May is the month that sorts the gardeners out, and the month that heralds the completion of one of nature’s cycles; a time when autumn leaves crunch underfoot. Don’t burn off the leaves-this leads to major air pollution problems around city areas. Instead, use the leaves as surface mulch on garden beds, or compost them for later use. An easy method is to bung them all into a large garbage bag, and plonk them out of the way for a few months.
JOBS TO DO NOW
If you love orchids, consider the miniature cymbidium orchids, which are the same as ordinary orchids but have smaller leaves and more petite flowers. All can be planted in partly shaded rockeries in orchid compost (never in straight soil). Orchids will be sending out their flower spikes now, so sprinkle some snail bait around. When using these, spread them out thinly and never in heaps as this may attract dogs; snail baits are poisonous to dogs and cats, so always scatter them sparingly and keep the packet locked out of your pets’ (and kids’) reach.
Set the lawn mower up a notch to let the grass thicken for winter.
Garden shrubs and trees can be moved from now until August, when bud burst occurs. Dig up as much of the roots as possible and water in with a solution of plant hormone growth stimulant (kelp) such as Plant Hormone after planting.
Cut back chrysanthemums and lift dahlia bulbs.
As the vegies finish and die off for winter, dig in plenty of manure and leave fallow or plant a green manure crop to improve the soil. Try ‘Clever Clover’, which is available from the CSIRO in Canberra.
As winter approaches, ease off with the watering of indoor plants. Plants like to be kept a little drier in winter, as excess water chills their roots. Leave repotting and fertilising until spring, and keep plants away from heaters or airconditioning vents.
Small (match head-sized), fluffy white blobs on plants indicates the presence of mealy bug. There is no effective longterm treatment for this pest and it is best to quickly get rid of affected plants before the pest spreads.
TIME TO PLANT
It is really too late to plant tropical things like bougainvillea and frangipani unless you live in the tropics, but you can still sneak in winter-flowering jewels such as luculia, flowering quinces, camellias, hardenbergia and many grevilleas, as well as some violas, pansies, alyssum, Livingstone daisies, lobelia, English daisies, calendulas, dianthus, anemones, primulus, ranunculus, poppies, stocks, sweet peas, snapdragons, larkspurs, cornflowers, foxgloves and cinerarias.
In the vegetable garden plant cauliflower, lettuce, spinach, radish and broad beans (not in tropical areas).
March is the most popular month in Australia for marriages and births. So what about a garden wedding? Most brides have stephanotis in their posies, so you can try growing your own; they have pure white trumpet flowers and a romantic, connubial perfume.
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• Most bulbs are on sale now. Plant jonquils immediately, but delay planting the other bulbs until next month.
• Start planning your spring display of annuals, pinching out growth tips and fertilising.
• Lots of weeds will be about, especially onion weed and oxalis. Some gardeners claim that these two weeds can be removed by hand, but this is not true; they will need several treatments of Roundup or Zero. These chemicals are most effective when plants are growing rapidly, so don’t bother to use them in winter. In lawn areas, let the grass and onion weed grow for a few weeks and the onion weed will stand up clear of the grass; it can then be carefully treated with a Zero Weeding Wand. Be careful not to put any Zero on the grass itself, and don’t walk on the Zero as your feet will transfer it to the grass.
• Prune straggly geraniums and fuchsias. If you like, use the prunings for cuttings-you could end up with new plants for free.
• This is your last chance to resurrect any crook bits in the lawn. A light fertilising with a Complete Lawn Food will cheer up the lawn and help it through the rigours of winter.
• In shady areas, oversow the lawn with Shady Lawn Seed or, better still, replace the lawn with low-maintenance ground covers such as native violets, ivy, gazanias, prostrate conifers or low growing natives, build a garden bed or rockery, or pave with bricks. Dichondra is a great lawn alternative for shaded spots.
• Compacted lawn areas or rock-hard soil should be aerated with a garden fork or power aerator (available from equipment hire shops).
TIME TO PLANT
• Strawberries can be planted now. If yours are a few years old, replace them with new virus-free plants and see if you can beat the kids, starlings and magpies to the fruit.
• Plant snapdragon seedlings now, and they will be in flower in time for the kids to play with in the May holidays. When you squeeze the flowers they open up like a lion’s mouth and can keep the children thoroughly amused for minutes!
• Plant bulbs now for flowers from late winter into spring. The hardiest bulbs are jonquils and freesias. In cooler areas you can enjoy daffodils, tulips and grape hyacinths.
• Nothing beats sweet peas or poppies as cut flowers, so plant some in amongst the stocks, violas and pansies. You can try the carpeting form of sweet pea known as Snoopea-unlike other sweet peas, Snoopea has no tendrils and does not climb; it just covers the ground in a kaleidoscope of fragrant red, blue, pink, and white blooms.
• Vegetables to be planted now include Brussels sprouts, beetroot, Chinese cabbage, peas, snow peas, cauliflower, lettuce, cabbage, silver beet, carrots, parsley and radishes.
In February in many coastal areas of Australia, summer humidity sets in and everything rots out from under you. This is also the month of the year when the worst lawn problems appear. In some areas the dreaded armyworm marches across entire neighbourhoods; symptoms include the browning off of huge lawn areas almost overnight. On closer inspection. small, greyish caterpillars can be found in tunnels just below the soil surface. Often, flocks of galahs or even starlings are blamed for the damage, but in fact these birds help by eating the armyworms.
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• In coastal areas, powdery mildew Will be on the increase. This causes a talc like coating on leaves and, later, dieback of roses, crepe myrtles, cucumbers, zucchinis, pumpkins, grapes, fuchsias and anything else that happens to be lying around. To control this problem, spray with Benlate(not organic). Organic option would be milk.
• This is the last month (in non-tropical areas) to plant warm climate plants such as hibiscus, bougainvillea and frangipani. Later planting may cause problems.
• Watch out for fruit fly in central and northern areas; to control, spray with Lebaycid or Chemspray Fruit Fly Kit. Organic option is netting or fruit fly lure.
• Take a look at your native shrubs-if they have finished flowering and look a little scruffy, prune lightly all over. This helps them to live longer, look better and flower more.
• To control severe infestations of armyworms, spray with Carbaryl(Organic use neem)-and keep the galahs away for a few days. Fungal diseases in lawns, which appear as small, often dead patches, can be sprayed with Daconil or Mancozeb(Use organic fungicide). Don’t overwater, as this helps diseases to spread. Black beetles rarely do much damage, but in severe cases and as a last resort use any of the lawn beetle chemicals that are available.
• Fertilise citrus trees. Citrus will bravely fruit until they exhaust themselves and the surrounding soil, leading to die-back, collar rot etc, so get some chook manure or citrus food. Apply the manure as a surface mulch 1cm (0.5”) thick to the width of the branches (but keep it back 10cm/4″ from the trunk) and water in well with a sprinkler. A light application of trace elements, particularly in sandy soil areas, will help to make the fruit taste sweeter and the tree itself to resist disease and insect attack.
• Keep weeds and lawns away from the trunks of citrus trees. As well as competing for food and water, grass and weeds can hide problems such as collar rot, which affect the citrus trunk at ground level.
• This is a good time to fertilise. For year round feeding use nine-month Osmocote, Nutricote or Selley’s spikes, and for a quick boost use Nitrosol or Fish Emulsion. Always water well when you apply fertiliser.
• Either don’t bother to feed African violets or use African violet food only, and don’t overwater.
TIME TO PLANT
• Wok enthusiasts can plant snow peas, sugar snap peas and Chinese cabbage, all of which are really worthwhile. Purists who need lots of exercise might consider growing potatoes. This is also the time for beans, peas, broccoli, carrots, beetroot, lettuce, cabbage, cauliflower and tomatoes (in warmer areas).
• Flowering annuals to plant include violas, pansies, cinerarias and primulas.
This is a great old document from the CSIRO on composting. It is written for the home gardener but also has some great scientific information like the right carbon to nitrogen ratios(C/N ratio) for compost.
Composting – Making soil improver from rubbish
Rubbish is one product our society makes very well. We make mountains and oceans of it. We dump it in holes and in the sea, bury it and burn it. But when we run out of holes, when the sea can not take any more, and when we get sick of smoke in our eyes, what do we do then?
One answer given by those who are concerned about our soils and food production system is: “Compost it and return it to the soil”. They are, of course, referring to the many organic materials that we throw away or burn – lawn clippings, leaves, weeds, sawdust, paper, kitchen scraps, seaweed, etc. The compost heap can convert this bulky “rubbish” into a soil improver and fertiliser. This booklet is about the science and art of making compost, and has a bit of philosophy too.
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