Mixing veggies and flowers a smart idea

Vegetables
There is a good case for mixing vegetables with flowers to get the best production from gardens, especially those that lose the sun early. This is particularly true for south-facing properties or gardens overshadowed by high trees.

By now, planting of winter greens broccoli, cauliflower, silverbeet and celery should be complete.

Celery needs regular and plentiful watering at this stage to stop it running to seed. Adding liquid manure helps promote lush growth because animal manure has high levels of nitrogen.

In cool areas, turnips and fast-maturing varieties of carrot (usually called early on seed packets), can still be sown in rich soil kept well watered.

Chives can be substituted for spring onions and make a useful border in a vegetable or flower plot. Easy to grow in most soils, chive clumps can be divided and replanted in autumn and early spring. Space clumps 25cm apart and water regularly to encourage new, tender growth. Once the plants are established, cut foliage regularly to encourage new growth.

Another member of the onion family, the Egyptian or tree onion, a cross between Allium cepa, the cultivated onion, and A. fistulosum, the Welsh onion, is also used like spring onions. Tree onions have bunches of little bulbs where other onions have flowers. Although perennial, these onion plants should be replaced every two or three years. Tree onions are very hardy, not fussy about soil and are propagated by pressing the bulblets into the ground.

Cabbage seed can be sown now for spring crops. Water the soil well before sprinkling in seeds.

Flowers
Although Ranunculus and Anemone are usually grown by buying claws and corms, they can be raised from seed. Seed sown now will give reasonably sized plants before winter arrives and stops all growth. Anemones usually take seven months or more to flower from seed sowing.

Choose a sunny, sheltered position with rich soil. Sow the woolly seed in shallow drills or broadcast them. To separate the seeds, rub them through the hands with some fine river sand. Water thoroughly as seedlings appear. Thin to 10cm and transplant those removed to another bed or use to fill gaps. Anemones grown this way produce full-sized flowering plants next season.

Polyanthus seed sown now will produce strong plants next spring. Sow thinly in a large container with good drainage. Cover with a light dressing of fine soil. Half-immerse the pot in water until moisture has soaked up to the surface, then cover with glass or plastic to prevent evaporation. Place in a cool, shady place and keep moist. When the seedlings have five or six leaves, transplant them into other containers until they are large enough to transplant to open ground.

Primulas and auriculas require similar treatment. Auriculas can be lifted now, broken up and replanted in soil enriched with compost and bone meal. Plant firmly and deeply, covering the fleshy rhizomes and spreading out the roots.

Flowers such as begonias, grown in pots in the glasshouse, should be watered regularly to prevent them drying out. A fortnightly dose of liquid manure is also beneficial.

Lawns can be laid using commercially available turf, the quickest way to get a good lawn, but also the most expensive. Sowing seed is less expensive but the result is in direct proportion to the amount of time spent preparing the soil. The ground should be as weed-free as possible and the surface soil worked to a fine crumb, fertilised and raked before seed is sown. Cover seed with fine soil, then press down lightly. Cover with netting to keep birds from stealing the seed and, until the grass is established, water if the soil looks dry.

Fruit
Strawberry runners can be planted as soon as they form roots. Cut them off close to the new plant, water well and plant with the crown level with the soil. The ground for strawberries needs to be well-manured to ensure good crops and soil where potatoes have been grown is very suitable. As they grow, strawberry plants may need to be pressed back into the soil, as they have a tendency to lift out of the ground. Do not compost clippings of strawberries.

Snip off any tomato leaves that are yellow or brown and nip out any young shoots growing at leaf junctions, as these lateral shoots shade the fruit and take energy from it.

Give plants less water as the bulk of the crop ripens.

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