Warm November days remind us that summer is just around the corner and a little work at the beginning of this month will ensure your garden thrives through the warmer months. A garden that’s strong and healthy will perform brilliantly regardless of the weather.
The use of organic fertilisers and a focus on improving and feeding the soil is one of the most effective gardening principles to go by. Ninety percent of your gardening effort should go into looking after the soil. Western Australian sands are ancient eroded rocks and some of the least fertile in the world. Even native plants will require some extra help to get them established.
The application of chunky mulch over shrub areas will shade soil and reduce evaporation and although the frequent soaking rains in spring recharged the deeper areas, the majority of a plant’s feeder roots are in the first 10 to 20cm of soil and shading these will be beneficial over the warm months.
Adding home-made compost to the garden makes use of the vegetable scraps that are tossed in the bin. On average, every household in Australia discards 350kg of compostable waste. Worm farms are a great way to compost kitchen scraps if space is limited. If you are starting out and have a limited budget, call into your Better Pets and Gardens store for two coco peat bricks and a carton of worms and then take a trip to the local green grocer to pick up a white foam box. Expand the coco peat by placing it in a bucket of water then pierce a few holes in the base of the foam box and lay down a couple of sheets of newspaper into it before tipping coco peat in; this forms the bedding for worms. Lastly, add worms and always keep bedding covered with a piece of hessian or wet newspaper which is what you put the food under. Worms can consume everything that was once living including 100% cotton, wool or linen fabric. Avoid feeding citrus peel and onion skins.
Plant summer flowering annuals early to get the longest flowering season possible. When planting, improve soil and place a teaspoon of controlled release fertiliser for flowering plants underneath each seedling. When planting vincas and petunias, nip the first flower out to encourage bushy plants and more flowers. Pelargoniums are flowering brilliantly over the next few weeks and will respond to a light pruning after they’ve finished. Don’t waste the cuttings; replant pieces about 12cm long into pots. They will develop roots quickly and will be ready to plant out in a couple of months.
Check that potted plants are draining effectively over the summer months. Tip pots on their side and check that the roots are not blocking the holes.
Sow bean seeds and corn over summer. Stagger plantings to ensure they don’t mature all at once. Plant corn in clumps or groups rather than in a long row. This will help pollination and reduce the incidence of missing kernels in the cob.
Treat ants in paving and around pots before they cause larger problems around the plant roots. Ants excavate soil and expose roots to air causing die back. When ants move into pots the soil becomes water repellent and the plants will die quickly. The best solution is to treat the ants and repot the plants.
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.