Hurrying up Santa

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By GEOFF MIERS

The next two weeks is really your last chance to complete all necessary gardening tasks before the festive season really sets in – so get to it now!

Generally nothing gets done over the week before Christmas until after the New Year has commenced and them that could be too late: Your garden may well have paid the price for you being slack or preoccupied with having too much fun.

Remember also you can’t afford to have major problems occur while you are away on holidays for several weeks. 

Firstly you need to check all irrigation systems are fully operational.

If your garden is automatically irrigated then run though each station and check it properly. Are there any leaks or splits in the line? Are all drippers fully operational and has every join got a clamp on it so lines don’t pop?

In the early to mid 2010s we had a very hot year and so many plastic clamps broke or let go and lines popped over summer with a result that whole garden beds weren’t watered for several weeks in the hottest part of the year.

Many people that year came home to whole garden beds dead. Its better to check and be safe than be sorry.

I’ve gone over completely to stainless steel metal clamps rather than the plastic ones. I know it cost more but one broken plastic clamp can result in a whole system failing and many hundreds of dollars worth of plants dying – all for the sake of saving a few dollars.

Having checked all systems make sure you reprogram your controllers to ensure the systems are programmed to meet the climatic conditions over the hottest months of the year.

While many of us have turned off our systems because of the record rains we have experienced over October and November – a record amount of rain since records were first kept 79 years ago.

Finally if you have battery operated controllers change over all batteries this week coming as batteries almost always go flat over summer when your garden can least afford to be without water.

I will change over five battery operated controllers this week coming. For the sake of a few dollars its better to come home to a healthy garden, not a dead or dying one.

With spring behind us and record rain over October and November weeds have popped up everywhere in the garden. Young weeds only a centimeter or two high if sprayed now will quickly die and literally disappear.

Allow the weeds to grow and even after sprays you will still need to dig or chip them out.

Couch grass particularly needs to be brought under control particularly if you are going on holidays. With more rain forecast and high humidity the couch will run rampant if allowed to go unchecked.

If you have grasses including couch grass coming up amongst your plants then consider spraying with a grass specific or selective weedicide that will only kill grasses but have no affect on any other plants that are not grasses. 

I reiterate, it will only kill grasses and have no effect on other plants even when they are sprayed.

Many parts of your garden may benefit by being given a boost along by fertilising over the next two weeks. Herb patches, vegetable gardens and flowering annual gardens will all benefit by being given a supplementary side-dressing of a complete organic fertiliser to boost along new growth over summer.

Fruiting plants in the vegetable garden like chillies, capsicums, tomatoes, zucchinis, melons, pumpkins, strawberries, gooseberries, cucumbers and okra all will benefit by being given a side-dressing of potash.

Potash given weekly for up to four weeks will improving flowering, fruit set and the quality of the produce you are growing. Lots of people this year are having success with passionfruit vines loaded with fruit.

This is after having poor crops previously and early in the year applying side-dressings of potash and believe it or not it worked and the flowers came and then the fruit.

Leafy vegetables will benefit also by being given a side-dressing of a high nitrogen fertiliser.

Nutrient deficiencies often appear at this time of the year. The deficiencies may vary from needing extra nitrogen, iron chelates or zinc and manganese. Take along leaf samples to your nursery and ask them to identify what your plants are lacking.

Remember it may well be that your soil pH is high and the high alkalinity is locking up nutrients in the soil. You will need to work at lowering the pH.

Lawns will also benefit by being given a boost before it really gets hot. Lift your lawn mower one notch , feed your lawn and you will have a slightly thicker lawn that will make life a little easier for the grasses in your lawn.

If you fertilised your lawn with a NPK complete lawn fertiliser in spring consider applying sulphate of ammonia now as this will boost leaf growth while at the same time working on lowering the pH of your soil.

After fertilising garden beds throughout your garden consider remulching as necessary.

A good layer of mulch will help suppress week growth, reduce water loss through evaporation and moderate soil temperature extremes.     

Go spotting for any pest outbreaks as a small outbreak now can explode while you are away or locked inside staying out of the extreme summer heat.

Grubs and caterpillars can be a real problem this time of the year. The bud worm will drill holes in tomatoes, eat out corn cobs and spoil roses for example.

The looper grub will decimate your mint pot literally over night and the citrus caterpillar will eat all the new growth on your citrus trees.

There is luckily a biological control that you can spray on your plants that is only poisonous to all grubs and caterpillars but not harmful to birds, pets and humans.   

It is marketed under the title Nature’s Way caterpillar spray, often referred to as Dipel the safe biological spray.

One gram mixed in one litre of water with a few drops of liquid detergent when applied to foliage will safely guard your plant for definitely up to 12 days. Two applications will generally see off the butterflies or moths as generally they only lay their eggs for a limited time.

Watch for lawn grub activity as they generally become active over the three weeks before Christmas. When treating lawn grub remember you need to treat the lawn twice, once when a problem is first detected and followed up 10 to 14 days later. This is necessary to break the life cycle.

Watch also for fungal disease on fruit trees, mulberries, grape vines, tomatoes and large leafed vegetables like zucchini and pumpkins, while also watching cucumbers.

If leaves are browning off for no apparent reason, have developed a whitish powdery coating  you can be safe to assume it is the result of a fungal disease. Again spray once the problem is first detected and again two weeks later.

PHOTO: Santa Theresa Oval after upgrade in June.

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