protection. The kumera shoots will break the surface over time and grow on till they are about 18 cm tall. About that height they are ready to harvest as plants. Wet down the tray and then lift the kumera tubers. With a small sharp knife cut each shoot off the tuber taking a little bit of the tuber and being careful not to damage any roots that have formed on the shoot. They are now ready to plant out.
A spray of Vaporgard over the foliage a few days before you remove the shoots will make the world of difference in success and time to establish in their bed.
Happy Gardening.



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