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Watering and weeding are the principal tasks in the garden over the next two months. Hoeing, if carried out systematically, helps retain moisture, as well as destroying weeds and weed seeds, reducing labour later.
Water thoroughly, or not at all. Light sprinkling will bring roots close to the surface, where they dry out quickly in hot conditions.
Peas and runner beans will need support. For peas, a piece of netting, with stakes driven through at intervals, is durable and will last for years. For runner beans, which can twine around any support given, join three or four straight poles together in a tepee shape, then run twine or flax strips around at intervals to strengthen the tepee and give the beans something to cling to.
Cabbages and cauliflowers can be planted, as weather permits. Give the bed a good soaking, put in the plants and water again. Keep the soil around them moist until they settle in.
Peas, runner beans, lettuces, radishes, turnips and carrots can be sown. Fortnightly sowings give a good succession of these. Parsley can be sown now for winter use and spinach for autumn and winter.
Early crops of winter greens, such as leeks, Brussels sprouts and broccoli, can be planted now in rich soil to which some lime has been added.
Cauliflower, silverbeet, marrows, pumpkins, cucumber and onions will benefit from liquid manure around the base of the plants.
As onions and potatoes reach maturity, watering should taper off to let the crops dry. Autumn-sown onions will have bulbs forming. To ensure they mature properly, allow them to swell above the ground. If necessary, gently shift the soil to expose the bulbs to sun and air.
Radishes give best results in rich manure-free soil that stays cool over summer. Soil should be as fine as possible. Sow seed thinly (50mm apart), 50mm deep, in rows about 15cm apart. Roots will not form good bulbs in loose earth, so firm it after sowing.
Spring-flowering anemones and ranunculus are usually bought as corms or claws, but seed saved — it is not usually available in garden centres — can be sown in seed-raising mix until early next month.
Dahlias can flower from January for months until frost knocks them back. Hoe carefully around dahlias and apply a topdressing of compost or well-rotted manure. Sturdy stakes can be inserted to provide support in coming weeks but to avoid damage, should have been put in when the tubers were planted.
Wallflowers and other bedding biennials may still be sown in rich soil.
Chrysanthemums can be staked and fertilised. A little superphosphate or general fertiliser worked lightly into the soil surface will help keep plants growing strongly.
Seed of hardy perennials, such as lupins, gaillardias and geums, can still be sown, while annual plants can be planted to fill gaps left as daffodils and other spring bulbs die down. Keep soil well-supplied with organic material to sustain the rapid growth most plants make during December.
Tomatoes must be regularly checked for disease. If narrow, fern-like leaves develop, or the plants look stunted, they may be infected with a virus. Pull plants out immediately and destroy.
Potato blight can attack tomatoes, too. Control by using copper oxychloride spray, followed by regular use of tomato spray. Avoid using sprays in hot sunshine. Copper oxychloride may stain on contact with walls, fences and other surfaces.
Keep whitefly at bay by spraying with neem oil or planting marigolds (tagetes, not calendula).