John's Garden Newsletters

John Bodycoat works for Conservation & Land management as a lecturer in the advanced diploma in agriculture and horticulture courses. He writes a Newsletter most months which is printed in Mandurah area newspapers. He has agreed to share the articles on our website.

February 2015 in the Garden

Well hopefully everyone has had a fine Christmas and will now be enjoying the start of a new year with the early days of 2015 upon us.

Each year we brace ourselves for the onset of summer, but it never ceases to amaze me just how hot it can get. A few days over 40°C can really stress plants, so it's crucial to spend time preparing for the hot February weather so everything can survive and continue to produce healthy crops.

January and February is the best time to look back on your garden and see what needs to be done, that should have been done during the past year. It's called the planning stage or the planning and assessing stage.

Planning 2015

If you have stone fruit you should be picking your nectarines, apricots, plums and peaches. Also berries are bountiful at the moment, so you could be enjoying Marion berries, raspberries, blackberries and youngberries. That is, if you have been putting in your medfly traps for fruit fly and covering your trees with nets to prevent birds wreaking havoc.

Your Garden Planner

Most of us have visited gardens, dreamt about them and seen TV shows where we've finished up wanting what they have and drawn inspiration from them. But what do you really want from your space.

When Planning a Garden you should look at the following:

WaterAll plants need water, some more than others. So group them according to their needs. Put those that need the most together. Install and repair your irrigation. Go to your local Hardware Store, Nursery or Irrigation Company for good advice in planning your system.
SoilSoil is the basis of all life. My ole saying is "Feed the soil not the damn plant". If you build up the soil in your garden you will have bragging rights for the best fruit around. Build up your soil with animal manures, home- made compost, rock dust, straw, green manures and sea weeds. If you have clay soils use gypsum which is excellent for breaking down the hard clay. Likewise if you have acidic soils, lime must be added to your soil; for quick results liquid lime can be used. If your soil is alkaline, use powdered sulphur.
Sun or ShadeWhen ready for a permanent home, put your potted plants in the right area of your garden, making sure that those that require full sun and shade are adequately catered for.
Compost and FertilisersCompost is the cornerstone of gardening and it's better if you make your own. I like the lasagne way of preparing it: layers of greens and dries. Lawn clippings and dry leaves, green weeds and straw with chicken manure to set it all going. Take in your neighbour’s greens or rake the street’s gutters to get your dry leaves. This is a cheaper way to make fertilisers and you can use blood and bone, sea weed and fish emulsion, worm wee, granite dust and animal manures. Or you can purchase chemical based acidic fertilisers from your local nursery. Your Choice.
Wind ProtectionMost plants need wind protection; some require full protection at all times. Plant very delicate ones behind a garage wall, the house or street trees. Hot winds are very cruel to plants. For example, if you are planting an avocado tree, a well-protected site is essential
NewTry something new every year as it can be fun growing new ones and discovering new edible fruits together with all the tricks that turn them on. Gardening should be interesting and lead to a sense of pride and accomplishment, in addition to giving you your own supply of delicious and healthy fruit picked when flavour is best.

Problems in the garden

Citrus

Most people ask me questions about lemons, oranges, limes and mandarins which are very good, but please, if your lemon or orange tree is not producing any flowers or fruit then pull the damn thing out, buy your lemons and oranges or purchase another tree and start again. If you decide to have another go, don't put the new one back in the same hole.

Here are some other points to remember when purchasing new citrus trees for successful growing.

  1. 1. Choose a suitable site in your garden.
  2. 2. Decide what variety to grow. Also choose a rootstock suitable to your soil type and region.
  3. 3. Prepare your site, remember that you must feed the soil and not the plant.

So prepare the hole you're going to plant the tree in. I dig one twice the width of the container and twice as deep, or 50-60cm wide and deep. I always place about 50-100mm of chicken manure on the bottom of the hole, cover this with soil 50-75mm deep and plant the tree on top. This stops the fine young roots from making contact with the chicken dung until it starts to decompose.

Make sure the tree is planted to the same depth as it was in the pot when purchased. I only give the new tree blood and bone with trace elements and especially potassium (K). Place compost around the tree then water in thoroughly to get down past the root zone.

Mulch at least a metre around the tree with straw and you should not have to water again for another 5 days.

For actively growing citrus trees in the home garden you'll need to give enough water or about 10-20 litres every second day. But mulch, mulch and more mulch can reduce this amount of water. The young tree will need sun and wind protection.

New Fruit Trees

Pawpaw

The pawpaw, or if you live in other parts of the world it's known as papaya, can be grown very successfully in SW WA. The babaco is a cooler, related fruit tree to the pawpaw which is also very sweet to eat.

If you get light frosts the mature pawpaw will withstand them, but growth and fruiting may be slightly retarded for a period. Beware when you plant seedlings or young plants as they are much more susceptible. If you have a north-facing wall, plant the pawpaw up against this and it will act as a shelter against strong winds and also provide the tree the warmth from the wall. If you have a courtyard, it is ideal, or use shade cloth around the tree.

Grown from seed the pawpaw will fruit in about 12-18 months. Most of the old fashioned varieties of pawpaw are either male or female so it's important to have both to get fruit. I would plant a male and female every year, as a pawpaw only lasts for 3-4 years. I have recently seen 2 beautiful pawpaws growing in Dawesville loaded with fruit. Yummo.

Weeds in your garden

It's so important to eliminate garden weeds to prevent seed set and to stop more weeds from growing again next summer. Pull them out and only use chemicals as a last resort, especially in small areas. Pull out your fleabane, feral couch and kikuyu grass, wild lettuce, ryegrass, stink wort, sorrel, paspalums and other intrusive weeds which have entered your garden as soon as you can as most of these will soon be, or have seed in their heads.

If you have weeds in your street or you live on acreage and there is cotton bush, thistles, evening primrose or even Patterson's curse, inform your local council or Land Care Groups and get them to help eradicate these pesky plants near your home. Remember weeds are the biggest environmental threat we have, so pull them out, remove or report them to prevent a build-up in your neighbourhood.

I use my weeds in the compost bin and you can soak them in water for about 6 weeks and use them as weed tea. Submerge these in a bucket and remove after about 40 days, the weed skeletons I remove and place in my compost and the nutrients are left as weed tea. It is strong stuff so make up a mix of about 1 to 10 with water. Sadly, as we drive around in regional areas, the weeds on our roadsides are increasing, so we do need to be pro-active and report and remove them.

What to Plant in February

Gee it's nearly too hot to plant anything in February. If you do take a chance and plant, good luck. I would be spending my time planning layouts and spacing, making compost, repairing the trickle or water system, making the property fire proof if in a rural area, tackling the weed situation, cutting back some of the native flowering plants and watching the cricket.

Happy gardening.

John Bodycoat

Spacer Spacer.