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February 2011 – Sue McDougall

The garden is looking forward to cooler times and it’s not long until the official start of autumn. This month plants are at their most stressed with hot days taking their toll on certain plants, while others are thriving – make a note to plant more of these!

Correct plant selection is one of the keys to a waterwise, low maintenance garden. Keep the mulch topped up around their root system and ensure the water is soaking into the ground and not running off the soil surface.

Jobs to Do

When planting out seedlings do it when there is a cool change.  Break a little branch off a shrub and stab into the ground next to the seedling. This will shade the seedling for a week or two until it gets established and can cope with the hot days on its own.

Check the reticulation system regularly and add water storing granules to any pots to save the water in the soil between watering days. These granules swell up and save the water in a form that the plant can take up. Anything that is planted at this time of the year will benefit from a few granules added at the bottom the hole. They will last for up to five years if buried and not exposed to light. Beware to not put too many in the soil as they will swell up and push the plant out of the ground.

Think of the native fauna in the garden at this time of the year. They are desperate for a drink of water. Keep the bird baths topped up and even keep a few terracotta saucers of water at ground level hidden under prickly shrubs for lizards, skinks and even bandicoots.

Apply wetting agent to the lawn again; a granulated one is easy to apply.  It will let the water soak in and will keep water around the root zone of the lawn. After application just water it in thoroughly to activate it.

At this time of the year the tomatoes are starting to come to the end of their cropping season. Dead leaves at the bottom can also harbour russett mite. These are characterised by a rust colour on the undersides of the leaves. They can be treated with dusting sulphur or Mavrik. Russet mite love the dry weather and hide under these leaves for protection, so whenever you have the hose out water underneath these lower leaves.

Time to Plant

Sow or plants seedlings of beans, dwarf beans, beetroot, bok choi broccoli, brussel sprouts, cauliflower, cabbage, capsicum, carrot, celery, chilli, Chinese broccoli, Chinese cabbage, eggplant, endive, lettuce (all varieties), leeks pak choi, potatoes, radish, rhubarb, silverbeet, squash, sweet corn, sweet potato shoots, tomatoes, zucchini,

Sow or plant seedlings of ageratum, alyssum, amaranthus, aster, begonias, celosia, cockscomb, cleome, coleus, cosmos, dahlia, geraniums, gerbera, gloxinia, impatiens, livingstone daisy, marigolds, nasturtiums, petunias, pansy (seed) poppy, primula, phlox, portulaca, salvia, sunflower, verbena, viola (seed)

Pests to look for:

Thrips fly in with the easterly winds and discolour many flower petals and cause the foliage of certain plants to take on a silver tinge. They rasp and suck at flower petals causing bruising. To check if it is thrips causing flowers to brown off, hold a piece of white paper under the flower.  Tap the flower to see if these small insects drop out.  Control with Confidor.

Mites are another hard to control insect that harbour in a protected position at this time of the year. They love a dry, out of the wind position so the patio or alfresco area is perfect. Typical symptoms include very fine webbing, leaf discolouration and leaf drop.

They are difficult to control because they build up resistance to insecticides very quickly so alternate control between dusting sulphur, Mavrik and Pest Oil in the cooler months will help.

Mealybug is a pest of indoor plants at this time of the year. These insects suck the sap of the plant, cause dieback and general lack of vigour. The can usually be seen in the leaf axis and are tricky because they hide in the soil roots as well. You think you have controlled them but then they appear from the roots so drench the soil as well as spraying foliage all over with Confidor.

Things to do in Summer

  • Plant out annual colour which will keep flowering well into autumn.  What ever spare container you have fill it with premium potting mix and start planting.
  • Add water storing crystals to existing pots and any new plantings.
  • Take cuttings of bougainvilleas and hibiscus.
  • Apply a quality liquid fertiliser to all potted plants. Apply over foliage as it is absorbed by the leaves 400 times quicker than through the root system.
  • Plant up succulent bowls for a hot, dry position where nothing else will grow.
  • Find a water feature to create a cooling effect in the garden.
  • Build a frog pond.  Frogs need water in the garden at this time of the year.
  • Place dishes of varying heights around to cater for the different sized birds and lizards.
  • Buy a water lily.  They look so brilliant in the summer months.
  • Plant a frangipani.  They grow so brilliantly and smell divine at this time of the year.
  • Prune nectarines, peaches and apricots after they have fruited. They fruit on new wood and can develop this wood before they go dormant again.
  • Add a wetting agent to the whole garden to make the water soak into the soil.
  • Mulch, mulch and more mulch.  Apply it at least 7cm thick.
  • Become inspired with bromeliads. These hardy plants are perfect potted plants surviving on very little water. They also make the easiest to grow indoor plants I know.
  • Plant a crop of dwarf beans. They keep producing for months.
  • Plant a passionfruit in summer so they have a chance to get established before the cold weather sets in.
  • Find a cool shady tree to create a garden under. An eclectic collection of pots of different sizes always adds interest to the garden.
  • Have some fun growing cuttings in water storing crystals coloured with food colouring. Kids love it!



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