This Second Week in the Early Summer Garden:
The Waning Moon Cycle fills this week as the Moon ascends into Southern Hemisphere skies. Last Quarter Moon arrives 10 Dec. (sidereal) Leo, a barren fire sign that often brings dry and warm weather. This week favours the planting of root crops and root development. It is also a great time for a variety of general gardening activities.
Late Spring flowers are overtaken by Early Summer flower gardens that will probably begin to reach their peak. Fruits and vegetable crops should be abundant and grain harvests should be productive. Early this week will be a good time to harvest fruits and vegetables for immediate use as well as for making jam, juice, preserves, etc. As the week
Water retention diminishes all week through to the New Moon (18Dec.). Provided weather remains dry, this would make a good time to harvest fields of grain, save seeds; gather crops for long-term storage; dry flowers, fruits and herbs; dig dormant (spring-flowering) bulbs for cool storage until Autumn planting.
Things Best Done in the Garden This Week:
This week and next are excellent times to: cultivate, feed and weed; make compost or spread compost and manure; spray to control or eliminate disease and pests; prune to reduce growth; gather fruits and harvest crops; dry and preserve flowers, fruits and herbs; store these for long-term use; mow lawns to keep them short for longer; cut firewood; lay foundations, paving and pathways; set fence posts; water, up to mid-day or a bit after for top growth and flowering and especially in later afternoon and evening to refresh and replenish a dry garden.
The Waning Moon Cycle is favourable for root development and the planting and sowing of all appropriate warm season bulbs, corms, root, tubers, root crop vegetables or anything needed a period of strong root development before top growth begins. This can include all manner of container-grown plants. But because season extremes may be increasing, keep a close watch on their watering and guard against all sorts of environmental extremes.
Watering: When to Liquid Feed & Water:
This is an excellent time to feed almost everything: container plants; flower and vegetable gardens; fruiting species; houseplants; lawns; ornamental shrubs, trees and vines; groundcovers and hedges. As the Waning Moon Cycle continues, the Moon rises later each night so will be in the sky ahead of the Sun each day. This will favour liquid feeding and watering for flowering and top growth during the morning hours until early afternoon. Afternoon and evening feeding and watering will tend to be pulled more strongly into the roots so will refresh a dry garden and develop deeper root systems.
Evening watering will refresh a dry garden. Combining a liquid plant food or a dissolved dry fertilizer will help promoted a stronger root system. Morning watering combined with liquid feeding will increase growth and flowering. This is an excellent time to liquid feed plants for increased growth. The fastest growth rates in roots often occur in the week leading up to the New Moon. After that as the Moon begins to brighten and ‘wax’ each evening, top growth rates begin to speed up provided adequate fertilizer and water are available.
As sun intensity increases so does evaporation and transpiration through plant’s foliage. This is augmented as the Moon begins to Wane and especially during the Dark of the Moon phase (16-17 Dec.) to the New Moon (18 Dec.). Evaporation rates will be particularly high this month and next because of the extremes brought on by the Summer Solstice, that may intensify even more when the Earth reaches perihelion (closest position to the Sun) early next month.
Most ornamental garden beds, fruits trees, brambles and cane fruit should be watered deeply and thoroughly at least once a week whenever rain is insufficient. On average most garden plants require at least 2.5cm/1inch of rainfall each week to sustain quality growth and production. If weather becomes excessively dry, hot and windy much more water may be required. Arid gardens and some types of native plantings often need little if any extra watering unless conditions become extremely dry.
The ‘best’ approach is usually a deep soaking over an hour or more in each vulnerable location. Timing is everything! When applied in the earlier part of the day, this allows for sufficient water to be drawn upwards to encourage and sustain crop production, flowering and luxuriant top growth. But much is lost to evaporation if watering continues into the middle part of the day.
When applied later in the afternoon and evening hours, water tends to trickle down the existing root system and push downward to where it is needed. Plant roots will follow this water as it drains deeper downward. This encourages plants to develop much deeper roots where they can access damp subsoil moisture. Thus these plantings become more drought resistant.
Where it is impossible to water deeply, frequent shallow watering will refresh and revive a dry garden, especially when applied during the evening. But this sort of watering if applied during the heat of the day is largely lost to evaporation in the summery heat. Still it can save a withering garden from destruction if drying conditions become extreme. But light watering tends to promote surface feeding roots which absorb the moisture near the surface of the soil. Over time this tends to encourage more shallow roots that become highly dependent upon continual irrigation for their survival. Soon the garden demands constant watering for its survival.
Container-grown plants that cannot develop a deeper root system beyond their container may need to be watered nearly every day if weather remains dry, hot and especially windy. Container plants can sometimes be moved to a more shaded position during this period of summery heat. Even potted plants enjoying full sunshine will often benefit from some afternoon shading during the driest and hottest weather, especially as they become a bit pot-bound. Keeping container plants away from drying drafts also slows evaporation. Excessive drying-out can cause permanent root damage. So can continued fluctuations between dry and hot followed by chilled and wet. Both situations can result in root rot and/or plant collapse.
Double potting simply means placing one container inside another. This can be as simple as placing a plant grown in a plastic bag or container inside a larger pot, which could be much more decorative. This has the same effect as us wearing clothing to protect our sensitive skin from the effects of environmental extremes. It helps control the detrimental extremes of chilling drafts and cold temperatures in Winter as well as insulating against drought, drying drafts and heat through the Summer months.
To make double potting most effective, fill the gap between both pots with an insulating material like: coconut fiber; old potting mix; peat or sphagnum moss; perlite; vermiculite, etc. In most situations, both pots need to have adequate drainage holes in their bases. The exception would be water-garden plants such as Japanese Iris, Ornamental Sedges, Water Lilies, etc. where the protective outer container is meant to insulate and warm the inner water-tight container against chill or freezing.
The most water-dependant container plants will almost surely benefit from a saucer filled with water placed beneath them. Adding a little liquid fertilizer into the water left in the saucer can prove highly beneficial to a wide variety of flowering, ornamental and vegetable plants growing-on through the summery heat. They can draw upon this enriched water source for several hours. Just refrain from allowing any container plant (other than aquatic varieties) to stand in water for more than a few hours at one time, especially as temperatures cool in the evening or cloudy, cool days.
The exceptions are most Cacti, Succulents and arid zone plants, especially Australian, Mediterranean and South African native species that prefer drier or very quickly draining soil conditions. While these arid zone species benefit from regular feeding and watering, it is best to allow any excessive water to drain away through the drainage holes. If it is allowed to collect and remain around the plants roots this is when root rot and plant collapse are likely.
A Secret to Successful Container Growing through Drought:
Another trick to beating summertime drought in container grown plants is learning a lesson from Nature: plants growing atop rocky mountainsides survive drought without extra watering by growing their roots underneath rocks that remain cool and moist.
To apply this observation to your container plants, start by placing the pots over open soil that has been somewhat enriched. Pots need to have several good, large drainage holes in their base. The containers are levelled and worked into the top 2.5cm/1 inch of the loose soil. A little of the soil beneath the container can be sprinkled across the top soil in the container. This tends to encourage plant roots to penetrate the drainage holes and enter the soil beneath the pot. Water the container generously so that water penetrates into the soil beneath the container. Liquid feeding with every watering helps enriching minerals to seep down the root system and trickle through into the ground beneath the container.
Within a few weeks, plant roots from the container will lock into the cool, fertile and moist soil beneath the container. The container itself will act like a boulder on a mountainside and provide a moister and shaded environment which is highly conducive to continued plant growth. This will greatly reduce the need for excessive watering.
The trade-off is that this works best when there is no need to shift the plants during the dry and hot months ahead. Once the roots anchor into the soil beneath them, these containers are more difficult to shift while in active growth without some degree of cutting back and/or withering. But once these container plants become dormant later in the season, their pots can be lifted; the excessive roots cut off and the entire container shifted with ease with little if any damage to the plant. Using this anchoring method it is possible to grow plants to a remarkable size in relatively small containers with much less care required to keep them looking good.
Magic mulch helps reduce the need to water as often in the open garden. Mulching garden beds is a most eco-friendly approach to Summer gardening. The mulch seals in valuable soil moisture much like a damp blanket covering the ground.
For a mulch to be most effective, the ground should be deeply watered first, preferably from a substantial rainfall, prior to spreading the mulch. Spreading mulch over dry ground actually seals in the dry soil which would do more damage than good.
Mulches can be made from: bark; boards; cardboard and/or newspaper; carpet or underlay; chipped wood; compost; crushed leaves and sticks; gravel or stones; peat; plastic (black) or Weedmat; and many less commonly used materials. By far the best of all is compost.
Drier and hotter weather soon begins to cause stress on tender Spring growth. This particular time in the season will witness the fading and withering of most all the remaining Spring flowers and foliage. The traditional approach is to remove these to the compost pile where they can be recycled for later use around the garden.
An alternative approach is to cut fading spring garden growth down into small pieces with hedge clippers and let them fall where they once stood. Cutting them into small pieces approximately 2.5-5cm/1-2 inches long transforms them into something a bit like bark chip. Provided the withering plants were healthy, let these clippings fall upon the ground around where they once grew and dry off in the sunshine. Now these clippings become nutritious garden mulch for the hot months ahead.
The great benefit here is that all the minerals that were consumed and drawn up originally by the plant to produce its growth are now slowly composted back into the ground exactly from where they came. This replenishes the soil with exactly the minerals that the previous crop needed to grow successfully.
This is exactly what occurs in wild meadows. These meadows have been growing and flowering near-eternally long before the hand of Humankind ever felt the need to cultivate and fertilize them. By going to this small amount of extra effort, your garden beds will benefit from excellent organic mulch especially suited to that particular patch of ground.
Feeding & Fertilizers:
The advent of summery weather brings on maximum growth, flowering and fruiting. This takes a lot of energy. Regular feeding of garden beds with an appropriate fertilizer is the best way to supply your garden plants with the nutrients they need to produce a successful result.
Fertilizers come in dry and liquid forms. There is a wide range of chemical and organic formulas, each containing a different ratio of NPK (Nitrogen = leafy growth, Phosphorous = big, glowing blooms and fruits, Potassium = Kalium, the Mediaeval name for Potash = for the pot i.e. strong roots). As a general rule leafy plants require more Nitrogen; flowers and fruits need generous Phosphorous; bulbs and root crops plus almost anything with an advanced root system requires Potassium. Potash also intensifies many flower colours.
There are also a variety of trace minerals that most plants require. Amongst the most common are: Boron, Calcium, Chlorine, Copper, Iron, Magnesium, Manganese, Molybdenum, Sulphur and Zinc. These are sometimes not listed with the NPK ratio but simple referred to as “includes Trace Minerals”. While most plants need only tiny fractions of a percentage of these minerals, severe plant distortion or even complete plant collapse can occur without them.
Chemical Commercially prepared fertilizers are expertly calibrated to deliver exactly what the plant needs. This is usually in a chemical salt form. If over-applied, especially into dry ground, these salts can cause chemical burns to plants; sometimes even kill them.
Never apply dry fertilizer to dry ground; always wet the ground beforehand and water-in the fertilizer after application!
Organic fertilizer preparations are often much milder; sometimes referred to as “gentle”, ‘natural” or “softer” formulations. These are often based around various forms of blood and bone, manure, powdered minerals, seaweed, etc. Compost is by far the best natural organic fertilizer. Organic fertilizers are much less likely to burn plants but also tend to act more slowly and in a less dramatic way. They are the preferred choice for anyone wishing to shift away from “chemically contaminated” food.
Dry granular fertilizers are easy to spread. Some react quickly with the soil once they are watered-in. These will produce visible results within a week or more. Others are known as ‘slow release’ fertilizers. These sometimes take longer to show results but once they begin to dissolve, they continue to delivery nutrients for 3 months or longer; some up to 2 years with one application. These save time and insure that garden plants receive some level of continual feeding.
Liquid fertilizers offer a near instant impact when properly applied. There are scores of different preparations available. Hydroponic Growers rely upon these entirely to produce remarkable growth results without the use of soil. Liquid fertilizers are famous for producing impressive results when the right ratio of NPK is applied at the right time.
Secrets to Fertilizer Success:
There are some special secrets to success when using liquid fertilizers: the plant must be actively drawing up liquid/minerals for them to be useful for the plants’ top growth. As a general rule, plants are drawing up liquid/minerals on mild and sunny days, especially in the morning hours into early afternoon. They also draw up minerals, sometimes to a lesser degree, when the Moon is passing over head; much like the Moon draws up the tides each day. Thus it is almost always permissible to apply liquid fertilizers for top growth, flowering and fruiting during the daylight hours and especially during sunny, warm mornings.
When the Moon and Sun are setting or below the horizon in the evening, their gravitational forces lock with those of the Earth. This tends to pull liquid and minerals into the ground and down into the roots. When attempting to enhance root crops and strengthen root systems, liquid fertilizers can be applied during the day but are often most effective when applied later in the afternoon and as the Sun and/or Moon are setting.
Foliar Feeding is a relatively new approach to liquid feeding. Some solvent fertilizers, especially those in extremely finely powdered form, can be sprayed over foliage. Their minerals are absorbed through the foliage which circumvents the plants’ need to draw up minerals through their roots all the way up to where they are needed. This saves heaps of time and results can be startling dramatic. Most ‘modern’ liquid plant foods can be foliar sprayed. They often work best if the plants’ surface is wet (this helps spread the fertilizer through capillary action) and if a fixative such as liquid soap (dish washing, washing-up soap) is added to the mix. This helps the fertilizer stick fast to the foliage once it dries; thus it has a longer period of time in which to act.
Plants can be liquid fed with every watering. The secret here is to not over-do the strength of any application. If the concentration of any soluble fertilizer is too strong it can result in chemical salt burning, especially if applied under hot sunshine. Applying liquid fertilizers over pre-moistened plants helps avoid this possibility.
Flowers to Plant or Sow:
Biennial and Perennial plants as well as a wide variety of Annual flowers are started this month from seed. Both seed and seedlings will establish quickly now if given regular and plentiful watering and a little protection against the heat and especially drying winds.
This week is acceptable for planting and sowing. Lunar and weather extremes could prove challenging at times so one must remain alert to all environmental changes. But with care it is possible to plant and sow a wide range of Annual, Biennial and Perennial flowers for the Summer and Autumn garden and for gardens next Spring and Summer onward.
Maintain a very bright or strong morning sun position with constant warm temperatures, even moisture content in the soil and high humidity along with good air circulation. Many seeds will germinate in less than a week when given ideal conditions.
Annuals like Balsam, Cosmos, Marigold, Portulaca and Zinnia and many more may be ready to transplant with care in as little as 4 weeks and could start blooming in 6-8 weeks.
Biennials and Perennials started now can be grown-on in individual containers or flats. While some can be transplanted in 4-6 weeks others can remain in pots for the remainder of the growing season. This is because many are slow to germinate and become established so often become lost and overcrowded in the summer garden. Many can be transplanted into their permanent positions in the Autumn or following Spring during cooler and damper weather and many will bloom by this time next year. The exception occurs in cooler climates and wherever irrigation and/or Summer rains are abundant and reliable. Then both biennials and perennials can be sown direct into the ground where they are meant to grow or transplanted throughout the warm season ahead.
Guard all seed sown and seedling plants from predation by Birds, Caterpillars, Slugs, Snails and a host of other insects and fungal pests. As humid and warm weather begins to reach its peak, all these predators also reach their height of activity. Unguarded plants can easily be stripped and lost overnight so take no chances!
Established container plants or advanced seedlings grown in punnets are often the easiest to start at this time, especially if the weather is dry and hot.
Easiest and Fastest Flowers to Plant or Sow Now:
Ageratum*, Alyssum*, Amaranthus*, Aster, Balsam *,California Poppy, Cactus*, Calceolaria (seeded tor winter),Celosia*, Chinese Lantern, Chrysanthemum, Cleome*,Cockscomb*,Coleus*, Coneflower, Cornflower, Cosmos*,Cyclamen (seeded for spring), Dahlia*,Gazania*, Geranium, Gerbera*, Globe Amaranthus, Gypsophila, Herbs, Hyacinth Bean (Dolichos) *, Iceland Poppy (seeded for winter), Impatiens*, Kochia*, Lunaria (Honesty)*, Marigold *, Morning Glory*, Nasturtium, Ornamental Peppers*, Pansy (seeded for winter), Petunia, Phlox*,Polyanthus and Primula (seeded for winter), Portulaca* Rudbeckia, Salpiglossis, Salvia, Strawflower, Sturts Desert Pea, Sunflower * Swan River Daisy, Tithonia * Verbena* Viscaria* Zinnia*
( * ) = Indicates ideal time to plant
Vegetables to Plant and Sow:
Vegetables in a wide range can be planted and sown for Summer and Autumn displays and harvests:
Asparagus seed, Artichoke, Beans(1), Beets, Borecole (Kale), Broccoli, Brussel Sprouts(1), Cabbage (Drumhead, Golden Acre and Succession), Cape Gooseberry(1), Capsicum(1), Carrot(1), Cauliflower, Celery, Celeriac, Chicory(1), Chinese Cabbage, Chives, Choko, Cress, Cucumber(1), Eggplant(1), Endive, Kohl Rabi, Kumara and Sweet Potato(1), Leeks, Lettuce, Luffa (1),Marrow (1), Melon(1), Mustard, Okra(1), Parsnip, Peanuts (1), Peas, Pumpkin(1), Radish, Rhubarb seed, Salsify, Silverbeet, Spring Onions, Soybean (1), Squash(1), Swede, Sweet Corn and Maize and Popcorn(1), Taro(1), Tobacco(1), Tomato (1), Turnip, Yams(1), Zucchini (1)
(1)= excellent time to plant
Make sure to keep seedlings and sown seed constantly very bright and sunny, evenly watered, regularly fed and protected from predation plus drying winds. Germination conditions may become somewhat difficult in open ground this week without extra care and watering but are often fairly easily controlled now in the sheltered nursery. Under ideal conditions seed can often germinate in as little as three or four days and be ready to transplant in 6 weeks. Alternatively, if birds, slugs and snails can be controlled and the soil can be maintained in a moist condition, sowing seed directly where it is meant to grow almost always produces the best, biggest and healthiest plants in the shortest period of time.
Secrets to Successful Transplanting:
The secret to successful growing in summery heat is often in the timing of transplanting. Seed or seedlings grown on in individual containers or peat pots are by far the easiest to transplant and establish. This is because there need be almost no root damage or interference with their delicate root system if carefully removed from their container and immediately planted at the ‘right’ moment. This ‘right’ moment is usually when the first sign of roots begin to show protruding through the pots’ drainage holes. This window of opportunity continues sometimes for a week or more until the plant’s roots become root-bound. Even then some success can be had with care.
The very easiest transplanting is timed to happen on a cloudy, damp day with several more like it forecast to follow. Make sure plants and seedlings are liquid fed or at least watered on the day of transplanting. Plant into pre-moistened soil and water each plant generously immediately afterward. Check them every day and water regularly (possibly as much as once a day) in the week or so ahead. Once they appear to be growing well on their own less frequent watering will be needed unless conditions remain very dry.
Avoid, hot and sunny days for transplanting if at all possible. If there is no alternative plan to water them after planting with artificial irrigation (oscillating sprinkler or mist system) that can be left on for several hours and repeated daily possibly early in the day and again in the evening if any plants show signs of wilting. The attention to detail almost always insures success.
Whenever it is impossible to provide this level of artificial irrigation, attempt to at least water-in each plant thoroughly right after planting. Then cover the bed with a light protective sun screening like frost cloth, shade cloth, light gauze, a sheet, newspaper, a light covering of evergreen boughs, or anything else that acts as shading to keep young seedlings cool, moist and lightly shaded. Once they perk up in a week or less, then remove the shading and maintain moist conditions until they are growing strongly and they will rocket away.
This month is a good time to plant almost all (sub) tropical plants, especially those transplanted from established containers. They can also be shifted and replanted now. But be very alert to climatic extremes. Make sure they are well staked and remain moist at all times until they become re-established. The easiest time to shift existing in-ground plantings is often around the Full Moon when water retention is at its highest. So the early days this week should be pretty good for that. Make sure to soak the plants prior to shifting and directly after replanting.
Subtropical plants are in full growth and many will be flowering or developing bracts and buds. Cutting back lightly now can be used to create a bushier plant with more buds developing later. Eliminating diseased and weak growth now directs energy into healthy and strong shoots that later will produce better blooms of higher quality. For older specimens that are becoming unproductive, cutting back now combined with a good feed, mulch and watering will often stimulate healthy new growth that will refurbish the planting. Otherwise, it will result in the aging plant’s ultimate death with still plenty of time remaining in the growing season to replace it and get something healthy established in this growing season.
The art of pruning is a science unto its self. Always prune so that a healthy and strong bud or stem with its associated leaf attached remains at the top of the stem in an outward-facing position. This encourages new growth to develop outward and upward. Inward-facing stems tend to interweave within the plant, shading them out; thus becoming weakened and often diseased or unhealthy.
Allow a little extra growth beyond the pruning cut to anticipate the possibility of some die-back. This is especially important when pruning in the Waning Moon Cycle toward the ‘Dark of the Moon’ extremes. These extremes can exert a strong upward pull as the Moon and Sun pass overhead, and then an opposite downward pull once the Moon and Sun slip below the horizon and lock their gravitational pull with that of the Earth. This can evaporate moisture out of the cut and then pull air and possibly bacteria or fungus into the exposed vascular bundles during the downward pull phase. It can often cause large cuts to ‘bleed’ sap and valuable moisture out of the cut if it is not immediately sealed. This can literally bleed that plant to death.
This results in pruned stem dieback. This can prove disastrous when cutting away stems that grow adjacent to major branches. Cutting too close to the main stem or trunk can sometimes allow air and/or bacteria to enter into the main growing stem. This can result in the unwanted lose of the entire main stem some time later!
Always allow a small stump to remain as a safety ‘margin of error’. Usually this will die-off and sometimes drop naturally once the wound heals. The downside is that as this stump begins to decay, it becomes a likely home for borer insects. So be alert to this possibility and be prepared to remove the dead stump and spray for borer at first signs of attack.
Alternatively, in areas prone to attack and damage by Borer, be sure to completely seal off any pruning cuts and especially any remaining small stumps. Use pruning paint or even warmed candle wax rubbed into the cut surface as a sealant. This is also an effective way of blocking exposed vascular bundles and thus greatly reducing the possibility of pruned stem die-back. Do this immediately after cutting back a stem. Once bleeding sap begins to rise, it is very hard to stop it and the damage has been done.
Prune each main cane/stem on a slant which faces away from the outward-facing shoot below it. This allows rain and irrigation to drain away from the shoot below it and into the interior of the plant rather than constantly dripping onto the top of the outward facing bud stem which might result in disease. Leave enough of the remaining growing stem intact so that the outward-facing bud shoot or stem below it is not left at the very tip on the thin slanted point of the cut; otherwise, as the cut stem heals and shrivels, it will often take the top bud with it. If it does survive it may form a weakened stem that is vulnerable to wind damage.
Time Pruning for Best Results:
Pruning with the correct Moon phase is very beneficial. Pruning during the Waxing Moon phase (while Moon light is increasing each evening...next opportunity starts 19Dec.) encourages bushy new growth to develop quite quickly. Pruning in the week prior to the Full Moon is used to maximize new growth and later flowering. Pruning right at Full Moon (4 Dec. - 2 Jan.2018) is permissible but can result in excessive bleeding of some species that produce a lot of running sap. Full Moon is the time of greatest water-retention as gravitational up-pull is quite extreme so can encourage sap seepage.
Pruning after the Full Moon phase (5Dec. to 18 Dec.) as the Moon Wanes (Moonlight decreasing, Moon rising in the late-evening through early morning hours) tends to control and reduce the development of new growth. This can be very advantageous on mature hedges, shrubs, trees, vines, topiaries and other plantings that have reached their desired height and spread and now need to be contained and controlled.
Pruning during ‘Dark of the Moon’ phase (16-17Dec.) up to the New Moon (18 Dec.) can greatly reduce re-growth especially on woody species. This trend is less pronounced now during the active months of the Spring and Early Summer growing season, provided adequate irrigation or rainfall encourages new growth. Cuts must be immediately sealed or sap bleeding is likely that can continue until the plant dies, especially if the cut back is severe. The drastic effects of ‘Dark of the Moon’ pruning are most pronounced during droughty conditions and later in the Autumn months, especially on deciduous species, once the sap begins to descend from the stems back into the trunk. Pruning then can actually draw enough air into the open cuts to kill off the stem and sometimes even the entire plant. Early Settlers found this the preferred time to clear land of unwanted shrub and vegetation.
Whenever possible, chip and mulch whatever has been pruned and place it beneath and surrounding the pruned plant as enriching and protective mulch. Or compost it and return this enriched earth to the same planting site later. Only remove the pruned material if it is diseased and unhealthy or if the objective of the pruning is to control and reduce plant growth in that location. This practice returns to the soil almost all the minerals that the plant has absorbed from the earth to sustain its growth. This replenishes the correct mineral balance in the soil to sustain the next generation of plants that will recycle these minerals once again.
‘Pinching back’ is a simple type of pruning where the new growth is nipped out with the finger tips or secateurs or scissors. Bushy new growth and extra flowering is often stimulated by pinching-back and light pruning the central stem and top leaders. This allows numerous lateral side shoots to produce the flowers and/or crop.
Pinching back includes what is known as ‘dead-heading: removing faded blooms on remaining Spring and especially Early Summer flowers to keep them going longer. This is especially advantageous to pinch back Dahlia, Chrysanthemum, Marigold, Petunia and Zinnia and many other Summer flowers. Pinching out the central stem and main leaders will help to make bushier plants. This ultimately results in more blooms.
The same applies to most vines such as: Climbing Beans, Cucumber, Gourd, Luffa, Melon, Pumpkin, Squash, also Tomatoes especially whenever it is possible to let them sprawl. Bushier plants are often more robust and their compact habit makes them much more storm and wind resistant. Pinching out the central leader (the main vining stem) forces it to produce lateral side shoots often at each mature leaf. It is these lateral shoots that produce the fruit. The more lateral shoots, the more fruits are produced.
With flowering vines, pinching out the central leader means more side branches or cordons are produced. Each one of those will produce blooms meaning the overall performance of the vine in greatly enhanced.
The exceptions are plants being grown as standards for exhibition blooms and also many spiking flowers that produce one central stem of flowers. In this case, much larger blooms of higher quality can be produced when all side shoots are removed and only one large bloom or spike is encouraged and staked to near its top.
This Third Week in the Early Summer Garden:
Last Quarter Moon deepens into the Dark of the Moon 16-17 December. The New Moon follows 18 December ushering in the Waxing Moon Cycle and Summer Solstice (21-22Dec.). The Solstice brings the longest day of the year to the Southern Hemisphere with sustained summery conditions to follow. This is a great week for a wide variety of general gardening activities; planting corms, roots, tubers and most hardy things from containers that need a period of root development and sowing seed.
The New Moon (18 Dec.8PM NZDT) occurs just before Apogee (farthest distance away in its orbit) and almost at peak ascension (highest point in the sky) in Southern Hemisphere skies. This New Moon marks the transition into the sustained summery conditions of and early start to Mid Summer and begins the next planting and sowing cycle for top growth and flowering. It has a fairly powerful gravitational pull. So for maximum results liquid feed and water for flowering, fruiting and top growth from shortly after sunrise until early afternoon. Evening watering will be pulled more strongly into the ground where it will refresh a dry garden by morning.
General Gardening Activities:
This entire week is best suited to general gardening activities. Planting and sowing will feature more highly later after the passing of the New Moon. General gardening activities best suited to this week include: compost making and spreading compost and aged manures; cultivating and weeding; clearing land and eliminating brush, scrub, unwanted vegetation; dry and liquid fertilizing established and new beds including all flowers, fruits, vegetables and ornamental shrubs, trees and vines; clipping, pinching-back and pruning to shape shrubs, trees and vines and keep them shapely for longer; mow to keep grass shorter for longer; set fence posts; lay foundations, paving stones and rock-works; spread gravel, sand and soil; cut firewood; build all manner of structures; dig and create ponds and other water features; dry flowers, fruits and herbs; harvest for long term storage; dig dormant spring-flowering bulbs for cool storage until Autumn planting.
Growing, Planting and Sowing Activities:
Lunar gravitational extremes are increasing so avoid planting or transplanting anything delicate or flimsy unless after-care and environmental conditions can be well controlled. Hardy plantings should be easier. Dig and divide a wide variety of bulbs, corms, roots and tubers; this includes Spring-flowering bulbs that were grown in containers or grown in subtropical situations with damp Summer soil; divide and take cuttings from cacti, epiphytes and succulents; soak and sow all seed that is difficult to germinate; blend and prepare potting, propagation and seed raising soil mixes; fill containers and start sowing seeds; sow seed of vegetables likely to bolt. After the New Moon (18 Dec) plant from containers a wide variety of annual, biennial and perennial flowers, shrubs, trees and vines (inclusive of sub-tropical species) and vegetables. Tender plantings can start after that date, weather permitting.
Summer Bulbs, Rhizomes, Roots and Tubers to Plant:
Early Summer is one of the last really good months to plant these beautiful Summer and Autumn flowering plants. Almost all of them prefer at least morning sunshine to full light. Alocassia, Caladium, Clivia, Crinum (some species), Cyclamen and Tuberous Begonia prefer screening from burning mid-day sunlight but still require at the very minimum strong morning sunlight or bright filtered light all day. Many will tolerate nearly full sunshine provided they are exposed to this much light from the start. Foliage and growth produced under these conditions will probably be dwarfed and very stocky; not nearly as delicate and graceful as when given a little cooling dappled shade.
Bulbs, Corms Roots and Tubers to Plant now:
Acidanthera(Fragrant Gladioli), Agapanthus(Lily-of-the-Nile), Alocassia (Elephant Ear), Amaryllis (Belladonna Lily), Arum and Calla Lily, Caladium, Canna, Clivia, Crinum, Cyclamen, Colchicum (Autumn Crocus), Dahlia, Galtonia (Cape Hyacinth), German Bearded Iris, Gladioli, Gloriosa Lily, Gypsophila (plants, roots, seeds), Hippeastrum (Amaryllis), Iris species, Leucojum (Snow Flake), Nerine, Nymphaea (Water Lily),Taro, Tigridia (Jockey’s Cap), Tuberose, Tuberous Begonia, Zantedeschia (Calla), Zephyranthes (Rain Lily) and more locally
There are many hundreds of Iris species. Most are rhizome or tuberous rooted while others are bulbs. Their habitats vary from dry and well drained soils to swampy land or even immersion in water. This month and next are good times to focus on their care.
Bearded Iris are most easily planted or transplanted right after flowering finishes. Depending on the variety this is usually Mid to Late Spring throughout Early Summer. If separating an established clump recently dug up, remove a rhizome root with a strong cluster of leaves. Cut the leaves back “fan” shape about 15cm/6inches long. Replant this with the rhizome on top of the soil or just barely covered and the roots spreading downward over a slight mound or hill or sloping site to facilitate drainage. Fill soil around the roots and water in well. Feeding can commence either prior to planting or once growth begins and should be light but regular. Bearded Irises are lovers of Phosphorus, Potash and Lime or use a commercial bulb food which is lightly sprinkled around, but not over the tubers then watered in. First flowers will appear usually within a year after which the clumps should continue to spread and bloom regularly.
Usually Bearded Iris can be left to multiply and spread for several years before they benefit from further division. The best transplants come from the most mature, newest and strongest outer tubers supporting healthy leaf growth. Inner tubers (often called ‘back bulbs’ can also be replanted if the intention is to increase the stock of valuable varieties. These back bulbs are often less productive; producing weaker growth, and some may not produce any new sprouts at all. Gardeners with limited garden space often disguard them or donate them to a Friend with plenty of spare land.
Avoid using fresh animal manures or high Nitrogen fertilisers anywhere near Bearded Iris. This softens both foliage and tubers which may result in tuber rot and plant collapse. The other leading cause of Iris collapse is over-shadowing by surrounding foliage of any sort, even small annuals, especially if the environment and/or soil are also overly damp or very humid. Bearded Irises need an airy, open and mostly sunny environment without competition. They enjoy a good summer baking to keep them hardy and healthy.
Bulb Iris varieties like Dutch, English and Spanish Iris usually flower during the Winter (subtropical regions) and Spring. These normally go dormant shortly after flowering and remain dormant throughout the summer and autumn. In most garden situations they can be left alone where they will multiply over the years. But in land that remains damp or is frequently watered for other plantings, they are prone to rotting. Now is one of the best times when they can be dug and stored in a cool, dark, dry location awaiting replanting in the autumn.
Bulb Iris seed ripens now. It should be sown immediately into a free-draining potting mixed, kept bright, moist and warm. Seedlings usually sprout irregularly within 6 weeks. They can be a little fussy about transplanting so use a dibble and shift them while they are small. They will usually die away in the autumn and then re-emerge the following spring. Usually bulb Iris seedlings take one or two years before they produce their first bloom.
Rhizome and Tuberous Rooted Iris like Iris Blue and Yellow Flag or Iris siberica can be left to multiply over many years. But eventually, their central crown will become depleted. This is when they are best divided. Division is easily done while they are dormant during the winter. But they can also be divided and replanted directly after flowering into early summer. Follow the same procedure as with (German) Bearded Iris. Alternatively, for big clumps drive a sharp spade directly into the centre of the clump and lift half the clump out. This can be cut back and divided while the other half is left intact.
Water Irises such as Japanese and Louisiana are usually left alone to multiply for long periods of time. They grow in moist soil as well as immersed in water. They grow quite well in containers provided these have a deep saucer that remains filled with water or remain in a water-tight container. Water Irises are easily divided and shifted once their shoots emerge in early Spring. Japanese varieties can be planted from containers now and can be divided and replanted later during the Summer after flowering finishes or again early next Spring.
Almost all Rhizomous and Tuberous Rooted Irises plus Water Irises that have been container grown can be planted with care quite successfully at this time.
Dahlias can be divided, moved, planted and/or struck from cuttings. Tubers planted much earlier in the season along with those over-wintering in the ground may already be flowering now. This is the last month in cooler climates with a shorter growing season, to safely plant out tubers for Autumn flowering. Exhibition Growers often delay planting tubers until now. This way the very best blooms appear in Early Autumn when conditions are ideal for the finest quality flowers. Mature Dahlia tubers usually start flower about three months after planting. Another method is to dig up existing clumps, cut them back and replant the strongest tubers.
Dahlia cuttings and tubers with an eye shoot attached will strike easily and quickly in a peat and propagating sand mix placed in a terrarium-style propagating box or similar environment. An easy home-style method is to place several cuttings into a plastic pot filled with an appropriate propagation mix which is moistened and then slipped into a plastic bag which is drawn up over the cuttings and pot; then loosely tied over it creating a mini terrarium. Place this in a draft-free, humid and warm environment in bright light rather than hot sunshine. New growth is often rapid if surrounding conditions remain subtropical.
Dahlia seed can be successfully sown now and may still bloom this season in warm temperate and subtropical climates with a long growing season. Dwarf bedding varieties are bound to put on a great show quite early onward to frost. Taller varieties take a while longer to flower but should produce good Late Summer and Autumn displays. Dahlias are tender subtropical perennial plants. So in mild, frost-free, sheltered and warm locations, Dahlias often flower throughout the Winter months, too. In cooler climates or wherever Winters are wet, the (young) tubers are dug and dry-stored before the onset of Winter frosts and wet. These tubers are then replanted once weather warms in the Spring and will bloom next Summer.
Start Dahlias off in a very bright, humid, lightly moist and very warm environment with good air circulation. Seed germinates quickly and should be grown in high light to produce healthy, stocky, strong plants. Sow into individual small containers or seedling flats for later transplanting. Some Gardeners prefer to grow new seedling Dahlias in pots the first year which are then stored intact over the Winter months. Seedling plants can be shifted into their permanent growing positions within 6-8 weeks. They usually show their first blooms 10-12 weeks from sowing. Dwarf and medium-sized varieties quickly come into flower. Taller hybrids often take a few weeks longer.
Always stake taller varieties as their stems are brittle, and stems easily split especially once they become taller and laden with blooms and foliage. Dwarf varieties are often allowed to flop and sprawl outward with new shoots continually arising from their central crown. This effect soon makes an impressive small mound or bush of flowers.
Dahlias prefer sunny locations and rich, moist soil that must drain well. Lighter soils are excellent provided they receive generous mulch. Compost or aged manure is excellent for this purpose. They need good air circulation to avoid attack from powdery mildew. But attempt to plant Dahlias with shelter from prevailing winds that can be especially destructive during times of heavy flowering.
Flowers to Plant or Sow:
Ageratum*, Alyssum*, Amaranthus*, Aster, Balsam *,California Poppy, Cactus*, Calceolaria (seeded tor winter),Celosia*, Chinese Lantern, Chrysanthemum, Cleome*,Cockscomb*,Coleus*, Coneflower, Cornflower, Cosmos*,Cyclamen (seeded for spring), Dahlia*,Gazania*, Geranium, Gerbera*, Globe Amaranthus, Gypsophila, Herbs, Hyacinth Bean (Dolichos) *, Iceland Poppy (seeded for winter), Impatiens*, Kochia*, Lunaria (Honesty)*, Marigold *, Morning Glory*, Nasturtium, Ornamental Peppers*, Pansy (seeded for winter), Petunia, Phlox*,Polyanthus and Primula (seeded for winter), Portulaca* Rudbeckia, Salpiglossis, Salvia, Strawflower, Sturts Desert Pea, Sunflower * Swan River Daisy, Tithonia * Verbena* Viscaria* Zinnia*
All of these are either best sown from seed that will probably be up in days. Sowing into punnets for later transplanting provides the best opportunity to care for them properly. But sowing into open ground that can be kept moist and protected from predation by pests is sometimes easier. Advance seedlings with an established root ball can also be transplanted successfully with a sharp eye to their after-care. Avoid transplanting delicate seedlings this week unless environmental conditions appear benevolent. Water retention is low and drying conditions are high so anything flimsy is likely to collapse and perish.
This week up until a day or so before the New Moon is a good time to plant Potatoes for a late season harvest. Make sure soil is very freely draining to avoid late blight as weather cools and dampens close to harvest time. Also start all manner of root crop vegetables and sow seed direct where they are meant to grow of vegetables with extensive root systems like Sweet Corm and Chicory.
Sow vegetables likely to bolt now. Bolting is premature flowering before first producing the desired harvest. It occurs in many vegetables that naturally flower and go to seed when days are long. This includes most Brassica (Broccoli, Cabbages, Kale, Mustard, etc.), Carrots, Parsnips and most leafy vegetables like Lettuce, Spinach, and most Chinese leafy greens.
Brussel Sprouts are often sown now as they take a long time to reach maturity and need to mature during the cooler months when frost can ‘sweeten’ their flavour. In cooler climates they can be directly sown where the plants are meant to grow. This always produces the most productive harvests. In subtropical and very warm climates the seeds are often sown into individual containers or punnets. These are grown-on and kept in cooler partial shade and transplanted into their final position once weather cools a little in Late Summer or Early Autumn. Aphids, Cabbage Loopers Caterpillars, Leaf Miner, Slugs and Snails plus an assorted host of other predations are almost certainly going to attack Brussel Sprouts while being stressed in summery heat. So be warned and prepared as these pests can ruin a young crop almost overnight.
Vegetables to Plant or Sow now:
N = Northern warm districts with long summers or in the glasshouse
S = Southern cooler districts with a shorter growing season ahead
Beans (dwarf) S/N (climbing) N Beets N/S Borecole S Broccoli N/S Brussel Sprouts N/S Cabbages (traditional & Chinese) N/S Carrots N/S Cauliflower N/S Chicory N/S Celery N Cress N/S Cucumber N Endive N/S Herbs N/S Kale S Kohlrabi N/S Leeks N/S Lettuce N/S Marrow N/S Mustard N/S Onions N Parsley N/S Parsnip N/S Peas N/S Potato N/S Radish N/S Rhubarb N/S Salsify N/S Savoy S Shallots S Silverbeet N/S Spring Onion N/S Squash N Swedes N/S Sweet Corn N Tomato N Turnips N/S
Vegetable main crops should be kept well watered, fed, and free from weeds, insects & disease for big harvests. Weeding is essential so that nutrients are not robbed from the growing vegetables and the young plants are not overcrowded. Frequent light cultivation or mulching is the best approach. While many Gardeners dislike weeding, it is much easier to eliminate weeds while they are still small than later once they have become well established. Either elect to frequently but lightly cultivate amongst and between each plant and row; or elect to mulch the Vegetable garden.
Mulches save valuable time and excessive watering plus organic mulch becomes a valuable soil additive when organic mulch is applied. The ‘down side’ to organic mulches (hay, straw, wood chip, etc.) are potential predation by Slugs and Snails which will need to be baited or trapped on a regular basis. Unfortunately these predators love living within organic mulches as much as they do beneath black plastic and Weedmat.
Effective, nearly-organic alternative mulch is cardboard or books of newspaper. This is often free and readily available plus so very effective at smothering all weeds. The secrets to success here include, feeding and deeply watering the area to be mulched first. Then choose a day with little if any wind. Remove staples and/or tape from the cardboard. Lay the first sheet in position. Water it down. Then overlap the next sheet of cardboard over the first by at least 15cm/6in. Water that sheet in place and press it down so that it seals to the other sheet of damp cardboard. Then proceed to lay one sheet upon the other. If the site is going to be walked over, apply several layers of heavy duty cardboard. Where the cardboard is meant only to stop smaller garden weeds close up around plants one or two sheets is sufficient. One book of newspaper approximates one sheet of heavy duty cardboard.
Once the damp cardboard/newspaper mulch dries, it will have stuck together and moulds over the ground much like paper mache’. To make it look ‘tidier’ it can be lightly sprinkled over with compost, soil or wood chip, etc. To plant within the cardboard mulch simply cut an X through the (wet) cardboard. Peel back the cardboard layers; add a little enriched compost or soil into the opening. Insert the plant. Water it into position (a liquid fertilizer added to the water is very effective) and then push the dampened cardboard back up around the plant.
If seeds are being sown in the opening, generously liquid feed the soil first. Then sow the seeds and cover them with a small amount of dampened earth. Double over the corners of the cardboard X underneath the surrounding cardboard mulch to form a tidy circle or square hole. Because this earthen hole closely resembles a botanical target, be certain to guard against predation from Birds, Slugs and Snails. Keep the exposed area moist until germination is complete and the seedlings are on their way.
Cane Fruits & Strawberries:
Keep all cane fruits (Blackberry, Boysenberry, Raspberry, etc.) plus Currents, Blueberry, Gooseberry and Strawberries well watered. Side dress between the plants (but never directly upon the canes or into their crown) with a balanced good quality general plant food or one made especially for these fruiting crops.
Developing fruits demand a continual supply of enriched water to produce the highest quality fruits. All of these fruits require a slightly acidic soil pH (5.5-6.5) Blueberries grow well with a pH as low as 4.5. Sprinkling powdered Sulphur (Flowers of Sulphur) over the soil and/or using a fertilizer made for ‘acid-loving plants, i.e. Azalea, Camellia, Rhododendron, etc.
Mulching can be very effective with Cane Fruits and Strawberries. Most fruiting crops enjoy organic mulches like straw i.e. Strawberries, although spoilt hay or wood chip would do. Mulching with Pine needles is brilliant because the needles naturally have a very low pH. This greatly benefits many fruits, especially Blueberries. Pine needles are completely organic plus tend to deter most insects, Slugs and Snails.
Prune off and thin out any diseased or weak canes or wood and remove any damaged leaves. Cane fruits will be producing soft new canes. These lighter green shoots will eventually darken and harden to produce next year’s fruit crop. Guard these tender shoots against predation as they are often attacked while young. If new canes become too gangly and long for the available space, pinch them off at their tip. This will encourage them to mature and strengthen which often produces more flower and fruiting spurs than canes allowed to endlessly ramble.
New Strawberry plants can be easily started from off-set runners shooting away from mature Strawberry plants. Ever-bearing Strawberries may still be producing crops while early-cropping varieties will possibly have finished. Once a mature Strawberry plant finishes its main fruit production, it begins sending out runners with ‘pups’ at the end of long stems which will soon anchor into the ground to produce the next generation of plants. These early-cropping varieties are the plants that probably have produced the best runners so far that are mature enough to cut away and strike into new plants.
The easiest way start new Strawberry plants from runners is to allow these runners to lengthen and produce a small plant at their tip. Simply anchor this to roughened soil with a small stone, piece of wood or a wire clip. Once the young plant does not pull away when carefully lifted, it has developed sufficient roots for transplanting. Cut the runner away from the new young plant and lift it carefully with all the soil surrounding its young roots. Replant this small Strawberry runner plant immediate in the same manner as an adult Strawberry plant. Keep it well mulched and watered. Sometimes these will bear small crops this Autumn but usually they start cropping the following Spring and Summer.
The lazy Gardener alternative is to simply encourage the Strawberry runners to root wherever they want. Then once weather cools and dampens in the Autumn, dig out all these new season small plants. Cut back some of the older foliage, leaving the crown intact. Strawberries need enriched soil with excellent drainage. So plant them on hills, mounds or a slightly sloping site. Make sure the crown of the plant sits rather high in its planting hole. Even having the tops of their roots slightly showing will not hurt provided these roots do not dry out. Immediately replant them into their own spot in the Strawberry patch or rows and allow them to develop over the Winter for next year’s harvest.
This is an excellent time to prepare garden beds by enriching and reworking garden soil for the next vegetable crops and flowers of Late Summer and Autumn. Dig garden beds thoroughly; adding aged manure and/or mature compost and appropriate soil additives. Vegetable crops especially need plenty of enrichment to produce healthy and productive results, especially later in the season. Depleted soil will also benefit from a dusting of Blood and Bone. Dust over the bed so that it is whitened but to no depth with both a General Garden Fertiliser and Dolomite Lime. Some crops and flowers benefit from an additional dusting with Superphosphate or Rock Phosphate and Sulphate of Potash, Greenstone or composted wood ashes. Dig these in and water thoroughly over the bed.
Clay and heavy loam soils can be naturally lightened through a generous application of Gypsum Lime. Gypsum has a neutral pH of 7.0 so can be used effectively around almost all plantings. First dig or roughen the soil, then whiten the ground with the Gypsum. Then only lightly water this in. Stop watering as soon as any run-off is detected. Let the Gypsum slowly interact with the soil. Over many months it will eventually seep within and break down clay into small mineral-rich balls of clay soil. These will allow air, roots and water to penetrate much deeper and more effectively. Gypsum is famous for transforming clay hardpans into productive garden soil.
Nature often uses weeds to ‘cloth’ itself against excessive exposure. In newly turned soil or where weeds have been a problem, first cultivate the land and allow the weeds to germinate. Then hoe them in while quite small on a sunny, preferably windy, day. They will quickly shrivel and become a green manure without the need to remove them. Then a day or two later, re-water the empty garden bed and let the next group of weeds germinate again. After two or three repeated waterings followed by hoeing in the weeds, the surface soil in the bed will be nearly weed-free and ready to plant. When it comes to the time for sowing or transplanting, just be careful about digging too deeply as this could uplift a deeper collection of dormant weed seeds.
The other alternative is to spread additional compost, fertilizer and possibly lime over the soil then dig this in and water thoroughly. Then generously mulch the entire cultivated bed. Leave it to cure for at least a week or more if possible before planting. If the beds are covered with cardboard or newspaper, black plastic or cardboard, they can be planted almost immediately afterward. Be sure to guard against the ravages of hungry Birds that will easily spot those delectable plants standing proudly amongst the smooth mulch.
Fluffy organic mulches like spoilt hay and straw tend to hide young plants from Birds. But whenever organic mulch is used be sure to bait and/or trap Slugs and Snails repeatedly so that the bed is basically free of predation before attempting to plant or sow seeds. Organic mulches have the advantage of retaining valuable moisture and keeping soil cooler while decomposing into lovely quality garden soil. But this happens largely through the activity of Slugs, Snails and the much more benign Earthworms that eat the mulch from underneath, but unfortunately, often the garden plants at the same time.
Once everything is planted and sown, there will be little need for after-care unless conditions become excessively dry and stressful; other than for continual monitoring for diseases or predation by Birds, Insects, Slugs and Snails. Never let down your guard there. At the first sign of any damage bait and trap immediately. This insures that what at first is minor damage does not escalate as the season advances.
All this work is definitely worth the effort. A well-grown (Late) Summer and Autumn vegetable garden will produce a treasured harvest that will strengthen your fortitude and health in readiness for the Winter ahead. By preparing the land now while conditions are benevolent, this also prepares the land for much easier and successful growing as the season cools and the garden is planted for those hardy and valuable Winter crops.
Now is a great time to build things. Summer is often a time of dry, fine and pleasant weather with long days and holiday free time. Spring gardens have finished and are being cleared away. Summer gardens have probably already been planted; or can sometimes be delayed until a little later on and still produce good crops; or can be started now in small containers for later planting. This creates a ‘window of opportunity’ that is ideally suited for building and construction projects of all sorts around the garden.
Things to Build:
A creative mind needs little prompting but here are a few suggestions of what might be good to build in you garden or property: arbours and arches; bay and picture windows looking out over the garden; benches and seats; bridges; lakes, ponds, pools, streams and waterfalls; screens and trellis areas; clearing land for new beds; raised beds for easy cultivation; conservatories, glasshouses and shelters; ferneries, lath and Orchid houses; Summer houses and pergolas; boardwalks, paths, trails and walkways; and about as many other building projects as the creative mind can imagine.
This Forth Week in the Early Summer Garden:
The Summer Solstice Waxing Moon Cycle fills the remainder of this month. Weather permitting; this should be an excellent time for planting and sowing all manner of warm weather flowers and vegetables plus planting container-grown groundcovers, shrubs, trees and vines. This could be a great week for gardening. Christmas and New Year festivities fill the week for many.
The astronomical beginning of Summer traditionally arrives with the Solstice 21- 22 Dec. (depending upon where one lives). This year the Solstice happens in Auckland at 5:27 AM NZDT 22 December while for most of the world it happens 21 December (16:28 UTC). The Summer Solstice is the longest day of the year. In Auckland that day reaches 14hrs.41m. 32sec. Further south the evening is considerably longer with civil twilight finishing just after midnight.
At Solar Noon, the Sun reaches its highest position for the year in the mid-heaven. The earliest sunrises for the year occur several days in a row 1-7-13 Dec. each at around 5:55AM while the latest sunsets occur early next month. Traditionally, this is considered the ‘true beginning’ of consistent summery weather. Ironically, for the next six months Southern Hemisphere days slowly become shorter. While in the Northern Hemisphere this is their shortest day and the beginning of Winter and progressively longer days await them.
Time for Sun Screening:
This often starts the driest, hottest and most tropical weather of the year. Solar infrared and ultraviolet radiation remains at their peak this month and next. As this radiant heat builds up and is retained, the Earth heats up much like a microwave cooking a potato. This heat and strong sunshine can scorch delicate flowers and leaves as well as unprotected skin. Be cautious about over-exposure during the middle part of the day.
Delicate plants like African Violet, Ferns, Fuchsia, Gloxinia, some flowering Orchid species, Streptocarpus and most Sinningias, Tuberous Begonias and many others may need some screening from the heat and scalding sunlight. Morning sun positions in ‘soft’ light up to about midday usually suit them. They also do very well when grown outdoors in a draft-free and warm position beneath the dappled light shade of trees or in a shade house or sun room. When these tender plants are grown indoors behind a window exposed to full sunlight, protecting them with a sheer lace curtain works very well. Alternatively, consider moving back away from the most scalding sunlight
The Moon Waxes into the First Quarter, 26 Dec (sidereal Pisces, a fertile water sign).Weather permitting, this week and next should be excellent times for all sorts of gardening activities but especially planting and sowing. Planting conditions and water retention continue to improve until the next Full Moon 2 January.
This is one of the best times to sow seeds outdoors or in sheltered sites, weather permitting. Air and soil temperatures are warm and sunlight is reaching its maximum. Provided seed flats and seedlings can be maintained in a bright, humid and moist environment, growth will be rapid if perhaps spectacular. This is an excellent time to start flowers for near immediate colour when transplanted as (advanced) seedlings. Some will flower from seed sown now in as little as 6-8 weeks or more. Biennial plants sown from seed will flower in Late Winter onward. Perennials sown now may take up to a year or even several years before they bloom. Container-grown colour planted now should ‘hit the ground running’ and with any luck will be in bloom very quickly.
Flowers to Plant or Sow now:
Ageratum(1*), Alyssum (1), Althaea (Hollyhock), Ammi majus (Bishops Weed) Aquilegia, Amaranthus(1*), Arctotis, Aster(*), Balsam(1*), Basil (1*), Begonias(*), Bellis perennis (English Daisy) (1), Bells of Ireland(1*), Boronia, Cactus seed(1) Calendula(*), California poppy(*), Calliopsis(*), Canterbury Bells, Carnation, Celosia(1*) Chinese lantern(1), Chrysanthemum, Cineraria (*),Clarkia, Cleome (Spider Flower)(1*) Cockscomb(1*), Coleus(1*), Coneflower (1), Coreopsis (1), Cornflower(*), Cosmos(1*), Cyclamen(1), Dahlia seed(1), Delphinium, Dianthus (Pinks & Sweet William) (1*), Didiscus (Blue Lace Flower) (1),Digitalis (Foxglove), Dimorphotheca (Star of the Veldt)(1), Echinacea (Purple Cone Flower)(1), Feverfew(1), Gaillardia (1*), Gazania(1), Geranium (seed), Gerbera(1), Geum, Globe Amaranthus(1*), Gloxinia, Gypsophila(1*), Herbs (most species/varieties), Heuchera (Coral Bells), Hosta, Hyacinth bean (dolichos)(1*), Impatiens(1*), Kochia, Lantana (1) Linaria (*), Lunaria (1), Marguerite Daisy(1), Marigold(1*), Mirabilis (Four O’Clock)(1), Morning Glory(1*), Myosotis (Forget-me-Not)(1), Nasturtium(1*), Nicotiana (Flowering Tobacco)(1*), Nigella(*), Ornamental Peppers (*),Ornamental Poppies, Pansy(1*), Penstemon(*), Petunia (1*), Phlox (1*), Polyanthus & Primula (sown in containers for winter bloom), Portulaca(1*), Pyrethrum, Rudbeckia (Gloriosa Daisy), Salpiglossis(*), Salvia(*), Saponaria, Schizanthus(*), Shasta Daisy (1), Sparaxis (seed)(1), Statice(1*), Strawflower(1*), Sturts Desert Pea, Sunflower(*), Swan River Daisy (1), Sweet Peas (sunny ‘cool’ corners), Sweet William (1), Thunbergia (1*), Tithonia(1*), Torenia (1*),Verbena (1), Vinca major(1*), Viola(1*), Viscaria(1*), some Wildflower mixes, Zinnia(1*) and more locally.
(1)= ideal time to plant or sow (*) = plant or sow now for Mid-Late Summer and Autumn colour
Vegetables in a wide range can be planted and sown for Summer and Autumn harvests. Summer Vegetables to plant now include all the ‘tender’ subtropical varieties as well as most hardy sorts.
Summer Vegetable Specials:
This is an especially good time to plant or sow the following list of vegetables. They can be sown into containers or punnets for easy management then transplanted into their final positions later. Alternatively, best results happen when these are sown direct into the ground where they are meant to grow.
These all demand full sunshine. Provide a very airy and open position that stays warm and free of cold drafts. Soil should be enriched prior to planting or sowing. It should be warm, moist and freely draining. If soil is heavy consider planting into raised beds or large containers. All vegetables marked with a (1) are especially good to plant or sow now.
Vegetables to Plant and Sow:
Asparagus seed, Artichoke, Beans(1), Beets, Borecole (Kale), Broccoli, Brussel Sprouts(1), Cabbage (Drumhead, Golden Acre and Succession), Cape Gooseberry(1), Capsicum(1), Carrot(1), Cauliflower, Celery, Celeriac, Chicory(1), Chinese Cabbage, Chives, Choko, Cress, Cucumber(1), Eggplant(1), Endive, Kohl Rabi, Kumara and Sweet Potato(1), Leeks, Lettuce, Luffa (1),Marrow (1), Melon(1), Mustard, Okra(1), Parsnip, Peanuts (1), Peas, Pumpkin(1), Radish, Rhubarb seed, Salsify, Silverbeet, Spring Onions, Soybean (1), Squash(1), Swede, Sweet Corn and Maize and Popcorn(1), Taro(1), Tobacco(1), Tomato (1), Turnip, Yams(1), Zucchini (1), and more locally.
(1)= excellent time to plant
Brussel Sprouts need nearly identical culture and requirements to Cabbages. There are early and late maturing varieties. These mature from 90-125 days or longer. In cool and temperate climates they are usually sown from seed in Late Spring and Early Summer. In mild climates they are sown now in Early Summer through early Mid Summer because cool, frosty weather arrives later. Later sowings often fail in cooler climates with a shorter growing season because they do not have enough days remaining in the growing season to mature properly.
Brussel Sprouts can be easily transplanted as seedlings. But caution here. If seedlings are purchased from a nursery, be sure that the seedlings are fresh and growing strongly. If ever young plants are checked in their growth, this will often permanently stunt them; or they will produce an inferior harvest. This often happens while the plants are quite small in their punnets or sometimes in the ground if they ever dry out. Once this happens, their stems often harden off and the plants are dwarfed.
There are advantages to starting Brussel Sprouts from seed at home. Seed can be sown into individual pots or seedling flats for later transplanting. This has the distinct advantage that the tender, young seedlings can be most easily sheltered against predation and better cared-for than when exposed to summery extremes. Plus the Summer garden is often overflowing with vegetables now. But in 6-8 weeks when these seedlings are ready to set out into their permanent growing positions, there will usually be more room available for their growth.
Alternatively, if space is available in the garden, sow the seed direct where the plants are meant to grow. Later thin them out allowing plenty of space between plants. Either way, make sure to devotedly guard the emerging seedlings and young plants from predation by Birds, Caterpillars, Slugs and Snails. They all love their tender young shoots and can easily destroy an entire crop overnight. These young plants must be protected!
Brussel Sprouts demand an airy, open, fully sunny and warm position in well-enriched soil that is plentiful in both Nitrogen and Lime combined with even and regular watering if rainfall ever fails. They are heavy feeders so need regular feeding. Each plant needs plenty of space; at least 20inch/51cm. between plants, but 1m /3.34ft between plants is not excessive for the finest harvests. Crowded plants seldom produce satisfactory crops. Thus Brussel Sprouts are not a good subject for the smaller urban garden. Keep the plants growing strongly and, remember: check regularly to insure that they are not damaged by Birds, Caterpillars, Slugs and Snails.
Secret to Success:
The health and size of the plants greatly contributes to the number and quality of sprouts produced. These sprouts begin to form once the plant has matured. The secret to producing an abundance of sweet and tender sprouts is to time their growth so that they reach early maturity in Mid to Late Autumn once weather cools but at least a couple of weeks before the first frosts.
Before sowing their seed, check how many days it takes for that particular variety to reach maturity. Then go to your calendar and take a calculated guess as to when the first frost is likely in your area. Now count back from that date the number of days it takes for that Brussel Sprout variety to reach maturity plus two or three extra weeks to give the plants a little extra growing time. This gives you the optimum date for sowing.
Growth slows considerably once cool and frost weather arrives. So the plants need as much time as possible to reach maximum size for maximum harvest. Once sprouts begin to form, allow the sprouts to mature to at least the size of a small egg before harvesting. The best flavour occurs when the developing young sprouts are exposed to several good frosts prior to harvest. So this takes a bit of planning and second-guessing to time their maturity at just the right moment for an ideal harvest.
Tropical and Subtropical Plants:
If the season is reliably warm and wet enough or irrigation is available this is the easiest and most successful time to plant, shift or transplant most tender (sub) tropical species during these warm months.
In mild and sheltered gardens, tropical and subtropical shrubs, trees, and vines of all sorts come into active growth. Many burst into flower once outdoor temperatures finally become consistently (sub) tropical. These exotic plants beckon many Gardeners when visiting their local garden centre. While they look enticing, think before you buy.
To get the most out of them, or in order to keep them alive for very long at all, remember to make the effort to recreate a microclimate that suits them best. Most of these plants originate in near equatorial regions or areas sheltered from chilling extremes. Basically, for many species (sub) tropical Winter is often dry, mild and a very sunny season. Tropical Summer is warm to hot, often cloudy, humid to steamy and frequently punctuated with downpours of warm rain followed by intense bursts of sunshine.
Low temperatures in a tropical climate average at or above 18C/64F. Subtropical low temperatures hover around 13C/55.4F or warmer. New Zealand hardly gets to these levels for long. So enjoy the opportunity while it lasts.
In New Zealand these temperature extremes are rarely sustained outside the conservatory or glasshouse. While there are a few subtropical corners, by and large New Zealand’s climate is cool to mild temperate/maritime. But in Summer we do often get this brief window of subtropical opportunity.
Whenever temperatures remain warm enough, most (sub) tropical species will benefit from frequent (sometimes nearly daily) watering, misting and/or spraying over foliage in order to maintain the damp conditions and high humidity most tropical species demand. This is especially important whenever weather becomes dry and windy or scorching hot.
Gardeners often find it easier to maintain such conditions in a special tropical glasshouse, shade house or beneath the high, protective canopy of trees.
The big problem arises when a rouge cold front or sudden burst of hail and icy rain suddenly shatters the illusion and chills those tender subtropical to their roots. Avoid watering on cloudy, cool days or whenever there is any hint of chill in the air. Often morning watering and feeding wins the day because the plants have the opportunity to draw up mineral salts and dry off before evening temperatures fall.
Planting (sub) tropicals within a generous sized square of Weedmat that is then covered with a light blanket of compost or fine bark mulch will raise soil temperatures by several degrees. This can often be the difference between success and failure.
Enriched, freely draining soils are usually the best for most varieties. Avoid heavy damp land because soil temperatures are bound to plummet and their roots soon will be wet and chilled. This encourages root rot and plant collapse. Always shelter them against all chilling drafts and winds.
When shifting or (trans) planting, be sure to firmly stake anything that might whip about in summer storms and winds. This is especially important with taller species like Palms. But even smaller varieties can rock about in the wind. It only takes a single storm to do the damage. While little if any damage may be evident at ground level, this constant rocking often rips away emerging tender roots plus creates an air pocket around the root ball. Once this happens, the roots begin to dry out or rot and slowly or perhaps quite suddenly the plant collapses for “no apparent reason”.
Established sub tropical and most Mediterranean plant species can be pruned or trimmed to shape. Also this becomes an excellent time to remove and thin diseased, old or weak growth.
Old, sickly and tired (sub) tropical plants that are not performing well can sometimes be revived now. Now that the Moon tide and warm sunshine are strongly pulling sap upward, be brave and cut back severely to healthy and strong stems or remove all but the healthiest branches and canes. This will often encourage healthy new growth that will rapidly develop in the summery heat.
Then give them generous watering followed immediately with a liquid feeding and mulch. Within weeks they may bounce back with abundant new growth. Bougainvillea, Hibiscus and Oleander are classic examples of subtropical plants that can rise from their old ashes like the proverbial Phoenix.
If this severe cut-back results in the ultimate death of an older sickly plant, remain philosophical that you did all you could and dig it out. Now is an excellent time to replace it with something healthy and new.
House plants are mostly (sub) tropical or rainforest plants that are sensible enough to stay inside. Now is when they respond well to increased water and feeding. This is when they produce most of their best and healthiest new growth for the entire year.
Cacti and Succulent species are another class of houseplants. In milder climates many species thrive outdoors. These mostly originate from arid zones. In their natural habitat Spring is often flowering time followed by new growth that matures in Summer. In their natural environment Winter is often cold and dry. Usually there will be a rain event in Early Spring; flowering quickly follows. This is followed later by the occasional thunderstorm in Summer when the plant’s new growth matures. The plants have adapted to absorb all the moisture they can while it is available. Thus Cacti and succulents are best lightly watered and liquid fed just as the weather warms and sunlight increases; then allow them to dry out before liquid feeding and watering again. Always maintain them in very bright, preferably full sun position.
For those who wish to see their Cacti flower, many flower much better if subjected to a period of dry, sunny but very cool conditions through the wintry months. This sets their buds for Spring flowering. Without this cool and dry wintry period, many will not flower well. There are some lovely tropical exceptions to this rule.
Being of arid or tropical origin, most houseplants can also be placed outdoors in dappled sunlight or partial shade (preferably morning sunshine) while the weather stays warm to stimulate maximum growth. Watch that Cacti and succulents are not overly exposed to prolonged wet conditions outdoors. Often placing them on the sunniest side of a building under the protective eaves will work very well. Always guard all houseplants against chilling drafts!
When placing indoor plants outdoors, guard against sun scald! Just like us, while living indoors they will not have produced the protective pigmentation they need to shield themselves from harsh sunshine. Place them first in a very sheltered and warm position in dappled or light shade out of all chilling or drying winds and allow them to acclimatise to their Summer outdoor environment. Be especially careful to feed and water them regularly only on sunny warm days.
Also take the precaution of baiting the area or trapping all Slugs and Snails prior to introducing often succulent and tender indoor plants to a potentially hostile environment. They can be ruined literally overnight by a few Slugs and Snails!
Once healthy new growth commences outdoors they can be moved into a little stronger sunlight. Morning sunshine is ideal. Many flowering subtropicals and most Cacti and succulents will thrive in full sunshine if they are acclimatized to it slowly.
The exceptions for a Summer holiday’ outdoors are the truly delicate species, often native plants originating in shaded rain-forest floor environments that thrive in a glasshouse climate, like the Sinningia species including African Violet, Gloxinia, and many Gesneria species with delicate, often hairy and soft leaves. The same applies to some of the more temperamental tropical Orchids. These are best maintained in a very, bright and warm interior room, conservatory, shaded glasshouse or sunroom environment. These plants respond best to constant moderate to warm conditions and often resent any significant change to their environment. Usually bright, humid, moist and constantly warm environments best suit their needs. Cymbidium Orchids and hardy species like many of the Dendrobiums thrive in sheltered and fairly bright or sunny outdoor environments.
Repot House Plants and Tropical species now where necessary. Remove all dead or dried up roots with care not to damage the healthy root system. Also remove any old and tattered leaves. As a general rule it is best to pot them up only one or two sizes and let them fill their new container fully with healthy roots before moving them on into anything larger. Sometimes when an indoor plant is over-potted, the excessive soil has the potential of becoming soggy and wet. If there comes even a single unusually cool night while the plant is in this condition, the surrounding wet soil can chill the tender plant in a similar way that we can chill if forced to remain in wet clothing during a chilly evening. The result is often chilling root shock that may result in the development of root rot and possibly even sudden plant collapse.
Fruit Trees; Fruiting Brambles, Canes; Shrub Fruits and Fruiting Vines:
All of these fruiting species should be kept well watered and also well fed. If Summer drought and heat increase and radiant sunlight becomes scorching, developing fruits can be so adversely effected that they drop prematurely or just dry up. This is a natural reaction when a fruiting species is confronted with environmental stress. This can happen very quickly; almost overnight.
Citrus often drop young fruit if soil becomes too dry. This frequently happens when they are grown in pots. Sometimes young fruits may not drop, but if water remains insufficient, their expanding fruit skins can quietly harden. Hardened skins cannot expand as they should. So once irrigation or rains return later in the season, the rising sap causes fruit splitting or immature fruit are sometimes literally popped off the tree.
Be warned that just a few days of neglect during dry and hot weather can ruin months of determined effort and hard work. Of greatest importance is keeping a constant flow of moisture supplied to the developing fruits.
After a good soaking add more organic mulch in generous quantities from just off the trunk right out to the drip-line. Compost is by far the best mulch. This will feed as it conserves valuable ground moisture. Mulch is the greatest natural insurance against the adverse affects of summery extremes.
Every few weeks scatter a little extra dry fertilizer over the compost mulch and water it in lightly. Alternatively drench with a liquid plant food. The fertilizer absorbs first into the compost where it is soaked in like water into a sponge. Then with every additional watering or rainfall, small amounts of minerals are drawn into the roots. This will continue to replenish the foliage and enhance enlargement of the young fruits.
Grape and Kiwi Fruit vines should have excessive extra growth removed to insure a better harvest. Rampant growth on Passion Fruit vines can also be reduced at the tip of each runner to produce more lateral side shoots with additional fruits.
Standard practice on established vines is to remove all new growth on weak canes producing no fruits or fruiting clusters. On strong fruiting canes, remove all excessive growth back to one or three leaves past the developing fruit. These few extra leaves continue to generate energy for the developing fruit and also shade it from sun scalding.
Fruits trees, Canes and Bramble Fruits can also have excess new growth pinched or pruned back now. This must be done with some care so as not to damage or dislodge developing fruits.
Deciduous Fruit Trees can be pruned to eliminate all diseased, weak or non-fruit bearing growth. Also it is possible to eliminate up to ½ or more of this year’s new growth. Tip pruning branches laden with fruit is also of benefit. This will push more energy into the developing fruits and eventually into creating larger and stronger clusters of fruiting buds all along the branches of the pruned new growth.
Citrus and Evergreen Fruit Trees can have excessive growth thinned. Eliminate all diseased, non-bearing and weak growth. New growth can be tip pruned to strengthen fruit bearing branches. Watch for signs of borer insects while pruning. A squirt of CRC or WD40 into each borer hole will usually kill them. Heavily infested branches can be removed now to encourage healthy new growth.
Brambles and Canes:
Allow the new canes to extend to nearly their full length and then tip prune lightly so that what remains becomes hardened-off, healthy and stocky. This will encourage more flowering buds along the canes that will increase harvests. Once an older cane’s fruits are harvested, the cane can be either cut off entirely or in ever bearing varieties cut back lightly and more flowers often appear for an Autumn harvest.
Conifers, Hedges, Shrubs, Topiaries, Trees and Vines are clipped, pruned and shaped now. Pruning at this time encourages bushy and tight new growth; eliminates diseased and weak growth plus corrects and improves their shape. If the season appears droughty and further dry weather is predicted ahead, pruning back now will somewhat protect the plants against dry weather. The less top-growth a plant has to support, the easier it is able to maintain itself if water becomes scarce. Just be cautious to not remove all green growth on branches if the weather is very droughty. This can result in die-back unless artificial watering can encourage regrowth.
Winter and Spring-Flowering Shrubs:
New season growth is nearing its full length and beginning to mature. By next month many Autumn and Winter-flowering species will begin to set buds for their next flowering. Some are doing this already. This is especially true of Camellia (especially Sasanqua varieties), Daphne, and Luculia, deciduous Magnolias, Pieris japonica, Rhododendrons plus many others that bloom at the same seasonal time.
Now is nearing the final opportunity to cut them back and/or correct or improve their shape. Certainly they could be cut back later and this will not hurt the shrub. But later pruning will eliminate at least a portion of their next flowering.
Continue to water generously whenever the weather is bright, sunny and warm. Because the Moon is waxing this week, daytime watering (especially morning into afternoon) will be pulled strongly upward into the plant. Evening watering will be pulled more strongly into the roots and will refresh a dry garden.
To get maximum results, it is also very important to fertilize most everything that is in active growth now. Frequent but light applications work best, especially foliar and liquid feedings. Liquid feeding immediately after a light watering is an ideal approach. Liquid feeding during the morning hours this week will be quickly drawn upward in to the plant with quick results. Avoid any heavy feeding, especially chemical granular feeding at this time, especially during dry and hot conditions. Whenever possible do not apply any type of fertilizer during the heat of midday sunshine.
Never apply chemical-based fertilizers to dry ground. Once this intense granular feeding is transformed into a briny liquid through watering or rainfall, the mineral salts dissolved in the water remain too intensely salty. When this salty water is absorbed by the dry plant, roots and especially tender young tissue can be ‘burnt’. The salts literally absorb the remaining water from the plant tissue. This can easily damage young foliage or early developing flower buds. With fruiting species, young fruit may drop prematurely.
A single concentrated application of fertilizer over dry ground can quickly shock the plant so severely that it will suddenly collapse and die!
Always water first. Allow this to soak in for at least an hour or more. Then apply fertiliser to already moistened soil or in a dilute liquid form. Too little fertiliser can do almost no damage. Too much can damage a lot! The same applies to lawns.
Applying chemical granular fertilisers over the top of generous organic mulch like mature compost or well-aged manure is an excellent way to maintain high and safe soil fertility. Plus it is usually possible to lightly spread these fertilizers whenever it is convenient. This is because the fertilizer is not coming in direct contact with the plant’s roots but a buffering layer of compost mulch. Once the chemical fertilisers have dissolved with a generous watering, they are next absorbed into the spongy mulch where they can slowly seep into the soil and roots beneath them in a much more controlled and slower way. This greatly reduces the possibility of chemical burn and shock and maximizes growth potential.
The key is to plan ahead and get started now while the weather is near perfect. So make the most of this golden opportunity as this celebrational time happens only for a rather short time each year!
Happy Gardening! Happy Holidays are ahead! Merry Christmas and Blessings to you all!