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December Gardening – Sue McDougall

What a fantastic spring for the garden!  With the absence of extremely warm weather through spring WA gardens are looking fantastic.

Aside from lots of aphids, the roses are brilliant, the lawns are bright green and citrus are full of fruit. Western Australian soils become water repellent very quickly so to keep these plants looking great through the warmer months and extremely hot days, apply a wetting agent while there is still moisture in the soil and then water it in well.  A wetting agent needs this watering in phase to activate it and get it into the soil around the plants’ roots.

Jobs to Do

Christmas lilies are in flower in early summer. When in full bloom their large strong white flowers look stunning in a glazed or terracotta pot. After flowering, feed to encourage growth which, in turn is feeding the bulb for the following season.

Any bare soil needs a covering of mulch to keep it cool and reduce evaporation. Plants’ roots need to be kept cool to keep them from stressing and there is no better way than a layer of quality mulch at least 7cm thick.  A good mulch will be chunky and made of irregular particles that will let the water through to the soil surface without absorbing it. Fine mulches tend to absorb the water causing the plant’s roots to come to the surface. Ask the team at your local store for their recommendations.

A hot backyard can be cooled down with the planting of a few strategically placed shade trees. Trees are homes to many animals and provide great cooling shade on even the hottest day. The smallest backyard can have a small tree to create a feature for a garden. When we think trees, we immediately think of the large towering trees that swallow up backyards but there are many neat small trees that fit into large containers or small spaces.

Those varieties of stonefruit which fruit on their new growth (peaches, nectarines & apricots) benefit from a summer prune after all the fruit has gone. In dry areas this reduces the water needed by the tree because there is less growth. They respond by putting on new growth which is fruiting wood for the following season. Feed with an all-purpose fruit tree fertiliser and mulch thickly. Trees that have had a summer prune don’t need to be pruned in the winter again.

Thin citrus fruit from the trees as it has been a particularly good spring and there will be a heavy fruit set. Take approx half the fruit but if your trees are very young and in the first season take all the fruit off. I know it is really hard to do, but it is better for the tree to become established before fruiting.

Plant Now

Poinsettias are in full flower.  They have been tricked into flowering at the hottest time of the year so the bracts will stay red for many months. Enjoy them as they are one of the traditional plants that say Christmas is here. There is no better Christmas arrangement than a living plant.

More time is spent undercover in the patio area at this time of the year. With outdoor entertaining being so popular it is time to dress up this area for the entertaining season. Choose some plants with bright foliage colour; they will then add a splash of colour all year round.

Give living gifts this Christmas. A gift wrapped plant is excellent value and looks great long after the bottle of wine and the chocolates have gone.  Don’t forget to add some liquid fertiliser to the gift (Better Pets and Gardens have some small packages, perfect for stocking fillers) and the plant will be even happier.


Written by Sue McDougall, a qualified horticulturalist and experienced garden centre owner who grew up in the WA wheatbelt and has had experience in gardening throughout the entire state.  You may know Sue as the garden expert on 6PR radio and by her many TV appearances.


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