As a woman who has made it through many springs and summers in the garden, I can tell you from previous experience that the transition from season to season can be pretty tough. Emotionally, obviously. These are the moments where we must assess our past endeavours and look deep within souls and ask ourselves the hard questions, questions like, “Has that silver beet gone to seed?”, “Are those carrot seeds I planted months ago ever going to germinate?”, and one of the toughest, “Is that plant dead?”, are difficult things to ponder. You could easily lie awake at night wondering if you could have done more or if you made the most of the time you had. I’ve been there, guys. It’s hard but I am here to tell you that you will make it through. Don’t be troubled by your garden’s old life. Embrace the new. Like Dr Phil says “get the junk out of the trunk”.
There is still hope for you to have a killer summer garden, and now is the time to put in the hard work so you aren’t resenting your garden in the months to come. Let’s look at giving new life to your dirt and gearing yourself up for a super sweet crop.
Firstly, let’s tackle some nuts and bolts of how to assess when a plant has done its dash. I’ve been hunted down for advice on this one a lot lately. Before I say any more on the subject of knowing when a plant is dead, you must know that many gardeners (and by this I absolutely mean myself) don’t like to be quoted on whether a plant is dead or not. Especially fruit trees. Many plants can surprise you, so do not take my advice as gospel. However, I do have some tips you may find useful. If we are talking vegetables, generally speaking you will know your plant is nearing the end as it will go through an elaborate and dramatic physical change while it starts to seed. This will mean the plant will grow very tall and extend runners which will develop seeds. A confusing element of this is that on some occasions a plant will go to seed before you have even had a crop off it. Usually this is a sign that it was planted at the wrong time or its conditions weren’t quite right for the plant. Sometimes I also just think plants can just decide to be jerks. Once a plant has gone to seed (in my opinion) it is all over red rover, unless you want to harvest the seed. That is a whole other kettle of fish that isn’t for today. Some people have told me that if you try to stop a plant from going to seed by cutting it’s runners back that it can survive, but I have found that to be 100% incorrect. If you have had a good experiences with this then please do let me know.
If you are wondering about your fruit trees life, especially lemon trees, there are a couple of clues as to whether it will pull through or not. If you have had the tree for a few years and right now it is fruitless, leafless & flowerless then it’s probably dead. All three need to be present to be sure it’s dead as some trees will decide to have a year off fruiting (maybe because they were pruned too hard in the last year) and many trees will develop leaves later on. The most common killer of fruit trees, especially lemons, is frosts in their establishment period. If you are getting a lemon tree soon please reference my post on lemon trees, and remember that they simply must be protected from frost in their first year, whether you use frost cloth or a bucket overnight. Most times you won’t know if your tree has been affected by frost until now, months later, when you were expecting a full crop of lemons and are facing a dead tree. Before you pull out any plant you suspect to be dead, give it a Google. Many plants can look very dead before they surprise you and take on new splendour. Strawberries can last four seasons of cropping and can look like a big dead mess before rejuvenating for a new season. Thank you, Uncle Google xx.
How to know whether those seeds will ever germinate is a bit easier to determine, as plenty of seeds you will plant in your life won’t. To help myself better understand the germination process of each plant this year I started a garden diary and I would highly recommend it. Knowing when you planted what and how long it took is super helpful. If you were smart enough to keep the back of the packet of seeds it should say on the back how long the germination process is for your particular chosen plant. If it’s been months and you have had no sign then I would say pretty confidently that nothing is going to grow. Otherwise Google will know expected germination periods. Seeds can not germinate because they could be too deep in the dirt, too shallow in the dirt, too old, too dry and not warm enough so there is no need to beat yourself up about it if it hasn’t happened. It’s all part of being a gardener. I have never been able to get parsnip seeds to germinate. Those cheeky buggers keep outfoxing me, but one day I’ll get them. Don’t you worry.
Now that we kind of have a rough idea of what is staying and what is going, we should over turn our dirt and give our patch the best possible start. This is a multi-step process and you will need to alter it depending on your garden situation, in this example I will be going for ‘weeds and overgrowth are so high, I haven’t seen my cat in weeks and she could well be stuck in there somewhere’ level.
Step one: Shovel time. Get out that old t-shirt from that amateur community theatre production of Noises Off or the equivalent of and prepare to get dirty. Your gardens’ best start is to dig up the weedy mess in small sections and turn it over as you put it back weed side down. Kind of like flipping pancakes (yum!). Overturning the dirt is a great start as it means we are fully clearing the dirt of past roots and we are ensuring that we are going to have lovely free soil for new roots to spread out in. This is a great start too because if this whole process takes you a while, you can leave the dirt like this for a few days and the green matter will just kill itself off.
Step two: Fork time. Like I said, you don’t need to do all these steps in one day but you can if you want to. We now go over all the shovelled dirt and fork through to separate the green matter from the soil.
Step three: Gloves & green bin time. Step two and three can be synced up together and it’s probably better done that way. All the plants you have separated need to be picked up and placed in your green bin. If you don’t have a green bin or it’s full, a bucket or equivalent will do. This is all hot and sweaty work, it’s a good workout and you will need a shower afterwards. If you are doing this on a sunny day, do be sun smart. Just because Chris Cairns is on trial doesn’t mean we can’t get the zinc out, guys.
Once your dirt is loose and clear of debris you can choose to put in some fertiliser. I sometimes use a bit of general pellet fertiliser and I know plenty of gardens who use sheep poo on their veggie gardens. I’m also all in favour for using nothing and just seeing what will happen, gardens are meant to be experiments after all. As per usual, check before using anything as we want to keep our garden as eco friendly as possible, and whatever goes into the soil is essentially going into your food.
Regardless of whether you fertilise or not, your dirt is now in a good state to plant just about anything. By now some of your seedlings will be ready to hit the outside world and we are just hitting the cusp of optimal planting season where almost anything your heart desires can be making it’s way into your garden. Look around and think of all the things you might want, consider where the light hits and where is the shadiest and plan ahead. Forward planning will get you the most out of your dirt. Think of opportunities like plants that need staking, like tomatoes and beans, you could plant in front of corn in the hopes of training up that instead and look into garlic and shallots as space fillers for smaller unoccupied sections of earth.
Before I sign off, let me remind all of you who are successfully raising from seed in your eco pots and such that if you are feeling pretty happy with your progress now is a good time for round two! Anything that your family and friends hit hard will need a second coming so things lettuce, silver beet, spinach, whatever. Tiered planting will make sure you don’t get caught short and experience a full crop.
That’s me! Thanks for going through this emotional one with me. Dr Phil would be proud of us, hell, I’m proud of us. Keep weeding, keep watering, keep smiling.
Peace, E Cus xx.