Gardens feel so filled with possibilities in spring. The warm days and scented air make the call of the great outdoors irresistible. If you’re energized to start on a new project – or maybe just to create a cute potted flower scene – now is one of the best times of year to get onto it. There are plenty of garden chores too, of course, as everything springs back into growth (I’m looking at you, lawn weeds!). But remember that gardening is an ongoing process, so take it slowly and enjoy the journey. Separate out your various garden projects, tackle them one by one and, above all, give yourself time to enjoy it all.
There’s so much beautiful stuff in bloom in early spring, that it’s hard not to experience a little plant envy. If affected, head to the local nursery and indulge in a few seasonal purchases. Selecting a spring-flowering tree or shrub is best done now because you can see them while they’re in bloom and select your desired colour. For warm temperate and cooler climates, some of the traditional favourites include the ornamental blossom trees (flowering plums, peaches, cherries and crab apples), while for tropical and subtropical zones, consider the beautiful tabebuia with its rich yellow flowers or, blooming a little later in the season, the orchid tree (Bauhinia blakeana). And if you’re into natives, there are some stunning red bottlebrush varieties coming into bloom this month, along with wattles, tea trees, purple mint bush and pink wax flowers (Eriostemon species).
Post-winter lawns tend to look a bit sad, but they do pick up quickly if you give them the right attention. Start by removing any weeds, either by hand weeding (if you have the time), or applying a selective lawn herbicide – make sure you choose a product suitable for your grass variety. If there are sparse, compacted areas, use a large garden fork to aerate the ground, plunging the tines in 4-5 cm deep and working across the area. Next, it’s feeding time – at this time of year, always use a good quality organic-based lawn food, which will both green up the grass the nourish the soil beneath (save the hose-on products for use later in the season, when you’re after a quick green-up). To help with water efficiency, it’s also a good idea to apply a soil-wetting agent to your lawn in spring and again in summer – these are available in both granular and liquid forms.
When the garden wakes up after winter, it’s hungry! So if you do nothing else this season, give everything a good feeding to help support new growth and strengthen plants for the summer ahead. For shrub and flower beds, apply an organic food, such as one of the pelletised poultry manures; prepare veggie beds with a dressing of cow manure and compost a couple of weeks before you plant into them; and feed all potted plants with a slow-release granular fertilizer. As the season winds on, it’s worth following up with periodic liquid feeds, especially for annual flowers, vegetable seedlings and hungry shrubs like gardenias.
While you’re enjoying the spring moment, it’s also time to do a little forward planning. Now is the time for planting your favourite flowers and vegetables for the summer season ahead. On the flower front, we’re talking petunias, verbena, marigolds, zinnias, cosmos and sunflowers, among many others. You can also plant summer bulbs and tubers right now – think lilies, daylilies, gladiolus, cannas and dahlias.
If you’re a home food gardener, it’s time to plant that favourite backyard crop – the tomato. As ‘tomatoholics’ know, the quicker you get them in the ground (or pots) in spring, the longer the fruiting season you’ll enjoy. If you haven’t grown tomatoes before, experiment with the cherry types – they’re highly productive, get fewer pests and are almost impossible to kill! There’s a wide range of other vegetables you can plant now, including salad greens, carrots, beans, radish, silverbeet, sweet corn, zucchini, potatoes and eggplants.
Quite a few bugs emerge from hibernation in spring too, and they usually head straight for the lush new growth on your garden plants. Keep an eye out for aphids, which cluster on the new shoots of just about anything – squash them with gloved fingers or spray with pyrethrum or horticultural oil. Caterpillars are drawn to freshly planted vegetable seedlings – spray them with Dipel, a low-toxicity product that targets only caterpillars. If you live in a fruit fly prone area, spring is a good time to hang up a few baits, to monitor for their presence; if you catch any, the most reliable way to protect fruit (including tomatoes) is to use pest exclusion bags, which you slip over the developing clusters of fruit.
If you’ve always wanted to get into the whole composting thing (but never really knew how), check out The Compost Coach, a new book by sustainability expert Kate Flood. Pitched at the home gardener, it explains the techniques, dispels the myths, and is accompanied by plenty of how-to images and illustrations.