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.

March in the Home Orchard

February as usual has been hot and March as always will be hot and dry. Hopefully we can get some relief by the end of the month with some much needed rain for our gardens. The south west of Western Australia is reported to be the fastest drying region in the world, as our seasons are now getting less rainfall and maybe slightly hotter. Coming from the northern wheat belt, the dry seasons started for us in 1969 and we have only had a few normal winters since. Whether it's climate change or a seasonal change of 50 years dry doesn't matter. It's too political to answer, but water is getting precious and we need to conserve it at all times. That's why I always ask members to be aware of their water use by having efficient sprinklers in their garden orchard.

How many growers have quinces in their orchard? The two most popular varieties are Smyrna and Champion and these varieties are now being picked. A new variety called Pineapple quince will be ready to be picked soon and made into quince jelly. Two other varieties that I have tried to source are Portugal and Berechzchi, but obviously not available in WA. The Berechzchi is originally from Serbia and has large pear-shaped fruit of excellent quality and bears well. The Portugal is an orange-coloured fruit, unlike Smyrna and Champion which are a deep yellow colour. Both of these have excellent flavour and make great quince jelly and are very good bottled as well. Remember the quince was often referred to as the loved fruit, a symbol of love and fertility and was dedicated to Aphrodite and Venus, the goddess of love. Happy eating.

Most of the stone fruit in the orchard has nearly finished, nectarines and peaches have virtually stopped, and plums especially later varieties and apricots are just about finished. Pears and apples in the home orchard are still holding on and will be ready over the next few weeks before we have finished picking these fruit. The million dollar question for stone fruit is, when do you prune them? Personally I prune when the last fruit has been picked and I cut back the tree height to a sort of manageable level and cut out any branches growing inwards to allow more sunshine into my trees. Speaking to a few other home orchardists, they like to prune in winter before the bud burst starts. It's your choice. Compost should be applied around your trees with the addition of wheat or barley straw which helps to prevent your roots from overheating.

And It's time to fertilise your citrus trees. There are many different recipes to feed citrus but most people like to use a citrus blend fertiliser from your local nursery and this contains N. P. K. and S. Plus small amounts of micro nutrients including Zn, B, Cu, Mo, Mn and Fe. If you follow the instructions on the packet you should have a bumper crop. Plus you need to add dolomite, blue metal dust and a few caps of liquid fertiliser each month over your root zone . It all helps. Remember, citrus have a shallow root system and they will invariably dry out if you don't put a layer of wheat, barley or lucerne straw which protects the roots from the hot sun. I always add fresh compost and chicken manure to my tree base. Last week I visited the Perth City Farm, and surprisingly the citrus trees looked very starved of nutrients as the leaves on most of the trees at this property are affected. It was possibly the most outstanding lack of nutrients to any citrus trees I have seen anywhere. The leaves showed discolouration which is due to numerous fertiliser problems. Remember, citrus takes many months to flower, form fruit and ripen, so during the development try to always keep your tree healthy and happy. By looking after them during the hot summer days your fruit will be beautiful when they're ready in winter. So by looking after your citrus during the growing season you will get rewards with excellent quality fruit. Keep your watering up to date on all varieties of citrus fruit and most importantly, all fruit trees in your garden.

Last month I spoke about companion planting with indigenous or native trees amongst the fruit trees in your garden. Pollinators are very important in any garden, so to attract these insects to your patch you will need to plant different species of plants that flower from spring right through to winter. There are many native species and introduced plants available to gardeners. Remember pollination is the transfer of pollen grains from the anther to the stigma of either the same flower or another flower. Pollen grains can't move themselves, so an external agent is required, eg. insect, bird, wind, water or gravity are the main vectors for pollen transfer. Many insects play an important role in pollination including bees, wasps, butterflies, flies, moths and beetles. Or you can use a new pastry brush to transfer pollen by hand to other flowers.

You can grow blue-flowering trees and shrubs, such as borage, lavender, cornflower, capsicums and eggplants which are just some of many blue or purple flowers that bees love. Wisteria is also a very good flower to attract insects, as it flowers at the same time as stone fruit and the bees just love moving from plant to plant. Butterflies like buddleia and verbena and nectar-eating birds such as the honey eater are attracted to salvia flowers, of which there are many varieties that can flower all year round. The New Holland Honey eater, wrens and the Western Wattle bird are just a few of many birds found in and around Perth who are great nectar-attracting birds we have in our garden. Moths and bats are the nocturnal pollinators in our gardens and these will pollinate many of our fruiting trees. Papayas need moths to pollinate their flowers and these moths are attracted to white flowers. So plant a native shrub that has a white flower such as the tea tree varieties we have in Western Australia - melaleucas such as the Rottnest Island tea tree. M. teretifolia, M. viminea and M. thyoides. Or the Melaleuca Swamp paperbark, M. rhaphiophylla, is an excellent white-flowered tree if you have room. I believe a diverse garden with some natives is a garden that will attract beneficial insects and birds that are pollinators, and this will benefit any garden, especially a Home Orchard.

The past couple of months I have seen many flowers on Dragon Fruit (pitaya) or Hylocereus undatus plants around the state, with fruit already ripe in the Geraldton area. The Pitaya is from the cactus family and has two main species, H. undatus which has white flesh and H. polyrhizus which has red flesh. There is another genus, once called Selenicereus megalanthus but now also placed in Hylocereus, which has smaller fruit with yellow skin, white flesh and clusters of spines on the fruit that brush off when ripe. They're all very nice fruit, have health benefits to consumers, go great with lime juice sprinkled on them and they're perfect with a nice white wine.

Olive trees

Olives will be fruiting rather heavily at the moment and as the fruit begins to turn from green to black it is a good time to pick your fruit. Most growers in small orchards over-feed their olive trees with too much nitrogen, and this can have the effect of reducing the amount of flowers forming on the trees. Olives can survive with chicken manure and baa poo plus blood and bone. There is really enough N in chicken manure alone. For a 1-year-old tree you give 1kg of chicken manure and then when 2 years old and after, 2 kgs per year. However you must feed the olive tree in our sandy soils with calcium and magnesium, or use dolomite at two handfuls four times a year. Also apply 4 handfuls of potash. With your blood and bone, make sure when purchasing your supply that it lists all nutrients on the bag.


Olive trees do need to be pruned every year after the fruit has been harvested from March to May. Cut the branches that cross in the centre of the tree to open the canopy which will then allow light and air through. This also assists fruit ripening. Sometimes pruning olives rejuvenates the tree to produce flowers, fruit and new wood for the following year.


I get asked what varieties of olives to grow in the backyard or even on small properties. Olive varieties really come in three types - oil, fruit for pickling and a combination of both.

For Olive Oil and Pickling these are the recommended varieties.

Leccino. Has oil content of around 20% of good quality and is also suitable for the fresh black olive market for pickling. This is a tree of medium vigour with a high production of fruit.

Mission. A large tree up to 5 metres tall and should be pruned for easier harvesting, medium size fruit and an oil content of over 21%. The fruit is excellent for pickling and produces heavy crops for oil

Manzanillo. A very high yielding variety and they have a low spreading effect which makes them easier to harvest. They are also very high in oil content of around 21-22%. The berries have a high flesh to pip ratio.

Verdale. This a good dual purpose variety for oil and pickling. A good oil quality but low % and very lovely pickled fruit.

Oil Types

Arbequina. Is a Spanish oil variety with small fruit and produces excellent quality oil.

Frantoio. Another tree with small olives producing heavy crops of fruit and 23% oil.

Nevadillo. An early oil variety olive with a high oil quality of 23-27% and the best pip to flesh ratio of most olives here in W.A.

Pendulino. This has oil content of 22% and is an excellent pollinator.

Picual. This tree starts producing fruit very early on in its life and has a high oil content, with its own unique flavour and a high oleic acid content. This is a tree to grow for oil in the back yard.

Pickling varieties.

Sevillano. Has large fruit up to 13.0 grams, the tree is sometimes labelled as Spanish Queen, has a good spreading habit which makes it easy to pick the fruit when ready.

Californian Queen. Formerly the University of California bred olive or UC13A6, it has large fruit and makes an excellent pickling olive.

Barouni. Has large fruit and is a great pickling olive and produces consistently good olives.

Kalamata. The fruit are medium to large and is a very popular pickling olive in commercial and home gardens.

At my property I mostly grow Mission (8 trees), Kalamata (3 ), Manzanillo (8), Barouni (1), Verdale (5), and Arbequina (2). These were all planted in April 2015, with the Mission and Manzanillo varieties producing about the same number of fruit per tree. I will weigh off the fruit when I pick in early March and keep records of the total kilograms over a 3-year period. Some of my trees had been in pots for the previous 4-5 years and I have been picking off the fruit until this year.

The following is an idea in growing different olive cultivars for pollination. I think if you want to grow olives in the Home Orchard and have room for more than one tree it is important to plant more than one variety as I think cross pollination can give you better fruit set with pollen from other varieties rather than from their own. Cross pollination should yield more fruit. Heaps of research has been done on this but is slightly inconclusive as to what variety and what cultivar suits each tree. Here is what a grower told me can work.


RootstockSalinity toleranceCalcium (alkalinity ) ToleranceSuitability for sandy soils Suitability for loamy soilsSuitability for poorly drained soilsPhytophthora Resistance
TrifoliataSalinity toleranceSalinity toleranceSalinity toleranceSalinity toleranceSalinity toleranceSalinity tolerance
Troyer citrangeSalinity toleranceSalinity toleranceSalinity toleranceSalinity toleranceSalinity toleranceSalinity tolerance
Rough lemon Salinity toleranceSalinity toleranceSalinity toleranceSalinity toleranceSalinity toleranceSalinity tolerance
Volkameriana Salinity toleranceSalinity toleranceSalinity toleranceSalinity toleranceSalinity toleranceSalinity tolerance
Sweet orangeSalinity toleranceSalinity toleranceSalinity toleranceSalinity toleranceSalinity toleranceSalinity tolerance
Cleopatra mandarinSalinity toleranceSalinity toleranceSalinity toleranceSalinity toleranceSalinity toleranceSalinity tolerance
Swingle citrumeloSalinity toleranceSalinity toleranceSalinity toleranceSalinity toleranceSalinity toleranceSalinity tolerance

When purchasing your olive tree from a nursery, I advise people to pick a tree that has olives growing on it as then you know it will produce fruit. Of course this is not possible all the time but is worth thinking about.

Our February garden visit was at Nigel's property in Nedlands which was a great suburban garden with many interesting fruit trees. His old citrus trees were very interesting, especially the pomelo which was oldish and still producing fruit. His banana and pawpaw trees were very tall, producing fruit which we sampled and found very sweet.

Nigel, your citrus were showing nutrient deficiencies, maybe a combination of manganese and or iron and magnesium deficiency. We are only guessing. My method of war against the nutrient deficiency shown on your tree leaves would be to apply a 40-litre bag of chicken manure or baa poo per tree, two handfuls of dolomite per tree and two handfuls of citrus manure from your friendly Nursery Centre. Add straw around your root zones but don't put it right up against the tree trunk otherwise you could get collar rot. Also add some compost to stop the straw from blowing around your yard. Manganese deficiency can be caused from acid or alkaline soils and shows as a gradual chlorotic yellowing between the veins of the leaf. Magnesium deficiency produces blotchy yellowing whereas manganese deficiency produces yellowing of the whole leaf area except veins which remain green. You could use foliar sprays of manganese sulphate but that really should go on during spring growth and also your trees are quite large and would be hard to get to without a ladder. Thanks for your hospitality on behalf of all members who attended this great morning's visit.

One of the Units I present at TAFE is sustainability, and last week I went to a talk given by Chris Ferreira from Murdoch University. He's the owner of a sustainable property with an orchard using “blue or grey water.” He has a Home Open to view his sustainable property and garden on the 5th March from 10-00am to 4-00 pm. Contact me for further details, and also if readers are interested in the names of bird attracting plants. I will be including my favourite trees in the April issue.

Next Month:
Forgotten fruits of the Old Farm Garden.
Planting garlic in the Home Orchard.
Water pH and quality.
The bad bugs in the orchard.
What to do after fire ravages your Home Orchard.

Happy gardening.


John Bodycoat

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