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).
This is the best time of year to plant trees and shrubs and to remove any straggly bushes and replace them with hardier varieties. Now that the weather is cooler, redesign your garden-put in a barbecue area or a sandpit for the kids. Citrus are the best home fruit by far, and with winter coming up are a useful source of Vitamin C to repel colds and flu. To improve drainage, remember that surface drains always work best; try to shed surface water by cunningly placed contours. In very dry areas such as Perth and inland zones. contours which collect water around the bases of trees and shrubs are a good idea (in any case, flat garden areas can often look dull and boring).
JOBS TO DO NOW
Create a serene, meadow-like effect in your backyard by planting some bulbs now. Plant jonquils (although it is getting a little bit late for these), freesias, hyacinths, daffodils and in cooler areas tulips, all of which are available now.
This is usually a bad time for insect pests but, before you start indiscriminately spraying chemicals, stop and think. Some spraying of serious infestations is common sense, but ask your nurseryperson for ‘safe’ chemicals such as pyrethrum and dipel. Where possible, control insects by nonchemical means such as hosing them off, squashing them or ignoring them. Winter grass is starting to germinate now. Learn to live with it if you can-it is nice and green, not prickly, and makes good budgie and canary food. Spray with Endothal if you must, but check that this is okay for your particular type of grass.
Cyclamen are the classiest of all indoor flowering plants. However, some are sold in lightweight, almost pure peat potting mixes which cause the plant to collapse prematurely indoors. Only buy cyclamen in nice, gritty, heavy potting mixes. Cyclamen like cool nights and can be put outside at this time.
Cut off straggly looking maidenhair ferns at ground level, fertilise with Nitrosol and leave them outside in a shady area for a few weeks. After this they will look lush, green and stunning.
TIME TO PLANT
If you haven’t already, start planting your spring display of flowering annuals: violas, pansies, alyssum, Livingstone daisies, lobelia, English daisies, calendulas, dianthus, anemones, prirnulas, ranunculus, poppies, stocks, sweet peas, snapdragons, larkspurs, cornflowers, foxgloves and cinerarias (in the shade).
You are also running out of time to get your spring bulbs in. Try some in pots. Hyacinths will grow in a jar on your windowsill.
Vegetables to plant now include onions, cabbage, peas, snow peas, Chinese cabbage, lettuce, spinach and radishes.