With the hot weather we’ve been having in WA lately it’s easy to forget that in a few days we will be at the start of autumn, one of the most enjoyable times of the year for gardeners. This is when the weather cools but the soil stays warm which is why autumn is “nature’s planting time” and there’s now plenty that can be done in the garden to get things growing.
Seed potatoes start becoming available in Better Pets and Gardens throughout this month with even more variety in stores in May but by planting early, you can make the most of the warm growing weather before the cold weather sets in. In frost free areas, there’s the opportunity to harvest a crop before winter.
Seed potatoes are used in home gardens because they are certified as virus free, ensuring crops will be clean of the serious pests that can affect potatoes. Early in the season, Delaware is readily available. This potato is high yielding, easy to grow and flavour is at its best when harvested as a new potato.
To grow potatoes in a large pot or planter bag, firstly fill the pot to 10cm deep with potting mix and lay potatoes on the surface at about 10-15cm spacings. Sprinkle a little organic fertiliser for vegies and then cover them with another 10cm of soil. As the potatoes start to shoot and push through the soil surface cover with another 10cm of soil. Then continue to cover with potting mix until the pot is completely filled. Again, apply an organic fertiliser for vegies and water in well. Potatoes develop along stems and the deeper they are planted the more opportunity there is for tubers to form.
Potatoes will be ready to harvest when the plants flower and then start to die back. Pots can then be tipped out and the tubers harvested.
For more information about growing potatoes, see our ‘Growing Potatoes’ fact sheet.
Autumn is nature’s natural planting time and as the night temperatures drop its time to get inspired to add colour to the garden. One of the easiest ways of adding colour to otherwise bare areas is by planting everlasting seed. Everlastings are fast growing annuals that produce a bright burst of colour in spring with hardly any effort. They are perfect for adding colour to road verges and Australian gardens. A favourite is the pink and white everlasting and a small bag of seed will result in 1000’s of flowers.
Select a sunny area and dig over the soil. For extra fabulous flowers improve the soil by adding soil improver, compost or sheep manure and raking it through. Everlasting seed will pack together making it impossible to spread over a larger area so before spreading, mix it in a jar with soil improver or sand as this will assist with coverage. Rake the seed bed smooth and water in or, better still, sow seed when rain is forecast. As the seedlings germinate don’t forget to control slugs and snails as they love the tender new shoots.
When the majority of plants reach 10cm tall, nip the tips out of them. This will encourage branching and ensure double the number of flowers are produced in spring.
Citrus trees require a little extra care at the moment. They are trying to develop their fruit at the most stressful time of the year for a fruiting plant and the extended dry periods and hot weather can result in fruit drop, thick hard skins and sunburnt fruit.
It’s important to mulch the tree with composting mulch. Composting mulches break down and feed the soil and at the same time, shade the shallow surface roots and reduce water loss through evaporation. Apply a wetting agent so the water soaks into the soil and make sure you measure how much water is actually being applied. This can be done easily. In the case of a dripper system, simply place the dripper in a bucket next time the reticulation is run or for spray reticulation, place ice containers around the garden but put a rock in each one so they don’t blow away.
Excessive fruit drop at this time of the year can be a sign of plants not receiving enough water around the whole tree so check that the water isn’t just being applied in one area.
Written by Sue McDougall, a qualified horticulturalist and experienced garden centre owner who grew up in the WA wheatbelt and has had experience in gardening throughout the entire state. You may know Sue as the garden expert on 6PR radio and by her many TV appearances.