Gardening diary: Early winter
Many plants become near-dormant during winter so now is a good time to plant fruit bushes and trees more tolerant of disturbance in this state.
Fruit trees are less liable to suffer from being manhandled and replanted in winter when growth slows down or stops.
Garden centres will now be stocking a range of berry bushes including blueberry, blackcurrant and redcurrant, gooseberry, blackberry and boysenberry.
Planting fruit bushes
- Choose an area in your garden sheltered from strong winds (either in a pot or replanted in the garden).
- Sprinkle rotted manure or compost around the base.
- As these bushes all enjoy an acidic soil, heavily mulch the soil with pine needles, and dust the soil with sulphur or a sprinkling of ammonium sulphate.
- Blueberries especially enjoy plenty of water throughout spring and summer.
- Strawberry plants are also available in garden centres and these thrive in all manner of containers, providing they are fed in spring with compost, manure, wood ash or a general purpose fertiliser, watered and given plenty of sunshine.
Planting pip and stone-fruit trees
- Plant in a sunny and sheltered location and give a light feed after planting.
- It is well worth investing in a book on pruning as over the long term the practice of pruning determines the quality and quantity of fruit.
Grape vines can be established now, ensuring they have a structure to climb along and full sun. Most varieties of grapes thrive in any soil providing it is free-draining — grapes do not like wet feet. Again, feed the vine when planted, water in spring and summer and employ a rigorous pruning regime to produce fruit.
General planting tips
- Dig a hole twice the diameter and twice the depth of the pot you bought the plant in.
- Mix some compost in with the soil when backfilling the hole around the plant.
- Carefully firm the soil back around the plant roots after each spadeful to eliminate large air pockets.
- Water in once planted to encourage soil to settle around the root ball.
- If the roots get damaged during transplanting, trim the green parts of the plant so that the ratio of roots to shoots (green parts above ground) is similar to how it was before the damage. The size of the root ball determines how big a plant can survive.
- Do not pile up soil or mulch so that it touches the base of the main stem of the plant as this may cause it to rot.
Q. Should I apply liquid chicken fertiliser over autumn and winter?
A. No, for several reasons:
- Liquid chicken fertiliser is designed to be readily digested and so it’s ideally applied to plants when they are at a vigorous stage — either growing or fruiting or both. This is in spring through to late summer.
- Liquid manures are usually applied as a foliar feed and as most vege gardens are pretty bare in the winter there will not be a lot of foliage on which to spray.
- Liquid manures applied in winter will wash away in the winter rains and so the nutrients will be lost to any plant.
- Chook manure is particularly high in phosphorus (as well as nitrogen and potassium) — nutrients associated with fruiting and flowering among other growth characteristics and hence is best applied summer onwards.
The best way to prepare a winter garden for the following spring growth is to layer fresh or rotted manure over the soil. The winter weather will help further break down the manure so that come spring, it will have composted sufficiently so that it will not burn or harm young seedlings.