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Ask any chef how indispensable onions are! Onions usually aren’t the star ingredient on the plate, but nothing tastes quite as good without them. It’s hard to think of a more versatile vegetable.
Our reliance on onions has been a long time in the making; they’ve been cultivated for more than 7,000 years and were propagated throughout the world by travelling gardeners.
Onions are delicious eaten raw, roasted, fried, sautéed or pickled. They’re an essential ingredient in a soffritto, making them a basic building block for an enormous range of Mediterranean dishes.
Onions take time to mature (5-6 months, so they do need a bit of patience). They can be sown until the end of winter but shouldn’t be left too late; so that you can harvest before the hottest January and February weather arrives and brings downy mildew with it.
It’s standard practise for onions to be sown direct where they are to grow, but stay on top of the weeds for best results.
You don’t have to wait for all the onion bulbs to be full sized before you harvest them. You can pick and use smaller bulbs and leave the rest to grow bigger.
Strawberries can be grown from packaged crowns, small plants or seed. Packaged crowns are available in winter; because they usually possess a substantial root system, they’ll give the plants a head start. Small strawberry plants in mini pots are easier to find in the warmer months.
Winter frosts can damage tender plant foliage and shoots, especially if unseasonable weather has encouraged out-of-season or unusual growth.
There are a few strategies to help protect vulnerable growth from frost.
Move potted plants to a more protected area such as on a veranda or patio or close to a wall.
Cover sensitive plants with frost or shade cloth. You may need to construct a supporting frame out of wooden stakes or wire to hang the cloth over. Ensure that the cloth reaches right down to the ground. Bricks or pavers are a handy way to weigh down the cloth edges.
Protect small seedlings on frosty nights by creating cloches out of plastic soft drink bottles, which have been cut in half.
Keep the soil moist, as moist soil is better able to absorb and store heat during the day. Dry soil can worsen frost damage.
Don’t prune off any damaged foliage until the risk of frost has passed, as damaged foliage can help protect the growth underneath.
Indoor plants should also be protected from the cold. Move indoor plants away from bare windows and chilly draughts coming under doorways or through gaps in windows. Many plants that we grow indoors have originated from tropical climates and won’t appreciate being exposed to low temperatures.
Applying Yates Thrive Natural Seaweed Tonic can also aid plant recovery from stress conditions, like frost.
Do you have a favourite deciduous shrub or vine growing in your garden that you would like to duplicate? It’s easier than you think! Cloning is the technical sounding term for taking pieces of stems from plants like hydrangeas, wisteria and grapevines during winter and encouraging them to grow their own roots.
You can give it a go this winter, July is the ideal time to take cuttings. Why not start by trying your hand at some ‘hardwood’ cuttings?
Here’s a step by step guide to growing new plants from hardwood cuttings:
Choose leafless stems around 0.75 – 1 cm thick and cut off 15 – 18 cm long pieces.
The top cut should be just above a node (the bud where the new leaves develop) and the bottom cut just below a node. Make a slanted cut at the top so you can remember which way is up.
Dip the bottom ends of the cuttings into Yates Clonex Root Gel - Hard Wood Red. Clonex Red contains a concentrated plant hormone which helps promote root development as well as sealing and protecting the cutting.
Poke about ½ dozen holes with a pencil into pots filled with moist Yates Black Magic Seed Raising Mix. Insert the gel-dipped ends of the cuttings into the holes and gently pinch the potting mix together to firm them, taking care not to wipe the gel off the bottom of the cutting.
Keep the pot in a cool, sheltered, well-lit position. Maintain a moist atmosphere around the cuttings by covering the top with a plastic bag, or the clear bottom of a soft drink bottle. After a couple of months check for new roots. Once roots are well established, individual cuttings can be transplanted into small pots to grow until they are big enough to be planted out into the garden.
All around New Zealand during July you can sow wildflower blends. Altenatively, we have a fabulous blend of vibrant cottage garden flowers, for a spring a festival of colour.
Yates Cottage Garden Mix is a blend of easy-to-grow, brightly coloured free-flowering annuals that will create a charming cottage garden.
The mix contains flowers like coreopsis, dianthus, pansy, antirrhinum (snapdragon), aquilegia (columbine), schizanthus, wallflower, zinnia, salvia, calendula and nemesia. What will pop up depends on the climate at the time, so it’s a floral surprise packet!
Simply scatter the seed thinly over bare soil in a sunny garden bed, rake lightly into the soil surface, firm down and water gently.
Keep the area moist through the germination period and seedlings will start emerging 7 – 21 days after sowing.
Once the seedlings are around 5 cm tall, start feeding each week with potassium fortified Yates Thrive Flower Fruit Soluble Fertiliser, which contains a balanced blend of nutrients to promote healthy leaf growth as well as lots of colourful flowers. Alternatively, apply a top dressing of Yates Dynamic Lifter Organic Plant Food every 6 weeks.
The range of plants will grow from 30 – 80 cm tall and will start flowering around 12 weeks after sowing.
Many of the flowers are suitable for cutting for a vase and will also attract bees and other beneficial insects.
Flower seedlings can be vulnerable to attack by snails and slugs. A light sprinkling of Yates Blitzem Snail Slug Pellets can help protect young plants from these slimy pests.
Caterpillars may still be hanging on. If they’re causing unsightly damage, use Yates Success Ultra Insect Control Concentrate to clean them up. Squirt some Yates Conqueror Spraying Oil onto citrus trees. This will smother scale insects and other sap-sucking insects.
Oxalis is a winter-growing weed that will be taking full advantage of the cold. It may look pretty, but it's very persistent. Spray with Yates Zero Rapid 1-Hour Action Weedkiller Ready to Use. Oxalis does have an annoying habit of growing small bulbs at the roots; if the parent plant is killed the bulbs will emerge afterwards, so a follow-up treatment is usually necessary.
If the soil has any drainage problems, winter is the season when they’ll expose themselves. Use a garden fork to push vertical holes into heavy soils. Create surface drains to carry away excess water. Dig gypsum where possible into clay. Gypsum has a miraculous effect on most clay soils. It binds particles together, allowing air to get into the spaces between the particles and helping excess water to drain away. Deep layers of mulch on wet soil can ensure that it remains cold and damp for three months or more. Hence, it can be a good idea to remove some of the thickness of mulch so that the sun can penetrate to warm up the soil.
With the temperature low, you don't need to mow regularly like you do in summer. Setting the mower higher in winter will really help – the longer the leaf, the more photosynthesis occurs and the healthier the lawn will stay.
With reduced mowing, now's a great time to get the mower serviced. A lot of people don't get around to sharpening the blades on the mower. Dull blades tear and rip the grass – if you look at the ends of mown grass leaves, you’ll notice little strings of fibre on the cut end where it's frayed and damaged. That’s a signal you’re overdue for sharpening your blades! Sharp mower blades make a cleaner cut and cause less stress to the grass; helping it recover faster. Also, don't mow a wet lawn, it tears and damages the grass pretty much like a dull mower blade.