Winter is Official Here!
Winter officially starts June 1st and in many areas of Australia it’s the date to turn the reticulation controller off. Fingers crossed there will enough rain to keep the garden growing throughout these months.
With cooler temperatures the evaporation rate is less so maintaining moisture levels in the soil is critical. It’s just as important to mulch the garden in winter as it is in summer.
A composting mulch that breaks down with moisture will feed the soil with valuable nutrients, create warmth around plants roots as it breaks down and reduce moisture loss from the soil on warmer than average winter days.
How to Protect Plants from Frost.
Warm days and clear nights increase the risk of frost. As a very general guide, plants with small tough needle like foliage are less susceptible to cold damage than soft leaf varieties.
Tips for protecting plants from frost damage.
- Cover tender seedlings at night with upturned plastic pots.
- Mulch young seedlings with a thick layer of pea hay, Lucerne hay, sugar cane mulch or compost. These mulches will create warmth as they break down keeping soil temperatures slightly higher than if there was no covering on the soil.
- Use Seasol regularly every two weeks throughout the year (30mL per 9 litres of water – standard watering can) can protect soft tender foliage. Frost damage is caused when frozen plant cells thaw out and rupture. With regular use, Seasol can lower the temperature at which plant cells freeze. It’s a bit like antifreeze for your garden, providing plants with a better chance of standing up to frost and colder temperatures.
- Hessian or shade cloth is a cheap temporary cover for large areas.
- Small seedlings can be further protected by pushing a small branch into the soil next to it. The foliage will protect the seedling from the direct cold.
Refrain from pruning plants back hard in autumn as the soft new growth that appears at this time of the year is susceptible to cold damage.
Garden Tip – Planting under trees.
Often establishing plants to grow under trees is a little difficult as small plants find it hard to compete with the competition of the roots of the established trees. Soil improving and correct plant selection, are the keys to success.
Establishing a garden bed under established trees or shrubs – follow these simple steps:
- When digging under the canopy fine feeder roots are massed in the top 20cm of soil. Remove as many of these as possible to a depth of at least 30cm.
- Improve the soil with quality organic soil improver and sheep manure.
- These plants need the best start possible so they can get established before they have to compete with larger plants.
- The addition of a wetting agent such as Seasol Super Soil Wetter and Conditioner (50mL of concentrate per 9 litres of water) at planting will help the water to soak into the soil and not run off the top.
- After planting apply quality organic mulch to hold water into the soil. Don’t forget to water in with Seasol.
Fertilising soil with leaves – the use of green manure crops
Improving soil fertility is a major focus for gardeners. It’s even better when we can get plants to do the work for us. The healthier the soil the more productive it will be. One way of taking advantage of the cooler seasons and improving the production capacity of the garden is to sow a green manure crop now.
Field peas are one of the most versatile and easy to grow green manure crops –
- They are a legume and will fix atmospheric nitrogen in nodules in the soil which is readily available to future crops.
- When dug in while the plants are at flowering stage the nutrients in the leaves and stems will compost rapidly, improving water holding capacity and fertility of the soil.
- Plants can be left to grow onto production stage and as it finishes can be laid down over the soil to act as mulch shading the soil from the searing summer heat.
Steps to successfully growing a green manure crop.
- Prepare seed bed with compost, worm castings or manures.
- Sprinkle field peas (available from stockfeed or produce stores) over seed bed and cover lightly.
- As the peas grow, tender shoots can be harvested for fresh salads and stir fries.
- Dig in the crop as it starts to flower and the foliage is green to a depth of at least 20cm.
- Planting of vegie crops can begin within a few weeks.
- Alternatively allow the crop to produce and trim off foliage at ground level and lay back on top of the soil.
Weeds in Lawns
Weeds in lawns are best treated when they have just started to germinate and can be barely seen. Give them some warmth and light and very soon they will take hold in the bare patches. They’ll compete for water and nutrients and have the potential to choke out the lawn in certain areas. Take a look at the lawn, often weeds will thrive in compacted soil better than the lawn. If this is the case take to the lawn with a pitch fork or aerator to loosen up the soil, not only keeps you fit but will definitely benefit the lawn. Then add lawn reviver and rake smooth. Another crop of weeds may germinate as the lawn is starting to recover – control these while they are still very small.
There is one exception to the rule when it comes to weeds in lawns. Clover is beneficial and if it takes hold in winter think of it as a green manure crop for the soil. As it grows it will be fixing atmospheric nitrogen, that’s available to the plant as the clover dies off as the weather warms up.