How exciting is spring! Longer days, warmer temperatures and more stable weather means plants everywhere begin to grow, flower and form fruit
Cool & Temperate:
Early spring can be a lean period as winter crops finish and newly sown crops grow, but there are some special treats. One of the most delicious crops to harvest in early spring is asparagus. Look for fresh spears daily and harvest quickly. As the spears mature, they become woody and inedible.
Also productive in early spring are peas, broad beans and English spinach. Plant out summer crops (direct-sow seeds or plant seedlings of chilli, capsicum, tomato, eggplant, cucumber, pumpkin, squash, zucchini and beans), but hold off in cold regions until frosts are over and the soil warms. Be particularly careful with frost-tender tomato, cucumber and pumpkin, but instead sow broad beans, broccoli, English spinach and rocket.
As well, potatoes, beetroot and carrots can be planted now in all areas. When planting potatoes, use certified disease-free seed potatoes (tubers). The weeds also start growing, so keep them at bay by regularly hoeing weed seedlings as they emerge. Also watch for pests such as slugs and snails, especially after rain.
Finish planting bare-rooted deciduous fruit plants into the garden or containers before they start to grow where they’ve been left. Water newly planted deciduous fruit trees regularly as new growth appears and temperatures increase.
Early September is the last chance in cold zones to combat peach leaf curl. This disease affects foliage on peaches, nectarines and apricots and can reduce crops. Prevent before leaves appear in spring by applying a copper spray in late winter or very early spring. If trees have leafed up already, it’s too late to spray as the copper can burn foliage. As the disease progresses in spring, affected leaves become distorted, red or pink, swollen and then drop. Feed and water affected trees well to encourage a healthy crop of new leaves as the tree attempts to replace its lost foliage.
Prune overgrown passionfruit vines to encourage vigorous new growth. Feed using an organic fertiliser or manure, applying fertiliser the length of the root system. Water it in well. Also feed other fruiting plants including citrus as the fruit sets and avocado.
COMPOST & SOIL
Dig in green manure crops that have been growing over winter before they flower and set seed. Slash and chop tall growth so it can be incorporated into the soil. As green manure crops break down, they return nutrients to the soil.
Also get the compost heap revved up as the weather warms. Composting slows in the cold weather but can be sped up again by turning rotting material to let in more air and adding a few spades of manure. Use a fork or a special tool called a compost worm to stir up and aerate compost. Throwing a cover over the heap helps it warm up on a sunny day and will keep out excess rain. Where compost is needed to add to soil before planting of new crops, look for well-rotted material at the base of the heap.
Check bags of leaves stored for leaf mould and use them in the garden if they’ve broken down into a rich earthy material. Clean out the chook shed after winter as a ready source of manure and compost material.
As the dry season nears its end, smart gardeners switch to planting vegies that can tolerate increased rain and humidity. Top choices include beans, especially snake beans, as well as cucumbers and Chinese greens.
Switch over to growing cherry tomato varieties instead of larger-fruiting tomatoes, as cherries are less vulnerable to pest and disease problems than are the larger varieties. Cherry tomatoes are prolific, so pick them frequently. Excess moisture can cause even these small fruits to split.
To keep herbs growing well as the humidity rises, plant them in terracotta pots with free-draining potting mix. Shelter the herbs from excessive rain and make them handy by arranging the pots on a sunny sheltered deck.
Feed citrus and other fruiting plants with a complete citrus food. In hot areas, fruiting trees such as citrus and lychees appreciate light shade, especially as they establish. If birds and insects regularly destroy fruit crops, grow fruiting trees and shrubs in a large, netted area.
If space is tight, look for dwarf varieties for a mini orchard, which is also easier to protect. New on the market is the dwarf Tahitian lime called ‘Sublime’, which can be grown in a large container. ‘Tropic Sun’ is a more compact variety of custard apple to plant now. It reaches 3-4m high.
Spring is also a good time to start a crop of rosellas. These
small shrubs produce red hibiscus-like flowers that are used for jams or preserves.
COMPOST & SOIL
Spread compost under fruiting trees and renew mulches to protect soils from sun and rain and reduce weed growth. Chop up pruned material along with fallen palm fronds and other leafy material to spread as mulch around trees and shrubs. Mulches can also be used to surface pathways, which is a good way of using material that’s not fully decomposed.
Where soil drainage is poor during the long wet summer, make raised rows or beds, especially in the vegie patch or orchard, to assist soil drainage and reduce root rot diseases.
New gardeners who are unsure where to start their garden can set up a compost heap as a priority. To reduce dirt being trekked into the house, cover bare earth with lawn. It can be removed later to make way for permanent plantings.
Written by Jennifer Stackhouse
Originally in Good Organic Gardening Volume 8 Issue 3