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Potato crops can be harvested before the tops have died right away from the plants. In small gardens, digging early enables the area to be used for winter greens such as silverbeet or spring cabbage, or for a green manure crop (oats, peas, lupins) to be sown. Lift the tubers on a dry day and store them in a cool, dry place away from daylight. Old drawers or shallow boxes lined with newspaper are ideal for potato storage.
The success of winter and spring crops depends on work done now.
Mulch around the crops with compost to retain moisture, feed with liquid manure to encourage leafy growth and hoe regularly to control weeds. Hoeing also exposes to the air the upper layers of the soil, where oxygen-loving bacteria live.
Broccoli can still be planted but it is really too late for Savoy cabbages or Brussels sprouts, except in warmer northern districts. Fast-maturing hardy Asian vegetables, such as tatsoi, can still be sown and will stand over winter.
Garden centres are now advertising new stocks of spring bulbs, so buy early while the greatest variety is available. Anemones and ranunculus do best in deeply dug soil enriched with decayed manure. This will hold moisture, but to prevent the corms rotting, improve drainage with a layer of river gravel about 50cm below the surface. Plant anemone corms point down.
As perennials die down, they can be divided, using a knife or sharp spade. Perennial phlox and Michaelmas daisies are easily increased in this way.
Hardy annuals sown now will fill a gap in the garden once the spring show of bulbs is over. Plants that look good in the garden and as cut flowers include calendula, cornflower, annual chrysanthemum, godetia, larkspur, nigella (Persian Jewels is one of the best mixes) and scabious. California poppies (Eschscholtzia), although unsuitable for picking, thrive in dry, sunny conditions. As well as the common orange one, there are pink, rose and cream single and double forms.
Strawberries can still be planted, although the crop produced next summer will be smaller than that from young plants set out earlier in the month.
June or July is the best time to transplant fruit trees and garden shrubs, but it pays to get them ready for the shift now.
This is done by wrenching: slicing through the soil with a sharp spade to cut a portion of the roots. To decide where to cut, go out from the main stem or trunk to about a third of the distance the branches spread, then cut about halfway around the plant and under the cut as far as the spade will reach.
The uninjured roots maintain the plant’s food supply, while the severed roots begin to form new rootlets. When the plant is lifted in a couple of months’ time, enough fibrous roots will have formed to take up water as soon as the plant is in its new position.