Garden maintenance is important at this time of the year. Hoe
regularly between rows to control weeds and maintain a good
texture (tilth) of the soil. Small weeds can be left on the
ground but any with flower heads should be put in the compost
bin as many will make a last-ditch attempt and produce seeds
on severed stems.
Clear away remnants of cabbages, lettuces and other crops.
Left in the ground, stems keep drawing nourishment from the
soil, which is wasteful, but in the compost bin they add an
important green element.
Broccoli, which can take up to four months from planting out
to maturity, can be sown now for late winter and spring use.
Spinach, turnips and onions can be sown.
Brown onions generally do better in the South if sown in
autumn then left to stand over the winter. Perfect Keeper and
Pukekohe Long Keeper are recommended varieties. When thinned
in October, discards can be used like spring onions.
Late-sown beetroot, carrots and turnips will need thinning.
Leeks need to be kept thoroughly watered. If rotted poultry
manure is mulched around the plants first, liquid manure will
be created, acting as a stimulant. However, this does tend to
A light sprinkling of salt on sandy soils will also stimulate
growth but, as always, salt should be treated with some
caution. Excessive potash fertiliser can increase the salt
content in soil, so if in doubt, leave it out.
Parsley sown now should be ready for spring and next summer.
Soaking the seed for a few hours in warm water will help
germination. As seedlings appear, thin them ruthlessly to
Keep making small sowings of mesclun mix for salads and
Oriental vegetables such as pak choi and tatsoi for
stir-fries to ensure a regular supply. Mesclun mixes, which
are eaten at the leaf stage, include up to eight vegetables
and are ideal for small households that find full-grown
lettuces too big. Rhubarb flower stems must be removed to
prevent them sapping the strength of the plants. The same is
true of sea kale, another perennial vegetable that is making
a comeback. Unless they are being saved for seed, trim seed
heads from herbs such as sage, parsley and thyme.
Plan now for next summer's flowers by sowing alyssum, Iceland
poppies, cornflower, larkspur, Scabious, Antirrhinum and
Sow in well-prepared, permanent positions, thin to a few
centimetres apart when seedlings appear and look forward to a
fine show between spring-flowering bulbs and the later summer
Carnations can be increased by layering, a good way of
getting more plants of favourite colours. Layering is a
method by which new roots are developed before a cutting is
removed from a plant, so the shock of transplanting is
Ground layering is done by bringing a stem down to soil level
and holding it in place with a wire loop or heavy stone.
Before putting the stem in position, make a cut about 1cm
long and a third of the way through the stem.
The soil under and over the cut stem should be rich, with
some fine gravel added. Patience is the secret of success
with layering, especially if shrubs such as rhododendrons are
layered, as they can take a year or more to form good root
Spring bulbs will be appearing in garden centres, so buy
early to get the best selection.
Daffodils should be the first to go into the ground. Any
bulbs that have been in the same spot for three or more years
may need to be lifted, divided and replanted in replenished
Compost dug in well and added bone dust helps. Although the
usual advice is to plant bulbs in twice their depth of soil,
in fact, soil type should be the guide. In light, sandy soil,
plant bulbs at three times their depth and half that in
heavier ground. Tulips like lime in the soil, whereas
daffodils prefer a slightly acid soil.
Strawberries should be flowering now for their second crop
next month. Although the autumn crop is generally smaller,
these berries are often the best flavoured as they have a
higher sugar content. Old varieties, unsuitable for
commercial growers because the fruit is too soft to travel
well, can be sought out by gardeners more interested in taste