Gardening with native plants

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The eastern suburbs of Sydney once supported a unique variety of native plants. With the growth of the urban environment, large areas of this bushland have been lost along with many of the animals it once supported. While this cannot be reversed, private gardens can be great habitats to many of our remaining native birds and animals, so here are some Handy Hints for Growing Local Native Plants.

Site assessment and species selection

Assess your planting site for conditions of sun/shade (in both winter and summer); soil type (whether its natural or improved by additions of organic matter and fertiliser) and drainage (whether the roots will experience inundation for extended periods).

Once you have assessed the planting site, research the native plants most suitable for it. You can purchase plants that are local to the eastern suburbs area from Randwick Community Nursery.

Preparation

The key to long-term success with your native garden is thorough preparation. There is no substitute for good weed control. Carry out a number of weed control sessions, allowing a few months in between each one so that weeds can re-emerge before planting.

Planting

  • Clear away mulch or organic matter so that it does not get mixed in with the soil
  • Dig a hole as deep as the plant pot, and 2 to 3 times as wide
  • Gently remove the plant from its container and place in the centre of the planting hole
  • Backfill the soil around the rootball. The top of the rootball should finish flush with the surrounding soil level
  • Make a small soil well around the plant to direct water into the rootball
  • Place 75mm of mulch around the plant, keeping clear of the stem to avoid root rot
  • Thoroughly water each plant as soon as possible after planting

Weeding

Weeds compete with your native plants, and can take over if left unchecked. Noxious weeds are known to cause problems, and should be removed first, taking care not to leave large areas of soil exposed. The noxious weed lantana provides good habitat for small birds, and should only be removed when an alternative habitat is available. If you keep your garden well mulched, weeding can be kept to a minimum, however weeds will always be transported by wind, water and bird droppings. It is a good idea to ‘de-head’ or remove any plant seeds or fruits and dispose of them to stop them spreading.

Mulching

Mulch will suppress the growth of weeds from seeds in the soil, and reduce the need for watering. A coarse organic mulch should be spread to a maximum depth of about 100mm. Grass lawn clippings do not make a good mulch as they form a thick matt that stops water and air from entering the soil. Use fallen leaves or branches from your garden as mulch - this is an excellent way of recycling your garden waste, improving your plants' drought resistance and inhibiting weeds. It is important to make sure mulch does not build up against the plant stems or trunks as this can lead to fungal infection and insect attack.

Fertilising

Local native plants do not require fertilising as they are adapted to low nutrient local soils. Decaying organic mulch and leaf litter will provide most of the required nutrients. Do not use regular garden fertilisers as they contain phosphorus levels that can damage native plants, and encourage the growth of exotic weed species.

Pruning

Some native plant species, such as Coastal Rosemary, respond to regular pruning. The rule of thumb is to prune only the green or current year’s growth to encourage branching and create a bushier specimen. Use your native plant prunings as organic garden mulch, or put them in your compost bin.

Watering

watering plantsAll new plantings need additional water to become established, especially during the first six weeks. After that time, watering can be gradually reduced. A thorough soaking is better for plant establishment than regular light watering. Additional water may be needed over the first three summers. The Eastern Sydney region often has water repellent sandy soils, and you may have seen water beading and rolling along the surface of the soil. This occurs during long periods of dry weather when the sandy soil completely dries. To prevent this from happening, there are two options:

  1. Place organic mulch around the plants to boost the activity of micro-organisms in the soil. increase the soil’s water holding capacity and improve your plants' drought resistance.
  2. Apply a wetting agent to the soil. Wetting agents are also known as surfactants and help water spread more easily through the soil surface. A good wetting agent will break down the water repellence of the soil, increase its water holding capacity and will remain active in the soil for up to a year. Be careful not to over water your newly planted seedlings. Over watering leads to the plant establishing a shallow root system. This reduces the plant’s ability to survive dry periods and as the plant grows older, it will be susceptible to blowing over in windy conditions.

The Local Native Plants for Sydney's Eastern Suburbs brochure gives information about easy-to-grow, attractive natives that are available from native nurseries.

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