It’s time to spring into action
Regardless of weather conditions over the last couple of months, the weather will shortly start to change for the better, winds will abate and temperatures start to rise. Which means it’s time to look over the tools and equipment to ensure they are in working order and do a walkabout and check for ‘problems’ and thereafter compile a list to tackle those tasks which need attention before they get out of hand.
Ensuring all tools and equipment are working well, blades are sharpened engines tuned and tanked up will allow an easy transition to tackle any work needing immediate attention. Broken and diseased branches should be pruned to clean wood, lawns raked of debris, flower beds weeded and turned over incorporating manure, humus or similar organic material.
Major pruning should begin toward the end of the month once it is evident that the worst of the winter winds are over and new growth is showing owing to the upturn of temperatures. Pruning at this time encourages new growth which will ‘take off’ as temperatures rise producing not only healthy growth but also flowering wood. Prune to create an ‘open’ head to the plant to allow light to the inner branches and prune to an outward facing bud. Remove crossing and inward growing branches and any other diseased or dead wood. Large trees should be inspected by professional tree surgeons who will ‘get into the head of the tree’ to check for cracking limbs or hidden rot especially in the crotch of the branches. Rot is not always visible from ground level and if not caught and treated can start the decline and consequent death of the tree which is often a major feature in the garden and a great loss when gone. Old palm leaves can also be removed at this time as they will have protected the ‘neck’ of the palm through the winter winds, and should now be removed to encourage replacement foliage. Shrubs and ground covers should also be pruned to develop good branch systems for future development.
Now is also a good time to divide plants such as Agapanthus Lily of the Nile; Dietes bicolor, Alpinia zerumbet variegata- variegated ginger, Dianella tasmanica variegata Variegated New Zealand flax, Hemerocallis Day lily etc. Divide with clean cuts through root zones in large enough pieces that plants have enough root system to sustain growth through to establishment. Water in well after re-planting and continue to do so with the occasional light liquid fertilising.
Cacti and succulents can also be propagated at this time of year by removing young plants cleanly from the mother plant, allowing cut to ‘dry’ for a short period of time in a shady cool area before re-planting. Plants in this group include the Agaves, Aloes, Sansevierias, Yuccas, Opuntias usually grown by removal of ‘pads’ and inserting them into a light sandy soil.
Ornamental grasses are becoming popular again and add great interest to any garden with their flower spikes and leaf colour; some of the more popular types being Penisetum setaceum Rubrum Purple fountain grass, Juncus spiralis Spiral leaved rush, Miscanthus sinensis Zebrinus Zebra grass and Muhlenbergia capillaries Muhly grass. This is the time to divide clumps for growing on by using a sharp knife or similar to take pieces from the outer edges being the newer grass, trim roots and top foliage and plant, watering in well for several weeks or until clumps become established.
If lifting and relocating plants preparation is important for the success of each plant, first and foremost it is advisable that the plant to be relocated is healthy, with a good root system which will be the key to success. Prune any soft growth on branch tips to avoid ‘flagging’ which would hinder transplanting process. I recommend using an anti-transpirant spray prior to lifting and moving, this is a liquid which is sprayed over the foliage both sides of leaf which closes the stomata thus reducing the loss of moisture through the leaf. Read the instructions on the container, a common make is Wilt-Pruf, and follow through accordingly by ensuring the plant is not stressed prior to moving, water root ball in if needed before digging a large root ball. The planting hole should be at least twice the width of the ball and half as deep; place soil in the bottom of the hole and gently firm to a point that when the plant is placed in the hole the soil level of root ball is the same as surrounding soil grade. Place soil around the root ball and firm so plant is standing in an upright position. Water in regularly until plant is producing new growth and surviving on its own water intake via the roots.
When installing new purchases always check the plant is healthy and the root system especially is not ‘pot bound’ i.e. the roots are not filling the container so it is ‘full’ only of root which can be seen wrapping themselves around the inside of the pot and root ball. In such cases choose a plant with a root system that is less established but is still seen to be holding the soil together. Excessive top growth in small containers usually means the root ball is filling the pot to capacity and strangulation of the root could well be developed to the detriment of the plants health.
New growth invariably invites pest problems so keep an eye open for aphids, caterpillars, leaf minors etc and tackle the problem immediately, following the instructions found on the label; if not tackled immediately it does not take long for a leaf to be chewed to the veins or new growth encrusted in aphid, a very unsightly start to the growing season.