Autumn may be creeping in but there’s lots to do in the garden! Here’s your guide for what to harvest, plant and sow in April with bonus lawn care tips
What to harvest in the garden
- If the foliage is completely dead on your late-season potatoes, they should be dug up now. Don’t leave any tiny ones in the ground as they will sprout and attract pests and diseases. Brown patches edged with white mould on the leaves means your spuds might have potato blight. Dig up plants and put in the garden waste (not compost) immediately. Don’t plant potatoes in the same place for another couple of seasons.
- Leaving tomatoes on the vine as long as possible increases their flavour, but there are downsides to this practice. Fruit will need to be well netted so the birds don’t eat it, for a start. And the more fruit on the plant, the more its energy levels are depleted, increasing its vulnerability to attack by pests and diseases. If you’re worried, pick some fruit semi-green and leave in a cool, dark area to ripen.
- Harvest grapes when fully ripe (they won’t ripen further off the vine). Wash well and eat within a couple of days.
- As vines die back, check the skins of pumpkins, butternuts and squashes to make sure they are firm. Give them a light knock and if they make a hollow sound, you know they are ready. Leave at least 10cm of the stem on your pumpkins and sit them in the sun for a couple of weeks if you are planning to store them.
- Kumara is ready to harvest when most of the plant has turned yellow. Leave tubers in the sun to cure for a day or two, then store in a cool, airy place (never refrigerate as tubers will go hard in the centre).
What to sow in the garden
- It’s easier to grow leafy greens such as rocket in autumn as plants won’t flower so quickly when temperatures are lower. There are two main types of rocket: common or salad rocket, and wild rocket. Wild rocket is slower to flower, richer in nutrients and lower-growing than the common type. Rocket isn’t fussy about its soil conditions, but you’ll get better-quality plants if you grow them in rich, moisture-retaining soil. Sow seed now for harvesting in 6-8 weeks. In very cold areas, wild rocket is a better option as it’s hardier to frost.
- Broad beans and peas can be sown directly into the garden in warmer areas for an early spring harvest. Keep soil moist.
- Save seed from climbing or dwarf beans, coriander and other herbs and veges to sow next season.
- Don’t let lack of outdoor space put you off growing herbs and vegetables. The secret is to choose a crop that suits the space available. Obviously root crops such as potatoes and parsnips, or large tomato plants, are not going to work in window boxes. Radishes, salad greens, Asian vegetables, spinach and many herbs will be fine, though. For best results, use containers around 40-60cm in depth so they won’t dry out too quickly. Growing dwarf varieties or globe-rooted root vegetables are good options.
- Mixing it up in the kitchen garden by planting some of the less common veges will keep you interested and is a great way to practise crop rotation. Kohlrabi is a brassica like broccoli, even though it looks like a misshapen beetroot. Rich in vitamins and high in fibre, the tops and bulb can both be eaten. Grate or slice raw bulbs into salads, or cook them in soups, stews or as a mash. Kohlrabi is a good vege for container cultivation. The hardier purple kohlrabi can be sown in autumn for winter harvesting.
- Purple sprouting broccoli is another interesting cool-season vegetable, producing a succession of flowerheads over a long period. It doesn’t mind poor soil or the cold. For an early spring harvest, sow seed into trays now for planting out when seedlings are about 12-15cm tall.
What to plant in the garden
- Rhubarb is best grown from divisions of mature plants rather than seed. These are available from garden centres, or you could dig up a friend’s plant and divide it when dormant this winter. Make sure each division has plenty of roots and mulch plants with a thick layer of well-rotted compost or manure when the weather cools.
- Also divide clumps of established chives and replant in 6-10 bulb clumps. One of the most useful herbs you can grow in the garden, chives need a sunny position and rich, moist soil. As chives are dormant in winter, you’ll need to mark the position of clumps so you don’t dig them up in error.
- Autumn is a good time to sow new lawns or rejuvenate existing turf. It’s best to wait until weather is cooler, though; ideally when there’s rain on the way.
- Remove weeds and stones first, especially difficult weeds (eg paspalum, dock, dandelion) as you don’t want them popping up in the middle of your nice new lawn.
- Cultivate ground to a depth of 15cm, level, then sprinkle with lawn fertiliser a week before sowing grass seed.
- With existing lawns, give them a good rake first, as this helps get rid of the build-up of old, undecomposed grass. Fill dips or holes with a mixture of potting mix, sand and grass seed.
Words by: Carol Bucknell. Photography by: highwaystarz / 123RF Stock Photo.