Friday, August 21, 2009

Spring is (almost) here!

Spring is almost upon us. Things start getting a little frantic around the nursery at this time as we finalize preparations for the busiest part of our year and just for good measure I have filled in as delivery driver for a week and a bit. If you have been frightened off the road by a battered old truck with Scotsburn Nurseries painted on the sides… sorry about that.

This week we started delivering Tomatoes, we sent out our first Petunias last week and we have some remarkably good looking Impatiens in our glass house due for dispatch next week perhaps. It really is a tricky time of year, some retail nurseries are crying out for Tomatoes, others treat us as if we have offended them by even offering sub tropical plants in the last month of winter. On the other hand, the general perception is that gardeners are ‘over’ spring flowering varieties and they are looking to make an early start on their summer vegies.

So if you want to make an early start, what should you be doing? The chief concerns are frost and cold winds, most annual plants will cope with Melbourne’s winter temperatures it’s just the extremes that create problems. Oh, and don’t forget hail!

Tomatoes and Marigolds are particularly sensitive to frost. The enthusiasts who want to make the early start with Tomatoes know that they will have to protect their plants. A small green house or poly house are ideal, heating is not essential that poly cover retains enough heat and provides enough protection to prevent frost settling. A perfectly good system is a cloche like Valda’s husband has built for her (see pic). If you’re really keen, get down to Banksia Nursery in Wantirna to see some very clever cloches used to protect their plants from both frost and hail. Once your plants have developed some size and no longer fit under their shelters we will probably be past the chance of serious frost so you will be safe to move the seedlings out or remove the protective cover. Another frost protection idea is to treat your Tomatoes with copper spray. Copper is a broad spectrum fungicide that has the added benefit of toughening up plant cells, which reminds me don’t fertilize too heavily this early in the season. Your Tomatoes love Nitrogen and Phosphorus but too much makes them very soft and vulnerable to physical damage. Bumps and scrapes are openings for infections so grow your plants tough, there is time to feed them up in October.

The other thing to look out for in spring is wind. It’s no big secret that spring is the wettest and windiest time of year. What often happens at nurseries is that when it is cold we forget that wind can be so drying. This is a problem that needs to be watched with all young plants especially when they have just been transplanted or they are in pots. Applying water is the simple answer, except if you have to use mains water so the best option is to protect your young plants from the wind. Again a cloche or poly covers work really well. Keep in mind that at this time of year we will often get a change and rain following a windy day so don’t hoard your tank water, look after your plants because it is more than likely that you will get a refill. And while I’m on the subject of tank water, what happens with your overflow? Make sure you run it onto garden beds where it is needed, it is easy and free.

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