By GEOFF MIERS
October is one of the three best months of the year to garden as the climatic conditions are offering ideal growing conditions for all plant varieties, irrespective of the garden type.
Vegetables, flowering annuals, herbs, fruit trees, native and exotic species and container gardens can all be planted now with great success as they love the warmer soils.
The extra bonus this week is we may well have some rain on three to five days and nothing is better for the garden than rain water. Along with the stimulus of the Springs burst of growth, great daytime temperatures and nitrogen rich rain water we may even get an electrical storm or two that really charges up the ions that is so fantastic for plant growth.
Planting now will quickly see plants establishing new root systems and generating new foliage growth as they prepare themselves for the summer months ahead. Critical to successful planting however revolves around several key factors.
Raindrops on lettuce in the farm area, and below, broccoli.
Your best bet is to only purchase quality, healthy sun hardened stock that is actively growing, plants preferably grown here in Alice Springs.
Many plants imported into Alice Springs are not sun hardened to our conditions having previously been grown in controlled environments. They look great when they come out of the shade and hot houses, however they are soft and guaranteed to stress when exposed suddenly to our much warmer conditions.
Prior to planting it may be necessary to make some improvement to the soil.
This may involve nothing more than placing a fertiliser tablet in the planting hole 5cm below the bottom of where the plant will sit. This little bit of food for the plant will make the world of difference to the plants growth over the next twelve months.
If soil conditions are really poor other treatments maybe be required. This could range from adding gypsum to improve the soils structure, adding organic matter to stimulate micro-bionic activity in the soil or adding a wetting agent to improve the soils capacity to hold moisture.
The type of plant or planting being undertaken will dictate how much work is required prior to planting.
Major plantings in the vegetable, herb and flowering annual garden should be undertaken over the next three weeks. It’s now an optimum time to plant capsicums, chilli, cucumbers, egg plants, marrow, rock and water melons, pumpkins, squash, sweetcorn and zucchini.
Most people prefer to plant seedlings as you have the immediate impact and can sit back and be satisfied with your effort. That’s okay however with seedling transplants sometimes a little extra effort is required to provide some protection to lessen the impact of transplant shock.
Seed grown plants when they emerge from the soil seem to quickly adapt to the climatic conditions with no shock factor setting the plants backwards.
Care maybe required to protect them from slugs, snails and slaters. Simply cut a two litre soft drink bottle in three sections and place this around the seedlings and it will keep these garden pests at bay.
Crops of beetroot, carrots, celery, cress, dwarf and climbing beans, okra, parsley, parsnips, potatoes, radish, shallots, silver beet, spinach, spring onions, strawberries, sweet potatoes and tomatoes will still thrive if planted now.
In the flower garden a large range of flowers can be planted this month.
Marigolds are always great in the vegetable garden, petunias will give a quick sustained blaze of colour, gazanias flower on the hottest days, seaside daisies flower for months on end and suit most gardens, portulaca suit the dry rockery, sunflowers bring the ring neck parrots and zinnias bloom in full summer.
If planting out vegetables or flowering annuals fertilise the soil prior to planting. If using an organic fertiliser like Grow Better or Blood and Bone you can simply dig it in and plant.
It is always better to prepare the ground a few of weeks in advance if using fresh animal manures, however little harm will occur if using commercial organic fertilise as recommended. Generally you can prepare the soil and plant immediately.
Fresh manures be they chicken, cow, camel, etc are another matter, you will need to water the soil and allow the manures to break down prior to planting over several weeks.
Planting of citrus and fruit trees and strawberries now will thrive provided the plants are nurtured over the next month. All require some extra attention to provide ideal growing conditions. Central to this is the need to be particular about the plants’ watering needs. Adequately watered they will all quickly settle and grow.
With any planting out now mulching becomes increasingly important particularly as temperatures increase.
Organic mulches will moderate soil temperature variations, limit water loss due to evaporation, limit weed growth, promote necessary micro-organic activity and in the longer term provide much needed organic material needed for conditioning our soils.
Lettuce perking up under the gentle rain.
Pea straw is I believe the most suitable organic mulch to use for the vegetable, herb and flower garden as it provides immediate benefits, breaks down relatively quickly and returns nutrients back into the soil.
I’m not so keen on sugar cane mulch as its rather more woody drawing much needed nutrients from the soil away from your plants (particularly nitrogen) and can form an almost impenetrable barrier preventing water applied adequately reaching the soil below.
Critical to all planting now is establishing a regular watering regime to meet the plants needs. Watering may be required daily for the two to three weeks or until new roots venture out into the surrounding soil and the plant is better able to withstand any hiccups.
Failure to meet the plant water needs can result in expensive plant losses or retardation of the plants growth. The later the planting is undertaken the greater the importance needs to be placed on watering.
In summary get excited by the potential benefits of any rain we receive and get involved with your garden.
AT TOP: A prepared planting bed, complete with rabbit proof fence, sadly a necessity in the farm area.