3 things you need to do in your garden now to protect it over winter

After being back a couple of weeks on NZ soil and experiencing a few days of rain, I am remembering how soggy and cold our gardens can get.

  1. Get planning for the water flow after the rain starts

Drains and channels for water flow are a really important part of design when creating your gardens, for two main reasons:

  • To stop your garden being flooded in the winter and
  • To capture water in the hot summer months.

The way I design my garden is using raised beds, as I live in a high rainfall area, with it falling hard and fast sometimes.

I have drains around each bed with an outlet at one end. In the summer, this captures the rain which then soaks in under the bed keeping the soil moist under the plants, and in winter it enables the water to escape to prevent flooding, as crops can rot (especially garlic) from too much water.

  1. Prepare your garden to survive the upcoming winds

To protect from strong winds, I put wind cloth around my garden or drape netting over my plants and secure with rocks or pin into the ground. However, I advise you shouldn’t pin too tightly as the plants won’t be able to grow.

I also recommend putting a good thick mulch around your plants to help keep the roots and stems of your plants protected, remembering to leave a small gap around the stem of each plant.

  1. Get planting some winter crops

With full moon just past, and the shortest day just over a month away, it is time to think about planting the last of the winter root crops. Not much really happens in June, and I look at this time of year as a rest period in the garden for the crops.

I find by planting in May, you at least achieve some growth before the shortest day and it gives the plants a good start, though this also depends on which part of the country you are in.

My focus will be on planting beetroot and leeks to enable me to have a good late winter crop for those hearty roast dinners. Roasting beetroot is easy and delicious – I just give mine a scrub, chop in half and place in the roasting pan with the rest of the veggies, yumo.

Beetroot is a hungry plant and loves to have good compost, bokashi or rotted manure incorporated in the soil. I grow mine from seed in rows 10cm apart. Beetroot comes in all types of colours; from orange, red, white and yellow, and this is the beauty of growing from seed as I find these plants usually aren’t available in your average garden centre.

Top tip: When buying beetroot seedlings, it is better to buy a punnet with smaller plants as you will find these easier to separate and the roots will stand a much better chance of not being damaged when pulling apart.

If you are a new gardener, the idea when planting beetroot is to make sure the punnet is sufficiently watered and then pop the seedlings out and tease the plants apart from each other and plant individually, making sure you plant them in the soil right down to where the leaves have started to form. This will give them a good hold in the ground and help protect the forming root from wind damage over the winter months.

Growers of seedling punnets supplied to garden centres tend to put 3-4 seeds into each cell these days, which makes it much harder to transplant and if you are a new gardener you might tend to plant the whole clump together which will result in tiny beetroot. Pre-Roman times, did you know that the only part of the beetroot that was eaten was the leaves? These are delicious chopped into a salad or in a stir fry, which add a vibrant colour, so please don’t overlook them!

Beetroot can take anywhere from 45-65 days until harvest time, depending on your variety and growing conditions. Beetroot can be grown in containers, pots, raised beds as well as gardens. Remember in dry spells to water every week or so, until they take off by themselves.

Leeks like very similar growing conditions to beetroot, so I tend to plant these next to each other in the garden. They both like rich soil and it also serves as a good rotation for leafy producers after harvest.

Last year, I experimented with leeks to see how they would best grow. Some I pulled apart and grew individually with a spacing of 5-7cms and others I planted in clumps of 4 to 5 to see if they would grow in much the same way, but take less time to plant.

The result of this was the ones planted in clumps of 4-5 grew just a bit smaller than the individual ones, but saved much more time and space… Hurrah!

Top tip: When planting leeks, make sure you make the hole nice and deep with your finger or a stick, as the roots are usually long and like to go in straight-ish rather than all clumped together.

I plant my leeks quite deep into the soil up to where the leaves divide into a V. I usually put my mulch on the soil first and plant through this as it can be quite time-consuming putting mulch around individual plants. The beauty of growing leeks is they can stay in the ground until you need them. You can pull them when they are young and sweet or wait until they fatten up when they are delicious for soup. Leeks take anywhere from 70 -120 days to mature, making sure you harvest before they go to flower as this will take all the energy upwards and leave a very hard centre in the leek.

Mmmm it is making my mouth water just writing this thinking about roast beetroot and leek and kumara soup!

Happy winter gardening

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