This Second Week in the Late Summer Garden:
This Full Waxing Moon Cycle, Full Moon and Waning Moon Cycle all happen this week. This month’s Full Moon (11 Feb.) is one of the classic earliest ‘Harvest’ Moons when evening light traditionally helped Farmers and Gardeners to harvest while the weather and light remain on their side. The moment of greatest lunar illumination occurs Sunday 2 PM (NZDT) so the evening rising Moon should be beautiful and golden as it rises low in the north eastern sky. An unspectacular Penumbral eclipse occurs at the time of Full Moon but is only faintly visible on the other side of the world. This is a busy week for harvesting as well as planting.
This Full ‘Harvest’ Moon represents the lunar midpoint of Late Summer. These are technically the last calendar weeks of Summer. The next New Moon 27 Feb. is potentially most unusual and traditionally ushers in the earliest hints of Autumn. But most likely summery weather should linger well into March. The astronomical true arrival of Autumn comes with the Autumnal Equinox (20 March). With any luck autumn will be quite long-lasting this year. See week four for more information about the times ahead.
Full Moon is a time of highest water retention. This usually brings ideal conditions to harvest for immediate use. This means crisp Lettuce and Cucumbers, flavourful Beans that snap; juicy and succulent fruits, or high quality vegetables meant for immediate consumption as well as bottling; sparkling juices, and wine; jams, jellies and preserves.
Many things reach maturity, peak ripeness or begin to seed at this time. Medicinal plants and herbs used for oils, saps, tonics and juices are cut and prepared now. So are flowers for floral arrangements and the flower markets. The days around this Full Moon and the next are ideally suited for this.
This months’ Full Moon placement suggests that highest natural water retention should extend from Friday 10 Feb. to Monday 13 Feb. This Full Moon occurs in sidereal Leo; classically this favours dry, warm weather. So to get the greatest benefit from ‘juicy’ crops, it might be wise to anticipate irrigating crops in the days leading up to harvesting at the Full Moon. If it is impossible to harvest crops at exactly the ‘right’ time, harvests can be gathered a few days earlier or a little later and should still prove to have a high juice and water content.
This would be a brilliant time to irrigate and water crops in readiness for harvest. Watering almost any time during the day and especially later in the afternoon will have the greatest benefit.
Dry Harvests and Fields of Grain:
The Waning Moon Cycle commences 12 Feb. and continues through most of the remainder of the month to the New Moon 27 Feb. The Moon shifts into the classic harvest sign of (sidereal) Virgo (13 Feb.). Water retention begins to diminish a little more every day through the end of the month. This starts an excellent time to harvest fields of grain and hay; gather seeds, plus harvest flowers, herbs, fruits and vegetables for drying, long-term storage and preserving for Late Autumn and Winter use.
Herbs, flowers, fruits and vegetables meant for drying and/or (long-term) storage are best harvested just as they are reaching maturity. They should be completely dry and contain low water content. So later in the afternoon following a dry, hot and sunny day is often best.
As the Waning Moon Cycle picks up momentum, this type of ‘dry’ harvesting continues through the rest of the month and into next month leading up to the New Moon (Wed. 9 March). That is the time when celestial extremes result in the lowest water retention.
The Seasonal Transition is Here!
Late Summer days are long and warm. Night time temperatures often average at near their highest for the entire year in climates with a long summer. Plus some of the highest day and night time air and ground temperatures this year have occurred in Late Summer, too. This is because the radiant energy of the Sun has finally warmed the atmosphere and especially the land to its highest point.
But quite subtly, every day is losing a couple of minutes in length as the Earth’s axis slowly begins to tilt back away from its peak swing at the Summer Solstice already two months ago. So in cooler climates with shorter seasons, the temperatures begin to decline more noticeably especially by the end of the month.
The shortening day length may not seem very apparent at first, but will be noticeable as the month ends. Already Nature can sense the changes. Dormant flower buds are beginning to develop and swell on many cool season flowering shrubs, trees and vines. Most obvious are species like: Azaleas, Camellia (especially Sasanqua varieties), Chimonanthus, Cornus (Dogwood), Daphne, Forsythia, Luculia, Osmanthus, Pieris, Rhododendron, Viburnum, Witch Hazel and other species; some Brambles and Canes plus many fruit trees and vines like Wisteria.
This is a good time to give them an extra booster feeding either with a dry granular fertilizer, liquid feeding and/or compost or well rotted mulching. Extra watering during prolonged dry spells will enhance early bud development.
Start preparing new lawn sites for later planting. Cultivate deeply, remove weeds, and rake in lawn food. When working with clay or heavy loam dust the ground liberally with Gypsum and water this in lightly. Gypsum is an excellent additive to break up heavy soil. In very dry seasons, cultivation is much easier if the intended lawn area can be irrigated rather deeply prior to attempting any cultivation.
To reduce future weed problems in new lawns, first mow the area very short with a catcher attached to eliminate as much of the existing weed as possible. Then cultivate roughly and soak the site, let weed seeds germinate then cultivate them down on a dry, hot and preferably windy day when drying conditions are high. The cultivated weeds can be left to shrivel back into the ground like a ‘green manure’. In especially weedy ground, repeat this cultivation-watering-cultivation cycle several times which will nearly ‘sterilise’ the land from emerging weeds. Then sow the lawn seed which will emerge in nearly weed-free land. Lawn seed can be sown now if land can be watered daily or wherever rainfall in generous and regular, otherwise wait to sow until the arrival of the cooler and damper days of Autumn.
Lawn seed sown now will germinate rapidly, but there is no advantage to this unless the new lawn can be kept constantly moist. This is often not a problem in smaller (sub) urban properties where irrigation is simple, but might prove impossible for larger areas. In many climates early to mid Autumn sees the return of cooler, damper conditions and much more regular rainfall. Such conditions are ideal for sowing larger areas. The residual summer-warmed soil will improve quick germination while the cooler weather ahead will help maintain enough ground moisture to insure better sustained grass growth with little effort.
House Plants and (Sub) Tropicals:
Feed and water house plants and all (sub) tropical species regularly so they will continue in full growth; many will be flowering and bearing fruit. Best results happen when they are regularly fed and watered generously while conditions remain sunny and warm. Avoid excessive watering and feeding if ever weather conditions become both cloudy and also cold. An isolated cold snap can chill wet soil and result in fungal infections and rot if the plants remain very wet. Tropical plant cuttings often strike quickly now in a peat/sand mix if kept bright (not hotly sunny), humid, moist and consistently warm.
Those with a love affair for Tropical plant species and many Houseplants can take cuttings quite easily now while the weather remains bright and warn. Easiest to strike include: Acalypha (Copper Leaf), Bougainvillea, Cacti, Coleus, Epiphyllum, Gardenia, Impatiens, Hibiscus, Impatiens, Poinsettia, Saintpaulia (African Violet), Stephanotis, most Succulents, Zebrina and a variety of others. Often these start easily in a peat/sand mix placed in a pot which is surrounded by a plastic bag lightly tied over its top or in the glasshouse often with bottom heat.
There is still time to repot most Houseplants plus the Tropical species mentioned above as well as Bromeliads, Citrus, Palms, Yucca and any more. But hurry with this so that they can develop a full root system before the return of colder weather. Usually when transplanting this late in the season, it is best to pot-on by only one size upwards, otherwise too much open soil might remain unfilled with roots over the Winter, which can result in root chilling if ever soil becomes cold and wet.
A Big Planting and Sowing Week!
This week’s Full Waxing Moon Cycle, Full Moon and Waning Moon Cycle should allow planting of almost anything. Continue planting seedlings for Autumn gardens and onward. Sow seed of Winter hardy Annuals in cool and mild climate zones; plus for the seasons beyond that.
In subtropical districts start sowing for Late Autumn, Winter and Spring displays. Included here are all hardy flowers and anything with a tap root or that needs a prolonged period of root development before they reach maturation.
Plant a “Love” garden in honour of Saint Valentine and those you love. Love flower gardens are very special and can include anything that is endeared or brings back a special loving memory. There might also be room for memorabilia such as seating, sculpture and statues or whatever else fondly reminds you of this person.
Traditionally in the Language of Flowers there are many special ‘Love’ flowers and plants that are symbolic of love and sentiment.
Favourite Love Flowers include:
Alyssum, Carnations (especially pink shades), Chrysanthemum, Dianthus (the World’s ‘favourite’ Love flower), Forget-Me-Not, Honeysuckle, Hyacinths (blue & white), Jasmine, Jonquils, Lilac (especially purple), Lily-of-the-Valley, Orange trees, Pansy, Viola and Heartsease, Periwinkle (blue), Roses (pink & red), Ranunculus, Salvia & Sages, Snowflake (Leucojum), dwarf Sunflowers, Red Tulip, Violets, Wisteria, most white, pink, cherry & orange flowers.
Remember that a truly personal Love Garden should include whatever artefacts, flowers and plants that you love. Include everything that brings fond and loving memories to you of special people & places in your life.
Easiest (mostly Annuals) to Plant or Sow now include:
Alyssum, Calendula, Chamomile, Clarkia species and Godetia, Collinsia (Chinese Houses), Cornflower, Gilia (Bird’s Eyes), hardy herbs, Linaria, Lobelia, Nemesia, Nigella, Poppies(Iceland, Oriental, Shirley and more), Scabiosa (Pin Cushion), Silene species, Snapdragon, Stock, Virginia Stock, Wildflower mixes, decorative Winter Kale and much more. Some of these may flower this Autumn ad all will bloom in Spring provided that there is protection from severe frosts and freezing.
Biennials and Perennials:
Aquilegia, Canterbury Bells, Delphinium, Forget-Me-Not (several species), Lunaria (Honesty), Oriental Poppies and Sweet William along with a chorus of Perennials (often treated as Annuals) such as: Carnation and Dianthus species, Hollyhock, Lupin, Pansy, Polyanthus, California Poppy, Primula, Wallflower, etc. all can go in now.
In cool and temperate climates, plant and sow Winter-hardy vegetables. If there is access to a heated glasshouse for frost protection, continue to plants and sow warm weather crops for the next few weeks.
In mild and (sub) tropical regions continue planting tender, warm season vegetable seedlings for a little longer. These Gardeners can also start cool season vegetables listed below. They can be sown direct into the growing position in the garden. Alternatively, sow into seedling flats, pots and punnets in a cool and partly shaded corner and let them grow on there. Once they sprout, move into more sunshine to keep them stocky Later once more garden space becomes available and the weather cools, transplant these advanced container plants into their final growing position.
The Waning Moon Cycle favours planting and sowing those vegetables that need to develop an extensive root system before harvest and includes all root crops. But these species are also most easily started all week as the Full Waxing Moon Cycle peaks with highest water retention at the Full Moon. Weather permitting and with the benefit of artificial irrigation root crops and anything needing a period of root development can be planted or sown all week.
Vegetables to Plant or Sow:
Easiest Vegetables to start now include: Dwarf Beans (climbers only in very warm locations), Beets, Broccoli, Brussel Sprouts, Winter Cabbages, Carrot, Cauliflower, Celery, Chicory (warm positions only), Cress, Endive, hardy Herbs, Kale, Kohlrabi, Leeks, Lettuce, Onions (Bunching/Spring), Marrow, Mustard, Peas, Rhubarb, Silver Beet, Spinach (cooler spots), Swedes, Turnips and more locally.
This is an especially good time to sow seed of Brassica Family plants for late (cool) season harvests.
Watch Development of Young Plants!
The same lunar and seasonal conditions that should produce successful harvests also favour the rapid development of young plantings emerging in the Late Summer/Early Autumn flower and vegetable gardens.
These are critical days for their success or failure. Pay close attention daily to all sown seed and emerging seedlings during this transitional time. Subtle environment changes can produce profound impacts upon such vulnerable emerging life.
This can result in sudden stress that leads to predation. With proper care, they will rocket away and prove to be highly successful crops and flowering displays in the Autumn garden and onward.
Tuberous Begonias are making a great show at the moment. Now is the time to buy container-grown established plants and special hybrid colours from the nurseries and shops. Many amazing hybrids result when started from seed and professional nursery people know best how to do this. What they have produced is on sale now!
Surprisingly, these container plants are not very expensive and transplant easily into the garden or decorative containers.
There are beautiful pendulous varieties that produce cascades of pretty flowers suitable for baskets and window boxes; dramatic upright hybrids with delicate ruffled blooms; Camellia and Rose-like forms and some with immense blooms in a wide range of almost edible colours. The On Top series produce masses of flowers above the foliage. They are the most sun-tolerant.
Most Tuberous Begonias prefer bright morning sunshine or some filtered shading during the hottest part of the day. They grow in a variety of soils that drain well but retain some moisture. Most potting mixes work well. They respond to regular liquid feeding and watering if rainfall fails but are remarkably hardy for something that produces such exotic blooms.
These plants should continue to flower well into the Mid or Late Autumn before they begin to die back. Let their top growth wither away until it separates naturally from the tuber. After that the tuber goes dormant until Early Spring.
If the tubers are in a garden bed, carefully dig them up and label them for colour and variety. When necessary, the tuber with stem attached can be dug up and carefully shifted to a flat or box where it is left until the stem falls away naturally. Tubers grown in containers could remain in their pots. These can be stored just the same as bare tubers. Or carefully remove and label them. These tubers can be successfully stored in dry potting mix, peat, and sand or sphagnum moss or loose in boxes or flats. Place them in an airy, cool but frost-free, darkish, dry spot protected from hungry vermin.
The well-organized Gardener often makes up a fresh batch of dry potting mix enriched with a little slow release fertilizer. Then each tuber, complete with its label, is planted into a small container and all of them are stored in flats for the Winter. This way they are already to produce their pretty pink sprouts at their earliest opportunity with the arrival of Spring. Once they do, the flats are brought out to a bright and warm bench; given a light watering and the emerging Tuberous Begonias are ready to resume growth in their containers.
New Tuberous Begonia plants can be started now from leaf and stem cuttings, even this late in the season. But to be successful you will need a bright, draft-free and warm environment. A glasshouse (possibly with a heated bench) would be the ideal. Choose healthy and strong plants and cut off the leaves and/or stems to be struck. Let them dry out for about an hour so there is no bleeding of sap. Then (optionally) plunge them into hormone gel or powder.
Start them in pre-moistened peat/sand in the humid and warm glasshouse. Stem cuttings are much easier and faster than leaves. But only one plant is produced where with leaves several small plants might develop.
For stem cuttings remove all but the top leaf and leave the growing tip. Make a dibble hole and drop (don’t push) the cutting into place. Then back fill around the stem.
For leaves, make a cut across and right through several large leaf veins. Then smear the back of each leaf, especially over the cuts with hormone gel. Press the leaf, stem end down, into the growing medium so that it rests flat against the soil. Pin it down with a U-shaped wire if necessary.
Alternatively, almost any part of the leaf can potentially produce a new plant provided it has a strong vein attached that is anchored into the soil. These leaf parts are treated just like a stem cutting: hormone, rested (not poked) into the growing medium and stood upright.
Both leaves and/or stems can be started in individual pots or flats. These could make small tubers this season. Usually, the foliage will fade away with the ebbing season. Just set the flats or pots aside, possibly under the bench where the soil can stay barely moist. With any luck and a little skill, tiny pink shoots will emerge in the Spring and first flowers should appear next Summer.
This Third Week in the Late Summer Garden:
The Waning Moon Cycle dominates the week and deepens with the Last Quarter Moon 19 February. The Waning Gibbous Moon moves conjunct to Jupiter in the northern mid-heaven during the early morning hours of 16 Feb. Venus reaches its brightest in the western sky starting at sunset with fainter Mar just above. This week is ideal for planting and sowing all root crop vegetables as lunar conditions favour anything needing a period of sustained root development to strengthen the plant before it starts its major period of growth and flower.
This Lunar cycle also can be a time of fading and withering of crops and flowers that matured earlier in the season, while others rise to take their place. Many plants of all sorts set seed now and it is an excellent time to gather matured seed for immediate reseeding or long term storage. To keep flowers and crops producing longer, cut or trim them back, dead-head spent flowers and regularly remove mature vegetables.
A Time of General Gardening:
This is an ideal time to: prune to reduce growth; mow to keep lawns short for longer (just don’t cut them too short or they will burn); harvest, gather and store fruits, grains and seed, plus vegetable crops for immediate use (early in the week) and long term storage (mid-week onward); cut firewood and posts; make and spread compost, dry fertilizers, soil and soil additives; cultivate; spray to eliminate disease, pests and unwanted vegetation; liquid feed and water container-grown and established ground plantings. Liquid fertilize and water in the morning hours through to mid afternoon to promote top growth, flowering and fruiting; feed and water late afternoon and early evening or even later to refresh a dry garden and promote deeper and stronger root development. Attempt to allow foliage to dry before nightfall if possible to avoid outbreaks of fungal diseases like botrytis and powdery mildew.
With the arrival of the Last Quarter Moon 19 February and especially with the ‘Dark of the Moon’ (starts 24 Feb.) leading up to the New Moon 27 Feb. gravitational and celestial extremes gradually intensify which reach a peak around the New Moon. This is the best time to lay brick work, cobble and paving stones and foundations; create and dig ponds, place rock work, lay vinyl liners and fills; spread gravel, sand and wood chip; set fence posts or work with the land in almost any capacity as gravitational forces tends to anchor things to the ground now.
See more discussions on ‘General Gardening’ topics later in this week’s discussion.
Potentially a Good Planting Time:
Weather permitting; this is a relatively good planting and seeding time. Most important will be the planting or sowing of root crop vegetables and anything needing a sustained period of root development before top growth advances: many annuals, most biennials and perennials; groundcovers, shrubs, trees and vines (especially subtropical varieties). Many beautiful flowers can be sown from seed now. Autumn and flowering bulbs, corms, roots and tubers can be planted. Spring flowering bulbs can also be planted in cooler climates or wherever garden beds will remain dry.
Flowers to Plant and Sow:
If weather is benevolent and/or artificial irrigation is available, it is possible to plant and sow quite a variety of container-grown plants, advanced seedlings and sow a wide variety of seed provided it can be properly cared for. Container-grown flowers may already be in bloom at the time of planting and advanced seedlings may be, too, or will be soon after transplanting. Avoid attempting to plant or transplant anything small and tender at this time as celestial forces are too extreme; possibly resulting in seedling collapse and failure. Much can be sown that will begin to flower in the Autumn & Winter gardens or next Spring and Summer.
Flowers to Plant or Sow:
Alyssum, Bellis perennis (English Daisy), Calceolaria, Calendula, Candytuft, Carnation, Celosia, Cineraria, Cleome, Cornflower, Cosmos, Dianthus, Forget-Me-Not (Mysotis), Gypsophila, Helichrysum, Linaria, Marigold (especially French and Petite), Mignonette, Nasturtium, Nemesia, Nigella, Pansy, Poppies, Primula, Schizanthus, Snapdragon, Sunflowers, Viola, Virginia Stock, Wildflower seed mixes (wherever climate will remain cooler and moist), Zinnia & much more in local microclimates.
Gardeners in cool to mild climate zones can start sowing seed of winter-hardy Annuals for (Late) Winter and Spring displays. This includes hardy flowers like: Calendula, Cornflower, and Nemesia (light frosts only), Nigella, Snapdragon, Stock, Virginia Stock, and decorative Winter Kale.
Even Gardeners in subtropical zones might chance getting a head start with these Winter and Spring flowering favourites. Their seed is best sown into containers or trays that are kept in a morning Sun position and/or receive at least some cooling drafts and very good air circulation. Watch carefully for fungal attack or insect predation and immediately take steps to protect them.
Biennials & Perennials to Sow:
Anchusa, Angelica, Campanulas (Canterbury Bells), Carnation, Delphinium, Dianthus, Echium, Digitalis (Fox Glove), Hesperis, Hollyhock, Lunaria (Honesty), Lupin, Pansy, Polyanthus, Poppy, Primula, Shasta Daisy, Silene, Sweet William, Wallflower, etc. all can go in now. If well looked after, these seeds or seedlings started now will be the pride of your Spring and Summer garden and some may even put on an early display this Autumn.
All root crops grown from bulbs, seed or tubers, etc. are especially favoured for planting during the Waning Moon cycle and can be started up until the New Moon.
At this time of the month with the Waning Moon causing celestial extremes only transplant hardy advanced seedlings from containers so there is minimal transplanting shock and monitor their progress daily. Tender, young seedlings may well collapse. A single extreme afternoon can destroy them. Planting dormant bulbs, tubers, roots and seed will be much easier.
Vegetables to Plant or Sow Now:
Beetroot, Carrot, Chicory (for Witloof root), Garlic, Horseradish (root cuttings and seed), Kohlrabi, Leeks, Parsnip, Potato (especially in warm climates), Radish, Salsify, Shallots, Spring Onions, Swedes, Turnips and more in local microclimates.
Dwarf Beans, Borecole, Broccoli, Brussel Sprouts, Cabbages, Cauliflower; most Chinese Green-Leafy Vegetables; Endive, Herbs (wide selection), Kale, Lettuce, Mustard, Parsley, Peas, Rhubarb, Spinach and much more.
Starting leafy crops now, especially from seed, gives a little extra time for seed to germinate and develop deeper roots before the advent of the New Moon (27 Feb.) will start to encourage leafy top growth. Be sure to water possibly every day to maintain even moisture in the soil. Celestial extremes can dry out soil very quickly under hot summer sun, especially if the day becomes windy. Germinating seed can wither within hours under those conditions.
This is an ideal week to plant all dormant bulbs, corms, roots, rhizomes, and tubers. Strong celestial forces will stimulate them to begin active growth provided the surrounding soil remains moist. Prior to planting it is always advisable to deeply dig and fertilize the soil. Heavy soils that drain poorly should have round river gravel, sand, shell or a similar additive dug in to improve the drainage; otherwise bulbs may rot once wet weather returns later in the season. Bulbs, corms, etc. can be planted successfully throughout the month but planting with the Waning Moon gives them a slight advantage.
Flowering Bulbs, Corms, Roots and Tubers to Plant Now Include:
Amaryllis belladonna (Naked Lady), Anemone, Babiana, Brodiaea, Brunsvigia, Calochortus (Mariposa Tulip), Camassia, Chionodoxa (Glory of the Snow), Colchicum (Autumn Crocus), Crocus, Daffodil, Dipidax, Eranthus (Winter Aconite), Erythronium (Trout Lily), Eucharis Lily (warm positions), Freesia, Galanthus (Snow Drop), Hyacinth, Hypoxis (Star Grass), Iris, Ixia, Jonquil, Lachenalia (Soldier Boys), Leucojum (Snow Flake), Lycoris (Spider Lily), Moraea, Muscari (Grape Hyacinth), Narcissus, Nerine (Spider Lily), Notholirion, Ornithogalum, Scilla (Wood Hyacinth), Sparaxis, Sternbergia (Yellow Autumn Crocus/Daffodil), Tritonia, Tulip, Velthemia, Watsonia and more in local microclimates.
Amaryllis belladonna, the beautiful ‘Naked’ Lady’ Amaryllis is still completely dormant. This is the best time to dig their bulbs and transplant them to increase their numbers. They look best when grown in sizable clumps. Choose a sunny and well drained position. Plant the bulbs so their neck just protrudes above the ground. In colder climates that experience some ground freezing or heavy frosts, plant them a little deeper below ground level.
Cyclamen can be planted, repotted and started from seed. This is a very good time to start Cyclamen to get the most out of them during the cool season ahead. Also Lilies that have become dormant can be dug, transplanted or repotted. Lily seed can also be started now quite successfully. These will take a year or two before they produce their first blooms. If their foliage has yet to die away be patient, the very best times for Lily planting lie ahead starting with the next Waning Moon cycle at the end of this month and also similar cycles in Autumn. Lilies do best in sunny positions and enriched but freely draining soils. The secret is to plant them so their base stays in cool shade with their heads in the sunshine. Often planting in the midst or shady side of low shrubbery works well. Others prefer to plant them in large containers that can be shifted to the best spot for growth and flowering, and then moved away once flowering finishes, letting the bulbs mature and then dry out properly.
Dormant bulbs and corms of all sorts can be planted or shifted now. Give them one good soaking at the time of planting and them leave them alone. If the season remains droughty, provide another deep and generous soaking each week once new shoots emerge. Most bulbs need little extra attention.
A Turning Point:
The Waning Moon and especially ‘Dark of the Moon’ is a natural time of increasing celestial extremes. Combine this with the subtly reducing day length and the potential for Late Summer drought and heat stress and the result is often a time when mature plantings begin to fade and wither. Fields of grain ripen; so do fruits and vegetables while many flowers begin to show their age; fade and set seed; foliage begins to wilt faster in the drying heat than the Gardeners efforts can sustain. If conditions remain moist, then Nature rapidly starts to build new buds for the cooler seasons ahead.
It is all a pretty logical turn in the season, reminding us that the sultry days of Summer are indeed numbered. Experienced Gardeners will be feeling and witnessing the natural signs that alert them that the most important Autumn planting season is just ahead. Now is a great time to think ahead and begin to prepare for the seasonal changes that subtly start with next week’s New Moon.
A note of caution to the inexperienced: Late Summer extremes, especially when they occur around the New Moon, create a lot of intense energy which can almost invisibly whip plants about. Thus it would not be a wise time to attempt to plant anything flimsy and tender or aggressively transplant anything delicate, especially if this involves a lot of root damage. It can be done but then a considerable amount of extra time will be needed when attempting to keep it alive.
If in doubt, it is better to wait than to plant. Spend the time clearing and preparing for the next planting cycle that starts next week when conditions are more likely to be again become benevolent. Certainly good gardening conditions will improve later in the Autumn. Guaranteed, there is always something to clean, cultivate, fertilise, tidy and weed if one were feeling the urge to get out and clean up the garden.
From this point onward, in most areas other than (sub) tropical zones, it would be wise to stick to planting hardy, cool season flowers and vegetables. When planting for the final warm season Summer and Autumn flowers and harvests, consider planting advanced seedlings and container-grown plants rather than sowing seed. Days in the growing season are numbered so attempt to grow things that mature quickly, otherwise there may not be enough time for plantings to mature before colder weather arrives.
A Time to Die:
Got noxious brush and vegetation that needs to be eliminated? Those who delight in killing things or have been waiting for the perfect opportunity to rid the garden of some noxious and unwanted pest plant, will be thrilled to know that Late Summer and Early Autumn are amongst the best times of the entire year for clearing land of grasses; brush and scrub; noxious vines and all sorts of other unwanted vegetation. Most especially noxious species that spread with extensive or tap root systems.
First cut down and clear away the offensive plant to near ground level. This exposes the plant’s vascular bundles to air and celestial extremes.
The most powerful gravitational extremes occur with the Waning Moon Cycle (happening now) and especially ‘Dark of the Moon’ (24-27Feb.). As the Moon rises overhead, this draws sap upward so it bleeds out of the wound, thus weakening the plant. Then once the Moon sets, its gravitational pull locks with that of the Earth creating a strong downward pull. Now the exposed cut allows air to be drawn deeply down into the noxious plant’s root system which often kills the plant outright or certainly reduces its recovery.
In the ‘old’ days, a handful of salt was placed over the exposed cut and was then wet with kerosene. This toxic mix soon dissolved and was also drawn into the cut along with drying air which helped ensure a more efficient kill. This method still works today as well as it ever did. Now many people use an herbicide weed killer which is very effective, Just paint the open wound directly and let gravity do the rest.
Herbicides must be applied very carefully. They can severely toxify the surrounding soil, or leach through the soil and toxify nearby water run-off. They can also toxify you, your family, cherished pets and wildlife. That is why almost all herbicides carry hazardous warning labels!
As a follow-up: when the Autumnal Equinox Waning Moon Cycle arrives next month (14 March) and again in the following two Autumnal Waning Moon cycles in the following months, any bits of emerging regrowth from the brush or scrub can be easily eliminated. This growth will be tender and weakened. Simply cut it off and re-toxified the freshly cut ends which will usually result in their ultimate defeat.
Using this clearing method eliminates the need to spray large areas of countryside and/or garden with something potentially very toxic that could damage the environmental and yourself. Plus if the noxious vegetation has not been sprayed, it can be safely cleared away. Under ideal conditions the unpoisoned brush that has been cleared can be burned or mulched and much of its goodness can be returned back into the soil to immediately enrich the land from where it came.
A classic mistake is to spray great amounts of expensive poison over vast areas of noxious growth. Then wait for it to die and clear it away. Now the dead brush is contaminated and noxious. As it is cleared away, debris and dust will surely be breathed in and adsorbed into the skin and toxic foliage will be spread throughout the area. If it is burnt, the fumes contaminate the air. If it is dumped, it then contaminates a land fill or water run-off. This irresponsible method of spraying may well end up contaminating a lot more than it was ever meant to do!
A Dried Harvest:
Gardeners intent on harvesting flowers, fruits and vegetables for drying and preserving; gathering healing herbs and medicinal plants should do so quickly as many of the finest specimens will be reaching maturity and highest volatile oil content now. Once again, Waning Moon Cycles, especially nearing the New Moon often produce great celestial extremes that reduce water content and fluid retention in plant tissues. Lowest water retention is extremely beneficial when harvesting to preserve petals and increase levels of volatile oils. Once gathered, dry in an airy, bright (but not in direct hot sun), in a place with a somewhat cool to moderate temperature and lowest possible humidity.
Finest flower preservation comes through immersing or standing blooms in a glycerine bath for 4 to 24 hours. Good preservation results can be produced by burying flowers in a mix of sand and silica gel in boxes which are left undisturbed until blooms are thoroughly dried.
‘Everlasting’ flowers, herbs, and some types of foliage can be tied into bunches and hung upside down to dry. Choose an airy, dust-free, dry space out of direct sunshine. Once the plants’ leaves and stems are dry and crisp so they snap rather than bend, they are thoroughly dried. Now they can either be left as they are and hung or stored intact in paper or mesh bags and used as needed. Alternatively, they can be carefully broken apart and stored in bags or jars for later use.
Add a sachet of silica gel into each sealed jar. The silica gel will help absorb any excess moisture and maintain their quality for longer. Keep a watchful eye on these dried treasures and be prepared to air things out to avoid ruinous fungal attack if conditions remain humid. Spraying dried (non-edible) flowers and foliage with hair spray or a clear lacquer will help seal out moisture and reduce the possibility of mildew and mould.
Drying fruits and vegetables is an art unto itself. Many varieties can be air or sundried, provided the weather remains dry and sunny. Otherwise, use a special drier which will do an excellent job in a very short time.
Grains and a variety of seeds often mature around this time. Because water retention will be at it’s lowest this week and next, this is often a good time to harvest fields of grain provided weather looks to remain dry. The next good opportunity might well not occur until after the Full Moon (13 March.) through the end of the month.
Watch closely that things remain regularly fed, appropriately mulched and well watered, with a close eye kept to the control of threatening diseases and pests. Transitional turning points always contain a degree of stress that can lead to problems without proper care.
Protection and spraying may be necessary to save developing buds and maturing fruits from birds, diseases and a variety of pests. Predation is much more prevalent in the Late Summer and Autumn garden as a natural consequence of the fading season. While this often ends the productivity of mature flowers and vegetables, it can spread and quickly ruin a developing crop or emerging flower display.
Care for the Young:
Sometimes it takes some extra care to protect emerging plantings and seedlings, especially while tender and young. Try to maintain healthy and rapid growth. It is often worth the effort to spray young emerging or newly planted seedlings with a protective organic spray or a full spectrum fungicide/insecticide while still small and vulnerable. This is often very beneficial to give them a good start. It will guarantee strong plants that quickly mature and take advantage of the good days remaining in the fading season. But spray a ‘test’ patch first to insure that the spray is not too strong for the young plants to handle! Spraying early or late in the day is preferable to spraying when hot sunshine might result in burning.
This systemic spray is very much like inoculating a small child against potentially life-threatening diseases. It protects them and gives them a good start in life. While some organic purists will object to this, those with less time will find such an early spraying to be so very helpful. It may very well save the crop and certainly will improve its performance. Those with available time and a full understanding of environmental balance may elect to use entirely natural organic forms of protection, especially with food crops.
Seasonal changes often bring extremes that predate upon aging and mature plantings. Soon they become overwhelmed by fungal infections which can potentially spread to nearby younger seedlings. Either make the choice to remove them to give the new young plantings a better chance or consider spraying the lot. Once new season plantings become established they should need little attention and will produce rapid results and rewards when many other gardens have faded.
Watering is often the critical factor between failure and success in the Late Summer and Early Autumn garden. This is especially important for seed emergence and rapid seedling growth. Just one day of neglect can result in withered seedlings that never recover. Where growing conditions can be well controlled with regular irrigation or benevolent rainfall, root growth will be rapid in the warm Late Summer soil. This will greatly enhance the potential for success with late season crops and flowering displays.
Where Late Summer droughts persist, go with the flow and make things easy on yourself. Elect to plant and sow into containers in a protected nursery or sheltered environment conveniently close to water sources. This way no time is lost in a futile attempt to battle impossible conditions. Your plantings will rocket ahead with the extra care and sheltering you can give them. Once environmental conditions moderate, these container-grown plantings can be successfully established into their final growing positions. This can create an ‘instant’ garden. It’s well worth the extra effort but always plan and plant within the capabilities of what you can realistically maintain.
Cultivate & Weed:
Fertilise and Mulch almost all established and new plantings. Keep up with the weeding! Weed growth can be rampant now. They often go to seed very quickly and up spring hundreds more. Some of the best days to weed are occurring right now. If weeds have been a big problem and the idea is to have open land soaking up the sunshine, cultivate and remove all weeds then let the ground ‘cure’ in bright, hot sunshine for a couple of days. If the idea is to replant, water once and let the next batch of weeds emerge. Then cultivate again. Sometimes it is worth doing this two or three times. This way most weed seed is eliminated. Then fertilize and incorporate soil additives like compost, lime, etc. Water this in thoroughly. Now the land is truly receptive to brilliant new growth.
If time is limited, consider a general weed and feed but then add generous mulching. This can be applied before or after planting. This stops almost all types of weeds, often eliminates the need for watering, and then eventually breaks down to greatly improve soil quality.
Get an Early Start:
Wherever an Autumn or Winter/Spring garden is intended, this is an excellent time to get an early start because, for many Gardeners, improving planting conditions start within the next few weeks. Clear the beds, and remove the remnants of the Summer displays before they can become diseased and contaminate the surrounding soil. These can go into the compost pile. Anything diseased should be burned.
If there are no signs of disease, the old garden can be cut down where it stands with hedge clippers or secateurs. Attempt to make the cut up pieces fairly small. Scatter them evenly were the old plant stood. Pull up the old root ball and cut that into the mix, too. Now everything that particular dead plant took from the soil is being returned to the land exactly where it is needed. Its’ cut up debris now becomes mulch for the next crop. Over time this mulch will break down into fine compost that will enrich the garden soil.
If the idea is to have open soil around the next plantings, or if the ground has become compacted and hard, dig over the ground and let it ‘cure’ in the sunlight. Spread liberal amounts of an appropriate fertiliser and a generous application of compost. Most land will also benefit from a dusting that whitens the ground with Dolomag/Dolomite. Heavy land that drains poorly and all clay soils will be greatly improved with a generous dusting with Gypsum Lime, especially wherever soils might waterlog over Winter.
Gypsum is a powder type of lime. It has a neutral pH so can be used in almost any soil. Spread the powdered Gypsum evenly over the ground. It should almost whiten the ground. Then water it in lightly to a consistency of whole milk and let it settle into the ground. If it begins to run off, stop watering. It is important that the liquefied Gypsum soaks deeply into the land so it can start the open heavy soil to air and water.
Cultivate any and all these additives back into the ground and let the land stand for at least a week or two before planting. Where weed or soil-born disease has been a problem turn soil repeatedly and leave it freshly exposed to the weather so it can ‘sterilize’ before replanting. Let the weed seeds germinate, then cultivate them back in while small and unable to recover. This is usually best done on a sunny and windy day, or when one or more such days are likely to follow.
Weed seeds will germinate quickly in moist and warm earth. Don’t wait for them to grow! These small plants are easily killed by shallow cultivation using a hoe or torpedo weeder. Choose a sunny, dry, breezy day where evaporation rate are high. Dark of the Moon Phase is often ideal for this. The cultivated young weeds will shrivel and can be left to decay as ‘green’ manure. Eliminating young weeds now will save a lot of back breaking weeding later on.
This simple technique can be especially helpful for those preparing ground for a new lawn that could possibly get planted next month once cooler and damper weather returns.
This Fourth Week in the Late Summer Garden:
This is a major transitional week in the growing season. Full Waning Moon Cycle, Dark of the Moon, New Moon and the first day of the Waxing Moon Cycle all happen this week. The greatest celestial extremes this month occur in the days leading up to the New Moon (27 Feb). The Moon’s closest approach to the Earth for the month, known as ‘Perigee’, is not far off (3 March). This powerful New Moon is so close in alignment that it will result in an Annular Solar Eclipse visible in Southern South America and Southwest central Africa. The stronger lunar gravitational pull will create greater tidal extremes and stronger celestial/ gravitational forces that will accelerate growth.
A Special Moment A Special Moon:
In the natural progression of the seasons, the New Moon closest to the Autumnal Equinox is known as the ‘Equinox’ New Moon that ushers in the first signs of Early Autumn. Since this week’s New Moon is arriving before the start of March, that might suggest an early beginning to Autumn. But this New Moon occurs unusually early in the seasonal cycle to represent the Equinox. This appears to be a very rare and special transitional New Moon, a ‘Lingering Summer’ New Moon. This suggests that summery conditions will continue for most of March until the next New Moon (28 March).
The following New Moon (28 March) occurs 8 days past the Autumnal Equinox (20 March) so that makes it the closest New Moon to the Equinox: the true ‘Equinox’ or Early Autumn New Moon. Because that New Moon also happens after the Autumnal Equinox, this reinforces the likely possibility that autumnal conditions will start later than normal this year. Since this is an unusual occurrence, we will have to wait and see what happens and hopefully enjoy an extra long summery gift from Nature!
Another Great Week for General Gardening Activities:
Continuing on from last week: prune to reduce growth; mow to keep lawns short for longer (just don’t cut them too short or they will burn); harvest, gather and store fruits, grains and seed, plus vegetable crops for immediate use (early in the week) and long term storage; cut firewood and posts; make and spread compost, dry fertilizers, soil and soil additives; cultivate; spray to eliminate disease, pests and unwanted vegetation; liquid feed and water container-grown and established ground plantings.
The ‘Dark of the Moon’ period begins (24 Feb.) leading up to the New Moon (27Feb). Gravitational and celestial extremes gradually intensify which reach a peak around the New Moon. This is the best time to lay brick work, cobble and paving stones and foundations; create and dig ponds, place rock work, lay vinyl liners and fill; spread gravel, sand and wood chip; set fence posts or work with the land in almost any capacity as gravitational forces tend to anchor things to the ground now.
The ‘best’ time to harvest fruits and vegetables for drying and long-term storage is traditionally completed around the time of the New Moon; weather permitting. This is when water retention is at its lowest. So this is the ideal week! The next week after the New Moon (the early Waxing Moon phase) is often also a good harvest time if conditions remain dry. Fields of grain can also be harvested now.
Watering by the Moon:
Almost all life is made up of water, which the Moon pulls up and down in an endless tide. Combined with the Suns’ gravitational pull and radiant light this exerts a profound pull that stimulates plant activity. The Moon causes an upward pull as it rises and passes overhead. Then a corresponding downward pull as the Moons’ gravitational field locks with the Earth as it passes on the other side of the Planet. When the Moon is waning (showing less light each night) it rises first before the Sun; moving in closer to it each day until the Moon and Sun rise together at New Moon. Their union (conjunction) results in the greatest gravitational pull in plant fluids and often the tides. The greatest upward pull of water or plant foods into the plant usually happens as the Sun and Moon rise overhead late morning through to early afternoon. Later in the day the strongest upward gravitational pull fades and then reverses downward when the Moon and Sun set and pass to the other side of the Planet. Now Earth, Moon and Sun’s gravitational pull locks downward. These gravitational extremes often cause seed germination rates to increase and tend to draw roots deeply into the soil.
So apply liquid fertilizer and water in the morning hours through to mid afternoon to promote top growth, flowering and fruiting; feed and water late afternoon and early evening or even later to refresh a dry garden and promote deeper and stronger root development.
Planting Time Continues:
If the weather is benevolent or there is easy access to artificial irrigation, this is another relatively good time to plant and sow. Most important are root crop vegetables and anything needing a sustained period of root development before they make much top growth. This includes many annuals, most biennials and perennials; groundcovers, shrubs, trees and vines (especially subtropical varieties). Autumn flowering bulbs, corms, roots and tubers can be divided, planted or shifted. In cooler climates or wherever garden beds will remain dry, Spring flowering bulbs can also be planted.
Wherever the growing environment can be controlled, this an excellent time to start sowing seeds. This includes fast flowering annuals for later Autumn, and most varieties of plants for Winter, Spring and next Summer season; also Biennials and Perennials for next Spring and Summer and beyond.
Seeds that are difficult to germinate are often started now as celestial lunar extremes often are sufficiently strong to stimulate them into active growth. Seed will germinate very rapidly in moist and warm ground. Many seeds naturally germinate in the days following the New Moon (27 Feb.) as the added light of the Waxing Moon stimulates upward growth. Seed can still be sown of some Annual warm-season flowers wherever at least 100-120 days remain in the growing season. But mostly Gardeners will be focusing on sowing seeds for the Winter, Spring and next summer’s gardens.
Once seed is sown, the ground must remain moist and never totally dry out nor become water-logged. Seedlings should emerge rapidly if conditions remain ideal.
Often the best approach is to thoroughly soak the garden prior to sowing. Then soak again immediately after sowing and possibly the day after that. Then cut back a little to a lighter misting or stop watering if the weather should become cloudy and cool until the seedlings emerge unless the soil appears dry. Then begin daily or regular watering again.
There is a reason to reduce watering after sowing. Most seeds, especially larger ones like Beans, Peas and Sunflowers draw in water from the surrounding moist soil. This causes the seed to swell and begin to split open. Soon, the seed germ (what will soon become the seedling) begins to emerge in the split. It is very tender. If excessive water were to get trapped within that split in the swelling seed, it could drown or rot the seed germ, causing it to die. Thus once the seed begins to split, it is best to refrain from heavy watering until the seedling emerges above the soil. Then water more regularly to keep it alive and growing strongly.
After the New Moon, continue planting advanced seedlings of flowers and vegetables for the Autumn and early Winter garden. Advanced seedlings are preferred, especially in climates with short growing seasons. These plants will burst into bloom quite quickly for a lovely Autumn display and good harvests.
Celestial/lunar forces will be strong all week, so be very careful to avoid excessive root damage when transplanting. It should be relatively easy to transplant from individual small containers or punnets where each seedling is growing in a separate compartment. But avoid ripping anything apart from a mass of roots as happens when seedlings are sown all into a single punnet as these plants are liable to collapse. Better to plant the entire root mass from the punnet as one unit to avoid potentially fatal roots shock and plant collapse. Shelter everything newly planted from environmental extremes until the plants appear to be well established.
Small and tender seedlings are very vulnerable right now. Unless conditions remain ideal, it would be best to grown these on in their punnets. Before they become overcrowded, transplant each into a separate container and grow them on further. This would best be done after the passage of this powerful New Moon. Once they have attained a more advanced size, transplant them into their permanent positions. Choose a cloudy, cool and damp day to do this; possibly when rain is imminent. Otherwise plant later in the day once the heat is off the garden. Water generously and plan to water them every day until there are no signs of wilting.
Check seedlings daily to insure they do not dry out. Once the seedlings become established in a few weeks they will need little care. But early on watch for problems from drying winds, heat and hungry birds and insects which offer the greatest challenges to success; the rewards are worth the effort.
Flowers to Plant or Sow include:
Seed can be sown all week. The best time for transplanting seedlings starts with the Waxing Moon Cycle that begins on the final day of this month week and continues to the Full Moon (13 March).
Fast growing Annual flower seed and seedlings to start include: Asters, Balsam, Calendula, Cosmos, Dianthus, Forget-Me-Not, Linaria, Marigolds, Nemesia, Pansy, Poppy, Snapdragon, Sunflower, Sweet Pea, Wildflower mixes, Zinnia and much more locally. Some of these are actually Biennials or Perennials that are usually grown in the garden as Annuals.
Biennial, and Perennial Flowers to Plant or Sow Include:
Aquilegia, Arctotis, Campanulas & Canterbury Bells, Carnation, Delphinium, Dianthus, Feverfew, Foxglove, Gaillardia, Gypsophila, Hollyhock, Lunaria, Lupin, Penstemon, Polyanthus, Primula, Iceland Poppy, Silene, Snapdragon, Sweet William & much more.
Late Summer and Autumn perennials start to make a show. Late season Asters, Eupatorium (Boneset, Joe-Pye Flower), Helenium (Sneeze Weed), Helianthus ‘Autumn Glory’, late Phlox, Solidago (Golden Rod) and many more often begin now or at least by the end of the month.
Early flowering Chrysanthemums begin to branch and perhaps even show buds. Traditionally, Valentines’ Day is the last opportunity to pinch back Chrysanthemums and Autumn-flowering/Cushion Asters to encourage further branching before they begin to produce buds.
What to Plant and Sow in Subtropical Climates:
Subtropical gardens that only experience light frosts can continue to sow and plant many of the tender Annuals used as Summer colour in temperate climates. These can be sown for use in Late Autumn and Early Winter displays that can be planted-out in 6-8 weeks time.
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) = good time to plant and acceptable to sow especially in mild climates or in the glasshouse
(*) = advanced colour plants for Autumn colour.
Dependent upon variety, seed may take 8-12 weeks longer to mature than advanced seedlings. Do not attempt sowing seed of warm season plants intended for outdoor display in frost-prone climates now. Good for glasshouse displays.
These are the final days to plant most tender, warm season vegetables for outdoor crops. But this only applies to warm districts with at least 100-120 days remaining in the growing season. In cooler climates these same vegetables can be sown or planted in the glasshouse or be prepared to shelter them with cloches later in the year as the season cools.
Warm Season Vegetables to Plant or Sow in Mild Climates:
Beans (climbers will take longer than bush varieties); Cucumber; Eggplant; Marrow, Pumpkins and Squash; Melons; the last Sweet Corn (to about mid-month in all but the warmest locations); Tomatoes (possibly better in a glasshouse or be prepared to cover with cloches later); Taro and all other subtropical, tender vegetables in warmest districts.
Hardy Vegetables to Plant or Sow:
Gardeners in most all climate zones can plant or sow a wide range of hardy vegetables especially root crop vegetables. Leafy vegetables and all those that produce their crops above the ground are best planted or sown later in the week when moonlight is returning (waxing) and onward to the next Full Moon (13 March.) Most of these will mature once the season cools.
Hardy Vegetables to Start from Seed or Seedlings:
Beetroot, Broad Beans, Broccoli, Brussel Sprouts, (Winter) Cabbages, Carrot, Cauliflower, Celery, Cress, Chinese Cabbage and most other Asian leafy vegetables, Cress, Dwarf Beans, Endive, Herbs, Kale, Kohlrabi, Lettuce (cooler spots/often best under glass), Marrow, Mustard, Onions, Parsley, Peas, Potato, Radish, Rhubarb, Salsify, Silver Beet, Spinach (cooler spots), Swedes, Turnips and more locally especially under glass or in frost-free, mild, sheltered climates. In colder climates, stick to the hardiest species or plant under glass.
This is an especially good time to sow seed of Brassica Family plants for late (cool) season harvests.
Because of the extremes in play at this time of year and especially this week, many Gardeners elect to spray vulnerable plantings and especially sowings while rather young with either an organic preparation or a systemic fungicide/ insecticide. This will act as an inoculation booster that will protect them from predation. A liquid plant food can also be added to give them a healthy boost in growth during those vulnerable early days.
Dormant (Spring or Autumn flowering) bulbs, roots, corms can go in now through the end of the month. This is especially good for planting Amaryllis belladonna ‘Naked Lady’, Colchicum (Autumn Crocus), Cyclamen and Nerine varieties. In subtropical climates all the warm-season roots and tubers like Canna, Caladium, Dahlia, Ginger, etc. can still be planted or shifted.
In cool climates Spring flowering bulbs can be planted. In warm climates, wait a little longer to plant Spring-flowering bulbs. For now, place them in airy, cool, dry storage for later planting out in the garden or put them into refrigeration if they are being forced for early blooms. In the coldest climates, Spring-flowering bulbs can be planted now through the Autumn months.
Subtropical plants and tropical houseplants make excellent growth and flowering during this period. The remaining long days combined with warm weather both day and night reflect in rapid growth rates amongst most tropical species and houseplants, especially those remaining outdoors for the Summer. Make sure they remain generously fed and well-watered to push on flowering and new growth. The only exception is if there is an unusual spell of cloudy cool weather, especially if conditions become wet and night time temperatures fall below 15C/59F.
Palms and most tropical foliage plants often put on their biggest and finest new foliage during this time. This is especially true if weather remains bright, humid and warm both day and night. It is well worth the effort to provide them with extra attention and care during this time of potential maximum growth. This is the best opportunity of the entire year to produce excellent quality foliage.
Saving Seed for Your Own Hybrid Plants:
As the day length subtly shortens, this triggers many Spring and early Summer flowers, herbs and vegetables to mature and produce seed. Late Summer is an excellent time to collect seed from the finest flowers, herbs and highest quality vegetables. This is often the best way to develop varieties that are most successful and suitable for your particular garden microclimate. Unlike the fallacy of ‘cutting down the tall poppy’, it is often those best, biggest and most productive plants that are the ones to protect and save for seed. While not all will produce off-spring as productive as their parents, many will. If the seed is collected year-after-year of the best and strongest plants, soon a stable variety will be produced that will prove highly reliable for your particular growing environment.
The exceptions are the special hybrid species and genetically modified seed. These are usually clearly labelled. Genetically modified seed crops are banned in many countries and have patents placed upon them that make their resale illegal. Some are being specially bred to reproduce sterile seed.
Hybrid varieties, especially vegetables, often are genetically unstable. This means that their off-spring often do not produce the same characteristics and/or enhanced quality as the hybrid parent from which the seed was collected. Some revert back to a ‘wilder’ form or something remarkably different. But the patient Gardener with plenty of garden space and time can often thin out the unsuitable off-spring while pampering the strongest seedlings and still get rewarding results. Over time this careful selection of the finest plants results in a variety especially suitable to your specific garden microclimate.
The best way to collect normal seed is to first select and label or tag the finest blooms or vegetables. If a hybrid cross is wanted between several of the best plants, their pollen can be shared (rub pollen of one flower upon the other). Then cover the pollinated flower with a small paper bag to avoid further cross pollination by insects. Let all blooms reach full maturity. Flowers are allowed to go to seed. Seed pods must be allowed to dry out fully on the plant before harvesting. Most seed does not produce a healthy, viable seed germ if harvested while still green and unripened.
Sometimes when a plant must be removed while seed pods are still ‘green’ but nearly ripe, the entire plant, roots and all, can be harvested. Hang the plant upside down in an airy, bright location out of direct sunlight with a moderate temperature. A garden shed or back porch often works well for this purpose. As the plant begins to turn brown, the sap contained within the stems will naturally drain downward into the seed heads. This can help them begin to mature. If the seed is from a plant variety where seed heads naturally burst, cover the drying plant seed heads with a loosely fitting paper bag to catch the seeds as they mature. Once seeds have been collected and are thoroughly dry, store them in air tight jars; accurately labelled for later sowing.
Whenever possible allow plants to dry and fully mature naturally in their environment. Then pick seed heads and pods and allow them to dry in an airy, bright (not hotly sunny), warm place until completely dry and brittle or papery. Seeds are then best stored in air-tight jars until ready to sow. Sometimes it is best to first place seeds into a paper (not plastic) bag or cardboard box in a low humidity environment to fully cure and dry-out before placing into jars. This eliminates any possibility of ‘wet’ seed pods producing condensation inside the jar which would cause all the seed to mould and rot.
Seed vegetables are usually allowed to reach full maturity and then are harvested. Do not cook the vegetable, but leave it raw and pulp or scoop out the seeds. Alternatively, place the fruit or vegetable on a disposable tray and let it rot away in an airy, sheltered corner. Then rinse off any remaining flesh, pick out the seeds; and once removed, let them thoroughly dry out before storing.
Seeds are best harvested on dry, hot days following a dry spell with low humidity. Harvesting around the ‘Dark of the Moon’ (24-27Feb.) is traditionally considered the most ideal time as often water retention within plant tissues is at its lowest level then. Harvesting most of this week should be good provided weather remains dry.
Seeds are fully dried when they are hard and straw-like in dryness. A good test is to leave the stem attached to a few seed heads. When the attached stem breaks and snaps rather than bends, the seed inside is usually fully dried. Then store in air-tight jars that are well marked.
Check on them daily once placed in the jar. If there is even the faintest hint of condensation within the jar, open it immediately; empty the contents of seeds and spread out again in an airy, open box to further dry out. If allowed to remain damp, the seed will quickly rot and be ruined!
The same conditions also apply to collecting flowers, petals and foliage for drying. Cut them with generous stems just as they reach near-full blossom or when foliage is fully matured. Hang these in an airy, dry place out of direct sun or scatter over screens or in boxes until dry. The stems can also be stood upright in baths of glycerine which will preserve them once the glycerine is fully absorbed into the plant tissues.
Enjoy this last ‘official’ week of Summer!
Count your Blessings; give thanks to the Bountiful Earth for all the abundant and beautiful gifts it has provided through these past (sometimes erratic) warm months. Start planning and prepare now for the busy Autumn season and hopefully some lovely, pleasant weather ahead!