Today I gave a presentation on Winter Gardening for a Spring Display to one of Perth’s VIEW Clubs. What’s one of those? you say. I didn’t know either until I did a bit of pre-presentation research. It turns out they’re a pretty inspiring group of ladies. VIEW stands for Voice, Interests and Education of Women. And if that doesn’t sound awesome enough, they are linked with the Smith Family. The Group I spoke to are supporting seven disadvantaged children to achieve an education. I commend them.
I gave them a presentation close to my heart – on the use of Western Australian native plants in our gardens. Specifically, what to do through winter in order to achieve a knock-your-hat-off fabulous spring flower display a-la Kings Park Festival. I believe there are seven simple things to do:
Trusty tools for fertilising…
In Western Australia, many of our beautiful native plants don’t like phosphorus (P) at all. They have grown so good at extracting the minute quantities of P out of our impoverished sands, that if you give them any more they’re likely to resent it. And die. In that order. So make sure you select a fertiliser for native gardens. I recommend a slow release, 9-month version. Grab a broom, use it to stab a small hole near the plant base, pop some fertiliser in and smoosh it over with your boot. Easy as.
A little bit in autumn, a bit more in spring. Don’t overdo it! Sappy plants are banquets waiting for pests to find them.
Get a cup of tea and take a wander around your garden. Look for signs of nutrient deficiencies, like the yellow new leaves that are screaming for Iron – very commonly deficient in our alkaline sands. Water on some Iron Chelates and the plant will thank you with vibrant green leaves.
Even after deep autumn rains, some of our Perth sands can still be water-repellent. Check sad-looking areas with your finger. If it’s still bone dry beneath the surface, use a wetting agent and water it in WELL. If you don’t want to water it in, just throw the money you would have spent on the ground instead. It’ll have the same effect as non-watered-in wetting agent.
Finally, make sure mulch isn’t too close to the stems of your plants, or they can rot during winter. Rot = die = no spring display, so pull it back a good hand span if you can.
Yes, this one takes no explaining. Weeds don’t look good, they gobble up nutrients and shade your natives. No sun = no flowers. Get the weeds out.
Some of our most beautiful natives come from seed. Here’s some to try:
- Everlastings eg Pink paper-daisy Rhodanthe chlorocephala subsp. rosea
- Parakeelya Calandrinia liniflora
- Blue lace flower Trachymene coerulea
Rake back any mulch, tickle the ground a bit, scatter the seed (mixed with sand), water and fertilise. And don’t forget the snail pellets. Baby everlastings are like ice-cream to snails. As in, all gone. Overnight. Without a trace. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
Yay! The fun bit! Some of our show-stopper plants are best treated as annuals. So fill in gaps with beauties like these:
- Mangles Kangaroo Paw Anigozanthos manglesii
- Blue lechenaultia Lechenaultia biloba
A good prune after flowering means more flowers next year. Bring leggy plants back into line with a little tip pruning. Sharpen the shears and get hedges into order. And for some of our resprouting natives, like the Silver Princess Eucalyptus caesia feel free to cut it back to just above the ground every five years. It will reward you with new vibrant, silvery trunks.
This Silver Princess doesn’t know it yet, but it’s for the chop soon. Before it tangles with the power lines… Bring on the fresh, silver trunks!
Whoa! Hold your horses! Not yet! The best time to mulch is spring, before the soil starts drying out. Right now, it’s just going to impede any rains getting down where they’re needed. Use a coarse, organic mulch so the water can get through, no thicker than 5 cm. Or grow your own mulch with ground covers like Banksia blechnifolia.
Gardens using local natives are so satisfying in so many ways. Use less water, less fertiliser, less sweat. Get more birds visiting and know you’re contributing to urban habitat. And get colour-packed blooms all year round. With a big ultra-awesome display in Spring. Enjoy!
None of this talks about how to plan a native garden in the first place. Maybe I’ll jot something on that later…