Green Living

Gardening expert Mary Lovell-Smith shares her April gardening tips

In preparation for the rains yet to come, now is a good time to prepare for winter as we enjoy the shorter, cooler days in the garden

Your April gardening checklist

With the soil still retaining summer’s heat, April is considered the best month to plant trees and shrubs. Put them in now and you’ll be giving them time to establish roots over winter and spring. This will enable them to better face the rigours of growth and summer’s harshness.

Dig generous holes – at least half as big again as the root ball or existing container. Before planting soak the plant, container and all, in a bucket of water and leave submerged until the bubbles stop. This ensures the root is thoroughly soaked. A slow-release fertiliser may be sprinkled over the bottom of the hole. Stake trees in windy areas.

Harvest festival
• Kūmara is ready to dig when most leaves have yellowed. Pick pumpkins when the vines die back and skins harden. Leave at least 10cm of stem on and sit in the sun for a fortnight before storing.
• Trimming back leaves over grape bunches speeds ripening. Do not pick grapes green as they won’t ripen off the vine.

Store front

Later pipfruit varieties store well into winter. Harvest with stalk intact and store only unblemished fruit. Bruises or insect, bird and friction damage are a no-no. Keep in a cool place, such as the fridge or garage. Check regularly, remembering how that one bad apple could spoil the whole bunch.

Be bulb

Go natural. Daffodils, grape hyacinth, snow drops, bluebells, star of Bethlehem and crocuses are spring bulbs perfect for naturalising. That is, once planted they can be left in the ground with a high chance they will come back and multiply year after year. Plant before winter under trees and margins of lawns for the meadow effect.

Colour up

While there is pleasure to be found in a stark winter garden, patches of flowering colour can lift the spirit. Annuals suitable for planting and sowing now include alyssum, calendula, cornflower, forget-me-not, Iceland poppy, lobelia, pansy, primula, snapdragon and stock.

Landscaping 101

A citrus hedge is a wondrous thing, being both beautiful and practical. Its perky bright-green foliage, scented, pretty, white flowers and colourful globes of fruit. These hedges provide shelter all year round and tasty fruit in the middle of winter, right when we most need pick-me-ups.

Essentially, growing a citrus hedge is similar to growing individual trees. Not all citrus will grow everywhere and fewer, rather than more, like colder climates. But what they all like is at least six hours of sun a day, protection from wind, free-draining soil with plenty of organic matter. Being gross feeders, they need lots of food – blood and bone, chicken manure, proprietal citrus fertiliser, seaweed – you name it, they’ll love it.

Caring for your citrus hedge

When young they will need protection from frost and plenty of water applied slowly to ensure it soaks in. To give them a fighting chance it pays to remove two-thirds of the flowers in the first year, then remove the fruit formed on the remaining flowers while they are still small. Progressively less fruit can be removed over subsequent years.

Rather than touching the ground, the bottom of the hedge is best raised slightly, but no more than 30cm. Conveniently, most of the fruit is produced in these lower regions. Being closer together than is optimal, the likes of aphids and scale can take hold more easily – and sooty mould feeding on the insects’ sugary excretions. So always keep a keen eye out and spray with Neem at first sighting.

Keeping the hedge more open than dense also helps prevent such problems occurring. Thinning out some fruit-bearing wood helps the size and quality of fruit, especially on Meyer lemons and mandarins. Along with oranges and limes, these make the best citrus hedges. Such hedges are best left billowy rather than tightly trimmed. However, a hedge shape is easily kept with a light clipping about six weeks or so before flowering.

How to save vegetable seeds

Particular success with a crop is all the more reason to grow it again by harvesting seeds from those plants. To ensure genetic diversity, save fully ripe seeds from at least five healthy plants. Allow them to dry out for at least a week before storing in a cool dry place, preferably in an envelope inside an airtight tin.

The seeds of courgettes, melons, capsicums, pumpkins and tomatoes need the flesh rinsed off before drying on a paper towel. In celery, coriander, lettuce, rocket and carrot, seeds form in the flower heads, which need to be left to brown before picking. Then place them upside down in a paper bag for a week or so while seeds fall out.

Consider this

Bokashi is a Japanese system used to break down kitchen waste speedily and anaerobically. The scraps are put in an airtight bucket and each layer is topped with a handful of the bokashi bran, an inoculant containing beneficial micro-organisms.

ZingBokashi 10L Composting System Starter Kit 20L, $69.90, from Trade Tested.

The nutrient-rich liquid forming in the bottom of the bucket is drained off every two or three days, which means a tap is a must. Diluted, it makes an excellent fertiliser. Once the bucket is full, it is set aside for a week or so until the waste is pickled, sweet-smelling and ready to be added to a compost heap or buried where it rapidly breaks down into compost.

Utopia Stainless Steel Compost Bin, $67.99, from Amazon.

Steal this Autumn gardening look

To maximise the value of a tree, consideration needs be taken as to placement. Take this persimmon, which has been sited to catch the rays of the early morning sun.

As seen from the house, the golden light shines through, illuminating the leaves’ fiery colouration and backlighting the dark and sinuous forms of the trunk and branches. By breaking the medium-height hedge into blocks rather than one continuous length, a well-defined boundary has been created, yet views of the near and far scenery are still available.

A smaller shrub has been planted in the gap, further alleviating the mass of hedge. Its radiant autumn colours, deeper than those of the persimmon, draw the eye down. In winter, devoid of leaves, its bare branches provide a pretty filigreed fretwork separating the garden from beyond.

Read this next: Gardening expert Mary Lovell-Smith shares how to best prepare your garden for Autumn

Create the home of your dreams with Shop Your Home and Garden