As I write this in mid January, thunderstorms have hit Melbourne, lightning has started a fire in the Otways and floods and downed trees will be creating yet more work for the indefatigable SES volunteers. The firefighters in the CFA and MFB have been extraordinary in their bravery, dedication and skill, now aided by the military. The bush fires started in NSW in September, QLD followed shortly after and fires hit eastern Victoria, SA and WA in late December. It has been a hellish summer. We are only half way through. If you want to donate to the Victorian Bushfire Appeal, 100% will go directly to the affected communities.
Prepare vegetable garden beds for your winter crop. Clear the beds when your summer fruiting plants are finished and compost the plant matter if it was not diseased. Chop the long stems down as you add them to your heap so that they break down faster.
In your vegetable garden, incorporate plenty of prepared compost and manure to compensate for the nutrient-depleted soil. Although, if you are planning on planting carrots or garlic, keep a patch dug over but unfertilized, they are better in a poorer soil.
Lift & divide old clumps of spring flowering bulbs, particularly daffodils, which failed to flower last season. Spring flowering bulbs will be available for sale later this month.
Trim back, feed and water fuchsias early this month to encourage an autumn display. Fertilise citrus & stone fruit trees with Fruit & Citrus fertiliser.
Feed roses with Rose Food. If mildew and black spot hasn’t already driven you to pruning your roses, then now is the time to prune them back lightly to encourage an autumn flush on repeat flowering varieties. This summer pruning is easily done if you pick the flowers for vases inside. Place cut roses in water straight away with a drop of Plant Starter in the water, and keep in a cool position inside. They should last for one to three weeks. Check out our Roses factsheet here.
Cut back summer flowering herbaceous perennials, mulch with compost and water well. They should reward the attention with a flush of autumn flowers.
Dead head agapanthus that should be finished flowering now. Don’t let the heads go to seed. They propagate by seed easily and can become an environmental problem if allowed to spread.
After the bushfires, the issue of ash has once again come up. Ash is commonly high in potassium and you can use some ash around the garden, but that is ash from your fireplace, wood stove, slow combustion heater etc. These use safe non-treated (with copper or arsenic) timber. Even then, ash will be very alkaline and is often best used via your compost bin. It can be especially useful if you have a lot of acidic fruit in the bin, not uncommon over summer.
Even with the relaxed water restrictions, it is absolutely vital to ensure that you are watering effectively. If the soil has dried out the water will not penetrate. It runs off the surface and your plants will suffer. The best way to water is to deliver the water slowly so that it can soak in to the soil and does not run off the surface. You may need to use wetting agents if your soil is hydrophobic (the water beads up and runs off).
Lawns can look very sad at this time of year. Even without water restrictions, if you hate wasting precious water on keeping grass looking green you should ask yourself: do you really need all that lawn space? Take another look at your lawn area. Perhaps you could reduce the amount of lawn by making the garden beds wider, or make some new garden beds. There are groundcovers that may replace lawns in low or no traffic areas, or perhaps a different surface such as pavers or gravel in higher traffic areas. Click here for some inspirational ideas for replacing your boring old water guzzler.
Blossom End Rot
Blossom End Rot commonly affects tomatoes at this time of year. Fruit has sunken and blackened patches at the blossom end of the fruit. The condition is caused by a lack of calcium and is aggravated by water stress during the dry months. Apply lime or gypsum to garden beds next year before planting to help avoid Blossom End Rot. Fertilising tomato plants throughout the growing season with Tomato Food also helps to supply calcium to the plant. Mulch and keep the soil evenly moist.