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Planting time for Aussie Natives

Author

Neville Passmore

Published

6 May 2019

''Autumn is for planting'' was a theme taken up by the nursery industry to guide gardeners towards more successful plantings compared to those in spring and summer. 

The idea behind this recommendation was that autumn is less extreme than summer as far as temperatures and dryness are concerned. When winter rains come, new plants are assured of adequate moisture and this gets root growth happening.  Our mild winters (no snow or ice) allow continued root establishment right through spring.  

As the first summer comes over the horizon, the new plant has had six to seven months to establish before temperatures begin to get uncomfortable, by which time the plant has a very good chance of survival. Commercial tree planters follow this pattern. They get everything ready, wait for rain; then, when the soil is moist from rain, they pull out all the stops and complete their whole years planting program in a matter of weeks. Generally, these commercial operators work on a planting window of late May to the end of July. 

Local area and Australian plants adapted to dry hot environments make prodigious below ground growth when moisture is available.  One of the best examples is the common Firewood banksia (Banksia menzeisii) (pictured right in yellow form).  This tree sends out vast sheets of, what can be regarded as deciduous roots, in winter to mine the soil of scarce minerals.  In the hottest season these roots die right back and the tree goes into a summer dormant state. 

Hints for planting 
Local area native plants are literally plants that grew or still grow in the area where you live.  These are easily the most adapted to local soils and climate.  By choosing these, you are off to a great start. 
 

How do you find these locals? 
Visiting areas of natural bush such as national parks can be a start. Photographing any plant you like the look of can assist identification. However, if you are not too sure about plants, then a visit to your local council is usually a fruitful exercise as these all have extensive lists of locals. Next stop - specialist native plant nurseries can further guide you in your selections.   

One of the principles of successful native gardens is to cover the soil with ground cover plants or mulch. Remember the new garden adage - bare soil is dead soil. A few excellent fast spreading ground covers to consider include Acacia saligna 'Springtime Cascade', Grevillea crithmifolia 'Little Crith', Myoporum insulare 'Coastal Carpet', Carpobrotus virescens and Grevillea obtusifolia 'Gingin Gem'. These plants get growing quickly and can out-compete most weeds. 

How to get started
Natives can be grown direct from pots, either from a commercial planter using forestry tubes, which are 50 x 50 x 120mm, or pick from a wide range in your nursery which are generally in 140mm round pots. Both of these are suited to autumn - winter planting.

Direct seeding is another technique from the landscape restoration industry.  If you are able to obtain seeds of your local plants these can be mixed with a soil improver and spread over the prepared soil surface.  In the home garden it's usually possible to water the seeds in to get germination started.  In many bush regeneration sites the planters rely entirely on rain.  

Using direct seeding or small plants and planting these in the autumn winter window enables establishment without irrigation.  In the home garden, I would suggest doing some limited watering during particularly hot spells in the following summer.  Once plants have made it through to their second winter, these are on their way. When planting more advanced natives some irrigation is usually necessary through at least the first summer. 

If transplanting large advanced, potted natives such as Grasstrees, they require a more dedicated irrigation system which delivers at least one deep soaking every week during one or two summers to ensure establishment.  After this, the plants can get by on rainfall alone. 

Is there value in improving soil? 
While our native sands are extremely impoverished, when developers move into established, new housing developments, they effectively remove humus remaining in the soil through site works.  For this reason I recommend applying a one centimetre thick layer of a composted soil improver (such as Baileys Soil Improver or their new Soil Matters Clay & Compost) to the soil surface and lightly work this in with a steel rake. 

Growing Australian natives in pots
I have seen hundreds of varieties of native plants grown successfully in pots; sometimes it's been a surprise. For example, imagine a bull banksia tree growing in a terracotta pot as an indoor foliage specimen. Wow! Many of our local groundcover plants including lechenaultia and scaevola have been used by European nurseries as hanging basket plants and have been sold by the thousands. One key to success here is the use of a free draining potting mix. Baileys Premium Potting Mix is a good choice for the vast majority of native plants. There is an exception and that is plants from the protea family, which includes grevillea, banksia and hakea, which are all super sensitive to phosphate. Seek out a native or protea potting mix for these. 'Bush Eclipse' Black Kangaroo Paw (pictured right) is also an example which showcases stunning colours. 

Feeding in the first year
I recommend avoiding any fertiliser applications until you see new leaves emerging which indicate some growing activity.  My preferred regime is to apply a second coating of Baileys Soil Improver Plus to the soil.  As this is rich in carbon, it has the effect of turbocharging the soil life, which does the heavy lifting in supplying your plant with nutrients.  For those who regularly use fertilisers, go for a low nitrogen type such as Baileys Soil Matters Garden at a rate equivalent to half the pack recommendation.

It's not hard to see the advantage of using local area native plants from a maintenance perspective but one benefit that tends to be seen later on, is their ability to attract wildlife in many forms from birds, insects and even animals, all part of the web of life which is sadly disappearing from our suburbs.
 


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