Finally, winter is almost over. I know some people like winter, but I’m definitely not one of them. August is the toughest winter month for plants. It seems that Mother Nature likes to test the theory of evolution by throwing everything she has in her arsenal at my poor little plants. Wind, hail, constant rain, frost and the occasional sunny day to trick them into premature growth. Keen gardeners will know that August is also the month to be getting ready for the spring flush. Crops that are already in the ground (garlic, shallots, leeks, onions, strawberries, rhubarb, brassicas, peas, asparagus, parsley, celery, spinach and so forth) will benefit from a decent dose of fertiliser before spring. Crops that can be planted outside now include early potatoes (these might need covering if late frosts occur), more brassicas, salad greens, carrots and beetroot.
Gardeners that start their veggie crops from seed can get slow growers, such as tomatoes, capsicum, and eggplant, started now on a sunny windowsill. Faster crops, such as beans, sweetcorn, zucchini and melons, are probably best left for another few weeks, otherwise you’ll have a house full of triffids! In the ornamental garden, summer flowering bulbs such as amaryllis, nerines, lilies and callas can be planted this month. Deciduous shrubs and trees need to be planted sooner rather than later, although if these are pot grown, rather than supplied bare root, later planting is still feasible. Aside from citrus, don’t fertilise fruit trees now. This is best done later in spring when the soil warms up and rainfall reduces. Otherwise, many of the nutrients will simply leach down into the subsoil and into nearby waterways.
Instead of fertilising, I’ve been busy spreading chipper mulch 3-5cm thick under all the shrubs and around any perennials. A relatively dry mulch such as this can be placed around trunks without increasing the risk of collar rot, which wet mulches such as grass clippings can induce. It’s a great time of year to be spreading chipper mulch as it will prevent the spring surge of weeds and hold the soil moisture in for longer into summer. Winter pruning should be complete by now, if not you had better get going quick-smart. Spring growth of some trees and shrubs can be prone to attack from fungal and bacterial diseases. I rarely spray, preferring not to grow plants that need spraying to survive, but if I have a particularly precious rose or sensitive fruit tree, a copper spray just as the new growth starts (called bud burst) can help.
Late winter is when citrus should be pruned – during or just after harvest, but before the citrus borer start flying. Trim up their skirts to improve airflow and reduce disease. Take out the centre if you need to reduce height and increase light penetration. Prune out borer infested wood to rejuvenate the tree. At the same time, spread chipper mulch out to the edge of the drip line. The trees will love you for the attention.