August 27 - September 2, 2017: Issue 327

Tips for Growing a Native Garden

Indigofera australis
The Green Life Centre at Johnson Brothers Mitre 10 Mona Vale Store - Bassett Street.
The Bureau of Meteorology has released the climate forecast for August to October 2017 and there is a decrease in rain for our region and rainfall is likely to be below average. If what we’ve seen of the northern Summer over the past few months is anything to go by, we’re in for a long hot summer.
Spring is a good time to think about what you’d like to change in your garden or what needs feeding, weeding, renewing or planting. 

With Father's Day and the first day of Spring 2017 happening this week, a list of gardening tips, including cultivation, soil types, fertilising and mulching, and water-wise gardening, to make sure that your native garden is a success and you, and dad, enjoy your outdoors this coming season.

View the 'What Dad really Wants!' catalogue online here, on sale until September 3rd, and spring into Spring 2017!

The old belief that Australian native plants are difficult to grow has shifted in recent years to  acknowledging that which can grow in the hardest of soils under just as hard conditions, should be able to adapt to your own garden, that is why we’re seeing so many of other Australian states glories being available here. Those wonderful WA kangaroo paws being just one example. 

If you’re uncertain what will work for your garden, the best rule of green thumb is to choose plants that match to each particular part of your garden environment; for example if you have a lot of exposed areas, don’t choose something that may need shade and shelter. If you want to grow indigenous plants those natural to your area and suited to your garden's location and soil types, these plants will grow quite easily. These plants will also be less likely to be susceptible to pests such as insects as many have developed defence mechanisms against these.

There may be some groups of plants or individual species that are difficult to propagate or cultivate in your garden. For example, plants from different climatic zones to Sydney may be difficult to propagate unless their preferred growing conditions can be mimicked in the garden.

Growing difficult plants
Many sensitive to their environment plants can be successfully grown in containers.  Or you may need to put in substantial effort to alter soil conditions to suit them. For example, the Sydney Rock Rose, Boronia serrulata, a small shrub found in sandstone areas, can be difficult to grow in your garden unless you accommodate its optimum growing conditions by creating garden beds with buried sandstone rocks and rubble and planting into this. 

Other natives to our area thrive in cooler shady corners -  Dendrobium kingianum or Thelychiton kingianus, commonly known as pink rock orchid or Captain King's dendrobium, or some will do well in poorer soils - Indigofera australis, known as Australian Indigo, as long as they get good does of sun.

Australian soils are generally low in fertility and organic matter. The distribution of many native plants is strongly influenced by the type of soil in an area, e.g. sandstone or Cumberland clays in Sydney, and its position in the landscape (ridge tops versus gullies, north versus south-facing slopes). Distribution will also reflect differences in combinations of light and moisture together with soil type.

Most Australian soils are neutral or slightly acidic with a pH between 5.5 and 7.0. To find out what pH your soil has, speak to the horticululuraist at Johnson Brothers Mitre 10 at Mona Vale’s Green Life nursery about soil testing, or get a do-it-yourself soil testing kits.

Changing soil conditions
• Clay soils - dig in compost or manure and add gypsum to make the soil more friable. Raising the soil level slightly will also assist drainage. Often the soil level only needs to be raised by about 30 cm.
• Sandy soils - dig in organic matter and keep well mulched.

Australian native plants have evolved in poor soils and are very sensitive to artificial fertilisers, especially phosphorus. Generally, clay soils are naturally fertile and shouldn't require any added fertiliser, while sandy soils are low in fertility as nutrients leach out with fast drainage. Only use low-phosphorus fertilizers especially formulated for Australian native plants or mulch instead. Both clay and sandy soil types respond well to thick layers of organic matter used as mulch.

Mulch helps to maintain soil moisture and reduces or eliminates the need to water artificially. Additionally, as the mulch breaks down, nitrogen and potassium are replenished in sandy soils. Mulch also provides humus (nutrient-rich earth formed when plant or animal material decays), which improves the soil, and can reduce weed growth.

Any organic material that is free of disease is useful. Use leaf fall, grass clippings and path sweepings as mulch on garden beds. See what is available at your local nursery or local council, and ask what they recommend. You could invest in a home mulcher and turn all your garden prunings into mulch, or a cheaper option is to just keep all garden clippings reasonably small and put them straight back onto the garden. Nothing needs to be wasted.
Apply mulch to at least 100 mm in depth, which should last all year. Be careful that it isn't piled up against plant stems or trunks as this can encourage fungal growth and disease.

Mulch just after rain when the ground is already moist. This helps to keep the moisture in. How often you mulch will depend on the type of mulch you use, how quickly it breaks down and needs replacing, and the reason you are mulching. If for food, mulch twice a year in spring and autumn; if to retain moisture, a thick layer once a year should be sufficient.

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Many native plants will benefit from regular pruning, especially tip-pruning (pinching off the growing tips). This helps to keep them compact and dense, which is most important when planting for small birds. The best times to do this depends on the plant and why you are growing it; if it is providing nectar, tip-prune after flowering has ceased; if seeds or fruit are the benefit, prune after these have finished.

Water-wise gardening
Many Australian plants use less water than introduced plants, but most still require some moisture to grow well. There are a number of ways to reduce the amount of water you use:
• Plant small plants and encourage them to develop a deep root system by watering minimally (just keeping the soil moist) right from the beginning. As they mature, the deeper root system will allow them to survive on less water and tolerate droughts more successfully. Tube stock from nurseries are a good size to plant, are cheaper and will establish and settle into their new position faster than older plants.
• Mulch with an organic mulch at least annually. This helps both to retain moisture and to prevent sandy soils from becoming water repellent (water is unable to soak in and runs off the top of the soil), through the action of micro-organisms in the mulch.
• Plant appropriate plants that are suited to the conditions in your garden and don't require excessive care to keep them healthy.
• Wetting agents or surfactants can be applied to the soil, which can help to reduce water repellence and help the soil to retain moisture. Discuss their use with your local nursery.
• Install water tanks and gather your own water supply which is free of chlorine and other additives used in city water supplies. It can be used directly on the garden or in garden ponds containing fish or frogs.

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Diseases and pests
Keeping your garden clean and healthy is the most important method of avoiding health problems in your plants. Healthy plants are less likely to get badly attacked by pests or diseases. Good gardening practices, such as keeping your soil healthy and using plenty of organic matter as mulch to help retain moisture, will help to ensure this.

Encourage insects into your garden
Some insects are leaf eaters or may bore holes in stems, but other insects will prey on these damaging insects and will eventually get rid of them. The more insects there are, the more likely you will be to have a balance of good and bad insects. You will also have more birds.

Encourage birds into your garden
The best controllers of insect pests are birds. Many birds are insectivorous, including most of the smaller birds and the honeyeaters. So, the more native plants you have to attract birds you have and the greater diversity of bird species that visit your garden, the fewer problems you will have with insect pests.

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Johnson Brothers Mitre 10 New Store
73 Bassett Street
Mona Vale - Online Store: Jbhmv.Com.Au

Products advice is available from the trained friendly staff at Narrabeen, Mona Vale and Avalon Johnson Brothers Mitre 10. 

Click on logo to visit Johnson Brothers Mitre 10 website

Johnson Bros Mitre 10 - Avalon            (02) 9918 3315

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All information and tips in this publication are of a general nature only and neither Johnson Brothers Mitre 10 or Pittwater Online News does not warrant the accuracy or completeness of the information and tips in this publication. This publication is not intended to be a substitute for expert advice. Johnson Brothers Mitre 10 advises you to always consult an experienced and qualified person when undertaking jobs of this kind (including consulting a qualified tradesperson such as an electrician or plumber where relevant expert services are required). 

You should also consider any safety precautions that may be necessary when undertaking the work described in this publication (including wearing any necessary safety equipment such as safety glasses, goggles or ear protectors or hard hats). The information and tips in this publication are provided on the basis that Johnson Brothers Mitre 10 and Pittwater Online News excludes all liability for any loss or damage which is suffered or incurred (including, but not limited to, indirect and consequential loss or damage and whether or not such loss or damage could have been foreseen) for any personal injury or damage to property whatsoever resulting from the use of the information and tips in this publication. 

Pittwater Online News and Johnson Brothers Mitre 10 also advises there may be laws, regulations or by-laws with which you must comply when undertaking the work described in this publication. You should obtain all necessary permissions and permits from council and/or any other relevant statutory body or authority before carrying out any work. Major projects published in this publication always list these and/orlinks to where you may research what your own project requires to meet regulations.

Previous DIY Pages:

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