Cherry trees in blossom herald the beginning of spring, not only in New Zealand but in many parts of the world. In Japan there is a believable legend that each spring a fairy maiden hovers low in the warm sky, wakening the sleeping Cherry trees to life with her delicate breath.
We can divide the cherry family ‘Prunus’ into cherry trees grown for their fruit and those that are grown for their ornamental value, especially the spring flowering. The later is often referred to as flowering cherries and it is these that make the really spectacular displays in spring.
For instance in Japan the cherry blossom (sakura) is noted as Japan’s unofficial national flower. It has been celebrated for many centuries and takes a very prominent position in Japanese culture.
There are many dozens of different cherry tree varieties in Japan, most of which bloom for just a couple of days in spring. The Japanese celebrate that time of the year with hanami (cherry blossom viewing) with parties under the blooming trees.
Many gardeners love to have a flowering cherry tree as a focal point in their gardens and now is an excellent time to purchase a new season’s specimen from your local garden centre.
Flowering cherry trees are available in several forms, upright columns, spreaders, weepers, etc as well as the fruiting varieties.
The key to successful growing of a cherry tree is a good free draining situation as they cannot handle wet feet. Many a cherry tree has been lost in a wet winter when the roots have been submerged in wet soil, for too long a period. Interestingly the tree actually dies in winter while dormant, with much of the roots rotting away, but in spring there is a sufficient sap store to rise and produce one last display of blossoms. Some leaves will then form but having too little root left they fall and the tree is no more than firewood. Because of our climate change it is more important than ever to ensure that your cherry tree will be able to survive a wet winter. The easy way to achieve this when planting out is to make a mound 30 to 40 cm tall and plant your new tree into this mound with suitable staking.
The mound should comprise of friable soil and sand mix with a little compost added.
Cherry trees are not great feeders and a few handfuls of sheep manure pellets a couple of times a year along with a scoop or two of Fruit and Flower Power should do just nicely.
For those that have an existing cherry tree and are concerned about losing it to wet feet, can do two things to reduce this possibility. Just beyond the drip line dig a trench about a spade’s depth, this allows the water from the wet soil to drain into the trench, which will evaporate quicker with sun and wind, making for a drier area around the roots. A couple of sprays over the foliage in autumn and repeated when the foliage is out in the spring, with Perkfection, will assist the cherry tree to overcome those wet weather diseases such as root rot.
Cherry slugs are likely to damage the foliage in the summer time as they feed on the leaves. Simple to control with one or two sprays of Liquid Copper, as the pest, like ordinary slugs cannot handle copper.
Follow the above and you will have a wonderful display of cherry blossoms for many springs to come.
The first tomato plants for the season are arriving in garden centres at this time. These include the normal tomatoes as well as the grafted ones which are called Supertoms. Supertoms have a dual rooting system which means they have more roots than a non-grafted tomato. The extra roots means that they will grow bigger, faster and can give about three times the crop compared to a straight tomato plant.
That is if they are cared for correctly and given ample tomato food for their needs.
Many years ago I developed a special tomato food called Wally’s Secret Tomato Food which is a high powered, quick slow release food with additional magnesium and potash added.
It is available in two forms, straight and with Neem Tree Granules added.
The Neem Tree Granules are interesting, as many gardeners have discovered, that by applying this special mix to the soil near the base of the tomato plant, keeps the whitefly populations from building up.
Whitefly are the enemy of the tomato gardener especially in a glasshouse when it takes no time at all before thousands of these pests are populating your tomato plants.
By having the Neem Tree Granules at the base of the plants right from the start of the season and giving repeat applications every 6 to 8 weeks should keep the plants fairly clean of the pests.
With the aid of the granules I now can grow tomatoes in my glasshouse through the season without ever having to spray for whitefly.
Last season I received many complaints from gardeners that the tomatoes they were growing, grew well but did not set any fruit till much later in the season. If fact many varieties did not set fruit till after Xmas even though the plants were tall and flowering well. The reason for this was that the temperatures during last spring and early summer were mild and lacking in heat, the flowers of these varieties did not produce the needed pollen to set the fruit. The same problem could easily occur again this year and to overcome the difficulty you need to choose cold setting types such as Russian Red, Early Girl and Taupo. The small fruiting types with the bite size, cherry tomatoes did not seem to be affected by the cooler temperatures and produced good crops early also.
When you buy your first tomato plants they should be potted up into a 10 cm wide pot using a good compost mix plus sprinkle a little of the tomato food mentioned, on top of the mix.
The plant is then placed into the glasshouse or in a nice sunny sheltered spot.
Some gardeners will place the plants in their pots or into the soil on a northern facing aspect, sheltered from the wind and elements by constructing a plastic frame around the plants.
This can be simply done by inserting 4 strong stakes into the ground making a square that is about 40cm wide on each of the four sides. Plastic food wrap is wrapped around one stake and then run around the four stakes twice to secure and then progressively wrapped higher and higher till you reach the top of the stakes. This creates a plastic house for your tomato plant to grow inside, well protected from the elements and a heat trap for the sun. If it looks like a frost at night an old sack can be placed across the top of the four stakes to give overhead protection from frost.
During cool times you need to be careful not to overwater your tomato plants as wet feet makes the cold more intense and losses can occur. Keep the growing medium between moist to dry, just giving the young plants sufficient water for their needs. Later when things warm up and the plants are bigger, then progressively greater amounts of water can be applied.
Stem rot or collar rot is one of the great disasters of the tomato gardener. Plants are normally well developed with a good setting of fruit on them when the disease strikes. The plant starts to wilt during the day, coming right late in the day, but as the disease progresses the wilting becomes worse till the plant dies. You will notice a dark area around part of the trunk and aerial roots forming above this area as the plant tries to produce roots to save itself. The disease enters any wound on the plant during moist or humid conditions and once in is usually fatal. Removing laterals during humid times without applying a protective spray of Liquid Copper is dangerous.
Added protection can be applied with a monthly spray of Perkfection starting off as soon as you pot up the plants. One gardener told me that he saved a plant by painting undiluted Liquid Copper onto the area where the rot was happening, before it progressed to far. Worth a try.