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Winter in the garden

Now the weather is a bit colder again, it is good time to plan out any changes to the garden.

Plants

Think about what has survived the summer and what hasn’t. Was it because of position (soil, moisture levels, surrounding trees, shade) or just the type of plant (too delicate, poorly planted). Things change over time, with trees growing and providing more shade, so some things may not like the changes. Go for a walk around your neighbourhood and see what is still going well in their yards. Some people have let their gardens fend for themselves, so anything surviving in these ones will be pretty tough.

Dig out all the gardening books- or borrow some from your local APS groups library, and plan out what would suit, or what you fancy. Think about plants to attract and feed birds through the year- dense prickly ones (plant out of the way of paths) for nesting, grevilleas and banksias for nectar, and gums, wattles and grasses for seed. Or a small wilderness area that you leave undisturbed to increase the insect population.

Projects

Look around your garden and consider any layout changes or projects − perhaps make a new path along a worn track of grass or even a pergola to shade you next summer. An archway cover with heidenbergia (happy wanderer) looks good, and you may find birds using it as a nesting area. Is there a good spot for a garden seat- maybe a good Christmas present idea! A sturdy potting bench is also a good idea, and saves bending over. Or a small shade house for some propagation – another ideal Christmas present. Or maybe a shade tree is needed. Or bird feeders or more water pots out for native animals and birds…

Planning

There are a lot of books on garden design, and many of these focus on natives- Diana Snape for one.  It is hard to get a good idea sometimes of how the mature plant will fit into an area, so a book with a lot of pictures is often a great help.

But apart from the appearance, also think of the plants needs for water. Try to plant ones that need a bit more water in a spot that doesn’t dry out so fast, or all in the same area. Watering can then focus on these ones. Use water crystals when you plant out new plants.

Winter is also a good time to try and move plants. While natives are usually not easy to move successfully, if the plant is much better suited to the new position the move may well succeed.

If a particular type of plant has done well, think about buying a few more. Massed areas of the same plant, or dotted throughout the garden gives an air of continuity that many different species will not. They will also be easy care. Cranbourne Botanic Gardens does this, planting in drifts of one species, and the results can be spectacular if they like the position. It is also easier for birds to collect a decent feed if several plants are flowering close to each other.

Buying and planting

Generally tubestock do very well, and we are lucky at Wilson Park that an excellent variety is available to the group at our meetings. Tubestock will often outpace a larger more expensive plant. Buying plants that will do well in your soil is the easiest way to have a low maintenance garden of healthy plants.

Don’t forget to check a bought plant with care. Spindly ones and yellowed leaves can survive, but it is best to buy the strongest looking plant there, so be choosy. Leave it to acclimatise when you get home, and if watering, make sure the water soaks the plant, not running down the sides, as can happen if the potting soil is water repellent or it is very rootbound.

The expression ‘don’t dig a $1 hole for a $10 plant’ holds true. Dig a good sized hole, loosening the soil, and stir in some water crystals. Some native fertilizer, dilute fish emulsion or worm juice is also a good starter. Check that the water drains away well, and add some soil wetting agent around the hole and in it if the water sits on top or runs away.  Planting in a slurry of soil, wetta soil water, and water crystals will also help the plant establish if it will not get much attention.  Loosen the plant roots, and press the soil down well around it. Do not put mulch up to the plant base as this will reduce water penetration and air circulation.

There is some debate on when it is best to plant, in the summer when the soil is warm and the plant can establish, or in the winter when it is wetter. I think it depends greatly on your time. If you have time to water through Summer and check plants often, then Summer might work for you. Otherwise Autumn planting might be better if you tend to forget it once its planted. If it is quite small, overwintering in a pot in a warm sunny place can give it a good headstart for a Spring planting.

Until next time,

Happy gardening from The Potting Bench

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