Winter gardening you need to do right now – Daily Telegraph


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If you can revitalise your outdoors space now you will reap the benefits when it really counts.Winter is a great time to get out and be active in your garden.There are some ‘fair weather gardeners’ who complain about the rain and only head outside when it’s sunny and warm, however after our long, dry summer and autumn, a bit of winter gardening can be quite enjoyable. In most parts of Australia we have more good days than bad during winter so there’s no reason not to keep on top of outdoor tasks.The great thing about gardening in winter is the ground is damp and easy to dig. So here’s what you can do now that conditions are right.WINTER GARDENING TIPSAs you look around your garden, you may find a number of plants which need a prune and tidy up.And everything you do now will reap rewards when spring arrives. As a rule, most plants benefit from pruning once a year after flowering. Now is the time to prune back summer and autumn-flowering perennials and shrubs. Top up mulch While some people suggest that you should not have mulch on your garden over winter, as this is when most of our weeds start to appear, the general consensus is that it’s actually a good idea to keep a layer of mulch on the garden all year round.If mulch has broken down during the warmer weather and you can start to see the soil, winter is a great time to top it up. Because many plants have lost their leaves, it’s easier to see what you are doing in winter, and which plants need the most help. Improve your soil and prepare for plantingPrepare any new garden areas for planting by working through organic matter such as compost and aged manures.This turns your soil into a sponge. Not only does it improve your soil’s structure but also encourages earthworm and microbial activity. Ideally, soil preparation should be done several months in advance to let the new ‘brew’ settle in.Wipe out weedsTry to bring weeds under control now before they explode into spring growth in a few months’ time.More importantly, you really need to pull them out before they flower and set seed. As gardeners are fond of saying, ‘one year’s seeding is seven years’ weeding’. For large garden areas where you plan to garden, but don’t yet have a concrete plan on how to go about it, it’s a good idea to sheet mulch in preparation. The soil will be nice and moist when you’re ready to garden. Plant out in winterThis is the fun part, and yes, you can plant out in wintertime. Whether it is bare rooted fruit or ornamental trees, roses or vines, crowns of strawberries, rhubarb or asparagus, or potted perennials and shrubs, get them in as soon as you can so that their root systems can start to establish. The only exception to this is when you are planting subtropical plants such as citrus, passionfruit, frangipani or hibiscus These plants don’t like being planted into cool soil, so you are best to wait until the ground warms up in spring unless you live in a tropical region of Australia.Time to transplantNow is also the ideal time to transplant deciduous plants such as roses, shrubs and small fruit or ornamental trees. Make sure you prune to compensate for any root loss. As a general rule, it’s also a good idea to dig the hole wide and deep enough to get as much of the plant’s roots out as possible. Prune itRoses, fruit trees, hydrangeas and grape vines should all be pruned once they have lost their leaves. While you’re at it, look out for rose suckers and deal with them promptly. Suckers can occur on any grafted plant where part of the root stock shoots up. If they are not removed, they can eventually take over the whole plant. This can be difficult to do without getting stabbed by thorns, so wear gloves. The trick is to wait until the ground is really moist and then rip them off, rather than cut them off, otherwise they will reshoot. When you do strike a day when the weather is too miserable for tackling outdoor maintenance, and you don’t have any undercover projects, settle into a warm nook indoors and use the time to do some garden planning. It’s as simple as typing gardening ideas into a search engine. Work out how you can redesign your garden to improve its structure, content and appearance. Do you need to design to create more shade for summer with trees or structures? Do you want to add focal points or simply rearrange garden beds where there have been some plant casualties? You could also do some gardening homework, such as sharpening and maintaining your tools, researching suitable plants or even gardening techniques.GARDENING IDEAS, TIPS, QUESTIONS AND ANSWERSQ. I have really sandy soil. How can I improve it? And what types of plants should I consider that are likely to do well in this type of soil?A. The main challenges with sandy soils relate to the fact that they dry out so quickly and fail to retain moisture or nutrients. In addition, they are often described as ‘hydrophobic’ or ‘non-wetting’ which means, although water is applied, it fails to penetrate and soak into the soil. As a result, the soil has an almost waxy or water-repelling quality and after watering, the water can be seen pooling on the surface of the soil. The solution to improving these soils is to add organic matter in the form of composts and well-rotted animal manures through the top 15cm to 20cm of soil.Clay can also be added at a rate of about one part clay to four parts of the original sand, or you can purchase bentonite as a clay-based soil wetter. As a short-term solution, the use of organic-based soil wetters may help, but in the long-term, the addition of organic matter and clay is the key to helping hold moisture and nutrients in the soil. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, select plants that tolerate sandy well-drained soils. Many plants thrive on sandy soils, especially Australian natives. If you are trying to grow a plant that needs to stay moist all summer in sandy soil, you are destined to have problems, and the only way that it will flourish will be if you can ‘pour’ the water on, which in itself is not very environmentally sensible: we are trying to garden within our particular constraints, not despite them. Mulch, which is vital with any soil, is critical with sandy soils. Use organic mulches which, as they break down, will continue to add organic matter to the soil. In this way, the mulch serves several purposes. It keeps the root system of the plant cool, helps to hold the moisture in the soil and stops the plant from drying out. It also increases the organic matter content of the soil.Q. I am growing cannas for the first time and have been blessed with some beautiful blooms. I read somewhere that you should cut the plants back to ground level after flowering. Is this correct?A. Like many perennials, giving cannas a hard prune after flowering is advisable to keep them looking their best. This will encourage new growth and you will get a great display of blooms next summer.If you don’t cut them back hard you will still get the fresh new growth and flowers in summer, however it will appear amongst last season’s growth, which will look scrappy.SOPHIE THOMSON’S PLANT OF THE WEEKAloesThese fascinating succulents with architectural foliage and form send up spikes of colourful tubular flowers for many months in the cooler weather.While aloe vera may be the best-known species renowned as a treatment for sunburn and minor burns, the diversity of other aloe species and cultivars available means there is one to suit any sunny position.They range in size and form, from low clumping plants, climbers, through medium and tall shrubs, up to forms which develop into trees. Flowers range from vibrant reds, orange and yellows to mellow pink, salmons and creams and not only are these flowers attractive to us, but honey-eating birds just love the nectar-rich blooms, as do butterflies and bees.They look great in the ground, in pots or troughs. They also grow in well-drained soils and tolerate drought, salt winds and mild frosts.Send Sophie your gardening questions via [email protected]
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