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Spring has sprung and gardeners everywhere are starting to come out of hibernation.
With water restrictions almost every summer, Australian native gardens have never been more popular.
Native plants are surprisingly easy to maintain and propagate, they’re fauna friendly and are generally less water hungry than other plants, require lower maintenance than other garden varieties, and considerably are more sustainable.
The Australian landscape is full of an array of rich and diverse plant forms which means there are native plants to suit almost any garden situation, and any climate.
Here’s a few tips to get you started:
Plan with your environment in mind
Have a think about the general weather patterns of your neighbourhood during the seasons. Do you get long weeks of hot days over Summer? Do you have frost in Winter? Try to group the same kinds of plants together to form an ecosystem like they might experience in the wild.
Most Australian plants enjoy heat, but some from cooler regions will tolerate frost. Dry landscape species prefer sun exposure. Those from forests will tolerate shade, but grassland plants probably won’t.
If in doubt, choose plants that grow naturally in your local area. These should be perfectly adapted to the local climate and soil in your garden. In turn, this will make them much easier to grow.
Australian natives are suited to a number of different looks.
- Desert – Australia has native succulents, shrubs and flowering flora that are suitable for growing in drier, hotter regions of the country. The MacDonnel Ranges Cycad, ghost gum, or native daisy are great choices. You could even try your hand at growing Sturt’s Desert Pea.
- Coastal – If you live in a coastal area, your garden needs are a little different to most. Choose plants that thrive in strong sun, salty winds and sandy soils such as Coastal Rosemary, the Dwarf Bottlebrush, or Melaleuca (Tea Tree). Most can also act as windbreaks.
- Grassland – Native grasses make for attractive and effective landscaping, especially amongst a rockery. Foliage can be erect, falling, flexible or rigid. You can create a very attractive water-wise native grass lawn. Suitable species for this style include weeping grass, wallaby grass, kangaroo grass and red grass.
- Tropical - Tropical gardens are very popular up north. For those of us lucky enough to have a pool, they’re a great way to plant around. There’s a huge variety of foliage and flora to choose from, such as the Bangalow Palm or Australian Fan Palm, or long flowering species like Bromiliads and Birds of Paradise, which look great indoors and out.
- Bushland Retreat – Inspired by areas such as the Dandenongs or the Blue Mountains, there is an array of versatile forest plants that will grow in temperate climates. Grevilleas, Eucalypts and Acacia (Wattle) are all very popular.
Make it drought hardy
Australian soils are generally weak, nutrient poor and high in salt. This means that while many plants appreciate fertiliser, it's best to use sparingly. Above all else, soil preparation is vital. Before planting, dig the ground over well. If your soil is heavy in clay, add a little gypsum. Your soil doesn’t need to be rich, but tropical plants do prefer organic matter. Mulch and manures are better than chemical fertilisers as many natives do not like high levels of phosphorus.
If you're sowing seed or using plant cuttings, do your planting in Spring or Autumn. Natives tend to grow best from seed rather than cuttings. They generally need little work but the occasional prune after flowering will ensure they’re at their best.
Most natives don't like getting wet feet so build up the garden bed a bit to help excessive water drain away. Avoid watering in the heat of the day or evening, as plants left wet overnight are more prone to fungal diseases. Plants should be grouped together according to their water requirements.
Make sure new plants are watered sufficiently during their first three months to ensure they get the best head start in life.
A garden that attracts wildlife
Reproducing a small part of the bush in your own garden with the wonderful range of wildlife it attracts can be extremely satisfying. Australian plants that that birds, butterflies and animals adore include:
- Honeyeaters love Grevilleas, Kangaroo Paw & Banksia
- For native birds, Hakeas & Bursaria make great nesting sites
- Native finches and parrots like Pultenaea, Davesia and Platylobium (also known as ‘bush pea)
- Native finches eat the seeds of native grasses
- Butterflies appreciate Mellicope & Callistemons flowers
Bushy plants that house lizards & insects can attract kookaburras, while fruiting trees will prove irresistible to lorikeets and rosellas. If possible, include some water in your bush setting for the animals.
In recent years native flavours such as lemon myrtle, lilly-pilly and mountain pepper have made their way onto our dinner tables. Why not try a few native edible plants in the garden and introduce them into your own cooking? Popular species include: native passionfruit, finger limes, Davidson plum, native (cinnamon) myrtle and native guava.