Many gardeners fear frost. They worry that it will decimate their plants, but as the Scandinavians like to say, “there’s no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing”. The same principle applies to plants. There’s no such thing as a killing frost, just tender plants being grown in the wrong climate zone.
If you find that your garden is regularly being burned by frost, it’s probably time to rethink some of your plant choices. This is much easier said than done, of course. It takes time to build plant knowledge and even the experienced among our ranks has the occasional stumble. I find that it pays to practise due diligence before making a plant selection.
The internet is a wonderful source of info, but sometimes a reference book is even better. The ABC’s plant guide Flora, a mighty two volume set, tailor made for Australian conditions, is a worthy contender. It’s currently out of print, I think, but it’s an exceptional piece of work. If you’re serious about gardening and don’t have a copy, try to snaffle one second hand. And Aunty, maybe it’s time to get it back in print, please?*
Those of you up north, where frost is a complete non-event, must be wondering what the fuss is all about. Frozen plants! Bah! The problem up in the tropics is keeping things hydrated during the winter dry season and in this regard, I’ve got two simple suggestions: continually add organic matter to your soil, and mulch. The former is a natural way of storing moisture in the soil and the latter helps prevent moisture loss. Compost and green manures are the simplest sources of organic matter, and for mulch, use any plant based material that’s locally available. I like using a combo of sugarcane for vegie beds and woodchips for trees.
In the subtropics June is a glorious gardening month so get out amongst it. Tidy up straggly growth left over from summer and make a compost heap, prepare new beds for planting, and finish off hard landscaping jobs while the weather’s cooler. Like your friends in the tropics, keep an eye on moisture levels, especially during dry, windy weather. Wind sucks the moisture from plants like washing on a clothesline.
In arid/semi-arid zones, take advantage of cool nights and breathtakingly sunny days. It’s the best time of the year to build stuff in the garden. Try an aquaponics set-up. These systems work beautifully in dry climates and various off the shelf products are available for those of you looking to make a quick start. The alternative is to build something from scratch - plenty of design ideas are available online. Milkwood Permaculture (www.milkwood.net) has some good ideas. The May/June 2017 issue of Organic Gardener also investigates various systems.
The game’s not quite over for the season in warm temperate climates. There’s still a bit of warmth left in the soil, making it a great month to divide perennials, and it’s a good time to make new garden beds. Try solarising the lawn first using a sheet of plastic, then dig the bed over, add any necessary amendments and boost the soil with compost if it’s infertile or poorly drained. A caveat: Never work heavy soils when they’re wet. This is the quickest way to destroy soil structure and make it even heavier.
In the coldest parts of Australia, the resting season is here. There’s not a lot of incentive to be outside during June, unless it’s a still and sunny day, so my advice is to do what you have to do in the garden then head inside for a cup of tea and a warming spell by the fire. Crack open some seed catalogues, read some gardening mags (our Essential Guide: Urban Farming is a cracker and the latest OG is out on June 8!) and plan for the big spring planting effort in a few months’ time.
By: Justin Russell
First published: May 2017