The Full Waxing Moon Cycle fills this week culminating with the Autumnal Equinox Full Moon arriving 13 March 4 AM NZDT. Weather permitting this Moon will look most spectacular as it rises all golden in the north eastern horizon at dusk on Sunday 12 March and almost as good on the evening of 13 March. This is the lunar midpoint of Early Autumn and is the classic ‘Harvest’ Moon occurring as it glides into the ideal harvest constellation of sidereal Virgo.
Much can be accomplished this week. The Full Waxing Moon Cycle in the early part of the week is a fine time to plant or sow: most vegetables that produce their crops above ground; field grains and seeds of all sorts, especially flowers and lawns; plus a variety of ground covers, shrubs, trees and vines.
Then the arrival of this important Harvest Full Moon represents the peak of Early Autumn. It occurs directly over the Equator as the Moon passes in front of constellation (sidereal) Virgo, the classic harvest sign. This placement is traditionally regarded as one of the best times to harvest many crops.
Water retention is at its peak due to balance lunar and solar gravitational forces. High water retention is the best time to harvest fruits and vegetables for immediate use and for making jam, jelly, juice and wine; also almost any sort of crisp, juicy and succulent produce.
The Harvest Moon is classically an ideal time to harvest fields of grain and hay. But because water retention is high, make sure these harvests are allowed to thoroughly dry out before they are stored otherwise they may mould, rot or even combust.
Tides are high11-13-15 March. High water retention throughout Nature means that it is possible to liquid feed and water pretty much all day with good success. Sunny and warm days are usually best and accomplishing this earlier in the day gives the best opportunity to promote upward absorption for maximum top growth and flowering. Watering later in the day will tend to keep the garden wet for longer overnight and thus refresh foliage in a dry garden.
As the Moon wanes for the remainder of the month (starts late 13-14 March), this becomes an ideal time to start root crops and plant bulbs, corms and tubers. It signals the start of planting season for many species of Broad-leafed Evergreens, Conifers, Native species plus a wide variety of shrubs, trees and some vines.
Traditionally, the Autumnal Equinox Full Moon represents the beginning of the transitional slide into cooler, Autumnal conditions. Days are growing shorter and Nature will be sensing the changes that soon will become more obvious as the season advances into the cooler months. So in the coldest regions, Gardeners should be aware that the warmer weather of the season soon may begin to fade away after this.
But the Moon is ascending in Southern Hemisphere skies until the evening of 21 March and the tropical zones remain steamy and warm. So the ascending Moon tide pushing into the Southern Hemisphere will likely be benevolent to milder and subtropical climate zones in the Southern Hemisphere that should continue to bask in pleasantly mild to warm conditions.
A Busy Time in the Garden:
This is one of the busiest times in the garden year. Early Autumn is a major time of transition when the glorious Summer season begins to fade away and wise Gardeners begin to prepare for the cooler months ahead. Early Autumn is often a time to clean and clear away Summer displays and set one’s sights on the future.
It is a great time to sow seed, plant annuals, perennials, shrubs, trees, vines and cool-weather plants for the later Autumn, Winter and Spring flower, shrub and vegetable gardens provided the ground can be kept moist.
To Be or Not To Be:
Most Late Summer and some Early Autumn gardens will be reaching or passing their peak during this time. Some Gardeners elect to strip the beds back now. This provides more time with good weather on their side to prepare for the cool season ahead.
Others will choose to keep the Summer displays and vegetable harvests going for as long as possible. As the season wanes, plants weaken and age. To get the most out of them and perpetuate the show, give them a boost now. Dead-head faded blooms; cut back spent stems; harvest vegetables frequently; remove and burn anything showing signs of disease or pest predation. Keep everything well irrigated but reduce water slightly as nights become cooler.
Garden plants will benefit from a dry/granular side dressing of a good general plant fertilizer (20-20-20 type ratio) mixed with blood and bone and/or compost. Also apply a comprehensive fungal/insecticidal spray that includes a foliar systemic feeding (chose a mineral ratio lower in Nitrogen and higher in Phosphorous and Potassium). It is one of the most important sprays of the season and will add precious weeks of healthy colour and boost late season vegetable harvests.
Safest spray is a Copper solution and/or an organic preparation using fish emulsion plus trace minerals and liquid soap. This is especially helpful for vegetables. For flowering plants best results come from combining a liquid systemic (Rose or Tomato) spray blended with a good well-balanced liquid plant food. Add a few squirts of liquid dish soap and/or fish emulsion to help it adhere to the foliage surfaces. Always spray over wet foliage and preferably later in the afternoon once strong sunlight is off the plants. Allow sufficient time for the foliage to dry before nightfall. Should it rain within 12 hours after spraying, it would be best to do it all again.
A Great Time for Planting and Sowing:
Now is an excellent time to sow and plant a vast array of Annual, Biennial and Perennial flowers and most hardy vegetables for the Winter and Spring garden. Tender warm season annuals should only be attempted in mild climates with a very long growing season or frost-free Winters.
Plant a wide range of colourful annual seedlings and/or sow their seed for late Autumn, Winter and Spring flowering. Advanced seedlings planted now will be in bloom almost right away. Those sown from seed will take 8-10 weeks or longer to reach maturity. In mild climates experiencing little if any frost or freezing these often will start flowering through the Winter. In colder climates flowering may be delayed until Spring. Wherever severe freezing is experienced, tender seedlings will need protection in the shelter of a cold frame or glasshouse or with mulching against freezing in the garden.
The very ‘best’ time to plant annuals that produce lots of leafy top growth with shallower roots (as opposed to tap-rooted flowers) was from the New Moon (27 Feb.) onward through Full Moon (13 March) and a few days afterward. Tap-rooted flowers and vegetables perform best when started around the Full Moon and the following 7-10 day interval toward the next New Moon (28 March).
Easiest Annuals to plant or sow now include:
Ageratum, Alyssum, Calendula, Calliopsis, Candytuft, Cleome, Cornflower, Cosmos, Dianthus, Everlasting Daisies (Rhodanthe, Xeranthemum, etc.), Gypsophila, Impatiens (frost-free climate or glasshouse only), Larkspur, Limnanthes (Meadow Foam), Linaria, Linum (Annual Flax), Livingston Daisy, Lobelia, Lupin, Marigold (especially French and dwarf varieties; African varieties in mild climates), Mignonette, Nemesia, Nemophila (Baby Blue Eyes), Nigella (Love-in-a-Mist), Painted Daisy (Tanacetum coccinium), Pansy, Penstemon, Phacelia, Poppies (Iceland, Shirley and species),Poor Man’s Orchid (Schizanthus), Primula, Scabiosa, Snapdragon (Antirrhinum), Statice, Stock, Strawflowers (Helichrysum), Sweet Peas (Lathyrus), Viola, Virginia Stock, Wildflower mixes, Zinnia (mild climates) and more locally.
Only attempt sowing these from seed in climates that will experience at least 8-10 weeks or longer of frost-free conditions. Otherwise, plant to shelter these in the cold frame, glasshouse or conservatory.
Many of these Annuals, Biennials and Perennials, especially lovely classics like Calceolaria, Cineraria, Cyclamen, Kalanchoe, and Primula species like P. obconica, Sweat Peas and many more actually perform much better when sown now in the cool glasshouse for Winter and Spring flowers.
This is one of the best times to plant hardy Sweet Peas in all but the coldest climates. Even there in cold climates, they are often sown under glass for cool season flowers. Sweet Peas grow well in large containers and tubs but thrive when given an open root run in the ground. They need very bright light or strong sunshine, good air circulation and moderate temperatures to perform at their best. Cold rain and sodden soil or severe frosts will ruin them.
Sow Joe Pye Weed (Eutrochium / Eupatorium) and most hardy annual, biennial and perennial Wildflowers. A few may bloom this Late Autumn or Winter, but most will mature in Spring and many more will enhance the next Summer and Autumn garden.
Biennial & Perennial Plants:
Advanced Biennials, Perennials in containers and their seedlings can be planted now to become established before Winter for next Spring & Summer flowering.
Start these Biennials and Perennials now:
Aquilegia, Arctotis, Bellis perennis (English Daisy), Canterbury Bells, Carnation, Coneflower, Delphinium, Dianthus, Feverfew (Tanacetum parthenium ), Forget-Me-Not (Mysotis), Foxglove (Digitalis), Gaillardia, Gypsophila, Hollyhock (Althea), Honesty (Lunaria), Lobelia (spiking varieties), Lupin, Painted Daisy (Tanacetum coccinium), Penstemon, Polyanthus, Poppy (Oriental), Primula, Scabiosa, Statice, Sweet peas (Lathyrus), Sweet William, Viola and much more locally.
Root divisions of most perennials can be made as soon as they begin to die back.
Some can be started from cuttings and root divisions, while most all are easily started from seed.
This is how to take root divisions from perennials that have a clumping, spreading root system. First dig up at least one section of the plant once it has become dormant. With a sharp knife or secateurs remove a small section of the crown with roots attached. If this contains a fleshy rhizome, dust the exposed cut with powdered charcoal or sulphur to protect against rotting. This is a crown root division.
Transfer this to a small pot and plant it so that the roots dangle down and outward and the crown is at or just below the soil surface. Water thoroughly and place in a bright cold frame, sheltered nursery or glasshouse. There the plant can develop in a most protected and sheltered environment to ensure extra strength and vigour before they are exposed to the extremes and rigours of the garden.
Another method is to cut away separate sections of root and grow root cutting divisions. Choose healthy and strong roots. Cut them off just below where they attach to the crown of the plant. Place these facing upward in a small pot. They can also be started by lining them up in rows within a seedling flat or larger container. Bury each root in potting soil so that the top of the root rests just below the soil surface. Water thoroughly and add additional soil if the root tip becomes too exposed as the soil settles. Then grow these on just the same as with a crown root division.
Some perennials especially many spiking flowers have either a very delicate root system or a tap root. This makes them difficult to transplant if any root damage or major disturbance occurs at the time of transplanting.
To take root cutting divisions from these, either split the tap root length-wise into several sections or cut it horizontally across the tap root into a number of pieces much like cutting up a Carrot. Be sure to carefully notice that the top of each division or section is facing upward when placed into its container and then lightly cover it with potting mix. The tip of each root section should remain level with the top of the soil or be just slightly covered. With any luck, new shoots will emerge from the top of each root division. But if the root cutting division is turned upside down, mostly they will rot.
If by chance a root cutting division does get misplaced, as they do, and it is impossible to tell the bottom from the top, simply place it on its side and barely cover it with soil. The root will do the rest and make new shoots wherever it should.
When taking cuttings from plants with very sensitive roots or tap rooted cuttings, it is best to start each of them in individual containers. This way they can grow on with no root disturbance. Later when it comes time for transplanting, the entire root ball can be easily slipped out of its pot and placed into its final position in the garden efficiently and quickly without trauma.
An alternative method for those without a cold frame or sheltered nursery is to create a protected and sheltered seed bed in the garden. Then start the root cuttings within this sheltered environment. Cover them beneath clear glass jars, a commercial cloche or underneath a strong plastic bag, pinned down at its edges over the cuttings or root divisions. This creates a mini cold frame/glasshouse. Remove this once all danger of frost has passed in the Spring. That way perennials that are difficult to transplant can actually be started and develop in their final garden positions where they are meant to flower.
Continue to plant and sow all the cool season vegetables for Late Autumn, Winter and Early Spring harvests. The Full Waxing Moon Cycle this week favours all vegetables grown for leafy top growth and harvests above the ground. The Waning Moon Cycle is particularly well suited to plant growth and sowing seed of root crops and all plants with extensive root systems and tap roots. During the Full Waxing Moon cycle almost everything can be successfully planted as leafy crops and above-ground harvest will flourish and root crop seed sown now will germinate and begin growing as the Moon begins to wane which takes advantage of the entire Waning Moon Cycle.
Vegetables to Plant Now:
Plant and sow all vegetable Winter “greens” like: Broccoli, Brussel Sprouts, Cabbages (Chinese and traditional varieties), Cauliflower, Cress, Endive, Lettuces (best under glass unless mild climates), Mustard, New Zealand Spinach (Tetragonia), Parsley, Peas, Silver beet, Spinach; also Onions (especially Spring Onions), Swedes, Turnips; plus Broad Beans (cool gardens only).
Also (optionally) start:
Beet Root, Carrots, Chicory, Dwarf Beans (warm spots), Kohlrabi, Leeks, Parsnip, Peas, Radish, Salsify, Shallot (cool climates) and much more. This last ‘optional’ group will produce healthy top growth and/or flowering when planted during a Waxing Moon Cycle. For best and deepest root development sow early in the week around the Full Moon then continue through the Waning Moon Cycle.
When the Moon shifts in front of its ruling constellation of (sidereal) Cancer (9-10 March), this is traditionally considered the ‘best’ time to plant or sow all manner of disc-shaped, globe and round flowers.
Disc, Globe and Round Flowers include:
Allium, Calendula, Dianthus, Eryngium (Sea Holly), Godetia (milder climates),Livingstone Daisy, Marigolds (milder climates), Nemesia, Pansy & Viola, Primula cowslip and polyanthus varieties, Poppies, Pyrethrum, Ranunculus, Scabiosa (milder climates), Sunflowers (milder climates) and so much more including all cream and white flowers; plus anything with a translucent quality.
Moon in (Sidereal) Cancer represents a superb ‘growing’ sign. It is a brilliant time to plant, sow and transplant flowers, fruits, grains, nut trees, vines, leafy crops, vegetables that produce their crops above the ground, plus ‘round’ vegetables: Brassica Family plants like Broccoli, Brussel Sprouts, Cabbages and Cauliflower; heading lettuce; and many root crops.
Because this month’s Cancer Moon placement occurs in the strongly Full Waxing Moon Cycle, the sowing of seed for all root crops vegetables is greatly enhanced. Root crop vegetable seed can continue to be sown until the next New Moon (28 March).
Bulbs, Corms, Roots and Tubers:
All Spring-flowering bulbs, corms, roots and tubers can be started most successfully from now through to nearly Mid Winter. The best time starts this week, especially in colder climate zones. In warmer climates Gardeners should wait to plant the traditional Spring-Flowering Bulbs a while longer as the ground is probably still too warm.
But this is a good time to plant some types of ‘Jonquils’ Narcissus Paper White, Soleil D’ Or and others that originate from mild climates. Also start all South African bulbs like: Babiana, Colchicum (includes European species), Crocosmia, Freesia, dwarf Gladioli nana, Ixia, Lachenalia, Nerine, Tritonia, Tulbaghia, Watsonia and many others. It is also a good week to pop traditional Daffodils/Narcissus, Hyacinths and Tulip bulbs into refrigeration with the intention to force early blooms later in the Winter.
Weather permitting, almost anything can be transplanted from containers this week.
This is a very good time to plant: Conifers, broad-leafed evergreens, groundcovers, hardy brambles, hedges, shrubs, trees, and vines plus a wide variety of plants native to Australia, the Mediterranean, New Zealand and South Africa. Most will need extra watering until regular rainfall returns. If there is not time to complete such plants, that is no problem as these are the earliest days of a very long planting season ahead for all this sort of planting.
Farewell the Past and Prepare for the Future:
In contrast, somewhat earlier planted gardens that peaked in Summer will now begin to fade and wither, especially after the passage of the Equinox Full Moon. Remove these fading Summer displays; then clean and tidy the beds. If these garden plants remained healthy, their remains can be composted. Alternatively, cut them down where they stand into small pieces with hedge clippers and allow these clippings to remain as ‘soft’ mulch or dig them in as green manure to replenish the land. This is the most natural and organic way to recycle exactly what was taken out of the soil and put it right back into the land from where it came.
If the land is to rest and remain fallow through the colder months, it can be turned and left rough to ‘weather’. A better idea would be to make a generous sowing of cover crop seed like Barley, Buckwheat, Oats, Lupin, Mustard, Peas, Rye or other leafy or legume fast-growing crops. Simply broadcast the seed over the rough ground and let the planting cover and grow over the fallow garden through most of the cooler months. Then cut it down in Late Winter and dig this in as ‘green’ manure to enrich the ground.
Alternatively, while good weather makes this task easier, clear the land and then dust over it with soil additives (compost, fertilizer, lime, mulch etc.). Then roughly dig this into the soil and leave it to enrich the earth over the Winter months. This way the land will be nearly ready to plant once the Spring planting cycle returns.
Wherever fresh crops are planned for the cooler months, feed and turn the soil as soon as possible. Feed with compost, general plant food mixed with blood and bone, and dolomite lime. Add extra drainage material for Winter gardens in regions that are classically wet during the colder and darker months. Dig in lightly, water well, let stand 1 or 2 weeks to ‘ripen’ and sterilise in the sun before replanting.
Those planting an Autumn, Winter and/or Early Spring garden should consider adding extra drainage material (bark, river gravel, pumice, vermiculite, etc.) and/or raise beds to cope with periods of sustained cool and wet weather. Dig in generous quantities of blood and bone, mature compost and/or humus, dolomite lime, fertilizer, plus well-aged manure. Winter gardens often demand more feeding because the less favourable conditions reduce anaerobic and plant metabolism making it more difficult for plants to draw minerals from the soil. Acid rain in urban areas can be combated with a generous dusting of Dolomite Lime. If soil becomes green and mossy during the Winter, apply another application and water it in lightly.
For poorly draining soil or soggy lawns now is the ideal time to generously whiten the ground with Gypsum Lime. This is sometimes sold as ‘Clay Breaker’. Water-in this dry white powder only lightly to the consistency of whole milk then let this liquid Lime seep into the soil. If the liquid Lime starts to run off the land stop watering and/or add more Gypsum to replace what washed away. The liquid Lime must penetrate deeply into the soil in order for it to work its magic.
Gypsum is a neutral pH Lime that can be used effectively on all soils. Its colloidal properties slowly act upon the mineral particles transforming them into small pellets or soil clumps. Over time 9several months or more) this colloidal action will dramatically open the soil to improve aeration and drainage. It is very effective on heavy clay and soggy soils.
Since the land must be enriched and turned before fresh planting, this is an excellent time to eliminate troublesome weeds from the garden. First remove all the existing weeds. Then turn the soil and leave it. Simply make sure that the ground remains moist and plant nothing in it.
Cooler and damper Autumn conditions are ideal for the germination of seeds, including weeds. Fairly soon all those weed seedlings will spring up and ‘green’ the newly turned soil. Now choose a dry, preferably breezy and sunny day to either hoe or cultivate all those weed seedlings back into the land. In particularly weedy sites, repeat this process several times until no more weed seeds emerge. Now the ground is generally ‘sterile’ of weeds which makes an ideal time to sow and plant flower beds and vegetable crops.
This is an ideal time to establish a new lawn or improve an existing one. Follow a similar cultivation regiment when starting a new lawn as when starting a garden bed. Take the time to thoroughly cultivate the soil and eliminate all persistent weeds first before sowing the lawn seed. There still remain ahead many weeks for good lawn seed germination and the final result will look much more effective if all weeds are eliminated first.
On existing lawns continue to rake and remove old dead thatching. If persistent broad-leafed weeds are present, these can be easily eliminated with applications of Ammonia Nitrate or Sulphate of Ammonia which is applied evenly over a thoroughly moist lawn, but much heavier directly on the weeds. As the fertiliser breaks down this will chemically burn them away while releasing valuable Nitrogen that will feed the lawn. There are also excellent ‘weed and feed’ products that can eliminate most broad-leafed weeds in a single application.
Another way to eliminate these broad-leafed weeds in an established lawn is to first over-sow the lawn with fresh seed. Allow the lawn to grow quite tall. The crowns of broad-leafed weeds will have to stretch through the taller grasses to reach the light. Then on a cloudy day mow the lawn quite short. The cloud cover helps keep the exposed lawn grasses from scalding in the sunlight. Make sure mower blades are sharpened so as to not pull out the young emerging grass seedlings with this first cutting. This short cutting will remove almost every broad leafed weed to its base which will severely weaken them. Repeat this process several times and most broad leafed weed will be eliminated without the need to apply chemical fertilisers or dangerous and toxic herbicides.
Wherever significant green algae or mosses are present in the lawn, this is a sure indication that the lawn pH has become rather acid. This can hamper the development of healthy lawn. To eliminate algae and mosses generously dust with Iron Sulphate, Garden Lime or alternatively Dolomite/Dolomag Lime which is longer, but slower, acting. Whenever Gypsum Lime is applied to heavy soils, the Gypsum will slightly raise soil pH toward a neutral 7.0 and at the same time significantly open and separate the soil particles for improved drainage and better plus deeper grass root penetration for improved drought resistance. This will help eliminate algae and moss at the same time.
Lawn grasses demand a lot of feeding for them to remain at their best. This can be organically applied with blood and bone and/or screened compost; or alternatively with a good quality lawn fertiliser. It is best to apply the fertiliser over thoroughly moist lawn and soil or else chemical burning is likely. Also plan to apply lawn fertiliser at least a few days ahead of reseeding the established lawn to avoid the possibility of caustic chemical burning to emerging lawn seedling roots. (Re) seeding & feeding existing lawns or establishing new ones is ideally carried out from now on throughout the Autumn months. The only exceptions might be in the coldest and driest climatic situations.
Autumn is an excellent time to start a compost pile or add to an existing heap. Coarsely chopped garden plants and Autumn leaves make excellent compost. The more chopped and desiccated the botanical material, the faster it can potentially decompose. Thus putting sticks and coarse, heavy tannin leaves like Holly, Karaka, Oak, Magnolia, etc through a shredder will greatly speed the process. Alternatively smaller sticks and the course leaves can be placed in a large pile and run over repeatedly with a lawn mower. Push the mower around in a circle with the blower facing inwards into the leaf pile. This will quickly reduce the course material to well-shredded mulch which will decompose quickly in the compost pile or could be directly returned to the garden as enriching mulch.
In the coldest regions, Autumn colour will begin to appear. These colour changes will become much more apparent as Autumn conditions develop a little later in the season. But this is the time to start planning and purchasing autumnal-colouring deciduous species with exactly the right colour tone for your garden. If the season remains dry in your region, hold these plants on near a convenient water source and keep them going. As soon as soil remains moist and days become consistently cool, start planting these container grown ornamental shrubs, trees, vines along with New Zealand, South African and Mediterranean natives.
House Plants and Subtropicals:
In milder climates, give (sub) tropical plants, tender container tropical species and houseplants, especially those experiencing a Summer ‘holiday’ outdoors a late feeding. This will stimulate some of the last substantial new growth before the current growing season fades and these tender species return to dormancy. Be sure to reduce both feeding and water gradually as temperatures fall and sunlight fades. Avoid feeding or watering on cold cloudy days.
The night time minimum temperature is one of the most critical factors in determining continued growth and flowering. Most tender (sub) tropical species prefer minimum evening temperatures of 20C/68F or more. That time is almost surely nearly over. They will tolerate short spells with minimums of around 15C/59 or even lower. But tender tropicals and houseplants in containers should come inside once temperatures consistently drop below 12C/53.6 degrees. When planted in the ground or where pots are well-insulated, they can tolerate much cooler conditions without damage but new growth still slows or stops. Avoid exposure to unusually early frost or freezing!
In cooler climates, now is the time to start moving tender tropicals in containers and houseplants to their warm winter positions before cold nights can cause damage. Remember that just a few night temperatures falling below 12C/53.6F can result in dormancy and possibly even damage to the most tender tropical species, especially if their surrounding soil is chilling and wet. But if they are brought into bright and consistently warmer conditions before temperatures drop too far, they will continue putting on new growth and flowering for a much longer time than if they were left outdoors in chilly weather.
While weather remains bright, mild and pleasant, take cuttings of Coleus, Fibrous Begonias, Impatiens, Pelargoniums and other frost tender species to strike for Winter colour indoors and for potentially planting-out next spring.
Mature plants can also be dug, cut back, and repotted for later indoor display. Especially in colder climates some of the finest specimens for indoor display in the conservatory, glasshouse or sunroom can now be created from what is growing outdoors today. In all but the coldest locations, there is still time to re-establish these plants in new containers. Wherever possible, once repotted, allow them to remain outdoors or in a very sheltered position where they can be fed, monitored and sprayed to eliminate any disease and pest threat. This will allow them to grow quickly and strengthen for best performance once they are brought indoors for the Winter.
This Third Week in the Early Autumn Garden:
Days are growing shorter and will reach equal length with the hours of darkness on the day of the Autumnal Equinox. The Autumnal Equinox arrives 20 March 2017 at 10:29UTC/11.29PM NZDT. This represents the true celestial beginning of Autumn in the Southern Hemisphere and the start of Spring for the Northern Hemisphere.
On this date the Sun rises most closely to solar east and sets in solar west. Take note of these positions as they can be very helpful when aligning plantings. This is also the best time to realign sundials to read most accurately.
After this date and for the next six months, the Sun is situated over the Northern Hemisphere so our days will slowly become shorter than the nights. Early Autumn cooler conditions will soon follow, especially in colder districts. Sunlight shifts to a longer angle and shadows lengthen as the Southern Hemisphere declines into the Earth’s shadowed side. This years’ Equinox Moon is placed in the sidereal constellation of Scorpio and very near the Last Quarter Moon (21 March 5AM NZDT) in sidereal Sagittarius. This often results in damp, humid or wet weather and is a classic lunar position to promote blight, mildew, mould and rot. Then conditions should improve and remain mild.
The Waning Moon Cycle dominates the week as moonlight fades away. This is an ascending Moon that gains in gravitational strength as it rises higher in the late evening and early morning sky; peaking 21 March. Thus the Moon will have risen prior to the Sun each morning. This means that the best time to liquid feed and water will be during the morning and early afternoon hours to promote to growth and flowering. Watering later in the day will help to refresh a dry garden as water will be pulled more strongly downward into the roots and soil.
This cycle favours root development so is excellent for the planting of bulbs, corms, roots and tubers; plus anything with a tap root or needing a period of root development before top growth commences. Weather permitting, planting conditions should remain excellent for most hardy things throughout the week, especially the planting of container-grown groundcovers, perennials, shrubs, trees, vines, palms and most all subtropical species.
Water retention will remain high early in the week then begin to reduce. Harvest for immediate use most of the week as vegetables with be crisp and fruits juicy and tasty. This is a great time to harvest for jam and jelly, juice and wine. Later in the week and next week, harvest fields of grain; fruits and vegetables for long term storage; for producing aromatic jams, jellies, pickles and preserves and also for drying which includes flowers and herbs.
Best hours for liquid feeding and watering to increase growth and flowering occur in the morning until early afternoon when the gravitational pull of the Moon will tend to be upward. Later afternoon and evening watering will be pulled downward into the roots. This should refresh a dry garden by the following morning.
Bulbs: Planting Time is Here!
Autumn is the ideal time to plant a wide variety of dormant flowering bulbs. These can be planted almost any time throughout Autumn with relative assurance of success. Some will flower almost immediately in Autumn and Early Winter like: Amaryllis belladonna (Naked Lady); Colchicum (Autumn Crocus); Crocus sativus (Saffron Crocus); Fothergilla and Nerine (Spider lilies);plus Sternbergia (Yellow Autumn Crocus) while most others start flowering in Late Winter onward into the warmer Spring months. Many of the most beautiful and fragrant bulb flowers can also be ‘forced’ into much earlier flowering in pots for Winter blooms.
Dormant bulbs can be started almost any time but the very ‘best’ time is right around and following the autumnal Full Moon well into the Waning Moon cycle (right now). This will tend to stimulate root development first before top growth begins.
When to start planting spring-flowering bulbs depends on your garden plan and location. Planting all the bulbs at once creates the potential of a mass display of late Winter and Spring colour. Sometimes staggering the bulb planting over several weeks or months can produce colour over a longer season of bloom.
In cool and temperate climate zones and cooler garden situations, now starts the ideal time for planting. This gives them the opportunity to develop a strong root system before colder weather slows their growth until early Spring. These bulbs usually produce beautiful blooms plus because their bulbs have a strong root system, they have enough energy to multiply and put on an even better display in the years that follow.
Avoid planting out cool season Spring-flowering bulbs wherever the garden beds are continually wettened and remain very warm, otherwise the bulbs may sprout prematurely, remain stunted or the buds may not open as they should.
In mild climates where the Summer garden season has a long way to go before the warm season displays finish and cold weather returns, the planting of Spring-flowering bulbs can be delayed until next month or even later if gardens are full of colour.
Simply store them in mesh bags (avoid paper or plastic if it might remain too moist) and place them in an airy and dark location where they can remain cool and dry. Once the garden beds are cleared and weather begins to cool then start planting.
Forcing Bulbs for Early Colour and Display:
‘Forced’ Spring-flowering bulbs are really a treasure especially in such colder climates where Winter colour is scarce. Spring-Flowering bulbs intended for forcing in containers to produce much earlier blooms should be started in pots as soon as possible. These pots are placed in refrigeration or alternatively, place the pots in a cool, damp, shaded position outdoors or in a cellar where they can start developing a strong root system now. Bulbs started now might begin blooming in late Autumn or early Winter when colour and fragrance are so very much appreciated.
Forced bulbs don’t necessarily have to be planted or potted yet. They can be held back in mesh bags stored in constant cool (but never freezing) refrigeration. Many Professional Bulb Growers consider +4C/39F to be an ideal storage temperature to sustain the bulbs. The vegetable crisper or back of lower shelves in the refrigerator will often work nicely as a storage site. Here the bulbs remain in refrigeration for at least 8 to 10 weeks and no longer than 22 weeks before they must be planted or potted.
Sometimes because of special display requirements or climate aberrations, it is handy to hold the bulbs back for later flowering. To do this store them in an airy, dark, dry location at about 16-17C/60.8-62.6F. Examine them frequently and turn them much like one would do with dry onions. Some of the hardiest varieties of bulbs can be stored this way for several months. Then place them in refrigeration for at least 8-14 weeks. Afterwards they can be planted or potted and will usually begin flowering 6-8 weeks later.
More bulbs can be planted in succession as the season advances. When planted in groups of pots every ten days to two weeks, a continuous supply of early forced blooms can be enjoyed for many months to follow.
In very mild climates where Summer persists well into Autumn with little if any wintery chill, it is often wise to leave such bulbs in refrigeration until the ground temperature drops significantly in a couple of months. Then plant them out either all at once for a massed display or over several weeks for a succession of Spring blooms.
The disadvantage to this method is that the longer bulbs remain in cool, dry storage, the less time they ultimately have to produce an adequate root system to support the development of next year’s bulbs. But if the bulbs are meant for display and are being treated much like annual flowers, this method allows greater flexibility.
Bulbs to Plant Now:
Here are a variety of bulbs that could be planted now: Achimenes, Alliums (Ornamental Onions), Amaryllis belladonna (Naked Lady), Anemone, Babiana Baboon Flower), Brodiaea, Brunsvigia, Calochortus (Mariposa Tulip), Camassia, Chionodoxa (Glory of the Snow),Colchicum (Autumn Crocus), Crocus (Autumnal Saffron and Spring-flowering), Daffodil, Dipidax, Eranthus (Winter Aconite), Erythronium (Dog’s Tooth Violet), Eucharis Lily (warmth and glasshouse), Freesia, Fritillaria, Galanthus (Snow Drop), Hyacinth, Hypoxis (Star Grass), Iris, Ixia (Corn Lily), Jonquil, Lachenalia (Soldier Boys), Leucojum (Snowflake), Lycoris (Spider Lily), Moraea, Muscari (Grape Hyacinth), Narcissus, Nerine (Spider Lily), Notholirion, Ornithogalum (Arab Eyes, Star of Bethlehem, etc.), Oxalis hybrids, Ranunculus, Scillas)Wood Hyacinth) Sparaxis, Sternbergia (Yellow Autumn Crocus), Streptanthera (Harlequin Flower), Tritonia, Tulip, Valotta (Scarborough Lily) Veltheimia (Cape or Forest Lily), Watsonia, Zephyranthes (Rain Lily) and more locally.
Crinum, Lily & Nerine bulb clumps that have become over-crowded can be dug and divided as soon as leafy tops die down then replant immediately. Lilies, especially, prefer not to be disturbed once established. Their succulent scale-like bulbs dry out quickly when exposed to drying air and/or sunlight. Whenever they cannot be immediately replanted, store them in damp peat, moist (never wet!) potting mix, or surrounded in sphagnum moss placed in a plastic bag with air holes for circulation or boxes or containers that will retain even moisture around the bulbs until they are replanted.
Continue to dig and store Acidanthera, Canna, Dahlia, Gladioli, Tuberous Begonia, Tuberose and other tender Summer bulbs as they fade and finish. Store in lightly moist peat, potting mix soil or sphagnum in a cool, dark, dry place for the Winter months. In very mild climates that experience only light frosts and fairly dry and sunny Winter weather, these plants can remain in the ground. But be aware that a period of persistent cold rain can rot them quickly unless their surrounding soil drains very thoroughly.
What to Plant and Sow
Annual, Biennial & Perennial Flowers:
Continue to plant and sow most hardy annual, biennial and perennial flowers for the Winter and Spring garden. Seedlings can be transplanted with care to avoid significant root damage and disturbance. In mild climates, fast flowering varieties may bloom in the Autumn and Winter garden.
Seed sown now should rocket away very quickly provided strong sunlight and warmth plus even soil moisture are present. Be prepared to water daily if conditions remain too dry and warm or windy.
In climates that will experience severe Winter cold, do not attempt to plant or sow tender annual flowers outdoors. Hardiest annuals, biennials and perennials can be transplanted from container-grown seedlings into garden beds provided these can be given protection from Winter freezing. Otherwise sow their seed into containers and grow them on in the glasshouse or cold frame for transplanting in early Spring.
Easiest Annuals* to Plant or Sow now include:
Ageratum, Alyssum, Calendula, Calliopsis, Candytuft, Cleome, Cornflower, Cosmos, Dianthus, Everlasting Daisies (Rhodanthe, Xeranthemum, etc.), Gypsophila, Impatiens, Larkspur, Limnanthes (Meadow Foam), Linaria, Linum (Annual Flax), Livingston Daisy, Lobelia, Lupin, Marigold (especially French and dwarf varieties; African varieties in mild climates), Mignonette, Nemesia, Nemophila (Baby Blue Eyes), Nigella (Love-in-a-Mist), Painted Daisy (Tanacetum coccinium), Pansy, Penstemon, Phacelia, Poppies (Iceland, Shirley and species),Poor Man’s Orchid (Schizanthus), Primula, Scabiosa, Snapdragon (Antirrhinum), Statice, Stock, Strawflowers (Helichrysum), Sweet Peas (Lathyrus), Viola, Virginia Stock, Wildflower mixes, Zinnia and more locally.
*This list contains some half-hardy biennial and perennial species that are commonly grown as annual plantings.
Many of these annuals, biennials and perennials, especially lovely classics like:
Calceolaria, Cineraria, Cyclamen, Kalanchoe, and Primula species like P. obconica, Stock, Sweat Peas, Violet and many more can be sown now in the cool glasshouse for Winter and Spring flowers.
Biennials and Perennials:
Advanced Biennial and perennial plants in containers and advanced seedlings can be planted now to become established before the onset of Winter. Most of these will bloom next Spring & Summer: Aquilegia, Arctotis, Bellis perennis (English Daisy), Canterbury Bells, Carnation, Coneflower, Delphinium, Dianthus, Feverfew (Tanacetum parthenium ), Forget-Me-Not (Mysotis), Foxglove (Digitalis), Gaillardia, Gypsophila, Hollyhock (Althea), Honesty (Lunaria), Lobelia (spiking varieties), Lupin, Painted Daisy (Tanacetum coccinium), Penstemon, Polyanthus, Poppy (Oriental), Primula, Scabiosa, Statice, Sweet peas (Lathyrus), Sweet William, Viola and more locally.
While the Moon drifts in front of constellation (sidereal) Sagittarius (21-22 March) this is traditionally considered the ‘best’ time to plant from established containers or sow the seed of spiking flowers.
Spiking flowers include:
Acanthus, Alcea (Hollyhock), Antirrhinum (Snapdragon), Campanula, Centaurea (Cornflower), Delphinium and Larkspur, Dicentra (Bleeding Heart), Linaria, perennial Lobelias, Primula malacoides and candelabra types, Salvias, Stock, Verbascum (Mullein), Veronica, Wallflower, and many more.
Continue to plant and sow all the cool season vegetables for Late Autumn, Winter and Early Spring harvests. The Waning Moon Cycle is particularly well suited to plant growth and sowing seed of root crops and all plants with extensive root systems and tap roots. But because the New Moon is not far off (9 March) it is also possible to sow the seed of many leafy vegetables whose seed will germinate near enough to the next Waxing Moon Cycle that it will get a head start on the next top-growth cycle.
Vegetables commonly planted now include:
Beet Root, Broad Beans (cool climates), Broccoli, Brussel Sprouts, Cabbages (Chinese and traditional), Carrots, Cauliflower, Chicory, Cress, Dwarf Beans(warm spots),Endive, Kohlrabi, Leeks, Lettuce species (best under glass), Mustard, Onions & Spring Onions, Parsley, Parsnip, Peas, Radish, Salsify, Shallot (cool climates),Spinach, Swede, Turnip and more locally.
Shrub, Trees and Vines, Palms and Subtropicals:
Hardy conifers, brambles, hedges, shrubs, trees, and vines of most sorts can be successfully transplanted from established containers. This is provided there is ample moisture in the ground and regular after-care can be provided until these plantings become established.
In mild climates and sheltered gardens, this is a very good month to plant and transplant subtropical plants and palms. Air and soil temperatures remain high. So if soil moisture is adequate, transplanting should be easy. Be sure to securely stake anything that might whip about in windy weather.
Container grown subtropicals and palms can still be repotted. In colder climates where the plants will soon be brought into the conservatory, glasshouse or sunroom, it is advisable to repot only one pot size larger. Make sure that the mix is freely draining. Do the upmost to insure as little root damage as possible. These transplants have only a limited time to establish a root system to fill the extra pot space. If they do not do this before they go dormant once cold weather arrives, these new roots will be vulnerable to chill and possible rotting should the new soil ever become overly wet.
Feed Citrus now to strengthen them as small fruits begin to mature. Make sure that ground is moist before applying special Citrus Fertiliser then water this in thoroughly. If the climate remains dry, irrigate deeply and liberally at least once a week. If trees become drought-stressed, developing young fruits can harden and become nutty. Later when Autumnal and Winter rainfall returns, these hardened fruits often split open and are ruined because their outer skins have become too hardened to expand properly as they should. The best Citrus fruits develop on trees that receive abundant and regular irrigation and/or rainfall where the excess water can quickly drain away.
Watch for predation by Aphids, Borer, Caterpillar, Mealy Bug and Scale insects and spray immediately to protect ripening fruits. The appearance of Black Sooty Mould on the leaves is a sure sign that the trees are under attack by insects that are secreting ‘honey dew’ sap which quickly becomes the breeding ground for the Sooty Mould.
The Return of Dormancy:
As the days shorten, this alerts Nature to prepare for the cooler, damper, darker days ahead. Most deciduous plants begin to transition toward dormancy. The transition is slow at first. Growth rates diminish and then stop while stems ‘harden-off’ and mature. Leaves on deciduous species begin to slowly fade. Especially during the next several Waning Moon cycles, valuable sugars and minerals contained in the green chlorophyll in the leaves’ sap begin streaming back into the protective stems, trunk and root system of the plants. The colourful pigments that remain within the leaf cellulose begin to show often as yellowing. Eventually, as all the chlorophyll disappears the remaining leaf pigments create those classic autumnal foliage displays.
At the same time, buds begin to become much more obvious and swell on Autumn, Winter and Spring-flowering shrubs, trees and vines. Usually around the Autumnal Equinox the first blossoms begin to open on the early Autumn-flowering shrubs like Sasanqua Camellia and soon other Autumn-flowering shrubs like Acacia, Banksia, Cassia, Erica, Gordonia, Japanese and Species Camellias, Luculia, Mahonia, Poinsettia, Stenocarpus (Fire Wheel Tree) and so many more cool season favourites will follow. Keep all these species lightly but regularly fed and well watered to encourage their development.
Continue drying and gathering flowers and petals for potpourri; grasses, herbs, medicinal plants and vegetables for Winter use. The best time for this starts now and continues through the Dark of the Moon Cycle (25-28 March) leading up to the New Moon (28 March). Water retention in plants is at its lowest during that time. This makes them dry faster with less chance for mould or rot. Volatile natural oil content is highest then as well.
Some species can continue to be harvested into next month or longer but soon the best times will finish as the growing season fades and conditions become cooler and damper.
Choose a dry period with relatively low humidity. Herbs just entering early to mid bloom are often the most aromatic. Petals should come from fresh new blooms near the top and sunny side of the plant. In a well-planned garden, many of these will be at their peak now. Fully mature and older blooms will often produce dull colours or fade to brown with little if any scent. The same applies for herbs. These are best gathered as they reach their peak.
Best time to harvest is later in the afternoon following a dry and sunny day. The traditionally most ideal time is when the Waning Moon is placed in front of a ‘fire sign’ constellation (Sagittarius = 21-22 March) and through most of next week as the New Moon approaches (28 March). This is when water retention is at its lowest and volatile oil content is at its highest.
Flowers and herbs should be dried quickly on screens or in open boxes in an airy, bright (but not sunny) environment. Flowers and foliage can also be pressed between the pages of a book or beneath sheets of newspaper or paper towelling held firmly in place to press them flat.
Some flowers and herbs can be gathered as bunches and hung upside down to dry.
Flowers meant to be used in dried floral arrangements and floral art are often laid into boxes and covered very carefully with a mix of silica powder and sand. Allow these to dry in an airy, warm spot until crisp. Then remove; spray lacquer to keep dampness out and either store in boxes for later use or create special arrangements and designs.
Another very effective approach is to preserve harvest flowers and foliage in Glycerine. Use one part Glycerine to two parts very warm water (135F/57C). Buds, leaves and petals can be completely submerged in the solution. Stem flowers can be submerged or stood upright in a bath or bucket filled with the Glycerine solution. Coloured dye can be added to enhance their colour. The plant material can be left in the solution for several days; sometimes longer, until there is the desired colour change. Then wash off any excess, leave them to dry and they are ready to use. The advantage to Glycerine is that the results should be bright, flexible and often almost glossy. The disadvantage is that the Glycerine may later begin to weep and stain furnishings or wood during humid weather.
Drying flowers and vegetation including herbs has the disadvantage that the dried material often absorbs humidity from the air later on once dried. This often leads to mildew and mould thus ruining all the effort that has gone into preserving them. This can be overcome by lacquering the blooms and vegetation. Some people choose to place dried arrangements within bell jars or glass cases with a desiccant gel added to absorb excess water. Herbs should be sealed in jars possibly with a desiccant gel sachet added to keep them crispy dry and aromatic.
House Plant Care:
Remember to start moving tender tropicals and all houseplants to their sunny and warm winter positions. Wherever Winter frosts are imminent, this will be a bright indoors position in a sunny window or with strong artificial lighting or a conservatory or sunroom. Before bringing them indoors check them for disease or pests. Give them a good protective spray just in case and a liquid feeding as well. Also reduce their watering to avoid chilling that might lead to rot or plant collapse.
Continue taking cuttings of softwood tender plants like Begonias, Carnation, Coleus, Fuchsia, Impatiens and many more tender treasures like Bougainvillea, Citrus, Frangipani, Gardenia, Hibiscus, Poinsettia, Roses and much more. Provided the weather (especially night time temperatures) remains warm, these will strike quickly in sand and peat mix or houseplant potting mix. Hardy ones can survive in the cold frame. Tender ones come indoors for Winter or go into the glasshouse and can be planting-out next Spring.
This eventful week witnesses the Full Waning Moon Cycle, Dark of the Moon, Equinox New Moon (28 March) and the start of the Waxing Moon Cycle. The entire week is acceptable for planting hardy things, especially bulbs, dormant corms, roots and tubers. After the New Moon, Mid Autumn planting begins with an emphasis of flowers, leafy vegetables and those that produce their crops above the ground; planting of hardy groundcovers, shrubs, trees and vines plus citrus and subtropicals in mild climates. It is also an ideal week for a general gardening and a good clean and tidy.
Dark of the Moon Cycle begins 25 March as moonlight wanes toward the New Moon. This is traditionally seen as a time of fading and withering of Summer flowers as Autumn blooms begin to blossom. It is a time to dry, gather and store fruits and vegetables for long-term keeping. It the ‘best’ time to eliminate brush, scrub and other unwanted vegetation. Heavy pruning now can be used to keep plants cut back for longer, but can also be used in combination with herbicides or a mixture of kerosene and salt to kill noxious vegetation. Clip and lightly prune to keep conifers, hedges, shrubbery and trees shapely for longer. Mow lawns and start preparations for new lawns and repairing established lawns.
It is a good time to lay foundations and pour concrete plus set brick work and paving stones; build rock gardens and dig pools; set fence posts and build structures; dig and move earth plus cut and stack wood for Winter. This is an excellent time to cultivate, open new ground and weed. Also this is a fine time to fertilize and liquid feed; spread manure and spray to eliminate disease and pests but be cautious to avoid chemical burn to tender tissues.
Extra care must be taken to maintain optimum conditions when planting or sowing anything during the final days of the Moon Cycle, known as the ‘Dark of the Moon’. Celestial/gravitational forces are at their most extreme during this time. This may cause undue stress upon tender and vulnerable species, especially transplanted seedlings. But these celestial extremes can be used to advantage when attempting to germinate ‘difficult’ or ‘temperamental’ seeds often with heavy coats or shells. Sowing is much preferred to transplanting during such times. This may not be the best time to transplant anything delicate. For that it is best to wait until after the New Moon.
The New Moon brings new beginnings. This powerful Autumnal Equinox New Moon happens 28 March NZDT around 4 PM. Technically, this represents the arrival of Mid Autumn. But being that this is the Equinox New Moon, i.e. the New Moon occurring closest to the Autumnal Equinox, for those in milder climate zones, this is actually more likely to signify the arrival of Early Autumn conditions. 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 gift of warmth from Nature! But the wise Gardener knows to prepare for true autumnal transitions now.
This New Moon (28March) occurs close to perigee (31 March), Moon’s closest approach to Earth for the month. High ‘Spring’ tides occur 28-30-31 March and 1April. Due to gravitational extremes produced by the Moon and Sun’s conjunctive alignment, water retention reaches its lowest point for the month at the New Moon and for several days thereafter. This is an ideal time to harvest fruits and vegetables for long-term storage. It is also a great time to harvest fields of grain and cut hay.
In areas with traditionally colder climates and places exposed to colder winds, start making plans and appropriate preparations for much cooler evenings which are bound to follow. While in mild climates and sheltered spots there is still a summery feel to the days which may last for some time yet.
This Autumnal New Moon starts one of the most glorious times of the year. Some of the best planting times will arrive with the New Moon (28 March) and continues through the end of the month into next month! Mild days, cooler nights, and soon consistently damper weather will create ideal gardening conditions especially in milder and sheltered districts. Almost anything that a Gardener would want to plant can be started this week. Make the most of this pleasurable weather while it lasts!
While the Moon drifts in front of constellation (sidereal) Sagittarius (20-21March) this is traditionally considered the ‘best’ time to plant from established containers or sow the seed of spiking flowers.
Spiking flowers include: Acanthus, Alcea (Hollyhock), Antirrhinum (Snapdragon), Campanula, Centaurea (Cornflower), Delphinium and Larkspur, Dicentra (Bleeding Heart), Linaria, perennial Lobelias, Primula malacoides and candelabra types, Salvias, Stock, Verbascum (Mullein), Veronica, Wallflower, and many more.
These days are traditionally viewed as quite extreme times when celestial and gravitational forces combine with the natural descending autumnal sap flow in plants. This sap flow can become so extreme that air is pulled into freshly cut branches as the sap descends back into the roots. If the cut is large and left unprotected, this can kill off more than one intended. Thus large cuts should be immediately sealed to avoid excessive die-back.
On the positive side, when the idea is to kill-off noxious or unwanted vegetation, pruning during the Autumnal ‘Dark of the Moon’ (25-28 March)is the ideal time to do this. In earlier times, Pioneers most effectively cleared land during the Autumnal ‘Dark of the Moon’ time of the year. So if the idea is to eliminate vegetation, cut it back severely now.
Early Autumn remains an excellent time to lightly cut back, prune, shape and trim brambles and canes, conifers, hedges, shrubs, trees, vines as well as clear land of unwanted vegetation. This is especially important on Summer-flowering species as they finish. What is pruned and trimmed now often will stay shapely for longer.
In most cases a trim is preferred over a massive cut-back. This is important in any location that is very dry now and/or later on might receive severe freezing weather. Tender shrubs like Bougainvillea need some vegetative protection to shelter their crowns from freezing. Plus Bougainvillea will flower on last year’s wood, so cutting this off will reduce or eliminate Spring flowering.
Hardy Buddleia and Hydrangea can be reduced by half their height or more without serious damage. Most Conifers and hedges benefit from a clip and shaping now. This will often be all that is needed until next Spring.
Fruit tree new growth can also be reduced. But warning! Once foliage begins to colour or yellow on all deciduous species, avoid any heavy pruning until they have completely lost their leaves and are fully dormant.
Avoid severe pruning on all Late Autumn, Winter and Spring-flowering shrubs, trees and vines. These will have flower buds developing at branch tips in preparation for their next flowering. Any serious pruning now would eliminate these blooms.
Many Gardeners choose to only prune or trim unusually wayward growth on such plantings now. But keep in mind that a more corrective pruning can occur just as flowering begins in Early Spring and then bring these trimmings indoors for treasured floral arrangements when they will be most enjoyed.
Houseplants and all frost-tender species should be sheltered from cool nights now or brought inside for Winter. In mild districts there is still more time remaining outdoors. But remember that once temperatures fall below 12C/53.6F degrees many tender (sub) tropical will begin to enter dormancy. Once temperatures fall any lower, if the plants and soil remain damp or wet, chilling and even rot and subsequent plant collapse may follow. If the plants and especially their root systems can remain sheltered and warm, late season growth will continue.
Before bringing plants indoors, give them a thorough examination. Remove any damaged or dead foliage; cut back weak growth or anything that appears in any way diseased. Then give them a good watering and comprehensive spray against disease and pests. Make sure they are placed in a position indoors that is as close as is possible to the microclimate that they enjoyed outdoors. This will help reduce the shock of relocation which helps reduce the possibility of disease or plant collapse.
This starts the busiest time in the Autumn garden. As weather conditions slowly become cooler and damper this encourages weedier gardens. It would be easy to turn one’s back and walk away, especially if the gardens are fading and there are no plans to plant for Winter. This would be a big mistake.
‘One weed seeding means nine years of weeding’ is an old Gardeners phrase with a wise observation that possibly should read ‘eternal’ weeding. If weeds can get a foothold and go to seed, which they do so quickly, the Spring garden could be a nightmare.
Lesson learnt: cultivate and turn the soil, if one plans to plant for the cool months or not. The good Gardener will turn the land several times. Then leave it for the weeds to germinate. While these new weeds are very small, cultivate them back into the ground on a dry sunny day. After several light cultivations, most weed seed will have been eliminated from the garden bed. The alternative is to cover the open beds with generous mulch that will suppress weeds while enriching the soil ahead of the next planting.
This week starts some of the best times for major lawn care Continue or start sowing and topdressing lawns. Early and Mid Autumn is the very best time of year to start a new lawn or reseed and old one. Damper conditions combined with warm soil guarantees speedy germination of seed and ideal weather for rapid growth. This allows the new grass to become well-established before the advent of wintry conditions.
Old established lawns that receive a lot of traffic may be looking a bit tattered or even bare. They can be brought back to life quite easily in just a few weeks. First lightly and systematically fork over the lawn, especially bare spots or wherever the ground appears to be very hard. If the weather remains dry, it is often best to water the lawn the day before. This will make the task of forking much easier.
Immediately after forking, while the ground is loose, grass seed can be added and raked into the land. Then keep the lawn moist and seed germination will be rapid.
Alternatively, to make a top quality lawn, after forking dust over the land with blood and bone, lime or Gypsum (if drainage is poor) and a good quality lawn food. Water this in and let these soil additives cure in the soil for at least a few days. A thin top dressing of weed-free top soil or mature compost can be added over the top of the lawn and raked in roughly so that the established lawn grass pokes through. Then apply a generous covering of lawn seed. Rake this in well so that the seed is lightly covered. Water this in generously and keep the land moist. One or two good soaks should be enough to allow water to penetrate deeply into the soil. Once the land is deeply moist, only light watering will be necessary to keep it that way. Never let the ground dry out or the germinating lawn seedlings will be lost.
If birds are a problem, chose a seed with a protective bird repellent added. Or whiten the ground with lime after the seed has been applied and is watered in. Any birds that hunt out the lawn seed will get a beak full of lime rather than seed. This should put them off for at least the few days it will take for the seed to germinate under these ideal conditions.
Flower buds are developing on all Late Autumn, Winter and Spring-flowering shrub and tree species, plus some vines. Many biennials, perennials plus established bulbs are in active growth and Autumn annual flower gardens are blooming. So this is an ideal time to feed them.
Use a special flowering formula or any good quality plant food high in Phosphorous and Potassium to encourage development of flower buds.
A good general mix is one cup of general garden fertilizer (in the ratio of something like 10-10-10) mixed into one bucket of mature compost or well aged manure.
To develop more buds and blooms add a generous handful of super phosphate or rock phosphate to this mix.
For fruiting species add extra Sulphate of Potash or green sand to the mix to encourage strong root health. Potash also helps develop deeper and more vivid colour hues, especially vibrant blue and purple shades.
Spread this liberally from just off the stem/trunk (avoid this mix drifting up on the trunk) and outward to the drip line.
Azalea, Boronia, Camellia, Ceanothus, Cinquefoil (Potentilla), Cornus (Dogwood), Daphne, Erica (Heather), Gaultheria (Wintergreen), Gardenia, Hydrangea (blue-flowering), Kalmia (Mountain Laurel), Pieris (Lily-of-the-Valley shrub), Leptospermum (Tea Tree), Leucothoe (Dog Hobble/Sweet Bells), Photinia, Rhododendron, Rosemary and other shrubbery and tree species.
To successfully feed acid loving plants give them the same compost and fertilizer ratio mix as described earlier. But substitute a special ‘acid based’ (low pH) fertiliser especially made for these shrubs. This is often commercially sold as ‘Azalea, Camellia, and Rhododendron Food’. Alternatively, add a small amount (one handful) of Flowers of Sulphur dust to the general plant food or dust this over the ground and water in well.
Never apply Lime to acid-loving plants. This can so alter the soil pH that the plants die or become diseased and weak. If poor drainage is a problem, dust with Gypsum, an inert form of lime with a neutral pH of 7.0.
Whenever applying fertilisers around any sort of planting, make sure that the ground is well irrigated ahead of time, usually a day or two earlier. This insures that the plants involved have adequate reserves of water already present in their tissues. For fastest results then generously water in the fertilizer and mulch mix.
Avoid applying any fertilizer to dry soil and drought-stressed plants. Otherwise as soon as the dry fertiliser becomes liquid through rainfall or watering, the chemical salts involved may be drawn up into the plant tissues so quickly and in such high concentrations as to cause chemical burning. This often is most pronounced at the tender growing tips and buds which can make them drop prematurely.
Regular irrigation or a good rainfall soaking once a week is important to healthy bud development.
It is possible to prolong flower displays on Late Summer and Autumn flower beds plus increase the harvest potential of many vegetable crops.
Make sure the beds remain deeply moist. On average a garden bed must have the very minimum of 2.5cm/1inch of rainfall per week. More might be required if weather remains unusually dry, hot and/or windy. A single deep soaking usually does more good than frequent light sprinkling. Irrigating with rainwater is usually much more productive than using city ‘treated’ water. Rainwater is often mineral rich so acts almost like a liquid fertilizer. Treated water may refresh a dry garden but can contain additives that discourage beneficial growth unless additional fertilizers are added to enrich it.
Continue a regular feeding program with a fertilizer mix as suggested earlier. Once a season may be enough for flower beds but once a month would be more likely for productive vegetable harvests. This can be supplemented with foliar feeding. Bud and flower production responds dramatically to foliar feeding as this brings valuable nutrients to exactly where they are needed; when they are needed for brilliant results.
Increase dry and/or foliar feeding as the season advances, using a ‘flowering and fruiting’ formula that has a higher ratio of Phosphate and Potassium than Nitrogen. This will stimulate greater bud, flower, fruit and vegetable production.
Dead-head regularly, trimming back faded and spent flowers and flowering stems. Often a gentle cut-back will stimulate a new flush of growth and flowering. The same applies to many vegetable crops. Cutting back over-worked growth will often result in fresh new stems capable of producing later harvests. Always harvest mature vegetables promptly. This relieves a great deal of stress from the plant that can stimulate further production.
Spray mature plantings at first signs of trouble or pull them out before the problem spreads. The ‘best’ sprays for food crops are almost always organically based ones: oil and soap sprays; garlic and pepper water; copper and sulphur powders, etc. To significantly boost plant health, add a foliage-fertilising plant food when spraying for disease and pests. This will feed as well as protect maturing plants. Also guard that mature plantings showing any signs of disease do not contaminate emerging or freshly planted crops and flowers otherwise the cool season plantings could be ruined while still vulnerable and young.
Anything hopelessly predated or tired should be removed and burnt or composted at high temperatures. Recycle everything one way or another but refrain from placing anything diseased or infected in what would otherwise be ‘clean’ and fresh compost. This will just spread the problem. Burning eliminates diseases and pests. The ashes (and untreated wood ashes in general) are a rich source of Potassium (Potash) but are highly alkaline. They are best applied to freshly cultivated land that will sit idle for a while or composted separately until they ‘mature’ and their alkalinity subsides. Applying mature wood ashes to Hydrangeas is an excellent way to turn them pink.
Homemade compost is often the most beneficial soil additive. This is especially so whenever the composted materials come off your own land. That is because everything that went into creating the garden has now been recycled back into the same land again. Anything else that can be added to that basic compost further increases the compost’s potential benefit to the land.
Autumn leaves, ‘healthy’ dead flowers & vegetables, along with kitchen scraps and these (untreated) wood ashes should be recycled through the compost pile whenever possible. Autumn leaves are a rich source of fiber and minerals. These make some of the finest compost. They can also be applied directly to the garden beds as mulch which will slowly break down and feed the soil. Hard, high-tannin leaves (Holly, Karaka, Magnolia, Oak, etc.) should be mechanically shredded first before being spread over garden beds. Running them over with a lawnmower is a most effective way of shredding them. Avoid such deep applications that they compress and pack down as this will create an impenetrable mat that will shed water and not decompose as they should.
Fruits and vegetables are in abundance now. The time around the New Moon is also the time of the month with the lowest water retention. This is traditionally regarded as the ‘best’ time to harvest fruits and vegetables, flowers and herbs for drying, bottling and preserving plus long term storage.
This is an excellent time to harvest herbs for winter seasoning; petals for potpourri. Choose a dry period with relatively low humidity. Herbs just entering early to mid bloom are often the most aromatic. Petals should come from fresh new blooms near the top and sunny side of the plant. In a well-planned garden, many of these will be at their peak now. Fully mature and older blooms will often produce dull colours or fade to brown with little if any scent. The same applies for herbs. These are best gathered as they reach their peak.
Best time to harvest is later in the afternoon following a dry and sunny day. The most preferable time starts during the Waning Moon Cycle to around the New Moon and if weather remains dry and warm, a few days afterward The traditionally most ideal time is when the Waning Moon is placed in front of a ‘fire sign’ constellation (Aries, Leo, or Sagittarius). (Moon enters sidereal Aries 12-13 March). This is when water retention is at its lowest and volatile oil content is at its highest.
Flowers and herbs should be dried quickly on screens or in open boxes in an airy, bright (but not sunny) environment. Flowers and foliage can also be pressed between the pages of a book or beneath sheets of newspaper or paper towelling held firmly in place to press them flat.
Some flowers and herbs can be gathered as bunches and hung upside down to dry.
Flowers meant to be used in dried floral arrangements and floral art are often laid into boxes and covered very carefully with a mix of silica powder and sand. Allow these to dry in an airy, warm spot until crisp. Then remove; spray lacquer to keep dampness out and either store in boxes for later use or create special arrangements and designs.
Another very effective approach is to preserve harvest flowers and foliage in Glycerine. Use one part Glycerine to two parts very warm water (135F/57C). Buds, leaves and petals can be completely submerged in the solution. Stem flowers can be submerged or stood upright in a bath or bucket filled with the Glycerine solution. Coloured dye can be added to enhance their colour. Leave the plant material in the solution for several days; sometimes longer, until there is the desired colour change. Then wash off any excess, leave them to dry and they are ready to use. The advantage to Glycerine is that the results should be bright, flexible and often almost glossy. The disadvantage is that the Glycerine may later begin to weep and stain furnishings or wood during humid weather.
It is time for a nursery visit. As the season fades, many nurseries are eager to sell-off stock so they will not have to hold it through the Winter months ahead. This is especially true in colder districts with shorter growing seasons.
Gardeners in these cooler and Alpine regions should start planning to purchase species with just the right Autumn tones for their landscape scheme. In these cooler regions, Autumn colour is just beginning to show. While in milder climates autumnal colour is still some distance away and should last into June on some species. Autumnal tones often vary within a single species due to slight genetic variations and sometimes due to soil and climate factors. When planning a garden for autumnal tones, it is always best to see them first hand in full colour from a local nursery to be most certain that these bright colours will match.
Continue planting Spring Flowering bulbs in all districts. In mild climates where conditions may remain summery and warm, place the dormant bulbs in mesh bags or open boxes. Store these in an airy, cool, dry environment until the season cools off and planting conditions improve.
Alternatively, in mild ‘winterless’ climates, or if the bulbs are to be forced for really early blooms, refrigerate these bulbs now at about 4C/39-40F or just above freezing (never frozen!). After 10-14 weeks (and no longer than 22 weeks) in refrigeration and once outdoor conditions cool sufficiently these bulbs are ready for planting.
Bulbs being forced for early blooms can be either potted now and kept in refrigeration or placed in the coolest, damp, dark position outdoors to encourage root development without excessive top growth. Once roots begin to show through the drainage holes in their pots, they are ready to bring out into a bright but cool spot to grow on for early flowering. Alternatively, refrigerate the bulbs ‘dry’ now in mesh bags and then pot them later after 10-14 + weeks. Lovely early Spring blooms will follow in 6-8 weeks.