Creating and caring for native gardens
The days of replicating English gardens in Australia are ending with the new approach being the creation of beautiful gardens with the plants that are genetically best equipped to survive and thrive in the hot, low rainfall climates of Australia.
Basing a garden around our native plants doesn’t exactly limit us. The range and variety of natives is incredible, and they are all readily available at every nursery these days.
While european-style gardens may retain a place in Australia, they are just not right for most regions, cities, suburbs and residential gardens. We’re the biggest fans of native gardens and done well, they look incredible, save water and require less maintenance.
It might sound too good to be true but it really isn’t. Let’s dig in and get our hands dirty with some smart tips for creating downright delightful gardens from Australia’s own native plants.
Our native plants have evolved naturally on the local soils and are happy as they are. With most natives, soil improvement isn’t needed. It can give your natives a head start if you do add some nutrients or soil boosters to the soil, but it’s not mandatory. For example, adding some bentonite clay to sandy soils will help retain water.
When planting into the ground, give your plants the best start and loosen the soil to a depth that’s around double the length of the blade of your spade. This makes it easier for the roots to spread out and establish themselves. Place the plant from the pot into the hole, and line the top of the plant’s soil and root ball with the ground level. Fill the hole gently around and pat down firmly, then water.
Long stem planting
When you plant trees and shrubs, bury them half way up their trunks. This puts the root ball deeper into the ground and further away from the heat on the surface. This helps stabilise the plants and they will tend to grow more roots from their buried trunks. When plants can produce new roots that are not root binding, they have a better chance of thriving.
The best time to get new plants into your garden is autumn and winter, or early spring if you have to. The cooler weather and higher rainfall makes it easier for plants to establish themselves without stress. If you have to plant in summer, you will need to give the new plantings plenty of water. The combination of warm weather with plenty of moisture can be fantastic, but it’s labour intensive and not waterwise.
When you’ve planted a new native into the ground, form a ‘crater’ around the plant’s trunk with a little circular wall around 40 - 50cms in diameter. This will hold water around the trunk of the plant and make sure that the water penetrates straight to the roots. It’s best to water new plants in with plenty of water less frequently.
Many natives love to be pruned regularly, especially tip-pruning, where you pinch off the growing tips. This promotes healthy new growth and gives plants a fresh look and regular shape as well as increasing the amount of flowers and helping control pests and disease. Pruning will also help keep plants compact and dense, which in turn makes them more attractive to small birds.
We recommend against staking unless your plant is in danger of falling over. It is better for the plant if they anchor themselves firmly from a young age. Staking plants too firmly can lead to poorly anchored roots that will leave the plant more vulnerable in the long term. If you do have to stake a plant, it should only be for a year and only lightly so the plant is still able to ‘feel’ some movement.
Covering garden beds with mulch helps conserve water by reducing evaporation, it protects the soil from erosion and limits weed growth. It also helps to shade the soil to keep it cool and moist in summer. The best mulch is the chipped pruning from street trees. Apply mulch to a depth of around 7 - 10cms and keep it away from the trunks because this can cause rot.
One of the great things about native gardens is that they can thrive without any fertiliser at all. If you want to give them a boost, keep it to slow release, once a year, and not during the rainy season.
We suggest avoiding sprays and chemicals because once you start, it can be hard to stop. Often using a chemical can stop one problem but create a new challenge. Natives will most often recover from insect attacks and disease on their own and there’s going to be a natural balance happening out there that chemicals will disrupt.