Getting the dirt on your soils

Vegetables
Depending on their position and soil types, not all gardens can be cultivated intensively from now on. If this is the case in your vegetable garden, consider raised beds to give better drainage and increased soil warmth.

Rubbish should be cleaned up and taken to a green waste recycling depot or added to the compost bin. In colder months, compost heaps rarely heat up enough to destroy infective spores of fungoid diseases or the eggs of insect pests, so add only healthy material.

Dig over areas that will not have winter crops and apply lime (100g per sq m). Fresh manure can be added and will decompose over winter.

Alternatively, sow lupin, oats or barley for digging in October as green manure.

Plant out cabbages to mature in spring.

Sow broad beans about 2cm deep and in a double row, with 20cm between the rows. The well-known Exhibition Long Pod variety is still popular but plants need good support, as do Evergreen and the very tall (2.3m) heritage Red Broad Bean. A smaller variety, such as Coles Early Dwarf, may be more suitable for the smaller garden, although the long-pod varieties are generally hardier.

Beans transfer nitrogen to the soil, a valuable side-effect of growing the vegetable.

All crops should be kept weed-free by hoeing around them. Hoeing lets excess moisture evaporate and oxygen from the air penetrate the upper layers of soil for organisms that convert organic material into plant food.

Hedges trimmed now will remain tidy for the next six months. If severe trimming is needed to reduce an overgrown hedge, cut one side only and wait until new growth is visible before doing the second.

Flowers
Ground can be prepared over the next month for planting rose bushes in winter and early spring. Add plenty of manure, digging deeply so it gets into the lower levels of the soil. For light, sandy soils, use fairly fresh cow manure to retain moisture. Keep manure at low depths and put lime on top. On heavy clays, straw, stable manure or a rich garden compost is preferable. Gypsum is invaluable in helping break down clay.

Herbaceous plants, such as delphiniums and red hot pokers (kniphofia), will give better displays if divided every few years. Lift and divide using a sharp spade. Replant pieces of strong young growth. Lupins and hollyhocks can be divided in this way but are better grown from seed unless a particular colour is being retained.

Sweet pea seed can be sown now for flowers in late spring.

Bijou, Cupid, Pixie Princess and the Fantasy Dwarf series are low-growing and need no staking. In recent years, New Zealand breeder Keith Hammett has produced sweet peas such as Renaissance, Pink Reflections and Blue Reflections with the emphasis on bringing back more intense perfume.

Old varieties still available include Cupani, found by a monk in Italy in 1695. Its flowers are a deep blue with a purple wing. Rose-and-white bicolour Painted Lady dates back to 1737.

Tuberous begonias can be dried off and stored away for the winter in a dry place where frosts will not harm them.

Gladioli can be lifted when the foliage yellows. Shake off any soil over a sack or sheet of plastic so small corms can be retrieved, then place in paper bags - never use plastic or corms will rot - with colour or variety name written on them.

Tie the neck of the bag and hang gladioli to dry completely, when foliage can be removed and corms stored in shallow boxes for replanting in spring.

Glasshouse
In the glasshouse, tomatoes still with fruit to ripen can be helped along by having most of their leaves removed so plant foods are diverted from the roots into the fruit. If only a few fruit are left, cut them off, attached to a portion of stem, and hang in a warm spot to ripen. When harvesting is over, pull the plants out immediately to let the soil rest.

Tomatoes grown in pots or bags should be removed and the soil put on the garden, where it will weather into rich garden soil.

Replace soil in greenhouses at least every other year.

 

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