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Judy Horton's Gardening
Yates gardening expert Judy Horton provides gardening advice on what you should be doing in your garden.
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Garden open this weekend: 10am to 4:30pm
Secret Garden & Nursery, UWS campus, corner of College & Bourke Streets, Richmond. This lovely rambling cottage garden and nursery is run largely by volunteers and provides opportunities for people with disabilities to learn how to garden. Animals (inc. pigs Bruce and Molly) and community allotments. Plants for sale.
Gardens in Focus Photography Competition. Run by Friends of Botanic Gardens. Entries close 8 Dec. Go to www.gardensinfocus.com.au
Week 1: December gardening
December is a lush and luxuriant month in the garden with bright colours, heady fragrances and abundant growth. The garden is often at its best in the evening, the perfect time of day for summer entertaining.
Vegies to sow in December – Zucchinis
Zucchinis (or, if you prefer, courgettes) are some of the easiest and most versatile home garden vegies. Sow seed straight into a rich, pre-prepared garden bed (add some Dynamic Lifter PLUS Fruit Food ) and, in warm weather, start harvesting within a matter of weeks. Zucchinis can be diced into salads, mixed into stir fries, roasted or sautéed. The trendiest way to use them is to stuff and lightly fry or bake the flowers - a surefire way to impress your guests!
In cooler areas, don’t forget to sow Brussels sprouts seeds into pots of Yates Seed Raising Mix so that you can get the seedlings planted out as soon as possible.
Flowers to sow in December – Celosia Kewpie Mix
Celosias are vibrant, heat-loving plants that produce feathery plumes in brilliant shades of red, yellow, scarlet and orange. They’re perfect for brightening up the summer garden.
Feed in December
Feed roses as they finish their main spring/early summer flush. Organic-based Dynamic Lifter PLUS Flower Food is an ideal combination of composted manure with added nutrients. An occasional sprinkling of Yates Sulfate of Potash will help boost your roses’ disease resistance.
Prune in December
Stay on top of rampant summer growth by constantly trimming, hedging and removing dead flowers. Try to keep a pair of easy-to-grab secateurs just inside the back door and remember to take them with you whenever you step outside.
December pest watch – Ants
Ants are annoying pests that are particularly active in summer. They don’t eat plants but they can create problems in pots, encourage other pests like scale, and certainly spoil outdoor entertaining. Ants love the hot weather and are even happier when it’s dry. Dust Yates Ant & Roach Dust along their tracks or treat nests with a Baythroid solution. Yates Nature’s Way Pyrethrum can also be sprayed directly onto ants. The Pyrethrum Gun is a quick and easy way to take care of these nuisances as soon as they appear.
December job file
Now that foliage has died down completely, lift spring bulbs for summer storage. Make sure they’re clean and soil-free before putting them into net bags and hanging in a cool, dry spot.
Plant of the month – Callistemons
Drought tolerant callistemons (bottlebrush) provide some of the most reliable summer colour, no matter what the weather. Most bottlebrushes produce cheery and seasonally appropriate Christmas-red brushes but there are some (e.g. ‘Anzac’) with paler blooms.
Callistemon means ‘beautiful stamen’, an appropriate name for the staminate blooms of these plants.
Week 2: Long lasting summer colour
Summer, when the days are longer and we’re entertaining our friends more often, is the season when we most appreciate colour in the garden. Fortunately many summer bloomers seem to be able to stay looking good for months. Here are some favourites:
Old fashioned plumbago produces bunches of blue or white, phlox-like blooms right through until the cold weather arrives. Tip prune regularly throughout the growing season and cut back hard in late winter/early spring. Feed with Dynamic Lifter PLUS Flower Food a couple of times a year. Plumbago will cope with light frosts but won’t grow in very cold climates. The plants are reasonably drought hardy - they’ll droop alarmingly when dry but spring back as soon as rain arrives.
Hydrangeas have definitely made it back into vogue in the 21st century. There are many new varieties available (look out for ‘Strawberries & Cream’, ‘Endless Summer’ or others) that all have something special to offer, but the old fashioned, established plants still put on a magnificent show. Ideally, grow these bountiful plants in a morning sun, afternoon shade position and keep them well watered. Growers in hot areas routinely use Yates DroughtShield to protect plants from the effects of drying heat. Feed after flowering with Dynamic Lifter PLUS Flower Food and prune flowered stems before the middle of winter.
Mandevillas, or dipladenias, must be some of the most flowery plants available. These warm climate climbers work well in pots and, in cold winter areas, they’re often grown as summer annuals. Flowers are good-sized trumpets in colours of crimson, pink and white.
Mandevillas are happiest away from extremes of heat and cold. Good drainage is important, too, because the thick, tuberous roots rot easily if they stay wet for any length of time. If plants survive winter, cut back in early spring and begin feeding with a liquid plant food.
Bougainvilleas have been vastly improved, especially with the introduction of dwarf varieties that grow in smaller spaces. These bright, abundant and extremely heat tolerant plants seem to capture the essence of summer. Grow them in full sun and don’t mollycoddle them. They seem to do better if they aren’t kept too wet or fed too much.
As well as the popular, subtropical Hawaiian type hibiscus, there are the tough Hibiscus syriacus that lose their leaves in winter. These can tolerate very cold climates. Another stunning option for cooler areas is the perennial hibiscus that dies back to an underground crown in winter and re-shoots in spring.
These mini petunia relatives are massed with blooms for a large part of the year. Their colour range is forever expanding and the plants fit into gardens of just about any size. Why not plant up a Christmas holiday pot with trailing scaevola or Dichondra ‘Silver Falls’, mounding, ever-blooming calibrachoas and some upright, coloured leaf cordylines? New Calibrachoa
‘Superbells’ come in a range of bicoloured shades.
Week 3: Microgreens for summer entertaining
Although we all love the idea of growing our own herbs and vegies, sometimes it’s just too hard. But if you’re short of time or space, and home grown food seems to be too much of a challenge, microgreens could be the answer.
Microgreens are tiny plants that are a bit like slightly grown up sprouts. But whereas sprouts use just the energy stored in the seed itself, microgreens go one step further. They are sown into a medium (usually, but not always, potting mix), and are allowed to develop a root system and some small leaves. Unlike sprouts, which can be produced in a kitchen cupboard, microgreens need to be grown in light so that they can begin to photosynthesise. Also unlike sprouts, which are eaten roots and all, microgreens are harvested by cutting them with scissors just above the soil level.
This summer Yates has introduced a starter selection of microgreen seeds. Choosing the initial varieties was challenging. They had to germinate readily, be fast growing, look attractive and, most importantly, taste good. Yates grew a number of vegies and herbs in trial pots, and staff members were invited to take part in taste tests. Some varieties were rejected because of patchy germination, some because they were too slow and some because they just didn’t taste all that great. Eventually, the list was whittled down and the four starter varieties were chosen. Yates gave these some appropriate and attractive jewel names: Rocket Emeralds, Amaranth Red Garnets, Cabbage Rubies and Mizuna Red Gems.
One of the best things about microgreens is that they take up so little space. Even an indoor windowsill can house your very own mini microgreen factory. Microgreens must have some light, but direct sunlight will probably be too strong. Bright, indirect light is best. The choice of growing containers is equally varied.
Containers don’t have to be all that deep – about 5cm to 8cm is ideal. Remember, too, that the microgreens will be easier to harvest if the mix comes near, but not right up to, the top of the container. Plastic salad containers are ideal because they often come with a lid that can be kept closed through the germination period. Don’t forget to punch some drainage holes in the base – good drainage is essential. Other, more attractive containers will impress visitors – your choice is limited by your imagination.
Fill the container with Yates Seed Raising Mix. Firm the mix into place, water and allow to drain. Sprinkle the seed thickly over the top and cover with a thin layer of mix (possibly using a dedicated kitchen strainer). Water with a mist sprayer or sit the container in water and allow the moisture to seep up from below. Cover the container with plastic wrap or something similar to keep the seeds moist and encourage germination. Once the seedlings are growing well, this cover can be removed. Because they’re sown closely together, the little plants tend to grow upright and straight but, if the light is coming from only one side (as will happen if they’re on a windowsill), you’ll need to turn the container regularly. After the seedlings have emerged, they’ll grow more strongly if they’re given the occasional application of some half-strength Thrive Soluble All Purpose.
Harvest microgreens when they are 3-5cm tall and use them to jazz up all sorts of dishes. Add to soups, salads, sandwiches and omelettes, or simply sprinkle them as an attractive and nutritious garnish.
Week 4: Dealing with summer weeds
When we’re distracted by Christmas, summer entertaining and holidays, it’s very easy for weeds to get out of hand. Annual weeds are a special threat because they grow, flower and develop masses of seeds in the one season. Fleabane is a typical example. One fleabane can produce more than 100,000 tiny seeds that are picked up and spread by the slightest breeze.
Other common weeds are classed as perennials. This means that the plant lasts for more than one season but doesn’t develop woody stems. Dandelion is a typical perennial weed. Some perennial weeds (e.g. nutgrass) have underground parts that help the plant survive even it’s been treated with a herbicide like Zero. Follow up surveillance and treatment may take years.
Woody weeds (trees and shrubs) grow more slowly but are always best treated when they’re as small as possible. For example, a tiny camphor laurel seedling is easily plucked out of a garden bed but, once it’s grown into a massive tree, it’s very difficult to remove.
Climbing weeds will grab onto any support they can find, which is often a nearby tree or shrub. The climbing plant then scrambles over the unwilling host and can eventually completely block out the sunlight. This gradually starves the support plant. Some climbers - like ivy - attach little suckers onto the trunk that can encourage stem decay. Climbing lamb’s tails (Anredera cordifolia) is sometimes called potato vine because it forms hundreds of potato-like tubers, each one capable of starting a new plant after it drops to the ground.
Grassy weeds can invade lawns as well as other parts of the garden. Some do this by seed (e.g. summer grass) and others have runners that spread by stealth. Common running lawn grasses such as couch, kikuyu and buffalo can become weeds when they invade other types of lawns. And, while it’s relatively simple to remove non-grass weeds from lawns using a selective weedkiller such as BuffaloPro, Weed ‘n Feed or the new Yates ready to use Weedkiller for Lawns, it’s much trickier to remove unwanted running grasses. Generally it’s a matter of very carefully applying Zero with something like a Zero Weeding Brush, or tediously removing the runners by hand.
Methods of weed control:
* Dig them out - The oldest and most effective method of weed control is pulling out weeds by hand, but it’s always better to do this as early as possible in the weed’s life. Why not make a New Year’s resolution to pull out one weed every time you step outside?
* Mulching or smothering. A thick layer of mulch will kill weeds by cutting off their light source. This can be even more effective if the weeds are first covered with sheets of newspaper or permeable weed mat. Never mulch over dry soil and keep mulch clear of stems and trunks.
* Herbicides such as Zero should be applied to green parts of the weed or by cutting into its sap system. Zero is a total herbicide, which means it will kill any plant it contacts. Apply with care and keep it well away from wanted plants.
Week 1: January gardening
Happy New Gardening Year
Celebrating a new year in the garden is a combination of delight and challenge. Delight in another year’s growth, and the challenge of coping with the garden as plants mature and teh garden changes.
Vegies to sow in January - Broccoli
Broccoli is a great home garden vegetable that’s easy to grow and can be harvested over a long period. Sow seeds of Yates Shogun Broccoli into pots of Yates Seed Raising Mix. Transplant into individual pots or cells when the seedlings are about 3cm tall and grow them on until they can go out into the garden. Broccoli is a good choice to follow a summer bean crop because it appreciates the nitrogen the beans have bequeathed to the soil.
Flowers to sow in January - Calendulas
Calendulas are the traditional marigolds of European herbal lore. When planted among vegetables they’re said to deter pests like aphids and white fly. Where it’s not too hot calendula seed can be sown straight into a garden bed. In warm areas, either wait until it’s cooler or sow into pots filled with Yates Premium Potting Mix. Move these into more sun as the weather cools down.
Feed in January
Cut back summer flower like petunias that are starting to look a bit tired. Feed every two weeks with Thrive Flower & Fruit and, before you know it, they’ll be back in full flower.
Prune in January
One of the joys of the January garden is that there is an abundance of flowers for picking. Cutting flowers for vases is a therapeutic form of pruning that keeps plants tidy and promotes further blooming.
January pest watch
January’s the month when roses start to succumb to black spot. Keep up the spraying with Rose Gun or Rose Shield. Water roses at the base in the morning, rather than later in the day. Feed with Dynamic Lifter PLUS Flower Food or another good quality rose fertiliser. Apply Yates Complete Lawn Insect Control to lawns to prevent damage from lawn grubs and black beetles.
January job file
Cardboard toilet roll centres or plastic cups with their bases removed make effective barriers to keep slugs, snails and cutworms from attacking young seedlings. Simply slide a cylinder over each tiny plant. Sprinkling a few snail pellets inside the cylinders will add further snail protection. Keep on top of summer weeds with Zero Weedkiller. It comes in a ready to use form that’s easy to apply.
Plant of the month – Cannas
Bright summer flowers and lush, coloured foliage make cannas garden favourites at this time of year. Remove dead flowers and tatty leaves on a regular basis so that the plants stay tidy. Cut to ground level in early spring to encourage fresh new shoots to emerge from the thick storage roots.
Week 2: Improve kids’ health by getting them into the garden
A recent alarming worldwide study of 25 million children has shown that this generation is less fit than their parents were at the same age. Experts blame the modern sedentary lifestyle.
One way to get kids out into the open air and taking part in physical activity is by encouraging them to garden. So how do you get your kids started? First, help them choose a spot for their growing projects. This will be governed by the space available, but even a couple of pots or foam boxes can be planted up with small-growing edibles. Herbs, non-hearting lettuces, Tiny Tim tomatoes, spring onions, baby beets, baby carrots, and Chinese cabbages are some suggestions.
Taking part in school holiday activities in the garden can be creative and enjoyable. For example, you can encourage kids to construct teepees that will support climbing plants. Do this by tying the tops of five or six bamboo stakes together and spreading the bases out on the ground, thereby making a stable wigwam. Then thread horizontal rows of string through the bamboo stakes at about 30cm spacing.
Next, clear away weeds or grass from the base, dig up the soil and mix in some compost and fertiliser. When the soil is ready, sow seeds of plants that will grow tall enough to climb up the teepee. Climbing beans or small cucumbers (such as Lebanese) are ideal for sowing at this time of year. Another suggestion is to plant seeds for tall growing sunflowers (such as Yates Yellow Empress) and tie the sunflower stems to the stakes as the plants grow. Eventually the tepee will be topped by the large yellow flowers.
Growing zucchinis from seed is another easy kids’ gardening activity. Start by building a mound of rich soil. Sow a couple of seeds into a shallow crater at the top of the mound and, after germination, allow the plants to tumble down the sides. When the flowers appear, kids can learn to pollinate the plants by first identifying the male and female flowers. Each female flower has a tiny incipient zucchini at its base, while the pollen can be seen in the male flower. By picking a male flower and dabbing it gently into the centre of the female flower they can help to ensure pollination, and subsequent zucchini development.
There are some fun things kids can do with zucchinis as they grow. One is to get them to write their name or scratch a pattern into the tiny fruit, then watch their artwork expand as the zucchini expands. Another is to select a tiny zucchini (preferably one with a reasonably long stalk) and push it carefully in through the neck of a plastic bottle. As the zucchini grows it expands inside the bottle and makes a great talking point.
If they’ve grown their own vegies, herbs and fruit, kids are much more likely to be enthusiastic about eating them. And some crops are real favourites. Strawberries are popular and they can be produced in hanging baskets or pots as well as garden beds (Yates has a non-running alpine strawberry in its seed range). Sweet corn is loved by most kids, too, and it grows easily from seed. Cherry tomatoes can be eaten like lollies, picked straight off the bush.
Week 3: Plant good companions in the garden
A new year provides a great opportunity for remaking many parts of your life, including your garden. One of the best ways to have a healthy garden is to mix lots of plants together so that there aren’t too many of any one variety. You can take this a step further by deliberately companion planting.
Companion planting can be loosely described as putting plants together in such a way that they enhance each other’s growth. Companion plants can work in a number of ways. They can stimulate root and general growth in neighbouring plants, they can disguise or mask the smell of another plant to protect it from pests and they can act as decoys. Nasturtiums, for example, attract pests like aphids away from other plants. Because nasturtiums are so tough, they can cope with aphid infestations that would seriously damage other, less vigorous plants.
Some plants are renowned for their ability to attract beneficial insects. Yates Phacelia, or Californion bluebell, has been proven to encourage hoverflies and their aphid-eating larvae. Phacelia also attracts those important pollinators, bees.
Radishes make great companions for many of the most popular vegetables, including peas, beans, corn, cucumbers, lettuce, parsnips and carrots. Radishes can be best friends to carrots in other ways, too, because they can help with carrot seed germination. If you sow radish seed with carrot seed the radishes will emerge quickly, breaking the soil crust and paving the way for the slower carrots.
There are plenty of other plants that can be grown as companions and many suggestions are listed on Yates vegetable seed packets. Here are some that could be useful:
* Cabbage is a great companion for beans, beets, celery, cucumbers, onions, peas, potatoes, sage and rosemary. Tomatoes growing near cabbage family members are also said to help repel the cabbage butterfly.
* Celery grows well with leeks, beans, tomatoes and peas.
* Lettuce is a friend to beans, peas, carrots, cucumbers, onions, radish and strawberries. Don’t forget, too, that lettuce is basically a domesticated thistle so anything that likes thistles will grow well with lettuce.
* Spinach, a lover of cool weather, enhances the growth of broad beans.
* Onions grow happily with beetroot, carrots, lettuce and tomatoes. They’re best planted at random amongst other vegies where their strong smell will deter a range of insect pests. Even chopped onion leaves can be strewn onto the soil around other vegies where they’ll act as a pest deterrent.
If you want more ideas for companion planting, there are some excellent specialist books on the subject. There’s also a comprehensive list on the Yates website www.yates. com.au
Week 4: Celebrate Australia Day in the garden
Through most of the 20th century it seemed that you had to make a choice: either have an entirely native landscape, or stick strictly to exotics. All that’s changed, however, as native plants have been tamed, developed and made more garden friendly. It’s easy now to have a garden that blends plants from all parts of the world, including Australia. And with Australia Day being the time to celebrate our national identity, one way for a gardener to mark this special day is by planting an Australian native.
While some native plants are renowned for being finicky and hard to get on with, others are very adaptable and will grow just about anywhere. Here are some tried and trusted favourites:
* Small tree - Lemon myrtle (Backhousia citriodora) is an upright growing small tree with an amazing amount of citral (the lemony essential oil) in its leaves. It’s frost tender in its early years so keep it protected until well established. It makes a good fenceline tree or can be clipped into a neat hedge.
* Trees and shrubs - Bottlebrushes of all types are renowned for their toughness. They vary from tree size (e.g. Callistemon ‘Hannah Ray’) to the tiny (to 45cm) ‘Little John’ which has dark red flowers and blue-grey leaves.
* Shrub - Eriostemon species, the native wax flowers, have had a name change to Philotheca but the plants are still some of the best garden shrubs. Wax flowers will grow in full sun or light shade and produce lots of starry blooms though late winter and spring.
* Ground cover - Fan flowers (Scaevola spp - pictured) have rich green leaves and triangular-shaped flowers in shades of blue, bluish-pink, mauve and white. They make good ground covers and look very effective draping over a bank or down the sides of a pot. Keep away from heavy frosts.
* Accent – Lomandra ‘Tanika’, an Australian bred, fine-leafed, grassy clumper, is so tough and realiable it’s been exported to many parts of the world. Planted en masse, ‘Tanika’ creates a rippling ‘sea’ of narrow leaves.
* Climber – Native clematis, Clematis aristata, is an Australian relative of the large-flowered, exotic clematis varieties that do so well in cool climate gardens. While the flowers of the native version are smaller, they have a delicate beauty that rivals the exotics – and the plants are much hardier. Female plants smother themselves with fluffy seed heads after flowering, which gives rise to the common name of ‘old man’s beard’. Give them a support to climb on or let them scramble to form a ground cover.
Caring for natives
These choices will grow in a wide range of situations. Prune back after flowering to encourage new growth and feed a couple of times a year with a slow release fertiliser such as Acticote or Garden Gold for Natives. Yates Blood & Bone is good, too. If soil is heavy or stays wet after rainy periods, it’s a sensible precaution to spray a couple of times a year with Yates Anti Rot.
Lavender Fields in France
Photos from Judy's European trip
For more information contact Judy Horton (02) 97949481 firstname.lastname@example.org