Words: Shannon Hunt
Task 1: Weeds Out, Soil Turned, Feed In.
Remove weeds and remnants of last year’s planting in your vegetable and flower gardens and around your trees and bushes and place that material into your compost – unless it has sooty mould, thrips, blackspot or other fungal diseases, in which case you need to burn it or dispose in your green-waste bin.
Turn your soil over in your vege garden, breaking up all clumps. Do the same in your flower garden for new plantings or simply remove weeds and organic debris to tidy it up.
In both gardens sprinkle the recommended amount of heat-treated, weed-free sheep pellets or another organic fertiliser, some compost, and blood and bone over your soil and give it a good rake in.
Tip: To grow long, straight carrots you need extra-fine soil and reduced nitrogen content.
Prepare a patch to a depth of a shovel and a half with no blood and bone or manure, but plenty of fine pumice, perlite or river sand and a bag of potting or the new herb mix now available in 40-litre bags. Rake over and plant seeds – mixed well with river sand to spread out evenly – in rows, or plant seedlings in small clumps and thin out once established.
Task 2: Clip, Prune, Clear & Treat.
With sharp secateurs, hedge clippers or loppers, prune away low-growing branches on bushes, shrubs and hedges close to the ground. This is an especially good idea for viburnum, eugenia, Mexican orange (Choisya ternata), azalea, camellia and rhododendron, to name a few, as they are prone to fungal and bacterial attacks, and sucking and chewing insects.
Clearing branches at ground level makes it easy to apply highly effective neem granules to organically disinfect and feed the soil.
Follow that with an organic seaweed/fish-based foliar feed to set up all your bushes, shrubs and fruit trees for summer growing/producing.
If you have a grapevine, you will have pruned it to the third node off the main trunk/s in autumn. It may need a copper spray now (and repeat in 10 days) to prevent fungal diseases before it buds/flowers. The same goes for your blueberry and rose bushes. Do not copper-spray when your fruit is in bud/flower and always apply it when the bees are not about in early morning or later evening. Neem granules will do wonders for cleaning soil around these fungus-prone plants.
Raspberry and blackberry canes need to be confined within a set area, so cut back any ‘escaping’ shoots and any canes that produced fruit last season need to be removed. Spray with copper, spread neem granules around the base and feed, and tie any new shoots up against a wall, obelisk or trellis with ‘soft, stretchy’ ties.
Task 3: Create A Planting Plan.
Mark out your plan on paper, on your computer or directly onto your garden soil placing tall-growing veges like corn, beans, peas, globe artichokes (each year these grow taller) and tall tomatoes, beans and peas at the back of the garden on trellis or on a wall. Next, plant lower-growing plants until you have the lowest growing at the front. Leave wide walking pathways between each row, covered with cardboard or old wool carpet for easy access. Always plant to the sun. Adding an obelisk or two will add height and vertical space to your garden as well as providing some shade and making for easy harvesting and maintenance of your favourite fruit and flowers.
Cornflowers (tall) look gorgeous contained inside an obelisk. The blue flowers pop their heads out the side as they grow rapidly upward and then spill out over at the top. Sweet peas and beans, peas, cherry tomatoes and cucumbers will do well on an obelisk, too.
Task 4: Prepare/Plant Your Potato Patch.
Labour Weekend is your last chance to plant early potatoes for harvesting at Christmas and to avoid the nasty psyllid bug (an airborne insect that attacks in the very hot weather). Dig one or several channels and place blood and bone, compost and sheep pellets down, then cover with a layer of soil before placing each seed potato in a row with shoots up and plenty of space for each plant to grow. Then mound the soil up so the roots can establish well and you get lots of potatoes. As they start shooting new leaves through the raised ground, keep mounding soil over them to protect them from the sun until the leaves mature.
The same goes for Maori potatoes, also available in store now.
Tip: Change where you grow your potatoes each year to avoid soil diseases.
Task 5: Add A Herb Garden.
Growing a herb garden is one of the most rewarding and productive things you can do in your garden. Herbs grow best in soil with fine pumice, vermiculite, perlite or clean river sand mixed into it. Or take the easy option with ‘herb mix’ now available in 40-litre bags. Plant rosemary, oregano, thyme, parsley, parcel, fennel, coriander, mint (in the garden but in a pot), chives, basil, horseradish, lemon balm, and dwarf comfrey seedlings. If you place thick layers of newspaper down first, cut holes and plant each herb, and then place white chips, woodchips or stones over that, you will have few weeds and wonderful herbs for salads and cooked dishes.
Tip: The tall-growing herb borage can take over in a small garden, so is best planted in your vege garden – kept controlled and clipped back. The bees love it.
Labour Day Monday AM
Task 6: Rejuvenate Hanging Baskets.
Good potting mix combined with pumice, perlite, seaweed flakes, new coconut fibre inners and new plantings of kalanchoe, summer annuals or trailing tomatoes will bring your hanging baskets back to life with exploding colour for another season or so. You can grow strawberries this way and cherry tomatoes, too.
Task 7: WOOHOO! It’s Time To Go Garden Shopping!
Garden centres will be stocked to the brim with healthy vege and flower seedlings, traditional and new, and lots of Labour Weekend specials to make your dollar go further.
If you are a confident gardener, the smaller seedlings in six-cell punnets and bulk trays are a great way to buy. If, however, you are a learner gardener, think about buying larger single plants or the popular ‘newspaper-wrapped’ seedlings as these are often more mature and have bigger root systems.
Labour Day Monday PM
Task 8: Have An Espresso Or Chai Latte With Friends.
Treat yourself at your favourite garden centre café and take stock of your gardening successes. Citrus-infused green tea, orange tea or your favourite espresso, with a raspberry slice, lemon slice, fruit salad or blueberry muffin will get you ready for the two remaining tasks.
Task 9: Create And/or Maintain Your Compost.
Whether you create compost in a store-bought composting bin or use the ‘stack method’ (make a rounded free-standing pile), you need good aeration and lots of heat and moisture to create a premium product. Layer roughly chopped green matter (weeds, vege scraps, comfrey) and dry matter (cardboard, newspaper, dried corn stems, dried lawn clippings – no meat or processed food scraps) and sprinkle occasionally with blood and bone, and lime. Water regularly. Leave to heat up and turn it over when the bottom layer looks like compost and is ready to use.
Task 10: Top Your Garden Off With A Perfect Lawn.
Top off your garden by mowing your lawn and, to ensure your grass grows lush and green all summer long, spray it with Nitrosol regularly to encourage root growth and create a healthy, happy green lawn. Yes, it is that easy!
Tip: Spread out your lawn clippings and let them dry out in the sun before adding to the combost bins in layers on top of green material, or using it as mulch.