A big hello to you all and welcome back to another year of gardening articles.

I had a great break from doing the weekly article over the festive season and enjoyed talking to lots of gardeners and helping to sorting out their gardening problems.

One of the difficulties living in one part of New Zealand is knowing what the conditions have been like in other areas.

I often ask callers what is the weather like where they are and also how the season has been.

New Zealand has quite a mix of weather and sometimes the general idea that North is sub tropical and south is sub arctic is far from the actual conditions.

It would appear that in most areas (except maybe the far north and some of east coast areas) spring and summer are words only.

This would have to be one of the worst years I have experienced for gardening warmth loving plants (cucumbers, capsicum etc) Even tomato plants which are much tougher have been struggling a bit outdoors.

Cold tolerant types such as Russian Red have done better even if it is taking longer for the fruit to ripen.

The problem is two fold, uneven temperatures going on a nice sunny day from mid to late 20's then dropping to under 10 the next day with chilly winds from the south.

Also the cloud cover which reduces the amount of direct sun light onto the plants and effects their growth potential.

Often when its not a cloudy day, when instead of a clear blue sky, we have wish washy hazy days which just does not help.

Last week we had to fly to Auckland on an over night trip and on the way back the pilot said it was excellent smooth flying conditions all the way to the Manawatu and then it would be bumpy which it was.

Being just a few clouds and having a window seat I was enjoying seeing the contour of the land bellow, buildings, towns, roads, vehicles, back roads, streams and rivers along the way.

In the distance there was Mount Taranaki (whom I know as Mt Egmont) poking out of the distant murky blue.

In fact outside of straight down and for a few kilometers out it appeared fairly clear viewing but the further away it became murky and it would not be more than about an eighth of the distance to the horizon before the blur started occurring. We were at 18,000 feet (I think from memory)

Now I cant remember whether this has been the same for many years ago or not.

I have a feeling that in the past you had a fairly clear view at 18,000 feet to the horizon when it would tend to be a clear blue sight. Maybe someone can put me right.

My point is that if this is pollution of some kind it will be reducing the amount of direct sunlight reaching our plants and that has consequences.

We are in the middle of summer and one would be forgiven to think that we are well into autumn already and I note that some of the plants I grow are thinking it is autumn.

Plants that I am growing in my glasshouses are certainly doing much better than warmth loving plants outside.

If the weather patterns in your area are not as good for gardening as they were some years back then likely you need to invest in a glasshouse or similar.

One advantage of this non-summer is that warmth loving insect pests have not being able to breed.

White butterfly and psyllids are two that I have not seen much of along with whitefly. Likely leaf hoppers and vegetable bugs are also not the problem they normally are.

Aphids dont mind the temperatures so much and they are still around in numbers when during the hot conditions they often disappear.

Fluctuating temperatures and moist conditions see and increase in leaf diseases such as rust, mildew and black spot.

Many of us have had the worst crop of garlic ever due to the plants being attacked by rust back in September/October. This reduced the leaf surface areas for gaining energy from the sun to fill out the bulbs.

I had a big crop in and many of the plants only produced bulbs the size of a reasonable clove.

They can still be used and my Filipino partner told me that these small bulbs of garlic are sort after back in the Philippines so that cheered me up a little.

I have planted some purchased NZ Garlic cloves in November and again in December and plan to plant some more this month.

Two reasons for this; is I am curious as to see what they will do in the off season and to increase the amount of garlic we will have for use.

Next winter I might plant a couple of deep trays of garlic and grow them in one of the glasshouses to avoid the rust problem. Also in the spring a spray of potassium permanganate with Raingard every 2 to 4 weeks would also be worth while.

This time of the year with your tomato plants you can sprout some laterals from off your current plants to have an extended season. The lateral should be allowed to grow about 6cm long and then just pinch it off the parent plant.

Remove any larger leaves off the cutting reducing the total leaf area to a bit below half.

Some like to do this by cutting each leaf in half. Pop the cutting into a small pot with compost as the growing medium.

Keep moist in a bright light sheltered spot while they root up. (In your glasshouse just under a shelf is ideal.) Once established simply pot up into a bigger pot and when it has filled that one go to about a 25 to 40 litre pot. You can move them around later on to suit conditions.

Feeding your tomato plants and other plants that are struggling will help get them moving despite the weather. My Secret tomato food with or without the Neem Powder is good for all your heat loving plants.

I have found that the straight food used on cacti, succulents and palms during the summer months really gets them growing. Apply about every 4 weeks.

If you have access to Chicken manure put some under your citrus trees at this time along with Neem Tree Granules and Fruit & Flower Power.

Yates Dynamic Lifter has chicken manure in it (I am told) then the Neem Granules cleans up any pest insects in the tree and the Fruit & Flower Power makes the fruit more juicy.

Winter vegetables such as brassicas and leeks should be started to be planted now.

Summer pruning of fruit trees such as apples is done now. This means the nipping off of the new growth that is happening just beyond the fruit.

Flowering plants such as roses should be dead headed (Removing the remains of the spent flowers) this can encourage more flowers or if you cut them further back a new lot of growth will occur which will result in more flowers.

While in Auckland this week I spotted a passion fruit vine growing on a north facing fence that was covered in fruit some as large as a cricket ball. I was very envious.

Happy gardening in the meantime and likely more challenges to face.

Problems ring me at 0800 466464 (Palmerston North 3570606)
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Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.
Make a habit of two things: to help; or at least to do no harm.
Walking is man's best medicine.
3 quotes from Hippocrates 460BC to 370BC Greece

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