What to grow in February 2017

Extreme weather conditions may continue this month, with heavy rain in some areas and fierce heat in others. Gardening efforts may be limited to collecting the fruits of your labour and taking advantage of cooler parts of the day to prepare beds for gardening in more pleasant conditions. If hot weather is predicted to continue, delay sowing lettuce until later this month or it is likely to run to seed.
If you have to net your sweet corn or popcorn crop to protect it from birds, wind flow is reduced and, as corn is wind-pollinated, you may have to hand-pollinate a small crop. Instructions can be found here:
Improving corn pollination.
The following gardening advice is an abbreviated list for vegetables, fruit trees and some culinary herbs that can be sown or planted during February in Australia and New Zealand. A comprehensive monthly guide that includes planting times for the entire garden, as well as when to fertilise, prune, weed, take cuttings or divide plants, can be found in the diary section of my book Easy Organic Gardening and Moon Planting (Scribe Publications, 2012), and e-book (Booki.sh 2012).
* For gardeners who do not use moon planting: sow or plant out any of the following list for your climate zone at any time this month, although you may find germination rates are lower when the Moon is in Last Quarter phase.

WARM CLIMATE South of Rockhampton
Before the Full Moon, leek, sweet and purple basil can be sown or planted out, also celery, spring onions, in late February. Cabbage and silver beet (pre-soak seed), can be sown directly into beds (also lettuce in late February), as well as a green manure crop of millet, mung bean, pigeon pea, or Japanese millet.
During First Quarter phase, bush and climbing beans and sweet corn can be sown directly into beds. Capsicum, cucumber, tomato and zucchini can be sown or planted out, also broccoli, cauliflower and spring onions in late February.
During Full Moon phase, beetroot (pre-soak seed), carrot, parsnip, potato (Brisbane and areas south), radish, swede turnip and turnip can be sown directly into beds, and watercress, avocado, banana, mango, and pineapple can be planted out.

WARM CLIMATE Rockhampton and northwards
Before the Full Moon, a green manure crop of lablab, mung bean, pigeon pea, or Japanese millet can be sown.
During First Quarter phase, capsicum and tomato can be sown or planted out in suitable areas. Sweet corn can be sown directly into beds.
During Full Moon phase, lemon grass can be sown or planted out.

TEMPERATE CLIMATE
Before the Full Moon, cabbage, lettuce, radicchio and silver beet (pre-soak seed) can be sown directly into beds, as well as a green manure crop of cowpea (early), mung bean, barley, Japanese millet, oats, or triticale (also cereal rye late in February). Brussels sprouts, leek and spring onions can be sown or planted out (also bulb fennel and celery in late February). Sweet basil can be also sown in warmer areas.
During First Quarter phase, bush beans can be sown directly into beds (also sweet corn in warmer areas), and broccoli, cauliflower and summer squash can be sown or planted out. Peas can be sown in colder areas in late February.
During Full Moon phase, beetroot (pre-soak seed), carrot, parsnip, radish, swede turnip, and turnip can be sown directly into beds. Dandelion, mint and watercress can be sown or planted out. Also avocado, potato, mango, and pineapple can be planted in warmer areas (- best time late February or early March this year).

COOL CLIMATE
Before the Full Moon, cabbage, lettuce and silver beet (pre-soak seed) can be sown directly into beds, as well as a green manure crop of mung bean or oats (plus barley late in February). Leek, lettuce, silver beet (pre-soak seed), spring onions and parsley can be sown in punnets or planted out. In warmer areas, also sow or plant out Brussels sprouts (early), and radicchio. In colder areas, also sow or plant out open Chinese cabbage, mizuna and tatsoi, plus English spinach in late February.
During First Quarter phase, broccoli can be sown. In warmer areas, cauliflower and peas can be sown directly into beds.
During Full Moon phase, beetroot (pre-soak seed), carrot, radish, swede turnip, and turnip can be sown directly into beds, and watercress can be sown or planted out. In warmer areas, also sow parsnip directly into beds. In colder areas, also sow garlic directly into beds.

What to grow in January 2017

Wishing all our readers a very happy, healthy 2017.
lettuce.jpg At a time when we enjoy freshly picked lettuce in our salads, Aussie temperatures can be too high for lettuce to germinate. Keep packets of lettuce seed in a zip-lock bag in the vegetable crisper until ready for sowing. Choose heat-tolerant varieties of this fast-growing vegetable and, to prevent them running to seed in hot weather, keep them well-watered and provide shade for them through the hottest part of the day. Or, try growing them in a large pot of the south side of the house where temperatures are slightly lower.
Before the Full Moon in January is a good time for gardeners in temperate and cool climates to get broccoli, Brussels sprouts and cauliflower started. These varieties need warm weather and rich soil for early growth and cold weather to mature well. Sow seed in punnets, tubes or small yoghurt containers (with lots of holes added to the base). Keep them in a protected area for planting out when 7-10 cm high.

The following gardening advice is an abbreviated list for vegetables, fruit trees and some culinary herbs that can be planted during January in Australia and New Zealand. A comprehensive monthly guide that includes planting times for the entire garden, as well as when to fertilise, prune, weed, take cuttings or divide plants, can be found in the diary section of my book Easy Organic Gardening and Moon Planting (Scribe Publications, 2012), and e-book (Booki.sh 2012).

Moon planters may like to use Aussie Organic Gardening’s Moon Planting Calendar for 2017. Click on the link on the right side of the home page.
* For gardeners who do not use moon planting: sow or plant out any of the following list for your climate zone at any time this month, although you may find germination rates are lower when the Moon is in Last Quarter phase.

WARM CLIMATE South of Rockhampton
Before the Full Moon, silver beet (pre-soak seed), and sunflower can be sown directly into beds, as well as a green manure crop of adzuki bean, cow pea, lablab, millet, mung bean, pigeon pea, Japanese millet, or sorghum. Leek can be sown in late January.
During First Quarter phase, eggplant, rockmelon, summer squash, tomato, and watermelon can be sown, also cucumber in late January. Bush and climbing beans, and sweet corn can be sown directly into beds.
During Full Moon phase, lemon grass, mango, pineapple and watercress can be sown or planted out. Beetroot (pre-soak seed), carrot, parsnip, potato and radish can be sown directly into beds, also seed potatoes in Brisbane and areas south.

WARM CLIMATE Rockhampton and northwards
Before the Full Moon, a green manure crop of adzuki bean, cowpea, lablab, mung bean, pigeon pea, Japanese millet, or sorghum can be sown in suitable areas. Sweet corn can also be sown as a green manure crop, and slashed when it is knee high.
During First Quarter phase, sweet corn can be sown directly into beds where heavy rains will not damage pollination.
During Full Moon phase, lemon grass and mango can be sown or planted out.

TEMPERATE CLIMATE
Before the Full Moon, Brussels sprouts, leek and spring onions can be sown or planted out. Cabbage, suitable lettuce, and silver beet (pre-soak seed) can be sown directly into beds, (also nasturtium and sunflower in warmer areas), as well as a green manure crop of cow pea, millet, mung bean, pigeon pea, Japanese millet, or sorghum.
During First Quarter phase, bush and climbing beans and sweet corn can be sown directly into beds. Cauliflower, cucumber and leek can be sown or planted out, also rockmelon, summer squash, tomato, watermelon, and zucchini in warmer areas.
During Full Moon phase, beetroot (pre-soak seed), carrot, parsnip and radish can be sown directly into beds, and lemon grass and watercress can be sown or planted out. Pineapple, potato and mango can also be sown or planted out in warmer areas.

COOL CLIMATE
Before the Full Moon, Brussels sprouts, leek, lettuce, spring onions, sweet basil and parsley can be sown or planted out. Cabbage, grain crops, lettuce, silver beet (pre-soak seed) and dwarf sunflower can be sown direct, as well as a green manure crop of mung bean or millet. In colder areas, bulb fennel, open Chinese cabbage, dill, mizuna, and tatsoi can also be sown directly into beds.
During First Quarter phase, broccoli, cauliflower and zucchini can be sown or planted out, and bush and climbing beans can be sown directly into beds (also peas in colder areas).
During Full Moon phase, beetroot (pre-soak seed), carrot, parsnip, and radish can be sown directly into beds, and dandelion, mint, sage, and watercress sown or planted out (also pyrethrum in colder areas).

For moon planters

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Colour-coded Calendars now available

In response to readers’ requests, Aussie Organic Gardening now has easy-to-follow, colour-coded, moon planting calendars for gardeners. Colours indicate suitable moon phases for certain garden activities and the best days within each phase. Weeks begin on a Monday, so that weekend gardeners can see at a glance which activities are suitable for coming weekends.
Our planting by the moon calendars are suitable for all gardeners in Australia, New Zealand and other countries in the southern hemisphere. The practice of sowing and planting by the moon, also known as lunar planting, has been used by farmers and gardeners around the world for many centuries.

Click on the links on the right side of the home page to purchase a planting calendar for the rest of 2016 or a planting calendar for 2017.
For readers not familiar with moon planting or gardening by the moon, information can be found here All about moon planting:

Spring bulb reminder

When spring bulbs have finished flowering, don’t forget to allow the foliage to die back before lifting bulbs. It is important to leave the foliage because the yellowing and fading occurs as the plants withdraw nutrients from the leaves to store in the bulbs for next season’s growth. Depriving spring bulbs of this essential part of their growth cycle will result in poor, or no, flowering next spring.

Frangipani trees from seed

I often receive e-mails with questions about growing frangipani trees, and some readers may like to try growing them from seed. Paula Pugh Schipp of the Frangipani Society of Australia says that frangipani trees grown from seed grow much faster than those grown from cuttings because the root system starts to form when the seed germinates. Another advantage of propagating these lovely (Plumeria) trees from seed is that trees grown from cuttings will always be the same as the parent tree, but trees grown from seed are, like children, not usually exact duplicates of their parents. You may grow a tree with flowers with an entirely different colour combination if you have a variety of frangipani trees in your area.

Frangipani flowers do not always produce seed as the self-pollinating flowers do not always release their pollen. You can try hand-pollinating flowers with a piece of thick fishing line. Place the end of the line deep into the flower and wriggle it very gently to release the pollen. You have to be gentle as it is easy to knock the flower from its stem.

Seeds develop within a pod, often a double pod in a ‘T ‘ shape, which looks rather like two thin 17 cm zucchini in the early stages – changing over time to brown/black when mature (see photo, lower left). Pods can take up to 8 months to mature depending on the local microclimate.

When the seeds are mature, the pods become brittle and begin to split open revealing up to 60 seeds in each pod. Collecting the seed takes a bit of good timing because each of the seeds has a small ‘wing’ attached and, when the pod completely opens, the seeds can be spread far and wide on the breeze (see photo, below right). If the pod is in a position where you can easily observe its development, when the pod is just beginning to split, place a large basin under the pod structure and carefully cut the adjoining stem from the tree. If the pod is high in the tree and hidden by foliage, then when the pod starts to change colour, make a bag from nylon netting large enough to hold the pod structure with some room to spare. The will prevent the seeds from blowing away when the pod opens.

 

 

 

 

If you would like to try growing frangipani from seed, for best results sow them soon after they are collected.

This excellent Frangipani website provides a detailed guide to propagating frangipani, including an interesting method of germinating seed in paper towels: Frangipani Society of Australia

One of our readers, Sam, has shared some photos of his very successful efforts.
img_9674 img_9673

Frogs like bromeliads, too.

Bromeliads are an interesting group of plants with over 800 varieties. Some bromeliads are epiphytic (grow on trees or other objects for support) while some require soil for their roots – including the most well-known member of the family – the pineapple plant (Ananas comosus). Bromeliads are very easy to grow in warm and temperate climates, and have an amazing range of foliage and flower shapes and colours. Most bromeliads grow in a rosette form with a central well, and their unusual flowers grow from the central well.

The blade leaves of bromeliads funnel a lot of water into the central well, providing moisture for insects and other small creatures in times of drought, and the insects provide organic matter to fertilise the plants. This regular supply of food and water also attracts frogs.

If you like having frogs in your garden, try growing some bromeliad genera with soft, leathery, broad leaves – for example Aechmea, Neoregalia, Vriesea or Bilbergia, which grow best in part shade around the base of trees. These bromeliads rely mostly on their central well for water and food, and use soil mainly for support. The rosette of leaves also provides a hiding place for frogs.
Plant in autumn in warmer areas or spring where winters are cold. Grey-leaved bromeliads absorb moisture from the atmosphere and do not need soil, and bromeliads with heavily barbed leaves do best in acidic soil in full sun.

Frangipani stem rot


A New Zealand gardener is having trouble with her potted frangipani. I am posting my reply separately as other gardeners may have had a similar problem:

I live in Auckland NZ. I have white frangipani over 1.5m tall in a large pot. It last flowered about 4 years ago which was it’s first year in the pot. Now we are getting good leaf growth and new stems in the summer but the new stems rot in the winter and we have to cut them off.

There are several reasons why new growth on frangipanis can rot in winter – (1) water-logging of the mixture while the tree is dormant. (2) Lack of nutrients, such as potassium, which strengthens cell walls as well as promoting flowering. Have you given the tree any fertiliser? (3) Its position in winter is too cold for a tropical tree.

Remedies for (1) and (2): If your tree has been in the pot for 4 years, it is quite possible the roots have blocked the drainage hole/s, and that is causing the softer, new growth to rot when the tree is not using the moisture in the pot. Or, perhaps the holes have become blocked if the pot is in direct contact with the ground. Frangipanis form lots of roots and they must have good drainage.

As their roots are rather brittle, if you can’t remove the root ball from the pot easily, lie the pot on its side and hose out the potting mixture. Then carefully re-pot it into a larger pot with fresh potting mix that contains some complete fertiliser, and gently water it to settle the mix around the roots. If you can’t find a larger pot for the tree, trim the longest roots (so that they will have to grow about 5 cm to fill the pot) and re-pot in fresh mix in the same pot. Sit the pot on some pieces of tile so that the drainage holes remain clear of the soil.

Remedy for (3): Even the white frangipani (which is the hardiest) will not do well if temperatures are too low or they are in windy positions. When growing frangipanis in temperate zones, on the north side of a wall is a good position for them. A brick or concrete wall is best because the wall absorbs heat during the day and releases it slowly at night, keeping the air around the tree slightly warmer.

New concrete near trees

I have received an e-mail from a reader who is concerned about her neighbour’s plan to put a screen fence about 35 cm from the base of her beautiful frangipani tree, because the fence posts must be set in concrete and doesn’t know the size of the tree’s root ball or if it will damage the tree.
As new concrete near gardens is a common problem for gardeners, I am posting my answer on my blog rather than merely giving a private reply.

Generally, the feeder roots of shrubs and trees are located under the outer edge of the plant’s foliage in what is called the drip-line. Nature designed plants this way so that rain (and bird droppings, mineral dust etc.) running off the foliage falls where water and nutrients can be taken up quickly by the feeder roots (see diagram).

There are some exceptions to this rule as roots of umbrella trees, figs, crepe myrtles and liquidambers, for example, can wander all over the place in search of water. Usually, when trees or shrubs are severely pruned back, they will produce new feeder roots below the new drip-line and this can be helpful in preparing to move large shrubs and small trees.
New concrete contains lime that makes it alkaline, and hydrated lime (brickie’s lime) that is used in concrete will burn plant roots and should not be used on gardens that contain plants. If you are unable to avoid using concrete for walls or footings near established trees or shrubs, you can ask the builder to line the hole with strong plastic sheeting to prevent the new concrete coming into contact with plant roots. Plastic degrades in light but not in soil.

Adding plenty of mature compost to topsoil before planting trees and shrubs will help protect plants from the adverse effects of new concrete as one of the functions of compost is to buffer plant roots from unsuitable pH levels in surrounding soil. Where plants are established before concrete is used, adding a 5 cm layer of mature compost to the drip-line area, and covering it with 5 cm of organic mulch will help your plants. Remember to keep compost and mulch well clear of the trunk.
A more serious concern is where the concrete is to support a wall or fence close to established plants and the trees and shrubs need to be pruned on the side closest to the wall, as timing is important. Some plants, including frangipani, bleed a lot of sap if pruned when they are not dormant. The very best time for this type of pruning to reduce “bleeding” sap, is to prune during Last Quarter phase of the moon. For these plants, the wall or fence should be constructed during winter when the affected trees and shrubs are completely dormant. However, if a shrub or small tree requires a lot of sunlight or warmth for good growth, and the proposed structure will prevent this (i.e. the plant will be on the south side of the structure), it may be best to move the plant during winter for deciduous plants, or in autumn for evergreens, to a more suitable spot or into a large tub, if space is limited.
In the case of frangipanis, these lovely trees are often seen growing against north-facing walls of houses. Once concrete has seasoned, it does not seem to bother them, and they love the warmth that is stored in the wall during the day and slowly released at night.

Taking cuttings

Smhdwdcuttings2Summer is a good time to take semi-hardwood cuttings of your favourite evergreen perennials to add to your garden or share with friends. And, as you can see from the moon planting panel on the right side of the page, the Full Moon phase is best for this job as root growth establishes more quickly when cuttings are taken in this phase.
Semi-hardwood cuttings are sections of stem that have stiffened enough not to wilt easily. Cuttings should be at least 10 cm long and contain about 5 nodes, so that at least 2 nodes can be covered with mix, and you have two sections for growth. A node is a joint in the stem where leaves or roots can form – and indicated by a line on the stem or a leaf scar. Pinch out the very tip of the cutting, and leave foliage on the next two nodes, then carefully remove foliage from the lower nodes and trim the cutting just below a node. (You will find a lot more detail about preparing different types of cuttings in Easy Organic Gardening and Moon Planting.) Then poke the cutting into a pot that contains organic potting mix with some washed river sand added to ensure easy drainage.
This week, I’ve been taking cuttings of thyme, rosemary, Arabian jasmine, zonal geraniums and some Hawaiian hibiscus varieties. We replace our commercial perennial herb plants every three or four years because younger plants produce the best growth for harvesting.
I cut the remaining leaves in half on geraniums and hibiscus (and any plants with large leaves) to conserve moisture in the cuttings, but leave some leaf material to photosynthesise (make energy to grow). Dipping the base of the cuttings in certified-organic honey can help stimulate root growth – you only need a teaspoonful in a shallow dish. I water the pots with an organic liquid fertiliser and poke the cuttings into the mix against the edge of the pot as it helps support the cuttings. The cuttings are kept consistently damp in a warm spot out of direct sunlight until they have formed roots and are ready for putting in individual pots or planting in the garden.
Most experts recommend that cuttings should be covered. However, we have found that the perennial culinary herbs, lavender, and a lot of plants with furry leaves don’t like the humidity provided by a cover. However, the pots of jasmine, hibiscus get covered with a large plastic juice or soft drink bottle with the base removed and the lid intact. At the first sign of new growth the leads will be removed to allow some ventilation.
If you want to take semi-hardwood cuttings of abelia, box, bougainvillea, callistemon (bottlebrush), carnation, clematis, daphne, grevillea, Hawaiian hibiscus, jasmine, NSW Christmas bush, pelagonium (geranium), lavender, margoram, oregano, rosemary, sage or thyme, the Full Moon phase this month extends until noon on 26th January, and from 19th to the 24th next month.

Frangipani in Victoria

Now is the perfect time of year to take Frangipani cuttings

frangwht1 Bill has e-mailed me about growing Frangipani in north-west Victoria – and his question may be of interest to other readers.
Frangipani trees are tropical plants, and your area of Victoria is not an ideal climate for them, because minimum temperatures for most of the year are not high enough. Plants grown outside a suitable climate zone are more prone to diseases. There can be, within climate zones, microclimates in protected areas where temperature variations are not as extreme as those in the general area, and plants that need warmer conditions can be grown in these positions – if you prepared to give them extra care through autumn, winter and spring.





The only variety you could possibly grow is the hardier white Frangipani, and you would need to grow that in a position that is protected from wind, and against a north-facing brick wall where the thermal properties of the bricks keep the air around the plant slightly warmer at night. If you find someone in your area who is successfully growing a white frangipani, and is prepared to give you a cutting, now is the perfect time to take frangipani cuttings. See my post on how to prepare frangipani cuttings for planting.

Otherwise, I think it might be wiser to choose a different tree that is more suited to the local climate.