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Spend just a few minutes in the garden – Sue McDougall

December is a crazy month and with all the running around getting organised for Christmas; the garden can be forgotten sometimes. Put a little time aside to check over a few things to ensure it will be at its best throughout this month.

Top up mulch in any areas where it is a little thin. Mulch works by insulating the soil and if the soil stays nice and cool the plants will not stress on the hottest days. Add some colour in large pots at the front door and outdoor living areas. Bright pots of flowers and foliage create a sense of cheeriness to the garden and if you are entertaining throughout the festive season, it’s an easy way to revamp an area quickly.

If you are going away on holidays this month bunch all potted plants together to make it easier for watering when you are away. Place saucers under pots. This practice isn’t recommended for the long-term health of plants but for short bursts it’s a great way of keeping plants damp.

Service the reticulation system. Check for blocked drippers or broken sprinklers.  Often ants or leaf cutter bees find poly pipe the perfect home for their families.

Nurture the ladybirds in the garden. These hardworking friends are your ally when it comes to controlling aphids in the vegie garden or on the roses. An unusually cool spring and the aphids multiply very quickly. Ladybird nymphs look very different to the adults, so be sure to protect these small insects as well.

Place poinsettias in multi-planted pots. The bright red foliage bracts contrast beautifully with White Moth Orchids and will last for months in pots.

Pot up vegie bags for friends and family this Christmas. Vegie bags are big enough to multiplant with vegies for fresh green salads; they are a perfect gift that will keep on giving way beyond the biscuits or chocolates. Include a small bottle of liquid fertiliser and a bright red bow to complete the gift. It’s the perfect opportunity to get the kids into creating gifts for friends and family at the same time as enjoying the garden.

Avoid using white oil to control scale insects on very hot days. The oil could burn the foliage and cause leaf drop.

Apply a wetting agent to lawn areas. African Black Beetles are blamed for dead patches in lawns at this time of the year but a lawn can cope with over 100 beetles and larvae per square metre before any significant damage is seen. In 99% of cases the dead patches are caused by ‘dry patch’ which is when the soil becomes water repellent and the water runs off the soil surface. This causes the soil where the root system is to remain bone dry. When applying wetting agent it’s very important to water it in after application.

Prune gardenias after they have finished flowering. This is when they are in an active growth phase and will bush up very quickly. Fortnightly, applications of liquid fertiliser over the foliage will result in brilliant dark green foliage and strong healthy plants.

Protect young seedlings from hot days and plant follow-up crops of corn, melons and squash. Squash and zucchini grow fast, are very productive and so versatile for many different recipes. As they form, harvest them whilst they are still young which is when they are at their tastiest.

Plant corn in blocks rather than straight rows as this assists in pollination and the formation of full cobs. Corn should be eaten immediately after harvesting because this is when the sugar content is at its highest and the corn is the sweetest.


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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