Winter gardening jobs for the tropics
It’s Winter in the tropics. This is the productive time of year, the heat, humidity and the heavy wet season rain has gone making it bearable working outdoors. As the dry season kicks in the ground starts to dry out, get harder to dig and the plants require more water.
It’s that time of year when the vegetable garden is in full swing and it’s cool enough to do those big outdoor jobs you didn’t want to do over summer. The coolest part of winter is the only time the tropics can plant cold-loving vegetables. Apart from them, most vegetables will grow pretty much all year round. The dead heat of summer with the monsoon rains tend to upset most vegetables but you can change to a more tropical variety closer to Summer.
Your attention has gone from mowing the lawn every week to trying to keep it green over the drier months. Winter is the time to clean up from the wet season and prepare for the hot dry Spring.
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.
What jobs should I be doing in Winter in tropics?
June sees the night time temperatures getting cooler and the humidity reduced during the day. Winter in the tropics is variable, it will consist of a few nights of really cold weather then bounce back to the high 20’s again.
- Finish preparing your garden beds (weeding, compost, digging, aeration etc)
- Mulch the beds to keep the moisture in the soil.
- Check watering systems. The wet season is over it’s time to check if the irrigation, drippers, inline filters etc are still working.
- Plant out almost any vegetable varieties you like over the coming weeks
- Plant companion plants amongst your vegetables to promote pollinators and deter pests.
- Include flowers (marigolds, zinnias) and herbs (pretty much all of them)
- Check if your area is prone to frost, if so prepare to cover up the frost-sensitive plants.
- Plan what landscaping and gardening jobs you want to be done in the cooler months before it starts heating up again.
- Water lawns deeply once a week (depending on water restrictions)
- Check on your compost, winter sees it slow down and dry out more.
Plant – almost anything. Tropical species that love hot, humid conditions such as ginger may go dormant in cooler areas.
The nights are colder and the days shorter so you might need to do some planning to account for the sun being low on the northern horizon changing the shadows from Summer.
- Plant the vegetables that love the colder weather such as peas, cauliflower, broad beans and parsnips.
- Keep planting vegetables every 2-4 weeks for continuous harvest.
- Apply a liquid fertiliser every fortnight to your vegetable garden
- Service time. The lawn has pretty much stopped growing, time to put the mower in for a service.
- Pest management. Keep an eye out for the pests that like winter vegetables such as cabbage moth.
- Bare rooted roses are in the shops. Some tropical areas don’t like roses. Do some research into what varieties grow in your area.
- Top up the vegetable garden with compost and composted manure after you have removed the previous crop.
Plant – continue planting as you did in June every 2 to 4 weeks to keep a continuous crop. Now is the time in the tropics you can grow the cooler weather vegetables such as peas, cauliflower, beans and parsnips.
As most vegetables take around 2 to 3 months to mature and it starts to heat up in the tropics around end of October. August is your last chance to plant winter vegetables in the cooler areas of the tropics
- Start preparing for the fire season.
- Clean out gutters of dry leaves.
- Trim back the fuel load, dry grass, vegetation from your boundary.
- Rural areas carry out maintenance on your fire breaks.
- Water plants regularly, consider adding some seaweed solution to help with the stress of drier times.
- Remove spent flowers from winter flowering plants.
- Tidy up the yard and gardens for spring growth
- Top up any missing mulch for the hot dry months ahead.
Plant – almost everything except cold loving vegetables will struggle as it heats up.
Winter is the time to
- Clean up after the wet season.
- Get the vegetable garden pumping
- Do the outdoor jobs in the cool, you were putting off in the hot months.
- Don’t leave it too late to dig the ground, hammer in fence posts etc as the ground dries it will get harder.
- Prepare for the fire season in the tropics. Reduce fuel loads, clean your roof gutters, and clean up fire breaks.
- Check your irrigation and prepare for the dry weather ahead.
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 the time of year when you can get productive in the cooler months. The ground starts to dry out and the plants will need more watering. Spring is the dry season with the odd weather front being hit and miss rain. By the time we get to the start of Summer it is hot and dry and fire season.
Then comes the wet season and it starts all over again. 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.