Gardening offers so many positives during isolation!
If you have hovered around the edges of the gardening world in recent times, wishing for more time to get stuck into a project, it seems your wishes have come true. One of the positives that has come out of the current lockdown restrictions is the extra time we have to enjoy and improve our gardens.
Even if home is currently the new workplace, there is no time lost getting to and from work. Suddenly that extra time can be put into completing a few tasks in the garden. Whether it’s growing your own food, brightening up a few dull corners or completely revamping, gardening is the new go-to activity.
If you’ve never grown anything before, you can get started and jump in headfirst knowing there is a lot of information around to help you have success.
Growing food and flowers from seed
In recent weeks there has been a shortage of seed at the shop front. Suppliers have been working around the clock to ensure the seed reaches the shelves and now gradually stocks are building up again. If you have picked up a few different packets of seed and want to be guaranteed of success, follow these practical tips when germinating seeds in trays or pots:
Light – All seeds require light to germinate. One of the biggest mistakes made when germinating seed is to place them in a position that is too dark. This will result in the newly germinated seedling becoming stretched, which is the elongation of the cotyledon and two leaf stage. The success rate of transplanting stretched seedlings is low as they tend to be brittle and easily damaged. Place seed in a bright light position, at least 4 hours of sun at this time of the year is ideal.
Soil – Using a premium seed raising mix for germinating in trays ensures seeds have the best start. Don’t use soil from the garden in trays as it tends to compact, is not sterile and contains soil borne and water borne pathogens that are potentially fatal for seeds. A premium potting mix is sterile and formulated so it drains freely, reducing the chance of waterlogging.
Depth of Seed – Ensure seed is placed just under the soil surface and covered lightly. As a general guide sow as deep as twice the width of the seed. For very find seed sprinkle on the surface and then cover with a thin layer of seed raising mix. Vermiculite is effective for covering seed, it allows light to the seed, assists in drainage and weighs almost nothing so seeds can push their way through the layer.
In Season – Remember to sow seeds in the correct season. There is nothing more disappointing to do all the work expecting a new crop of seedlings and become disappointed quickly when nothing appears. If seeds are purchased from a retailer, there are always clear instructions on the packet as to when to sow that variety. This will vary across the country depending where you live. If you have been gifted seeds from a friend, remember to write on the packet the variety and when the ideal sowing time is. It’s easy to forget by the time it comes to next year.
Seed Viability – As seed ages, viability is reduced. The result is less plants than expected. Most seeds are sealed, a clever way to extend their shelf life. If you have a packet of seeds and don’t use them all share them around or swap, they may as well go into the ground and be of some use, rather than being stored in a cupboard. If you have a packet of old seed, past its sowing date do a germination test before sowing. There is nothing wrong with the seed, just the % of what will grow is reduced.
Water – All seeds require moisture to germinate. They are close to the soil surface and will dry out easily. Keep damp, but not soggy.
Be Patient and Gentle – Seed can take days to germinate or it can take weeks. Be patient and gentle when transplanting seedlings.
Wish away the weeds
With rain falling of varying amounts in most areas across the country, after the dust has settled the next thing on the mind of gardeners is the number of weeds that start to germinate. The most effective control is hit them while they are small just as they are pushing out of the ground. This is when they are most vulnerable to changes in light and moisture. There are a few different ways to control weeds and before you reach for the sprayer try these methods:
Dig them up – Weeds are most vulnerable when they just germinate, just after the cotyledon stage as the two new real leaves appear. It’s also the time when they can be easily pulled out and laid back on the ground to compost.
Mulch – A mulch will block out the light to newly germinated seedlings and most newly germinated winter weeds will be destroyed with a 75-100mm layer of mulch.
Smother – Carpet, black plastic or cardboard are effective short-term strategies for weed control. After the weeds have germinated it will only be a few days of being covered and the weeds will perish. Take the cover off to allow the slower germinating varieties to appear before covering again.
Living Ground Covers – Are an amazingly effective way to control weeds. Bare soil always grows weeds, so one of the most attractive strategies is to have minimal bare soil in the garden. The best excuse to plant more plants. Choose thick matt forming ground covers for the most effective weed control.
Gardening for the senses
Clever garden design will enliven all the senses and varied plant selection is the key to achieving this in the garden. When we visit the garden centre often, we are stimulated by only a couple of the senses, often sight and smell. When selecting plants for the garden, balcony or indoor garden think about all the senses:
Sight – incredible colour combinations delight our senses and one of the easiest senses to delight in the garden. Nature never ceases to amaze when it comes to colour combinations on single plants. If you don’t feel confident print out a colour wheel before visiting the garden centre. Even if you know nothing about colour, a colour wheel will take the guess work out of plant selection.
Touch – some plants are rough, others are smooth. Chose plants for varying foliage, bark or seed pod textures at different times of the year. Some plants, with their smooth bark or trunks feel like they are inviting you to touch them, others such as the Sandpaper Wattle are so rough you can’t quite believe the feel of the leaf.
Taste – edible plants can be incorporated into any garden, whether it’s an herb or native garden. Be creative and plant some unusual combinations. Nectarines roasted with Thyme sprigs comes to mind. Experiment with happy accident flavours. Nothing ventured nothing gained.
Smell – perfumed foliage and flowers are a mainstay of any garden. Plant where they are easily accessible or create surprise as you enter another area of the garden. Plant for perfume all year round.
Sound – is the sense that often gets forgotten about in the garden. Think about the rustle of leaves when the wind blows or unique sound when foliage is brushed past at the edge of the pathway.
Fire affected gardens
As the weather cools down across the country its important to remember there is an incredible amount of natural healing taking place in fire ravaged environments. By natural healing I am referring to the new growth appearing from plants that look destroyed a few months ago. Life in the garden is resilient and while it may take longer to rebuild structures there are a few things we can do for the garden over the next few weeks:
- Trees play an important part of the natural landscape. Dead trees are just as important for the local ecosystem. While its not practical to keep every dead tree, don’t remove everyone. These trees are form natural hollows and habitats for the native animals. They are also home and breeding ground to local fungi species and organisms.
- Depending upon the temperatures endured by the garden when the fire front passed, will depend how dead the soil is. Dead soil is powdery and water repellent and does not contain the natural biota that is so important for plant growth. Any organic matter applied back onto the garden areas will only improve this over time. Applications of Seasol will help the soil recover quickly.
- Wetting agents are an important part of soil rehabilitation and Seasol Super soil wetter and conditioner should be within arms reach at all times when in the garden. This product will not only condition the soil but will assist in water penetration after soils have experienced extreme soil temperatures.
- Assess plants that have started to grow, is the bark peeling and damaged to more than 75% of the plant. Be honest with the assessment. While some plants will shoot away again after fire damage their shape will never recover. These plants may have to be removed and replanted with the same variety or an alternative.
- Grafted fruit trees will shoot readily from the root stock. If there is no growth above the graft, its time to remove and replant with a new tree. This includes grafted citrus. Dwarf citrus varieties that are not grafted can be trimmed back to ground level and if there are signs of life will return to production over time.
- Composting mulches are an important part of a recovering garden. These mulches will feed the soil as they break. The focus through autumn and winter is on the soil. Building up the health of the soil is one of the most important aspects of rebuilding fire ravaged gardens.