July 25, 2019

In the garden: Oranges, tomatoes and storms

There's plenty to do in the garden this week, from planting tomatoes and citrus trees to preparing for winter storms.

Plant some tomatoes

Winter is a great time to get a head-start on growing tomatoes from seed. It is an easy, interesting and cheap exercise. It also allows for a greater selection of varieties and heirlooms, such as Black Russian, Beefsteak and Amish Paste. 

How to grow: I find the easiest way is to either grow them in used egg cartons, pots of soil or peat Jiffy pots. Sow the seeds individually and place them in a warm spot i.e. behind a north-facing window.

When to harvest: The seedlings will be almost ready to plant out when they are around 10cm tall. It’s at this stage they need to be “hardened off” by placing them in a little more sun for a week. The lower section of the stem will start to turn a dark purple and the plants are sturdy. Once they are at that stage they are ready for the garden in a sunny position. 

Plant some Washington navel oranges 

Arguably the best tasting and performing orange that an SA gardener can grow in their backyard. A handsome tree with dark green foliage which, when it reaches maturity, will produce copious amounts of delightfully juicy, sweet, easy to peel oranges.

How to grow: Choose a well-drained, sunny but protected spot in your garden. Allow for plenty of space around the tree for even sunshine and air movement. Soils should be neutral to slightly acidic pH. Feed and water the tree regularly and watch out for pests such as citrus leaf miner and citrus gall wasp.

When to harvest: The tree will take two to three years to first flower and produce fruit. Washington navels generally ripen in SA mid-winter depending a little on the season, colour is a good indication, try one and if sweet, they are ok to start picking but leave them on the tree if possible, will assure sweetness to the max.

Eye of the storm

Not many winter periods come and go without some sort of damage to the garden. It could be structural damage to a trellis or pergola, or simply the constant wind and rain battering trees. The main thing to worry about is the severe damage to our trees and larger plants. One question I am always asked is, after a stormy day or night, when to tidy up or prune a damaged tree or shrub. The answer is that most remedial works can be carried out before spring burst. However, if damaged branches are putting stress on the tree or surrounds then pruning should be carried out as soon as possible. If plants blow out of the ground, then a give a hard prune, replant back into their position as soon as practicable, followed by soakings of Seasol and additional support from stakes and ties. If unsure, take some pictures into your garden centre for advice.

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