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Garden care doesn’t begin — or end — with plants: or even with the obviously essential tasks of watering and weeding those plants.

It encompasses a huge range of tasks including soil-care and upkeep, the designing and laying of pathways and beds/borders, the creation of peaceful seating areas and playing areas, the construction and maintenance of walls/fences, of compost bins and composting. These are all an integral part of a highly-personalised garden designed for maximum usage and benefit for all family members.

The majority of gardeners take care of these tasks as and when the need arises but there is something that gardeners often overlook and at the very top of these ‘things’ is garden hygiene.

No matter what you grow in your garden, horticultural hygiene can make or break a beautiful garden

Take, for example, the simple pleasure of transferring a plant that has outgrown its pot into a larger one. The routine is basic and involves nothing more than a suitably-sized plant pot, soil/compost suited for the species and water to settle the plant. But there is a serious omission: hygiene.

It could be a spur of the moment enthusiasm, lack of knowledge or plain laziness but most gardeners don’t bother to clean, preferably sterilise, a used plant pot before reusing it.

It isn’t necessary to sterilise a new plant pot but one which has previously housed a plant should be thoroughly scrubbed out with hot water and then soaked, for a few hours at least, in some kind of sterilising solution even if this is just a strong mix of saline water (brewed up by dissolving salt in hot water) or in a solution of potassium permanganate (pinky).

The previous plant in that pot may have been a healthy plant which has already been transferred to a larger pot, but it is also possible that it may have been a sick one which has died and which may have left traces/spores of disease/infection behind it in the pot. Or perhaps the previous soil/compost in the pot was host to something nasty. Sterilising used plant pots before reusing them is highly recommended to combat plant diseases of all kinds, yet few gardeners bother to do it. Sterilising pots is best done as soon as they are emptied and before storing them away for reuse. It doesn’t take long to do and saves many potential problems in future.

The same goes for garden tools like secateurs, which are routinely used — often to cut away infected plant growth — with no thought that cutting through infected plant material can leave traces of infection on the blades, spreading the infection with every single cut. Sterilising and then oiling them immediately after use, along with routinely wiping down the blades with a disinfectant soaked cloth during use, makes perfect sense.

Gardeners wouldn’t eat their lunch off dirty, pre-used crockery using dirty cutlery. So why expect plants be made to tolerate lax habits without getting sick?

This is the all too often overlooked side of gardening that can make or break the overall garden health and outcome so pay attention to it please.

As temperatures and associated tensions continue to scale incredible heights, sowing seeds and gently nurturing them to maturity is a wonderful way of creating a badly-needed balance in a world spinning itself dizzy!

Creating calm in the flower garden is a lovely way to start. Get to grips with sowing the last Zinnia seeds of the year and do this as early in the month as you possibly can. These easy to grow plants should begin flowering in as little as six to eight weeks after sowing the seeds and will add natural brilliance to flower beds, borders and pots/containers. Their extensive palette is one to play with: blazing reds, glowing oranges, hot pinks and sulfurous yellows will lighten up shady courtyards and garden areas that are otherwise dependent on evergreen shrubs especially if, for emphasis, brilliant white ones are also generously splashed around. Pastel shaded Zinnias should not be overlooked and their apricots, soft pinks, creams, lemons and lime greens

can be used to create a soft garden-scape to dream in. Then there are the all-so-versatile Cosmos to drift and dance in even the slightest of breezes, Tithonia to rival sunflowers, Balsam, Matricaria, Gomp­herena, Rudbeckia, Gaillardia, Coleus, Kochia, Tagetes and marigolds which are always ready to oblige.

In your vegetable garden sow even more chillies and capsicum peppers in as varied a colour range as you can track down and start off even more aubergines, okra, cucumbers, lettuce in the shade. Add tomatoes of all kinds and colours, leaf beet/Swiss chard, seasonably suitable cabbages and cauliflowers, spinach in partial shade, all kinds of radishes and plenty more crisp green onions to liven up those delicious summer salads.

Herb seeds to sow now include: lots and lots of essential coriander, dill, aniseed, borage, basil, chives, garlic chives, Plecanthrus and both Calendulas and nasturtiums.

As for fruit there is time — but only just — to sow a few more watermelon seeds, preferably before the middle of the month and preferably, if you can get them, desi varieties as these have developed, over generations, to deal with the vagaries of our climate far better than imported ones.

Flower of the month: Bottle brush — botanical name Callistemon — is a small to medium-sized tree with a trailing habit. Flowers are scarlet red/vermilion, white, yellow or purple-red. Flowering time is early spring and again in late autumn. Pot grown saplings may be planted out in the ground during the summer monsoon.

Please continue sending your gardening queries to [email protected]. Remember to include your location — this is important. The writer does not respond directly by email. Emails with attachments will not be opened.

Published in Dawn, EOS, May 28th, 2017

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