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Boost those Sandy Soils – Sue McDougall

It’s the time of the year to work on improving our sandy soils. Western Australian soils are some of the least fertile in the world and blood and bone is not only a safe fertiliser, it’s an effective soil conditioner. June is the time of the year when we can slip on the raincoat, celebrate the rain and throw blood and bone around the whole garden.

Organic fertilisers and soil conditioners increase the beneficial microbes in the soil, deliver nutrients to plants in a slow release form and improve the water holding capacity of sandy soils. Spread these fertilisers and soil conditioners around and let the rain wash them in.

Sow a legume crop in between the roses or in the vegie garden. Planting peas or broad beans at this time of the year in any bare areas of the garden will improve the soil fertility without you having to do the hard work. These fast growing annuals are your friend as they take nitrogen from the atmosphere and store it in small nodules under the ground. The nitrogen in these nodules is drawn upon by other plants when needed.

Planting a green manure crop during winter is another way of improving soil fertility in cultivated areas in the garden. Specially formulated green manure seed mixes are a mix of species that grow fast and can be dug into the soil after a period of time. These leaves are dug in when green and then break down, increasing the nutrient content of the soil.

In warmer areas of the state, roses can be pruned from mid-June. In the colder areas, delay pruning until mid to late July. After pruning, spray the roses with lime sulfur to clear up any scale insects and mites that may be overwintering in the wood.  Apply sulphate of potash around the root system after pruning to thicken cell walls and build up the plants resistance to disease.  Better Pets and Gardens stores are stocked full of rose pruning essentials.

Resist the urge to prune hibiscus and bougainvilleas until the weather warms up again. They tend to start to look a little tired through the cooler months and the first reaction is to trim them a little but this can set them back for the following spring as extremely cold weather can damage new growth.

The composting process slows down throughout winter and the compost bin tends to smell. Don’t stop composting because of this. All you need to do is add some extra carbon or dry matter to the bin or pile. This will open the mixture up and allow air to circulate between the particles, allowing the aerobic process (which is composting with air) to speed up. The addition of blood and bone or a bag of sheep manure will ensure the composting process does not stop through winter.

Place indoor plants away from the reverse cycle heating systems as they dry the air out which will cause the edges of the foliage to burn and start to die back. Increase humidity inside by placing indoor plants on trays filled with very small stones or gravel and topped up with water. As the water evaporates, the indoor plants benefit, particularly the varieties that love warm, humid environments.

One of the best indoor plants to brighten up even the darkest area is the Peace Lily. These incredibly hardy plants will tolerate low light conditions for months on end. Keep them damp and wipe the foliage regularly with white oil.  This will not only clean up any scale insects that may be living on the foliage but will also make the leaves bright and shiny.


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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