Autumn gardening jobs in the tropics
March, April, and May see you in the final stages of the wet season in the tropics and the preparing and planting of your vegetables for the year. There can still be rain events and cyclones during this time but the peak has gone. The tropics is left out of a lot of gardening TV shows, magazine articles and the like. The season is the reverse of the colder southern areas with wet summers instead of wet winters. So, you need to plan your vegetable garden differently.
What areas are classed as tropics?
The tropics is a climate zone which is hot and humid in summer and warm to cool and dry in winter. There are many maps out there each one with a different layout of what is and isn’t tropical. It comes down to the local environment but most of northern Australia is classed as tropical. Typically, they say north of Mackay on the east coast of Queensland across the north coast including Darwin through to north of Broome in Western Australia.
Tropics can have very wet summers and rain periods through the rest of the year like Tully or Daintree. Other areas have 2 distinct seasons wet and dry such as Townsville or Mackay. Areas away from the coast are drier than the coast but still get the spill over from cyclones crossing the coast and monsoonal activity. There are areas with higher elevation or inland from the coast that can experience cooler winters but it doesn’t as last very long as southern areas. Frosts are not common in the coastal tropical areas.
How does the tropics affect your gardening plans?
The heavy rain can wash out plants nutrients and starve them of sunshine reducing their vigor. High heat causes them to wilt or bolt to seed. And the high humid can speed up the spread of fungal spores and diseases. Summer is the time for fruit fly and other pests to feed on your crop, destroying it overnight. And standing in the shade makes you sweat like anything so you don’t want to go dig in the garden.
You can pretty much grow vegetables all year round in the tropics but you need to plan which ones to grow when. Your classic vegetables don’t really like the heavy rain and high heat or humidity. Tropical varieties such as Asian greens and sweet potato can be grown through summer in some areas. The classic vegetables such as tomatoes, capsicum can be planted around the end of March onwards. The colder loving vegetables such as cabbage, cauliflower needs to planted in winter around June, July.
During the dry season gardening is fairly low maintenance and then comes the rain. The lawn doubles each night and the weeds shot for the sky. Trying to keep control can be a lot of work and may involve working in the rain while standing in mud. At least the ground is soft enough to pull out the weeds.
What jobs should I be doing in Autumn in tropics?
The heavy rain is mostly gone. You look at the garden and see knee high weeds hiding the last of the vegetables in vegetable garden. And it is starting to cool down enough for you to work outdoors in the morning or evening, just don’t forget the insect spray.
- Prepare your garden for planting
- Remove all the weeds, place them in a black garbage bag and leave in the sun for a few days to kill the seeds. After that you can put them into the compost bin. Another option is to soak them in a bucket of water for at least 2 weeks, strain it and use as a fertiliser.
- Remove the old vegetable plants that have past their peak.
- Clean up any fallen fruit (those dreaded mangoes if you haven’t done so already) to reduce risk of fruit fly attacking your fruit.
- Boost the soil for the new crop. Dig in some compost and organic fertiliser to replenish what was washed away during the wet season.
- Mulch the soil to prevent weed regrowth and water loss. If you are in a sugar cane area you may have left over sugar cane mulch from the local mill or you can buy it from the hardware store. Choose a mulch that is clean and organic as you will be growing your food in it. Mulched trees from the recycle centre could have any chemicals, oils, pesticides etc in it.
- Check your irrigation system still works. It probably has been off for the last couple of months depending on your area. Check if sprays and drippers are not missing or blocked by ants.
- Remove any shade cloth you installed over summer to protect your crop from the sun.
- Maintain your garden tools. Time to remove the rust, oil the timber and get ready for a year of gardening.
Plant – herbs, garlic, onions, Asian greens, climbing/French beans, capsicum, chillies, cucumber, carrots, daikon, eggplant, leek, sweet potato, radish, silverbeet, spring onions, corn, taro, tomatoes
Now that it is cooling down it’s the perfect time to do the big jobs such as making new garden beds, removing all beds, clearing up fallen branches from the wet season etc.
- Maintain the crop you planted in March with regular weeding and fertilise every few weeks.
- Start a second planting of crop to ensure continuous harvest. Replant every 3-4 weeks.
- Plant some flowers around your vegetables to attract bees and other pollinators.
Plant – almost everything, if you live in an area that is still hot and humid hold off on the cabbages, cauliflower, snow peas until it is cooler.
The summer sting has gone so it’s time to start planting the vegetables that prefer cooler nights. Sorry but up nearer the equator these crops may not be suitable at all but you can grow tropical varieties.
- Check on the mulch to ensure the ground is covered to reserve water with the dry season starting and to keep the roots warm.
- Continue to plant new vegetables for continuous harvest.
- Check your soil moisture, the season is getting drier but plants need less water in cooler months.
- Harvest, some leafy vegetables and smaller crops can be harvested when they are ready.
Plant – cool night crops such as cabbage, broccoli, leeks, onions, lettuce, kale, celery, carrots, peas, beans and potatoes.
Autumn is the time to ramp up your garden projects and get the vegetables planted as the heat and humidity die down. Make your plan work for your area, if you don’t know what grows in your area chat to some locals, find a community garden, nursery, or permaculture group.