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

5th APRIL 2008
Written by Wally Richards.
Life is interesting and when it comes to gardening and our current weather patterns, we have a really strange situation. Fruit trees such as apples maybe coming into blossom as an example.
At this time of the year I would normally be writing about all those autumn type gardening jobs for gardeners to get completed before winter completely sets in.
The way the weather is holding out, mild to warm days with the lack of rain, we certainly have a Indian Summer which is likely to last for another month or more.
On the other hand we are only 11 weeks away from the shortest day and now that daylight savings are finishing we will notice the change in an abrupt manner.
Mine you our garden plants relate very strongly to the amount of sunlight they receive on a daily bases.
Their biological clocks function on either the increasing or decreasing light hours they receive.
Annuals; either plants or weeds, are setting seeds so their offspring will be held safe through the winter.
The lack of a cold blast, which should have started to happen, would have began the leaf colour change in deciduous plants and trees. Instead I note that my deciduous fruit trees are as green as, with little sign of a true autumn change.
The worst of this is the lack of rain in most areas. It would have made our gardening life a lot better if a reasonable amount of rain fell each week. Compound this with areas that have water restrictions and you have a few problems.
Gardeners wishing to put down new lawns or do a bit of patching will not be able to do so till the autumn rains come unless they have ample non-restricted water supplies.
You can buy your lawn seed, prepare the area then wait till the rain comes and in the meantime with what water you can spare, wet down the bare area to germinate the weed seeds. A couple of waterings two days apart should be enough to break the weed seed’s dormancy. Then you can either kill off the weeds or don't water anymore so that the baby weeds shrivel up in the dry soil.
Hopefully sufficient rains will come to allow a successful lawn planting autumn.
Another lawn problem arises in dry times called ‘dry spot’ which happens when the soil becomes too dry and surface tension prevents the absorption of moisture.
You will notice brown, dried off areas/patches in a lawn and if you have been able to water a bit then the grass around the brown patch will be nice and green.
Some gardeners think the problem is caused by grass grubs eating the roots of the browned off grass.
Unless you have been able to apply a reasonable amount of water to the lawn over the past few months it is highly unlikely to be grass grubs as they go into a summer dormancy when the soil becomes too dry. (You can always lift some turf to make sure.)
Dry spot can be fixed cheaply by filling your watering can with warm water and squirting some dish washing liquid in and lather up by stirring. Gently water this onto the dry area to break the surface tension and then next time you water the lawn the water will sink in better in those dry areas.
One of the problems with rain is that it can come too heavy when it does come and if it cant sink into the soil it will cause minor erosion effects.
If you have one of the those used ‘snap on the hose’ applicators that had only plant food in them (not a lawn weed killer) then you can fill the container with dish washing liquid, snap on the hose and water both lawn and gardens late in the day when the sun is off the plants.
This can be done a couple of times a few days apart to help make your gardens and lawns rain ready.
That will help the rain actually sink into the soil rather than cause a minor amount of flooding.
Drought times and grasses is interesting, for instance you can see a playing field that is totally browned off but later when the rains come this dead looking playing field bursts into a swath of green.
This can mean that your brown patches in the lawn maybe able to recover without having to re-sow.
Lack of rain and a evenly moist soil also means you cant really get into planting spring bulbs other than daffodils and fressias. Purchase your bulbs so you are ready to plant out when the rains come.
Insect pests have been able to build up massive populations due to the great summer and if you have not kept knocking them back, they will be a big problem at this time.
A spray of Neem Tree Oil with Key Pyrethrum added, sprayed late in the day just before dusk, under and over the foliage of all plants with insect pest problems.
If you have a plant which the foliage is being eaten but you cant find what is doing the damage then after inspection check the ground underneath and you might find a loopy caterpillar.
These fellows drop off the plant when disturbed. If on the other hand you don't find anything then likely it is a beetle feeding in the early hours of the evening.
I have suggested to gardeners to grab a torch early in the evening and go out to see whats happening.
If you find some beetles on the foliage then while they are eating away you can stop them in their tracks by making up a spray of Neem Tree Oil with Key Pyrethrum and spray them. (You might need someone to hold the torch.)
You may also find either snails and slugs having a feed and if that is the case make up some Liquid Copper spray and while they are feeding spray them with the copper. Both these pests cannot handle copper causing them to shrivel up.
A few gardeners have asked me recently how do you tell when pumpkins and squash are ready to harvest.
When fully ripe the stalk connecting the fruit to the vine will wither. By this time likely the leaves will have also started to die back. You then pick the pumpkins and finish drying and hardening the skin in the sun, especially the part that has been sitting on the soil.
Then they can be stored in a cool shed that is free of rats or mice. (lay poison) The ideal is to have a fishing net hung in the rafters like a hammock and the pumpkins stored in the net.
Another question is how to store potatoes and kumara? In actual fact they are best stored in the soil they have grown in, as long as the area is free draining and not prone to water logging when the rains come.
This means you can just lift a few as required for the table.
Alternative is to lift the crops and sun dry to firm the skins for a day or two and store in a cool shed layered in either sand or untreated sawdust that is slightly moist.
Dew comes with the autumn and can be seen early in the mornings on the foliage of plants.
This moisture can be absorbed into the leaves, reducing the plant’s need for so much moisture in the root zone. Problem is the moisture from dew can bring about the ideal situation for some foliage diseases to set up such as powdery mildew. Mixing a heaped table spoon of baking soda into one litre of warm water with 1 mil of Raingard will control this for a period but on plants finishing for the season it is really not worth a lot of effort. Young plants, planted out should be protected with this spray.
Prevent weed seeds from developing on garden weeds as they will only bring forth a new weed problem later on.

Problems ring me at 0800 466 464 (Palmerston North 3570606)
Web site www.gardenews.co.nz

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