Gardening with Patricia Jordan
Holidays over and work has to start again in the garden. This is the time when the laborious bit of gardening happens as the soil is usually moist and amenable to planting or moving any shrubs and trees. Fruit and nut trees are mostly dormant now so that some pruning can take place but don’t leave it too long especially in the case of almonds, as after a week or so of ‘Halcyon’ weather which occurs around this time of year, flower buds will begin to appear in sheltered gardens. This period of calm sunny weather was once recorded as appearing during the twelve days of Christmas but with changing weather patterns and shifting calendars, they tend to occur in January now. This unseasonal weather can cause mayhem in the garden as the plants think that winter is over and start to grow, only to be dashed to the ground when the winter storms start up again and continue into February. There is still a lot of winter to come so don’t become too complacent. I spend a lot of my time weather watching, especially if there is any danger of extremely low night temperatures.
If you have decided to plant citrus trees then this is a good time to choose them as they may just have some fruit on them and you can be sure of what you are buying. Many people are disappointed when they discover that they have bought a bitter orange and not a Merlin or a Jaffa. It is not always possible to tell what colour of fruit a grapefruit has but both the fruits, white and red, are delicious. Take care if you are on statins though, as grapefruits conflict with some of them, so consult your doctor first before eating these fruits.
Lemons and limes are a joy to have in the garden and so useful too. The juice of both can be frozen to make lemonade or limeade in the hot summers. They can also be made into lemon or lime curd, using just two ripened limes to one lemon in the recipe, and no Cypriot meal is served up without a plateful of cut lemons, which when squeezed over food enhance the flavour of the meat. It is not so long along that limes were not readily available in Cyprus but I have proved that they can be grown at 300 metres very successfully.
WHAT TO DO IN THE GARDEN THIS MONTH
Planting trees and shrubs is not difficult. First dig the hole, making it deeper and wider than the rootball of the tree you are going to plant. Hopefully the hole will be damp, if not add some water but don’t make it too soggy. If you have bone meal put a couple of handfuls in the bottom of the hole, otherwise some slow release fertiliser will do. Take the rootball out of the bag or pot and look closely at the roots. They may be wound round and round the pot which usually means that that they have been in it for too long. Tease them out gently and get rid of any claggy soil which may be around them and trim any dead or very thin roots. Should the tree be large you may need to put in a stake before planting. If you put it in later on you may damage the roots. Sit the plant in the hole leaving the graft point just above the level of the top of the hole. (If you bury the graft point then stems and leaves may sprout from there and you don’t want that to happen). Fill in the sides with some new soil or potting compost, treading it down. Once the tree is planted have a good look at it and see if there are any dead, diseased or crossing branches and remove them. You may lose some fruiting buds but new trees are going to take time settling in, so you may not get any fruits for the first few years anyway. You need to have a good flow of air through the tree otherwise when the weather becomes hot and humid moulds and botrytis may appear.
Look around your other fruit trees and using the same principles prune them with very sharp secateurs. Clean the blades with disinfectant after each tree so that you don’t transfer any disease. When a tree puts on about half a metre of growth a year it can quickly reach gigantic proportions, making maintenance difficult, and fruit or nut cropping almost impossible. You need to be cruel to be kind and lop off some of that growth each year. The same applies to Pecan trees, which can reach 20 or 30 metres if they are not curtailed and then the crows would get all the nuts! Pruning is a vital part of the success or not of your fruit and nut trees. Most commercial fruit and nut trees are kept to a reasonable height, which makes for easier management and harvesting the fruits, without having to resort to climbing ladders.
The ‘Prunus’ family comprises almonds, apricots, peaches, nectarines, plums and cherries and all of these trees can suffer from canker. You can spot this easily as the bark oozes gum and large parts of the tree fail. At this stage there is really not a lot that you can do about it, other than fell the tree and grow something else instead. Some areas are prone to canker, like the valley in which I live, so I have given up growing prunus except for almonds and am concentrating on citrus instead. Some suggest spraying with Cuproxat, a copper-based fungicide, but I have had limited success with it. By cutting branches off above the ooze it may be possible for the tree to grow on for a few more years but once the tree has canker it is almost certainly doomed!
Winter jasmine should be starting to flower brightening up the garden. This is a shrub or climber that is pruned AFTER flowering. It’s amazing how many plants are in flower throughout the winter. Pyrostegia and Viburnum tinus both bring brightness and cheer and of course polygala just never seems to stop blooming. Osteospermums and marguerites give the garden some colour through the winter and soon the first narcissus will flowering in the borders. Cacti and succulents are beginning to throw out new flower stems too and Aeonium arboreum flower heads, looking like golden broccoli, will be shooting skywards. Aloe flowers of reds and yellows brighten up the countryside vying with the bright yellows of the native oxalis, which can be a nightmare to get rid of in gardens!
You should be able to start picking broccoli and cauliflowers soon and kohl rabi, fresh from the garden, sprinkled with salt and with some lemon squeezed over it, is lovely to eat even without dipping it into hummus or other dips.
Plant of the Month Olea europaea
Literally the name means ‘Oil from Europe’ but the first olives were supposedly found in Jordan. Regarded as natives of many Mediterranean countries, their oil is of major agricultural importance. At one time only Greece grew olives, which brought the country great wealth and for centuries their harvests were the biggest in the world. However, more recently Greece has dropped to third place with Spain and Italy now being the biggest producers.
This evergreen tree growing up to great heights if left un-pruned, does not require good soil for bountiful harvests and will thrive in poor limestone soils with limited rainfall. It does however prefer a sunny position. If the soil is too rich it may bring all kinds of cultivation problems. In Cyprus, trees can be found growing along the coastal strips and certainly up to 300 metres. They are generally pruned down to about 3 metres for ease of collecting the ripe fruits. The white feathery self fertile flowers, to which some people are allergic, are to be found on the ends of last year’s stems. In order to produce fruits the olive tree needs not only to be grown in a sunny spot but have a two month cold winter period with temperatures no lower than minus 5C. Watering new trees regularly until they are well established and during dry spells between February and May, is crucial for fruit production. Olives do not always crop well every year. This last season yielded a very poor harvest.
You may need to wait several years for a new tree to yield fruits. The most serious pest is the olive fruit fly, which lays its eggs in olives usually just before they become ripe in the autumn. Harvesting usually begins around November 25 – St Catherine’s Day. After this time the olives will not grow any more and start to drop and those which drop to the ground are no good as they deteriorate quickly, and if added to your oil may even spoil it.