There's no season like spring to turn our attention outdoors and inspire the gardener in all of us. For best results, it pays to put time into planning and preparation.
Now is a great time to start sowing and planting a range of veg and flowers, but for ultimate success, look to the soil first. “When spring finally arrives after a dreary winter, many people rush out and purchase plants to put in their gardens straightaway,” says Scott Bromwich of Daltons. “But the condition and preparation of your soil is fundamental to a successful, healthy garden. What you put into the soil is what you will get back.”
Many backyard beds have minimal topsoil that is usually depleted of organic matter. “The soil type is often heavy clay or, in volcanic or coastal sandy areas, fine or overly free-draining soil,” says Scott. “Adding organic material like compost improves soil structure and provides important nutrients and food for vital soil microorganisms. It creates a healthy environment for your plants' root systems and acts like a sponge that holds water in the soil for longer without compromising air spaces.”
Before planting, dig over your existing soil to approximately one and a half spades deep, suggests Scott. Add good-quality compost and mix it in well. “After a week to 10 days, turn the soil again. With this second dig, add a decent amount of blood and bone, which provides nutrients for beneficial microorganisms. These play an important role in making nutrients available to plants,” he says. If clay is a problem, try a fast-acting liquid gypsum, like Eco-Organic ‘Eco-Flo' gypsum. Keep the soil topped up with nutrients throughout the growing season by side-dressing (applying around the plant stems) with a good fertiliser.
Sow seeds or plant seedlings of lettuces, radishes, rocket and mustard greens to enjoy a fresh spring salad. Sow at two-or three-weekly intervals for a successive supply. Once established, regularly feed with a fast-acting tonic or fertiliser, like Seasol or Yates ‘Thrive' natural fish and seaweed plant food. After feeding or spraying edibles, delay harvesting and always wash before use.
Sow cucumbers, courgettes, capsicums, chillies, eggplants and tomatoes in small pots and keep them in a warm, sheltered spot until they're large enough to plant into the garden (tomatoes are traditionally planted in the garden around Labour Day). For an easy option, sow seeds into peat pellets or pots. “These help your seeds grow into seedlings with strong roots, and you can plant them [pot and all] directly into your garden, avoiding transplant shock,” says Aaron Whitehouse, managing director of Mr Fothergill's.
In warm areas, sow beetroot directly in the ground. Beetroot prefers soil temperatures of at least 10ºC to germinate, so wait until October in cooler areas. Sow seeds of pak choi, Chinese broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, celery and celeriac in pots or trays. Keep in a sheltered spot until big enough to be planted in the garden. In warmer regions, sow carrots and parsnips directly in the ground. Wait until October in cooler areas. Carrots can be ready in as little as two months after sowing (even earlier if you are growing baby carrots), but parsnips take five to six months to attain a decent size. Before sowing, dig over the soil and remove any stones or debris to prevent forking. Chit early potatoes (encourage them to grow shoots) before planting out to help increase the yield; place on a tray in a single layer and keep in a light, airy spot out of direct sunlight. When shoots are 2-3cm long, plant out into compost-enriched soil.
Nothing says spring like flowers. “Sunflowers are easy and fast to grow; they also attract pollinators and can benefit soil health,” says Aaron.
Roses are at their peak in November. Deadhead spent flowers to keep plants blooming, and water deeply once a week (more often for potted roses). Feed each week with a specially designed rose food. Monitor plants for signs of common leaf diseases such as black spot and powdery mildew. If required, a fortnightly spray of a specialised formula will keep these diseases at bay. Dahlia tubers and gladioli corms can be planted any time in spring for a summer and autumn flowering. Plant into free-draining, compost-enriched soil in full sun. Many flowering plants, such as marigolds, alyssum and cosmos, can be sown in trays or pots for planting when big enough.
Slugs and snails appear in droves with the spring rains. Remove garden debris and rubbish where they like to hide. If necessary, lay down bait, traps, gel or a snail barrier. Also watch out for aphids. “These sap-sucking insect pests are attracted to the soft, tender young growth on veg and herb seedlings; they can adversely affect plant health and reduce your harvest,” says Fiona Arthur of Yates NZ. Codling moths emerge in mid to late spring and lay eggs in the immature fruits of pip fruit. Hang pheromone traps; when these start catching moths, spray the trees with an appropriate insecticide.
Stakes support the plant and protect it from damage by winds and rains. Beans, peas and tomatoes produce the biggest harvests when staked or caged. “Flowers and vegetables that grow to 60cm or more should be staked,” says Mandy Sheffield from Whites Group. Insert stakes when planting to avoid damage to the roots of established plants. Take into account whether the plant can grow up the stake on its own or if it needs to be tied, she says. “Beans will climb on their own, but tomatoes need tying. Choose soft materials to tie the plant to the stake, so as not to damage the plant itself,” says Mandy.
Soil preparation: Complete in early September before planting.
Pak choi, Chinese broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, celery and celeriac: Sow in September for transferring in mid to late October.
Sow lettuces, radishes, rocket and mustard greens: Any time from September to November, ready to transfer when big enough.
Early potatoes – chit (sprout) in early September: Plant out late September/early October.
Tomatoes, cucumbers, courgettes, capsicums, chillies and eggplants: Sow September or October. Plant in the garden around Labour Day: Monday, October 26
Carrots, parsnips and beetroot: In warmer regions, sow in September. Wait until October in cooler regions
Annual flowering plants: Sow any time from September to November
Dahlia tubers and gladioli corms: Plant any time from September to November
Take a scroll through our garden D.I.Y. Advice for more tips and tricks.
Photo credit: Gap Photos/Gary Smith and Getty Images