What to do in the garden (given the polar blast) this week

What to do in the garden (given the polar blast) this week thumbnail

There’s plenty to sow and grow at this time of year, but be guided by the weather rather than the date on the calendar.


There’s plenty to sow and grow at this time of year, but be guided by the weather rather than the date on the calendar.

In the garden, be guided by the weather not the calendar!

There’s plenty you can, in theory, sow and plant this week.

Over the first week or two of October I’d usually suggest sowing or planting beetroot, carrots, radishes, broad beans, peas, lettuces, rocket, Asian greens, coriander, silverbeet and spinach, as well as more potatoes, outside.

But it’s been a terribly cold week so be guided by the conditions in your own garden, rather than the date on the calendar! There’s plenty you can do inside, so don’t be dissuaded by the suddenly frigid spring conditions.

You can still start pumpkin, zucchini, cucumber, melon, corn, basil and beans from seed in trays inside, ideally on a heat pad, and it will be ready to plant out in a few weeks. It’s not even too late to start more tomatoes, peppers and chillies from seed (inside and again with bottom heat if possible) although if you have a very short growing season, focus on smaller tomato and pepper varities as they tend to be quicker to fruit so you should still get a harvest. Any cultivar that has early in its name is also a good bet: try ‘Early Girl’ or ‘Baxter’s Early Bush’ tomatoes, or ‘Jalapeno Early’ pepper.


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A NIWA graphic shows a blast of cold air from Antarctica moving up Aotearoa, covering the whole country by Thursday.


A NIWA graphic shows a blast of cold air from Antarctica moving up Aotearoa, covering the whole country by Thursday.

I don’t like to say I told you so (OK, friends might say I do a bit)

For everyone who disregarded my sage advice in NZ Gardener to hold fire on planting tender summer crops (such as tomatoes, chillies, basil, corn, kūmara, pumpkins, zucchini and eggplants) outside until late October or early November, I have two words: polar blast.

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Any of those heat loving edibles already planted outside will be shivered as this cold front sweeps across the nation leading to cold days and colder nights, unseasonable frosts and even snow in some places.

I am not saying that tender edibles won’t survive a cold spell, they well might especially if in the warmer regions, but in my experience even a few colder than ideal nights early in their life will set back their production and I think leads to more problems with pests and diseases with those plants later in the season.

If you have plants outside that have been exposed to the recent cold spell, consider planting a few more of the same things at the end of this month or the start of next and just observe over the growing season how the plants planted at different times perform. I have definitely notices that tomatoes I plant in November take off and soon overtake the ones I planted in October, and I’d love to hear what results you observed at your place.

Some regions have another few cold nights forecast – and indeed in early October spring might well have a few more tricks up her sleeve, my parents in the Waikato had a frost in December a few years ago!

So if you have cold tender edible outside that are in pots which can be moved, consider shifting them undercover into a glasshouse, potting shed or even garage if possible, or at least the lee of the house if you don’t have any suitable inside space.

If you have plants outside that cannot be moved and you think a frost, or even an especially cold night, is likely, protect them with frost cloth over a frame (gold standard), drape net curtains or bubble wrap over wire or half hoops (surprisingly effective), or even drape a few sheets of newspaper over them and peg it down (not bad and much better than nothing!).

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Peeled lemons on a tree.


Peeled lemons on a tree.

Possum tips please!

As a lemon obsessive, I struggle to grow enough citrus to meet my (admittedly very high) need for lemons. I have a few trees in my Auckland garden but rely on being able to make regular raids on a giant ‘Meyer’ at my mum and dad’s place in the Waikato.

So you can imagine my consternation when my mother reported that the lemons were being preyed upon by a mysterious creature, that ate the skin of the fruit but left the fruit itself – now rendered inedible – hanging on the tree.

My opinion is the culprit is almost certainly a possum – or rather possums as sadly where there is one, there tends to be many! Rats and some birds (especially kākā if you are lucky enough to have them visit your garden) can also eat the skin off the fruit but they tend to eat some of the fruit itself too… it’s usually possums that are usually responsible for leaving them perfectly skinned on the tree.

Interestingly I have observed they seem to have a particular prefer for ‘Meyer’ too … other citrus, even other lemon varieties are left alone.

My parents have three, greatly beloved cats (called Peggy Seegar, Todd Blackadder and Senior, just for background) and so my mother doesn’t want to risk a kill trap … it would be great to get any tips for irristable possum bait we could try in a catch trap so my lemon supply can be protected.

Gardening by the moon

The fertile period continues until October 9 so sow and transplant leafy crops. Sow out of doors if the soil temperature is sufficient; peas, bush and climbing beans and all of the brassicas. Don’t prune. Between October 10 and 13 weed, cultivate and prune but don’t plant. On October 14 you can sow root crops, especially carrots. Make sure they don’t dry out once they have been planted. Cover to retain moisture.

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Gardening by the maramataka

The first of the planting months for most regions. Long-term summer crops which include kūmara, kamokamo, kānga (Indian corn), taewa, pumpkin and watermelons should be initiated and/or planted now in most regions. The 10th of the month is the full moon and aligns to the Rākaunui phase which brings together the influences of the atua Rongo (crops and wellbeing), Tāne (trees, bushes and forest as well as wild foods) and Tangaroa (foods of the sea) so it really is the start of a season of plenty. Whiro falls on the 25th so October 21-26 is best focused on other activities such as seed sowing indoors, grafting or softwood cuttings. Beyond this, take the cues from the perennial plants around you for signs of temperature gains in the soil (new weeds of summer species or new buds on fruit trees) and the presence of some related species such as the pepe tuna (pūriri moth) or tunga rere (beetle of the huhu grub) – all signs that spring is here. Dr Nick Roskruge

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