By GEOFF MIERS
April is traditionally the busiest month on the gardener’s calendar as wherever you look in the garden there appears to be a job that needs attention.
Initially focus on all the must do jobs that generally require immediate attention.
Pest and disease numbers will have built up over the Summer months and they tend to explode quickly as numbers of pests increase dramatically. For example as the temperature drops the insect population can quickly explode, a classic case being aphides.
Presently the aphid population is exploding as each aphid in capable of producing 25 babies a day, do your maths and you will realise that you can have several million aphides in a very short period of time.
Check the lilies in your fish pond you will find aphides, check your chilli plants, check new growth on citrus, and closely check your new and old vegetables as the aphides will be now appearing.
Aphides are easy to manage. Only a few, squash with your fingers or hose off with sharp jets of water of spray with a light spray of pyrethrum.
Many forms of scale have built up over Summer. Most common is white lace scale, large black or brown scale and I have noticed a lot of white cushion scale this year.
White cushion scale should not be confused with mealy bug. Cushion scale is white, oval shaped, has ribs on its back and has a black spot on its back.
All the scale can be managed by spraying with white oil. As the temperatures drop to around 30 degrees and below it is safe to use oil sprays as with temperatures of 35 degrees and above oil applied to plant foliage generally will cause the leaves to burn. This will not occur particularly once temperatures drop into the 20s.
Mealy bug seems to have bred up in late Summer particularly on Hibiscus shrubs and citrus trees and needs to be treated as they can result in considerable harm to your plants. Squash the odd mealy bug with your fingers, jet off with sharp jets of water and follow up by spraying with white oil or malathion and white oil to kill off the tiny mealy bug hiding in little crevasses that you can’t see.
Compost bins should be full with their contents fully broken down nicely ready to add to existing garden beds. Dig your compost through the soil while also adding organic animal manures.
If you want to plant immediately only used blood and bone or pelletiSed organic fertiliSer like Grow Better as when using fresh animal manures you need to allow it to mature in the soil for many weeks.
Roses that have survived the Summer may need to be sprayed with copper oxychloride to manage fungal diseases, citrus will need feeding along with lawns if not previously fertilised in February. By feeding your citrus lawns now they will spark up and put on a flush of new growth and then toughen up before the onset of Winter.
Garden beds that have been fallow for a while should be topped up with a blend of potting mix, compost and organic fertilisers ready for immediate planting.
Spring garden beds for the vegetable garden should also be topped up. To these beds add lots of animal manures, straw and compost. Water these beds periodically and gradually they will mature and be in an ideal state for planting into in Spring, not now.
Winter vegetables, flowering annuals, herbs, citrus, fruit trees, grapes and perennial evergreen plants should all be planted this month. Don’t forget of course native plant species they thrive when planted over April and May.
There is almost nothing that can not be planted this month. Planting now while the soils are still warm and the daylight hours are long making for conditions that are ideal for plant growth.
Planted now plants will quickly develop a new extended root system put on new growth and toughen up well before winter conditions prevail.
Don’t delay too long with planting particularly with reference to the longer maturing vegetables as some can take four months and longer to mature.
Left too long and Spring will be approaching before you know it and the arrival of pesty aphides that quickly spoil crops of broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, Brussel sprouts and kale will be breeding up spoiling your mature produce.
As a side note aphides have just commenced appearing in some home gardens. A quick spray with pyrethrum with a little white oil will bring them under control. Check your water lilies, new growth on citrus, check your chillies and both old and new vegetables.
For those gardeners who prepared garden beds two to three months ago it will be an ideal time to plant. Manures should have broken down and been worked into the soil and ready to assist plant growth, soil organisms will have breed up and assisted with working the soil and weed seeds will have germinated being easily turned in prior to any planting taking place.
For those who have not prepared in advance fear not as it’s not too late, simply your approach will have to vary.
I wouldn’t be introducing rare manures and fresh home made composts to the garden bed unless really well broken down. Rare manures and half decomposed compost can be too rich for new plants or can compete with new plants robbing them of much needed nutrients.
If confronted with using fresh manures and new compost its simply a matter of preparing the garden beds and irrigating for some time prior to planting. Prepare these beds now and wait until conditions are ideal for planting be it six to 12 weeks away or as stated earlier in the article wait until Springs when everything will have broken down nicely.
Prepare these beds for the future and then turn your attention to preparing new beds for immediate planting. This however will require a different approach.
Organic fertilisers such as GrowBetter or Blood & Bone can however be used safely in preparing a bed ready for immediate planting although it’s still best to allow a week or two between preparing the soil and planting.
As a general formulae for a 2.1m x 0.9m x 0.40m raised garden bed I blend 0.5m cubic metres of fresh top soil (with a pH of 6.5), four bags of cheap potting mix, fours bags of compost and two bags of cow manure. To this I add up to one or two kilograms of GrowBetter organic fertiliser.
Using this formulae I prepare the bed one weekend and the following weekend or two I plant out with a range of flowering and food producing seeds and seedlings. I offer the formulae above as an example as so many people are purchasing easy to assemble metal raised garden beds.
The above formulae using potting mix, compost, cow manure and organic fertiliser can be incorporated into a traditional garden bed and once prepared can be planted out literally immediately.
With vegetable and flower seedlings I compliment the use of an organic fertiliser by watering seedlings and seeds in with a liquid fertiliser. The liquid fertiliser tends to reduce the shock of transplanting seedlings, provides valued nutrients that are quickly taken up through the foliage and roots of the young seedlings.
In the vegetable garden April is the optimum time to plant Asian greens beetroot, broadbeans, celery, lettuce, leeks, parsnips, peas and spinach. Broccoli, brussel sprouts, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, Chinese spinach, endive, onions, parsley, radish, shallots, snow peas, spring onions, swede and turnips can also be grown with great success.
In the flower garden ageratum, alyssum, antirrhium (snapdragon), calendula, candytuff, canterbury bells, carnations, centurea (corn flower), chrysanthemum varieties, delphinium, dianthus, gypsophila, helichrysum, larkspur, lobelia, lupins, marigolds, nemesia, pansies, poppies, primula, stock, sweet peas, verbena, viola, and wallflowers can all be planted.
Throughout the garden generally it is also an optimum time to plant strawberries, many winter herbs and citrus, grape vines, passionfruit and fruit trees.
PHOTO by Kathy Keatley Garvey: Three soldier beetles search for aphids on a rose bush.