Q and A
Trees (exotic & native)
Question 1: What are the best deciduous trees for the Upper Blue Mountains? Trees that grow well, are easy care and tough?
Answer: I think that this is really about the sort of tree you are looking for. Do you want a tall tree as a focal point; lots of summer shade; flowers in spring; or just autumn foliage?
Personally I like the trees that give you a double blessing - ones that flower in the spring, and then give beautiful autumn colours. The best of these are probably the flowering cherries - a lovely wide spreading tree that gives lovely summer shade, but also has the double whammy of spring flowers and autumn colour. One problem with the cherries can be the occasional attack by the cherry/pear slug, which gives the leaves some pockmarks. There are many varieties of cherries with different coloured spring flowers, and some weeping ones as well, which can make a feature spot in the garden.
Then there are the dogwoods, and the crab-apples - also with spreading canopies, beautiful flowers and autumn foliage. Again a wide variety to choose from although these don't grow quite as big as the cherries.
The magnolias and prunus will give beautiful flowers, but not a lot of autumn colour. The magnolias in particular are spectacular as a focal point as the flowers are mostly large and elegant. There are many varieties of both of magnolias and prunus. I like the magnolia soulangiana and the prunus bleriana best, but the white magnolia is outstanding as a feature tree.
If you want a very tall tree with autumn foliage, you can't go past the liquidambars, but don't plant them too close to the house or drains, as they, like the poplars, have very voracious roots. Other large trees are the oaks and the beeches - the pin-oaks seem to colour better than the ordinary oaks, but both are lovely spreading trees. The copper beeches give summer colour with their brown leaves. Golden elms also give a different colour in the garden through spring, summer and autumn, with vibrant light green new leaves. The maples are smaller trees than the liquidambars, and come in a great variety of leaf shape and colour. These are lovely spreading trees and can give lots of summer shade.
Other excellent trees are the ash family - the golden ash with its lovely yellow bark and golden autumn leaves, and the claret ash with the dark purple/red autumn colour. The pistachios are not seen so often in the mountain gardens, but seem to have a lovely combination of yellow and red autumn leaves, and foliage that is very like the ash family. The pistachios are spectacular with the sun shining through the branches in autumn, giving a beautiful orange glow. Then there are the silver birches - with their lovely silver and black bark. These are a very tall and slender tree, and are often planted in groups of three or five. Their leaves are small and turn yellow in the autumn, but ours seem to lose their leaves quickly, so don't give a long autumn show. There are a few other unusual trees that do well here - the parrotias, the nyssas and the Tulip trees.
These are really only some of the wonderful trees that will grow well up here - you may think of many others as well. Look in the gardens around you, and see what looks good. If you don't know the name of the tree, often the owners of the house can tell you, or give you a leaf to take to a nursery.
Remember that if you want particular colours in the autumn foliage, or spring flowers, buy your tree at the right season when the foliage or flowers are showing. Autumn and spring are good times for planting trees, so you get double benefit from this.
Again, remember that if it is a big tree it will have big roots too, so be careful where you plant it -not too close to the house, pipes or pathways.
I have used the common names of these trees, but a list of the botanical names is set out below.
Fraxinus excelsior 'Aurea'
Beech (copper or purple beech)
Fagus sylvatica 'Atropunicea'
Single pink - brown foliage
Malus 'lonesis' plena
Malus spectabilis 'Riversi'
Malus floribunda purpurea
Dogwood - White
Cornus Florida rubra
Double pink - new foliage bronze
Green flowered cherry
Prunus serrulata “Shirotae” (Mt Fuji)
Prunus serrulata “Kwanzan” or “Kanzan”
Prunus serrulata “Ukon”
Liquidambar (there are now many new varieties - often known as American Sugar Gums)
Star magnolia - white flowers
Star magnolia - pink flowers
Magnolia soulangeana “Lennei”
Magnolia stellata rosea
Small growing Japanese maples
Nyssa (Tupelo - or Swamp Tree)
Parrotia (Persian Witch-hazel)
Double pink flowers- brown foliage
Single pink flowers - dark brown foliage
Prunus cerasifera nigra
Mary Coyne May 2010
Question 2: What are the best evergreen trees to grow in the Upper Blue Mountains?
Answer: Before deciding which tree is best for your garden you need to consider:-
· Backdrop for the tree. Will it provide contrast? Do you need to cover an unsuitable sight line?
· Permanence. Do you want it in this location for 5 years, 10 years or 50 years?
· Privacy. Do you want it to increase your privacy all year or just during summer?
· Specimen. Do you want a feature tree to provide focus for a lawn or at the end of a path?
· Shelter. Is your garden exposed to the sou-westers that do so much damage to your garden in August and September?
· Shade. Positioning and selection is critical as winter sun is essential for mountain gardens.
Cryptomeria japonica “Elegans” (Japanese Cedar) is a dense evergreen that will provide shelter from the sou-westerlies and in winter turns a rich purple-brown. Slow-growing to a height of 10 metres.
Cupressus cashmeriana (Kashmir Cypress) comes in two forms. One is pyramid-shaped and the other has a weeping habit. Both have silver-green foliage. Grows to 20 metres.
Picea smitheana (Himalayan Spruce) Conical crown with pendulous branchlets (up to 60 cm). Grows up to 10 metres.
Acacia (Wattles) always provide a splash of colour in late winter, early spring. Will thrive in poor soils but adding nitrogen improves their appearance. Avoid very strong animal fertilisers. They are only short-lived compared too some trees (7-10 years) but this makes them especially suitable for protecting slow-growing plants and shrubs. However, they grow very fast and will quickly fill a gap in your garden. Most only grow 2-5 metres but A. elata (Cedar wattle) and A. dealbata (Silver wattle) may grow 10-12 metres.
Eucalypts (Gum trees) are always part of a mountain garden and the colours and textures of the bark add to the beauty.
Melaleuca linariifolia (Snow-in-Summer) has a paper bark and flowers splendidly at Christmas time. Grows to 10 metres in almost any soil.
Pittosporum. There is a wide range of pittosporum but the variegated NZ cultivars provide dense, silver-leaved hedges that respond well to pruning and grow quickly. Most grow to 6 metres if left un-pruned.
Cumquat (Fortunella japonica) and Bay Tree (Laurus nobilis) are great additions to a kitchen garden. They are relatively small and if placed correctly will not interfere with your vegies.
Some Rhododendron and Sasanqua Camellias grow to 4-8 metres and provide privacy with the additional bonus of beautiful blossoms.
Florence Baker September 2010
Question 3: I have a Banksia serrata that is 20 years old and has never flowered. Do you know why?
Answer: Banksia serrata is normally slow to flower but it is going to be hard to give you a reason why your Banksia serrata has not flowered for 20 years. Possible reasons are:-
· It may not be receiving sufficient sunlight.
· It may be too close to other plants.
· It may be lacking nutrients.
· It may not be receiving sufficient water.
· Soil may be unsuitable.
Even if everything is fine, it may just be a shy flowerer. A reason for not performing can be very hard to find.
Royal Botanic Gardens, Sydney July 2010
Question 4: How and when do I prune a young Weeping Cherry?
Answer: Do not prune until immediately after flowering is finished in spring so that new growth has the maximum growing time for next season. If you leave it any later you will cut off next year’s flowers. After flowering, cut back to slightly higher than you want them to grow so that the new growth (next season’s flowers) will droop to the desired height and length. You can also do a major pruning so that the new growth forms a thicker mop at the top which will then hand down in future years. Margaret at Bayview cut back a Weeping Cherry they had for sale so that its branches were about 2 foot long as she insists that this should be done when they are being transplanted from pot to garden. A bit frightening but she’s the expert! We prune our normal Flowering Cherries when we feel like it as they are 10+ years old and they certainly shoot very well.
Sylvia Smith April 2011
Question 5: I have had a Dwarf Native Frangipani for five years with no flowers. How do I get it to flower?
Answer: This tree is native to the sub-tropical coastal brush forests of eastern Australia from the Hunter River in New South Wales to Atherton in Queensland and extending to New Guinea Here, winters are cool to cold and reasonably wet (annual rainfall approx. 500-600 mm, most of which falls in winter), but usually, very dry from October to June. Summer periods can be extremely hot, in excess of 40oC. It is the only Australian species of Hymenosporum, and is closely related to the Pittosporum genus, which it resembles in certain respects.
In tropical Queensland some trees grow to 25 metres with a stem diameter of 30 cm or more, but further south it is much smaller. In cultivation it is usually only a small, very slender and upright tree up to 10 m high. Bark is grey and roughish, and the branches are sparse, radiating in whorls from the main stem. The deep lustrous green leaves, which resemble those of Pittosporum, are alternately grouped at the ends of the twiggy branchlets, oval-oblong in shape, and 7-15 cm long. This is a very fine flowering tree that begins to bloom in early spring, when the fragrant, open, tubular flowers are cream-coloured. They darken with age to a deep sulphur yellow before they drop. The flowers resemble those of the frangipani from its common name is derived.
Native Frangipani likes well-drained, moist soil in dappled shade with protection from strong winds. It does best in warmer climates and in cultivation it does well in alkaline soils that dry out in summer and autumn. In their native habitat they grow on the edges of the brush forests so they like dappled shade and like most rain-forest trees they are shallow-rooted and require protection from the wind. In their natural habitat they try to reach the sun to flower so they may not flower if planted in full shade. I grew one in Pennant Hills and in 14 years it never flowered.
To grow one at all in our conditions is remarkable and reasons for not flowering could be:
· Climate is too cool in summer (less than 350C)
· Acid soil
· Too much shade
· Poor drainage
· Insufficient protection from wind
Bill Avery April 2011
Question 6: How do I promote growth on the lower parts of mature trees?
Answer. This is particularly difficult as trees usually lose lower limbs because:-
· That is their natural habit. For instance, many Eucalyptus species will drop their lower branches as they grow. No amount of fertilizing or pruning will stop this occurrence.
· They are being grown in a situation that is more crowded than they would like. Some conifers are particularly susceptible to this. For instance Monterey Cypress will grow as a full tree with growth right down to the ground if it is planted as a specimen tree with plenty of space around it. However, if it is planted as a hedge or windbreak, the lower branches will often die off. Neither pruning nor fertilizing will produce new growth.
· There has been a major change in their environment. Once again, conifers are very susceptible to changes in their environment. For instance a Japanese Cypress growing under or near a large Radiata pine will often die off on the side of the tree closest to the pine. Even when the pine is removed, there is often little/no regrowth of these areas of the Cypress.
· They have been attacked by a major pest. This doesn’t happen often but conifers and eucalypts may be attacked by the longicorn beetle and one of the fits signs is dieback of lower branches. Fortunately the beetles can be poisoned by insecticide down their entry holes and the tree may recover and re-growth of lower branches may occur if it is treated with diluted Seasol poured down crowbar holes around its drip line every two weeks.
Often a difficult decision has to be made whether it is worthwhile trying to solve the problem or removing the tree and replacing with a species that is more suitable for the situation.
Bill Avery July 2012
Shrubs (exotic and native)
Question 1: What are the best evergreen shrubs for the Upper Blue Mountains? Shrubs that grow well, are easy care and tough?
· Best shrubs for their foliage are:
· Euonymus (white and gold variegated)
· Japanese Box
· Gold Dust
· Pittosporum. “Silver Sheen” will grow under conifers
· Bay Tree
· Lilli Pilli
· Dwarf and prostrate conifers
· Best shrubs for flowers are:-
· Berberis (yellow flowers)
· Mexican Orange Choisya
· Rock Rose Cistus
· Diosma. Gold cultivars are also good for foliage
· Kalmia. May require more attention than the others.
· Pieris “Andromeda”
· Plectranthus. Good in the shade.
· Viburnum tinus
· Pearl Flower Leucothoe fontanesiana
· May Spiraea
Florence Baker May 2010
Question 2: I lost one rhododendron in the ground and one in a pot. What could cause this?
Rhodos must be planted at the same level they are in the pot. If planted too high, water will just run off. If planted too low, you could get collar rot.When planting, ensure that you do not disturb the top 2-3” of the root ball. Tease out the lower section but not the top.
Don’t disturb the surface roots once they are planted. Rhodos feed through their surface roots and they react badly if these are damaged. Rhodos require regular watering when they are establishing but they do not like wet feet. An exposed, dry position should be avoided. Pots may dry out so ensure that rhodos in pots are watered regularly and try and stop the sun baking the pot by shielding it with other smaller pots.
They are also susceptible to white grubs in their roots, Check when you get the pot from the nursery or when you dig them up for transplanting. Keep mulch away from the stem. Fresh mulch or even worse, fresh grass clippings can burn the stem quite severely.
Sylvia Smith May 2010
Question 3: Should I remove feral branches from azaleas right now? How do I get more flowers?
Answer: Some general comments on azalea cultivation first:-
· They dislike lime and therefore, mushroom compost which is quite alkaline.
· They are not draught resistant so you should avoid planting them along exposed driveways?
· They like shaded/semi-shaded positions amongst deciduous trees.
· They like well-drained, humus rich soils.
To produce the maximum number of flowers you need to know what the symbols on your fertilizer bags mean:-
- N - Nitrogen promotes green growth and is present in Sulphate of ammonia, blood & bone, compost, animal manures.
- P - Phosphorus only required in small amounts and is lethal to many native plants. Usually highest in super-phosphate.
- K – Potassium promotes flower growth. Found naturally in wood ash (not coal ash) and seaweed (although you have to ensure that all salt is removed)
Therefore to promote flower growth in azaleas you need a fertilizer that is higher than normal in Potassium (K):-
General (excluding natives)
Roses, flowers, shrubs
Azaleas do not require regular pruning but may be cut back quite hard if needed and early spring is the best time. Tall runaway shoots should be cut back to well below the canopy level so that when they shoot they fit in with the rest of the plant.
Sylvia Smith July 2010
Question 4: What causes discoloured blotches on camellia leaves? Doesn’t appear to be insects.
Answer: The usual cause of large brown blotches on Camellia leaves is sun scald which may be caused by plant location; cultivar selection; health of the shrub; weather conditions; or fungal attack.
Location. If the Camellia is located in full sun against a west-facing or north-facing wall it may show signs of sun scald. Similarly, if a bush is transplanted from a shady position to a sunny position leaf scald may occur. Camellias originated from China where they were understorey shrubs in deciduous forests. There, they had light shade or dappled sunlight but were sheltered from wind and hots sun. Their roots drew sustenance from the deep organic mulch on these forest floors. This is why they do best in these locations.
Cultivar selection. However, since they were transferred to European, North American and Australian gardens, cultivar selection has taken place on a large scale so that cultivars like “Great Eastern” can take more full sun than other Camellia varieties.
· General health. If Camellias are neglected and allowed to dry out their general health deteriorates. When this occurs, sun scald may increase. They are shallow-rooted and very dependent on deep mulching and organic fertilisers like cow manure.
· Weather conditions. Camellias don’t mind a hot, humid day but on a hot, dry day sun scald may occur from beads of moisture left on the leaves from a storm, sun shower or watering. The sun hits the water beads and refraction causes a sun scald. Similarly, this may happen with flowers when a hot sun hits the moisture beads on the petals early in the morning.
· Fungal attack. Occasionally blotches may be caused when a spotting fungus attacks the leaves.
Florence Baker April 2011
Question 5: What are the best deciduous shrubs for the Upper Blue Mountains? Shrubs that grow well, are easy care and tough?
· Smoke Bush
· Star Magnolia
· Tree Peony
· Mock Orange Philadelphus
· Prunus (dwarf cultivars)
· Pomegranate (dwarf)
· Flowering Currant Ribes
· Lilac Syringa
· Viburnum opulus
· Mollis Azalea
· Witch Hazel
Florence Baker May 2010
Question 6: How do I keep snails out of a young magnolia?
Answer: There are several possible solutions:-
· Copper banding of trunk. You can buy these copper bands (about 1” wide) from most nurseries. You must make a complete circle around the stem. Do not place them at the base of the tree or anywhere that debris could build up to make a bridge.
· Coffee grounds liberally sprinkled around the base of the trunk on the ground. You could even spray the trunk with cold strong coffee.
· Forget-me-nots or saxifrage which have grey hairy leaves may help if planted around the trunk. It seems to have helped with my hostas but needs the backup of coffee grounds or snail pellets.
· Snail pellets. Green Multigard pellets seem quite effective and do not attract bower birds. Blue Baysol is also effective but bower birds are attracted to it and it is poisonous to pets. However, I understand the vets now have an antidote. Pellets should be placed in “snail hotels” to keep birds and animals away from them but this tends to leave a path to the tree for the snails.
All of these remedies are focussed on keeping snails away from the tree trunk but quite often the snails live in the tree foliage. To remove these, it has been suggested that crushing snail pellets and sprinkling them on dewy leaves will eliminate the tree-bound snails.
Sylvia Smith April 2011
Question 7: What are the best native shrubs for the Upper Blue Mountains? Shrubs that grow well, are easy care and tough?
· Mint Bush Prostanthera.
Florence Baker May 2010
Question 7: Our Lilly Pilli was growing well in a pot but suddenly died in late March. Does anyone know why? Too much water?? Too little?
Answer: Lilly Pilli was originally classified as Eugenia but has now been split into three species - Acmena, Szygium and Waterhousea. They all originally grew on the fringe of rainforests but Acmena comes from cool temperate rainforests so they are generally more resistant to psyllids and frost than Szygium and Waterhousea. There has been an explosion in the development of Lilly Pilli cultivars and some of these cultivars, especially the dwarf cultivars, need a sunny protected position in a cool climate like ours. Whilst Lilly Pillis do reasonably well in pots they react poorly to dry soils so if you have them in terracotta pots you must ensure the soil in the pot does not dry out especially if you have them in the desired sunny- part-shade position.
A reported sign that they are drying out is silvering of the leaves. Too much fertiliser may also cause these silver leaves. As well as the well-known psyllid problem (unsightly galls on the leaves) which is not fatal and may be controlled (but not eliminated) by spraying with a systemic pesticide like Confidor, Lilly Pillis may also be attacked by scale insects or aphids that produce honeydew for ants. This results in sooty mould disease which is easily identified as the shrub becomes covered in a black soot-like mould. Once again this easily treated with white oil (scale insects) or a pyrethrum-based spray with a wetting agent (aphids).
I have a hedge of Acmena which has taken 5 years to grow to a reasonable height and I have also experimented with Lilly Pilli “Cheetah” which is a beautiful shrub but very susceptible to psyllids.
Bill Avery September 2010
Question 8: My Daphne is looking very scraggy. Why? Should I do anything?
Answer: Scragginess could mean one of two things- either it’s dying or it’s not.
Dying. If the Daphne’s leaves are falling off or yellowing then your shrub could have root rot which is very common with Daphne as they hate wet feet, need very good drainage and don’t like mulch near their stem. They quite often die after days of heavy rain and the cause is almost always poor drainage. They also seem to have an age limit and can suddenly die for no apparent reason except old age.
Not dying. Daphne likes morning sun but not all day exposure. They also like our sandy soil which is good for the drainage that they must have. They also like living in pots provided the potting mix is sandy and the pots have good drainage.
Daphne are temperamental shrubs and there is a lot of conflicting advice but you can prune them by cutting the flowers or giving them a light trim after flowering. Some Daphnes don’t appear to need it and some gardeners say they never feed their flourishing plants. However, if your shrub is scraggy, give it a good feed. “Harvest” is a good tonic to revitalize plants.
Florence Baker August 2011
Question 9: How do I promote growth on the lower parts of mature shrubs?
Answer. With shrubs, some will respond better than others, so the response varies according to the species or variety. Position is critically important with some shrubs, so you should first check whether the shrub is getting enough sunshine on its base to promote growth. Without light many shrubs just won’t produce new growth. If the position is good then there are two things you can do to promote growth:-
Hard pruning. Some shrubs may be cut back very hard if they have become leggy and bare at the base. There is always a slight risk that you may kill the shrub but if it is carried out at the right time, the risk is minimized. You may have to wait 1-2 seasons for the shrubs to come back to their full flowering:
Azaleas, Camellias and Rhododendrons should be hard pruned immediately after flowering.
Other shrubs should be pruned in early spring as active growth starts.
Light pruning. Little and often over the growing seasons of spring and summer.
Shaping a broad base that is tapered slightly to the top may increase the amount of light reaching the base of a shrub. This is particularly important with hedges. So make sure the base of your hedges are slightly broader than the top and that the sides are tapered to the top.
The amount of new growth at the base of a shrub will depend on the amount of food available. If there is no/little fertilizer the shrub will take the food to the most important part of the shrub – the upper growing tips. If there is plenty of fertilizer (Harvest is a good example) then the whole shrub will benefit.
Florence Baker July 2012
Question 10: How and when should I prune my Waratah
Answer. The Sydney Waratah Telopea speciosissima is the most spectacular Australian flowering shrub and it the stat flower of NSW. However, it is not the only species of Telopea. All the other species of waratah grow on Australia's eastern seaboard and have smaller and less spectacular blooms than Telopea speciosissima. They are the Gibraltar Range Waratah Telopea aspera, the Braidwood Waratah Telopea mongaensis, the Gippsland Waratah Telopea oreades and the Tasmanian Waratah Telopea truncata. The Gippsland Waratah is much hardier than the Sydney Waratah and a cross between these two called “Shady Lady” is the most common Waratah planted today. It has the hardiness of the Gippsland Waratah and the flower of the Sydney Waratah. There are other hybrids but none of the other hybrids that I have personally planted have survived in our climate but the “Shady Lady” has been excellent. I planted a Tasmanian Waratah (not a hybrid) a year ago and it has survived but is very slow growing. Waratahs also need full sun. I planted some in a bed where they were protected from the hot early morning summer sun by a couple of Indigofera and they hardly grew for five years. As soon as I removed the Indigofera, the Waratahs took off! If possible, always plant Waratahs on a slope or in a raised bed as they hate wet feet. I you have clay soil (unusual in the Mountains) then you must plant them in a raised bed with a lot of sand or sandstone.
Waratah flowers may be cut for the house when they have fully blossomed and before the inflorescence starts to darken. Treated properly they are a very long-lasting cut flower. However, the main haircut takes place after they have finished flowering in spring. Take your clippers and/or loppers in hand and cut them back by one-third. After the operation, give them a good feed of native fertiliser, blood ‘n bone and compost. Try to prune before the “rabbits ears” start to poke through the blooms and make sure that you prune any weak or spindly stems. The first time you do this your heart will be in your mouth as Waratahs are notorious for turning up their toes but the Sydney Royal Botanic Garden recommends pruning by 75%! Usually one good fed will do but you can fertilise again in late winter.
Bill Avery July 2012
Question 11: Can I transplant diosma?
Answer. Wait until the weather cools down then give the shrub it a good haircut. Prune back hard but leave a reasonable amount of green on all stems. Don't prune back to bare woody stems (or even close to it) because these stems will not regrow. Next step is to take a good sharp spade and cut down into the dirt on opposite sides of the plant, making sure to leave enough space from the plant that you will end up with a good sized root ball. In a couple of weeks come back and do the other two sides.
Two or three weeks after dig a hole in the new location and fill it with a light tea of Seasol then lift the diosma from its original location and pop it straight into its new hole. Make sure the final soil level will be the same as the original. Backfill with soil and compost and water it in with another good dose of Seasol tea which will reduce transplant shock. Keep the soil around the new location moist until it has settled in.
Be aware that diosmas grow quickly and you may be better off planting a new plant from tube stock as it grows into a sizeable plant quite quickly.
Bill Avery November 2012
Question 12: My Pittosporum “James Stirling” appears to have an insect infestation but I cannot find any bugs on the leaves or stems.
Answer. “James Stirling” is a cultivar of Pittosporum tenuiifolium a New Zealand shrub that likes well-drained soils in an open, sunny position in cool climates. However, many landscape gardeners now avoid using it in hedges as some hedges have had one or two curling up their toes. Varieties such as “Screenmaster” are claimed to be hardier. The problem may be caused by thrips, spider mites or Curl Grubs which can be controlled with Confidor Garden Insecticide. Thrips are difficult to spot but if you notice distortion and rolling up of the leaf as well as a silvery/grey appearance on the leaf then thrips are to blame.
Another possibility is that the soil has become too wet and a root-borne fungus has set in. This doesn’t often happen in the Mountains because generally our soils are derived from sandstone and are free-draining but there are exceptions. If this is the case then there is not much you can do about it once above ground damage is visible. However, you should make sure that you dispose of any dead leaves or branches in the garbage. Do not compost them and don’t replant a new Pittosporum in the same location. It will probably meet a similar fate.
Bill Avery November 2012
Question 13: I have a white waratah which has never flowered. It is in a good position and has been pruned it lightly. Any reason why it might not have bloomed?
Answer. The White Waratah was not discovered until 1967 by maintenance men from Nepean Depot of the then Sydney Water Board. When first seen it displayed eight beautiful blooms, five of these were picked, one was taken to Thirlmere Hotel, one to Tahmoor Hotel, one to Queen Victoria Hospital, Picton and the other two to the nurseryman at Nepean Depot.
Thistle Harris-Stead heard of the discovery and sought out the discoverer at the Thirlmere Hotel. He refused to divulge the whereabouts of the plant. Thistle later obtained this information from Assistant Forestry Officer, Red Mitchell. Over the next years both Red and Thistle took limited cuttings from the plant and successful strikings were distributed to interested people. A number were placed at Wirrimbirra Wildflower Sanctuary where they bloomed rather irregularly until destroyed in a bushfire. However, these bushes provided sufficient cuttings for distribution to nurseries and they are still available from the native plant nursery at Wirrimbirra.
The originals shrub produced one bloom in 1968 following year, but did not bloom again till 1979 after it was burned to ground level by a wildfire in December 1977. Two blooms were produced this time but the branch broke off in high wind. It next bloomed in 1982 when three fine blooms were produced. Whilst it is still alive and has survived another two bushfires it has not flowered since 1982!
The original plant, as well as those which have bloomed elsewhere, all failed to set seed pods over the period from 1967 to 1984. Hand pollination was tried when the original shrub produced three blooms in 1982. Pollen from a red Telopea speciosissima and a yellow Telopea truncata was hand pollinated on the original white waratah and a nearby red waratah was treated with pollen from the white waratah. However, the treatment did not result in any seed pods.
In 1979 Sydney University's Research Station, Camden was given limited cuttings and they produced plants from cuttings and grafts. However, their main interest was in tissue culture. Although red waratahs propagate readily by this method white waratahs He reports very little success at tissue culture so far, but readily.
So all the white waratahs that are sold today are probably descendants of these Wirrimbira white waratahs. Some have been crossed with T. oreades to improve hardiness
Therefore, do not be surprised if your white waratah only produces a bloom every few years or possibly never as it is only following the habits of its ancestor
Bill Avery November 2012
Question 14: My tree fern has had no fronds for the last two years and the top of the crown is black. Is there any hope for this tree?
Answer: Short answer is no. Long answer is that the most critical part of a tree fern is its crown. If this dries out it will die very quickly. That is why you always see tree ferns struggle if they are exposed to afternoon sun. Try to plant them where they will always have good shade. They are ideal for planting on the southern side of your house, especially if they are lower than the house. If you have them planted in the garden make sure they are shaded in the afternoon. If you lose a tree that is on the western side of tree ferns you will have to make sure the crowns are watered every day during the heat of summer to ensure the crown does not die out. Some fronds will be baked but provide you keep the crown moist they will eventually re-sprout.
I had a grove of tree ferns at Pennant Hills watered by a high-rise sprinkler system. Whenever we had hot weather, I would turn on the sprinkler and keep the crowns moist. However, the tree ferns eventually grew higher than the sprinklers and one tragic summer several of them died because the sprinklers did not reach their crowns. From then on we watered the crowns by hose.
Bill Avery June 2013
Question 15: When is the best time to prune roses?
Answer: I prune existing roses in June as I can’t stand the untidy state of the plants any longer. Most sources recommend leaving it till late August or September, or until frosts are unlikely. I don’t take too much notice of that, as European and North American roses are often frost and snow affected until late spring without much detriment. It is always possible to lose some roses when pruning early but those plants are generally weak or diseased and may have died anyway. I see it as an opportunity for something better
Janine Shoemark November 2013
Question 16: When do you prune new roses?
Answer: I generally tidy up all new purchases, whether bare-rooted or potted, to remove any weak, spindly growth or crossing branches, before I plant them. New bare rooted roses will not be pruned until a full year in the ground (purchased June or July the previous year) and then will often only have a light prune the first year. It really depends on the vigour of the particular rose. A large shrub will require more pruning than a smaller bush.
New potted roses (often advanced, and sometimes several years old) can be pruned as required. A light prune in early January is beneficial, as is regular dead-heading and picking flowers with long stems.
Janine Shoemark November 2013
Question 17: Do I need to feed roses immediately after I prune them?
Answer: I feed my roses with cow manure, potash, blood and bone, Organic Life and lucerne in June, after I’ve pruned them. This allows the organic products to improve the soil, ready for the Spring rapid growth cycle. I sometimes add Sudden Impact (or similar) in late spring, depending on the weather to gain another flush of flowers in approximately 6 weeks. Roses are gross feeders, but easily damaged if commercial rose foods are not watered in well, and watered in regularly.
Janine Shoemark November 2013
Question 18: What ratio of potash, blood & bone and rose food should you apply to peonies on Anzac Day?
Answer: Dominic Wong’s advice was to fertilise both tree and herbaceous peonies on Anzac Day and Melbourne Cup Day with the following, per plant:-
· Blood and bone ( 1 large handful)
· Potash ( 2 tablespoons)
· Sudden Impact ( 2 supplied capfuls)
Also, every 3 years, you should add 1 large pot of lime to peonies in the ground.
Janine Shoemark November 2013
Question 19: Is it possible to prune an old 2.5-3 metre Bottlebrush?
Answer: I would certainly prune the Bottlebrush if it’s appearance bothered me. Pruning to half the size shouldn’t be a problem if the shrub gets sufficient light as new growth should appear on the lower section. If the shrub is thin with only new growth on the top it may be diseased or past it’s “use-by” date in which case it would possibly die anyway. Life is too short to put up with a plant that is not performing. If it dies, see it as an opportunity to replace it with something much lovelier that will give pleasure.
Janine Shoemark November 2013
Question 20: How long does it take for a Gymea Lily to flower? I grew mine from seed and after 8 years it still hasn’t flowered.
Answer: Gymea Lily Doryanthes excelsa is an unusual plant which makes a striking addition to a large garden. Each plant grows from a thickened underground stem which is gradually pulled deeper and deeper into the ground by the roots contracting during dry weather. For this reason the plants do best in deep soil. The plant forms a large clump with numerous sword-like fibrous leaves, to 1 m in length and up to 100 mm wide. The red, trumpet-like flowers each 100 mm across are borne in a compact terminal head 300 mm in diameter on a leafy flowering stem 2-4 m high. For this reason, and because they are surrounded by brown bracts, the flowers are not seen clearly from the ground. The fruit is a woody capsule which splits open on ripening in January or February to release the brown, flattened and slightly winged seeds. It is suitable for large rockeries and gardens but it must be sited with care to ensure a well-drained, deep soil, in full sun or partial shade. An ideal position would be below an elevated patio where its tall flower spike can be appreciated. The plant needs to be kept well watered. In spring a small quantity of blood and bone or a slow release fertiliser should be applied. Propagation is by division of established plants or from seed. Seed will germinate readily within 2 months if only a year or two old and is best sown in autumn. However, plants grown from seed will not flower until about 8 years of age. Although the foliage is resistant to frost damage, the developing flower buds need protection in areas of heavy frost, particularly if seed collection is planned. D. excelsa is seldom attacked by pests or diseases, although the flower-head may occasionally be damaged by birds feeding on its nectar.
Julia Rymer, Australian National Botanic Garden
Question 21: I have black spots on the top leaves of newly planted Camellias. What is it and what do I spray it with?
Answer: See .
Question 22: Leaves on recently moved azaleas are turning yellow and drooping. Any suggestions to restore healthy growth?
Answer: Transplanting azaleas is easier than transplanting other shrubs but it is not completely safe. It is often impossible to dig up every root so you have to make sure that you prune back leaf cover by a third to ensure the reduced root system can handle the load. It is also important to prune any roots that have been broken off when digging up the azalea. The hole should be at least 5-10cm wider than the root ball on all sides and the hole should be filled with a pale tea of Seasol and water. Timing of the transplant is important and is best done in late autumn or winter when the sap circulation is slowest. If, despite all this, the shrub is showing signs of stress (yellow and drooping) all you can do is keep feeding it Seasol (pale tea) and reduce the vegetation load even further.
Bill Avery March 2014
Question 23: When is the right time to take cuttings from Daphne for propagation?
Answer: Daphne likes a temperate climate with a well-drained soil, so the cuttings have a reputation for being hard to strike. Make sure they're taken in the middle of summer (try Australia Day) from new growth that can just be snapped rather than bent. They should be about 75mm long and cut just below a node. Plant them as deep as you can in a mix of two parts sand to one of good soil or peatmoss. Water, and cover with an inverted jar. Don't let them dry out. They should start to root within six weeks.
Daphne can also be propagated by layering. In January select a stem near ground level. Cut on an angle partly through the stem nearest the soil and place a matchstick in the cut to keep it open. Dig a shallow trench and peg the stem to the soil.
Bill Avery March 2014
Question 24: What do I do with long Raspberry Canes?
Answer: You must grow raspberries on a trellis. A simple trellis of two solid posts with one wire 70cm off the ground will do. Each cane grows for one season, fruits the next and dies in the third season. So, in winter all you do is cut out any dead canes and tie the new canes to the trellis, either individually or in bunches of 3-4. If they have grown too high for the wire, cut them back to 10cm above the wire or train them along the wire.
Complete Book of Fruit Growing in Australia, Glowinski
Question 25: When do you prune Berberis?
Answer: Berberis flower and set berries in autumn so it is best to prune them after the berry display has finished in June or July. If you want them to thicken up tip-pruning is best.
Helen Caughey April 2014
Question 1: What are the best perennial plants for the Upper Blue Mountains? Plants that grow well, are easy care and tough?
Answer: These are the plants that I have found to be the best:-
- Geranium Cranesbill - has mauve, pink, white and blue flowers in low mounds about 60 cm high. Grows in shade or sun.
- Campanula - in its many varieties. They come in blue, purple and white bell flowers and are available as creeping and clumping ground covers. Some have a tall flower spike. Grows in sun or light shade.
- Japanese windflowers Anemone hupehensis. Flowers profusely in autumn in pink or white and the flower spikes have different heights, Grows in sun or light shade. Note that the common pink cultivar can be invasive so corral it with shrubs.
- Aquilegia (Columbine, Granny’s Bonnet). Wide range of colours. May be grown from seed or seedlings. Large number of cultivars including miniatures. Grows in light shade.
- Bergenia (Saxifrage) is grown for leaf shape (elephant’s ear) and texture. Pink flowers late in the season. Grown in drifts and as edging. Grows in sun or shade.
- Lamb’s Ears Stachys sp.Felted grey leaves provides carpet effect and used as a contrast planting. Grows in full sun.
- Epimedium. Leaves change from light green in summer to pink bronze in autumn. Cut leaves back late in winter to reveal yellow flowers, Grows in dry shade.
- Hellebores area available in wide range of colours from pink to black (deep purple) and provide colour in the garden during winter. Prefer protected shade.
Florence Baker July 2010
Question 2: I have been trying to grow acanthus mollis in full shade and although I have put in three plants they just haven't grown at all - still only a couple of small leaves. Should I move them into semi-shade? What could I plant instead?
Answer: Acanthus mollis has several common names - Oyster Plant, Bears Paws, Bears Breeches. In some environments they are difficult to grow and may take 5 years to grow to a good display size. They can also thrive underneath pine trees in poor soil and dry conditions. However, be warned that once they are established they have very spiky flower stems, are a magnet for snails, spread very easily and are almost impossible to eradicate. I am still digging small ones out fifteen years later.
My advice is to avoid them as there are other lovely plants that you can grow in shady areas without the heartache.
Janine Shoemark July 2010
Question 3: When do I prune penstemons and how hard do I prune them?
Answer: Cut off spent flowers regularly to encourage continuous flowering. Cut about halfway down the long stem. Incidentally, they are lovely cut flowers so regular cutting keeps the plants vigorous and tidy.
In spring, cut plant back 50% to generate vigorous new growth although they may be left unpruned, if you prefer. However, they will not bloom as profusely but they will bloom earlier. After spring pruning, use organic mulch around the plant but NOT over the crown. Don’t prune in winter but leave growth to protect the crown as crown rot is the most common disease of penstemons.
Root divisions are best made in spring and prune growth on the new divisions back to 20 cm before planting.
Penstemons are a great delight from early summer until the first frosts so I would encourage you to discover them if you haven’t already experimented with these lovely, easy-care perennials with the wide colour range.
Janine Shoemark January 2011
Question 4: Could you provide suggestions for plants for a shady area under a veranda with a south-east aspect.
Answer: It is a bit difficult to be exact without knowing whether:-
· The area is completely covered.
· It is exposed to the south-easterly winds.
· It is open and airy or dry and still.
However, plants that could be used are:-
· Japanese Laurel Aucuba japonica
· Acanthus mollis
· Some camellias
· Some orchids
· Madonna Lilly
· Green Goddess Lilly
· Begonias (especially Cathedral leaves)
Ferns that may be suitable are:
· Maidenhair (but may require too much attention)
· Tree ferns
Generally ferns with “fleshy” fronds will do best.
Janine Shoemark May 2010
Question 5: Suggestions for a low growing plant for the centre strip of a driveway
Answer: This location needs low growing plants or groundcovers which would have to be very tough. They would have to cope with the heat of the car passing over them, possible tyre tracks running over them, people walking on them, etc. The question doesn't give any idea whether the driveway is in sun or shade and different plants may be needed for the different situations. So, some suggestions for mostly sunny areas are (not in any order of priority):
· Mondo grass Ophiopogon japonicus. There are a few different varieties. Some with small green leaves, some with large green leaves as well as some black-leafed ones. An interesting treatment for the driveway could be a chequerboard of black and green.
· Ajuga - this also comes in small and large varieties, and spreads well, with short spikes of blue flowers in the spring/summer.
· Sedums - there are many varieties of these and all seem pretty tough. A collection of these could look good down a driveway.
· Bergenias - often known as Saxifrage. These are large-leafed plants which spread well, and have spikes of pink flowers in winter.
· Gazanias - these would need to have plenty of sun, and the flowers come in different colours. The bright yellow ones are probably the hardiest and lowest growing.
· Seaside daisy Erigeron sp. BUT ONLY if the driveway is not where the seeds could spread into the bush.
· Prostrate Juniper Juniperus horizontalis grows to about 12" high, and can create a thick groundcover.
· Creeping Thyme is also another idea, which would give a lovely scent if trodden on.
· A good native groundcover is Blue Mountains Bidgee Widgee Acaena echinata which has a fernlike leaf and spreads rapidly. This should be trimmed along the edges of the paths.
For driveways in the shade small leafed Ivy would cover quickly, and could be clipped back on the edges to keep it neat.
Mary Coyne July 2010
Question 6: I have mildew on my indoor Maidenhair Fern. How do I get rid of it?
Answer: The most common cause of problems with Maidenhair Fern is lack of moisture. If it is in a pot, check and make sure that the potting mix does not contain peat moss or coconut fibre as these dry out very quickly. Improve the airflow but do not place in a draught and spray with 50:50 water/milk solution as this often helps with mildew. If the plant is indoors put it outside for a few weeks in a sheltered, shady position and do not let the pot dry out.
Bill Avery March 2014
Question 7: This summer I have noticed that a lot of my blue Agapanthus have changed to white. Why is this so?
Answer: Agapanthus are best used as borders or clumps and are very useful in stabilising banks because of their thick root mat. Smaller cultivars do well in pots. They are easily propagated by seed or root division and spent flowers should be cut back to the base and binned every year to stop them spreading where you don’t want them. There are sterile cultivars available such as the very attractive dark blue “Black Panther” that avoids this problem. If they don’t flower well, they may not be receiving enough sun; they could be water-stressed; or they have been recently divided. They are tolerant of drought and poor soil but do best in moist areas with a good supply of nutrients. For best results lift and divide very 4-5 years. If you grow them in pots plant them in a pot that is just big enough for the root mass. If they have too much room they may not flower as well.
The colour change is a myth. They do not change colour but seeds from the original plant are not always true to type so a white parent may produce a blue offspring and vice versa. To avoid this problem always cut back spent flowers every year and propagate by root division which will remain true to type.
Sylvia Smith August 2011
Question 8: I have many geraniums with leaves going brown and yellow. What should I do?
Answer. I have never had much luck with luck with geraniums in the mountains. Perhaps it is because it's generally too cold, too windy and often too wet here. The best option may be to consider newer stains developed with disease resistance - many new hybrids are available now.
The coloured leaves are probably due to either a fungal or bacterial disease. If fungal, remove affected leaves (sterilize tools) and treat with a fungicide every 7-14 days on a regular basis. It may be less costly, and more environmentally friendly, to buy a new plant. If bacterial, remove affected leaves as soon as possible or the plant will die rapidly.
General care of geraniums involves watering only at soil level and only when necessary. Geraniums prefer dryer conditions and can rot easily. This weakens the plant and allows diseases to take hold. They are best kept under cover in a non-Mediterranean climate such as ours. If you are really keen, consider towel drying leaves after watering to ensure dryness. Good air circulation around the plant is also important but it is best to protect them from strong winds. Plants suffer if over-fertilized, especially if the fertilizer has a high nitrogen content and the weather is too cool to allow good growth.
If the plants are in pots and not doing well, consider if the drainage is still good and whether there could be a build-up of deposits from hard water, or chemicals, in the potting mix. Sometimes repotting in a fresh, free-flowing mix is the solution.
In summary, general care to get the best results should focus on:
· Water - not too much
· Fertiliser - again not too much, and only in warm weather
· Location - dry, free-draining, and good air circulation.
Janine Shoemark July 2012
Question 9: When and how hard should my Californian Tree Poppy Romneya coulteri be pruned?
Answer. CTP is really an herbaceous perennial and this guides pruning practices. Cut the stems that have already flowered, to the ground. This is best done when flowering finishes in autumn or late winter. They won't flower again and will look scruffy. Don't remove more than half the plant at a time but pruning will encourage new growth. Allow suckers to develop at the base to thicken the clump and remove to make other plants as required.
Janine Shoemark July 2012
Question 10: Could I have some tips on growing pansies from seeds? The seedlings are becoming very expensive from nurseries.
Answer. According to the literature, pansies are easily grown from seed but I haven’t personally tried to grow them. There is a wide range of pansy seed available and some seed ranges are claimed to be more suitable for growing from seed than others. Searles recommend Colour Festival, Jumbo Giants, Regal Ruffles and Ullswater Blues. Mr Fothergills have a range of Grow Pots that include a premium seed raising mix and a sachet of seed, packaged in a coloured pot.
For autumn planting to flower in spring, seed can be sown at any time from May to early July. Sow seed in flats or pots using a good seed raising mix. Level the seed raising mix in the pot and sow the seeds on top of the mix. Then lightly cover the seeds with more seed raising mix or vermiculite and place in a location with a temperature of 150-180C to germinate. Keep the mix moist and once the seedlings are at the stage of having 2 - 3 leaves transplant them into the garden or pot them into small pots to grow on to a more advanced plant before planting out. High temperatures and fluctuating moisture levels are the usual causes of failure.
Bill Avery July 2012
Question 11: Is there a climber that will do well in total shade all year?
Answer. This is someone I can identify with. I have run out of horizontal space and constantly work on more vertical sites. In the mountains I can recommend:-
· For flowering
· Climbing hydrangea Hydrangea petiolaris
· Clematis armandii
· Japanese honeysuckle Lonicera japonica
· Any large leaved jasmine (especially Pandoreas)
· Five Leaf Akabia quinnata (this also has a delicious chocolate scent).
· For foliage only
· Virginia Creeper Vitis hederacea
· Boston Ivy Parthenocissus tricuspidata
· German Ivy (Cape Ivy) Senecio macroglossus
· Many variegated versions of Common Ivy Hedera helix as they look best in the shade, and add a sparkle of light.
Remember that many climbers originate in forests and bolt to the light, so continually tip-prune to prevent unsightly woodiness.
Janine Shoemark July 2012
Question 12: My beautiful native cycad (Macrozamia) is going yellow. It is in full sun as recommended by its planting tag. What can I do to restore it to health?
Answer: Cycads Macrozamia communis are endemic to NSW and may be found along a large section of the coast from Taree to Bega and adjacent slopes. They may also be found on the ridges of the Great Divide. They do best in stabilised sand dunes close to the ocean and on the steep hillsides and slopes of coastal ranges. They are normally found in open forest or tall open forest communities and they grow in large groups hence the name communis.
The plants on the South Coast grow bigger and stronger than their counterparts on the North Coast and they appear to handle frosts as Bega, surprisingly, has 61 frost days per year. However rainfall in the Bega coastal region is much lower than the Blue Mountains 897 mm (94 rain-days) vs 1414 mm and the rainfall is spread evenly over the year.
· open, sandy soil.
· Very good drainage. If grown in a pot make sure it is on feet not in a saucer.
· Open position so wind and sun can get at it.
Sylvia Smith August 2011
Question 13: What are the best herbaceous perennials to grow in the Blue Mountains?
Answer: Such Joys! Certainly not easy care, or for the gardener that chooses a year round permanent static display, but a fabulous seasonal abundance offering exciting changing palettes. Herbaceous is a slightly untidy term that refers to soft, quick growing, short lived greenery and is easily left off any description in favour simply of the term perennial. Perennials are best described as non-woody plants, lasting many years, but disappearing from the surface at certain times of the year, mostly in Winter. Bulbs are technically also perennials as they have a fast early growth pattern, flower and then fade away.
Perennials offer a wonderful opportunity for a constantly changing colour palette, size and structure in a relatively small space. A perennial bed or border can be viewed as a layered cake, with bulbs at the bottom and a succession of plants planted near each other, at recommended depths, to rise to the surface as their own needs and growth habits dictate.
In my garden, one bed offers the excitement of the first of the late Winter bulbs, followed by a variety of hellebores and Spring bulbs. As the bulb foliage starts to die down, aquilegias spring to life and cover. Then, when spent, these are trimmed to ground level. Salvias and plectranthus rapidly fill the area with abundance. Re-emerging aquilegia and hellebore foliage adds contrast throughout. Around Anzac Day, it all starts to look untidy so a big trim is in order.
Other of my garden favourites include bergamot, lilies, hostas, sedums, penstemons and, not to my personal taste, but some that do have a place in other gardens include acanthus, gaura, linaria and veronicas. The great joy of perennials is following the change of seasons with their displays. In general, spring is the time of rapid, fresh growth and this contrasts markedly with other garden beds displaying winter ravaged evergreens. Summer is an extravagance of display in either flowers (usually bright) or sensational foliage. Autumn gives fading, mellow foliage and quite a few die back gracefully leaving interesting frameworks and seed heads that have their own magic in frosty conditions. Winter is mostly a time of dormancy - for the plants, but not the gardeners.
Perennials generally need attention in spring to stake, restrain or tie up plants as many have rapid, therefore soft, growth that needs some support. Summer is often the time least attention is required other than watering, and autumn the season of the big trim – a valuable resource for the avid composter. Winter is the time to move plants to alter the display – see it as a living and ever changing artwork. It is also the time to divide existing clumps to extend the garden, share with friends and bring divisions to the garden club plant stall. Winter and Autumn are usually the best time to plant, or transplant new plants – especially as keen gardeners will want “one of every colour” of a favoured perennial growing well in their location. This allows the “power-house” of the root system to establish before the Spring growth bursts into action.
Many gardeners start with personal favourites in a small area and then add different varieties/colours and eventually, with trial and error, will develop a succession of plants to give an almost year round display in a continuous wave. We were very fortunate to have the opportunity to see Sarah’s double perennial border at “Hillandale” recently with a Garden Club Tour (many thanks Sharon and Lynton!). In my opinion, this delightful border is equal to the “greats” at Great Dixter and Sissinghurst in size, diversity, strength, health and suitability for the site. It is a true inspiration for us all to take ideas and adapt them to our own garden setting.
Janine Shoemark March 2013
Question 14: Why doesn’t my Lily-of-the Valley flower?
Answer: According to all the gardening notes Lily-of-the-Valley Convolaria majalis is a wonderful, small and hardy groundcover plant for shady, moist spots, especially south facing borders and garden beds. The little dark green leafed plant can survive in very cold climates and is therefore best suited to cool temperate and cold locations where shade and dampness prevail. They are very popular due to their sweetly scented, creamy, bell shaped flowers on short stems of 10 to 20cm being picked for vases and wedding bouquets. They should thrive in soils with a ph of 5.5 to 7 (acidic-neutral.
In other words they should flourish in the Blue Mountains. However, my experience with this plant has been similar to the questioner. I planted them but they never flowered! So what are we doing wrong? While the literature states that they like full shade, I suspect that in our climate dappled shade might be preferred. I have noticed them growing well in some gardens under tree canopies along paths. The literature also states that they like cold damp, shady spots with plenty of compost and leaf mulch but the plant grows from a rhizome (which is how it spreads) and too much water will cause the rhizome to rot. Conversely the rhizome should not be allowed to totally dry out in summer otherwise it will die. This means that during dry summers you will need to water them regularly. They also need a dose of liquid fertilizer now and then but you should avoid over-fertilizing as the excessive nitrogen from animal manures (especially Dynamic Lifter) will cause excessive leaf growth rather than flowers. Finally, remember that they die back in summer and may take a couple of years to establish.
Just a word of warning. Lily-of-the Valley is toxic to humans and animals so if you have adventurous grandchildren who might take a nibble, I would avoid planting them. Also, in the right micro-climate they can become very invasive although I have never seen them in our bushland. However, in parts of the United States they are considered a weed!
Bill Avery July 2012
Question 15: What are the best groundcovers for the Blue Mountains?
Answer: As a one-man gardener with occasional paid hired help I decided very early on that I was not going to be a slave to lawn. I didn’t want to spend time and energy or pay someone several times a summer to cut the four lawns on my property. Lawns may be satisfying but they are high maintenance as they require a lot of watering, weeding and fertilising. They are also often unattractive, especially in long hot summers when they may turn brown.
I subsequently removed all the lawns by spraying with a grass and weed killer, covered the area with a good top soil, and then a layer of good mulch while I sought advice on groundcovers. I waited a month or so before planting any groundcovers, but we've had a lot of rain over the past 4 years and this helped enormously with the planting and establishment. I don't have much trouble with snails, and I don't have to mulch much.
The huge variety of groundcovers is quite amazing. There is at least two or three for every aspect and I have found that a plant will last if the aspect is correct even if soil type and fertilizing is inefficient. I lost some plants in the initial stages mostly due to incorrect aspect. I’ve planted as many varieties as possible and have found the natives the most hardy, bird-attracting, low maintenance, water saving and in some cases they have spread so significantly that I have had to trim them back. In addition bulbs, and other plants will grow between some groundcovers and create colour all year round.
My favourites are the mossy-type mounds often used in Japanese gardens. They spread very well, love the hot sun and remain green and beautiful all year round. One such Scleranthus Biflorus is particularly satisfying as it maintains its shape, is a beautiful green, and small pieces can be transplanted to encourage a stronger cover. I am particularly happy with Climatis petriei x marmoria, a low-growing groundcover Clematis. It has masses of white flowers, remains green all year and I have planted mine on a specially built mound so that it cascades and eventually will run along the ground.
My planting was haphazard, I never started in one corner or any place specific especially with the small covers that take time to establish, because the plant may spread too far, I gave them space to move, and of course my main concern was aspect suitable to the plant. I bought about half a dozen up front but most of the time it was trial and error to make sure I got the aspect correct for the plant and the type of plant assumed whether I wanted a large area covered, which way it was going to grow and how much space it would want to take up.
It took time for the ground cover to establish in the lawn areas and again how much space did I want to cover?? I have shrubs growing in between the covers so I get an overall cover with shrubs (Azaleas, Rhodos, etc) to take up the space left by the removal of lawn. I planted the shrubs first, then the groundcovers.
As with every plant one must be patient to allow groundcovers to establish. Some groundcovers grow very fast, are hardy and require little maintenance. Others are more demanding. I found the natives the most accommodating as they seem to grow faster than the exotics. Any nursery will give good advice but you have to have in mind exactly where the cover is going to go so you get the aspect right. I bought them from everywhere I could and made sure they would grow in the mountains by only buying frost tolerant species.
I had some trouble with the old grass coming back but I persisted and every time a weed or grass showed up it was pulled out. - I was vigilant but now I have minimal weeding.
There is no end to the versatility of ground covers and I have listed a few and urge the reader to try some. I don’t always follow the advice on the card especially if recommended to plant in a rockery, because I don’t have one but I do pay attention to aspect, sun tolerance and watering. I can highly recommend groundcovers for the gardener who wants to spend more time with other gardening activities rather than cutting the lawn:-
· Scleranthus biflorus. Mound forming evergreen groundcover.
· Juniperus taxifolia. Hardy evergreen hrub, with very prostrate ground hugging habit.
· Sagina subulata. Evergreen mat forming perennial w small dark leaves, small white flowers.
· Grevillea “Royal Mantle”. Hardy evergreen groundcover, green/bronze lobed foliage, burgundy flowers.
· Hibbertia pedunculata. Evergreen small shrub that can grow sprawling to prostrate.
· Pachysandra terminalis. Low evergreen , tiny white flowers, excellent groundcover
· Myoporium parvifolium. Native groundcover, also masses of tiny white flowers. Also known as Creeping Boobialla.
· Silene uniflora ‘Rosea’. Prostrate groundcover, silver grey leaves, pink bell-shaped flowers.
· Clematis petriei x marmoria. Low-growing groundcover, masses of white flowers.
· Clematis x cartmanii “Sweetheart”. Hardy evergreen, climber or groundcover, masses of flowers.
· Veronica “Oxford Blue” Marvellous densely leaved groundcover with small blue flowers.
· Rosa “Meidiland”. Easy care groundcover rose, hardy, long flowering low maintenance.
· Cerastium tomentosum Snow in Summer. Fast growing prostrate.
· Hardenbergia violacea. if simply planted in ground will sprawl and curl round itself.
· Lamium maculatum. Excellent groundcover, pink, white & purple flower.
· Ajuga. Forms compact dense mat, violet flowers, many cultivars.
· Convolvulus Blue. Tiny blue flowers. Spreads easily, covers well.
· Acacia cognata. Small, mounding form of acacia.
Janice Light October 2013
Question 16: What aquatic plants will grow in the Blue Mountains?
Answer: Water garden plants are divided into three main categories: submerged, marginal, and floating. Most plants provide oxygen to the water and absorb nutrients from the water.
Submerged plants are those that live almost completely under the water, sometimes with leaves or flowers that grow to the surface such as with the waterlily. These plants are placed in a pond or container usually 1-2 ft (0.30-0.61 m) below the water surface. The roots serve only to anchor these plants as all nutrients come from the water and are absorbed by the leaves. These plants create oxygen for the fish that live in a pond. Examples of submerged plants are:
- Waterlily (Hardy and Tropical)
Marginal plants are those that live with their roots under the water but the rest of the plant above the surface. These are usually placed so that the top of the pot is at or barely below the water level. Examples of these are:
- Iris or Flag Iris spp.
- Water-crowfoot Ranunculus fluitans
- Bulrush Scirpus lacustris
- Cattail Typha latifolia
- Taro Colocasia esculenta
- Arrowhead Sagittaria latifolia
- Lotus Nelumbo spp.
- Pickerelweed Pontederia cordata
Floating plants are not anchored to the soil at all, but are free-floating on the surface. In water gardening, they are often used as a provider of shade to reduce algal growth in a pond and they often grow/multiply very quickly. These plants feed directly from the water through their roots so no additional fertilizer is necessary. You will need to occasionally thin out floating plants so that no more than 60% of the pond's surface is covered to allow sunlight to reach fish and other vegetation in the pond. Examples of these are:
- Mosquito fern Azolla spp.
- Water Spangle Salvinia spp.
- Water Clover Marsilea vestita
- Water Lettuce Pistia stratiotes
- Water Hyacinth Eichhornia crassipes
General Planting Tips
- Line pots with newspaper to stop the soil leaking out of the bottom holes.
- Fill the container about one-third full of good quality potting mixture or if available specific water plant potting mixture, then place the roots of the plant in the soil and continue to fill while holding the plant at the correct height in the pot
- Do not plant too deeply.
- You can add several plants of the same type into a single pot if you want a fuller look.
- Water the plant to settle the soil around the roots and allow excess water to drain off.
- If the plant will go into a pond/water garden with fish, use rainwater or de-chlorinated water, as the chlorine in tap water irritates fish gills.
- To stop the soil washing out of the pot, add a layer of river pebbles or pea gravel as top dressing.
As mentioned earlier, the various types of water plants will tolerate a specific height of water above their crown. The "crown" of a plant is the point at which the stem and roots join. Accommodate plants that need shallower water by building "shelves" in the pond to lift them to the correct height. Typically, marginal plants will have about 5cm of water above their crowns, and one way of elevating them is to use pavers or bricks. Ensure that the pavers or bricks are clean before putting them in your water garden.
Algae can be a problem, often growing in very high densities in ponds because of the high nutrient levels that are typical of garden ponds. Generally algae attach to the sides of the pond and remain innocuous. Some species of algae, such as "blanket weed", can grow up to a foot a day under ideal conditions and can rapidly clog a pond. On the other hand, free-floating algae are microscopic and are what cause pond water to appear green. Blanket weed is actually a sign that the water is clean and well balanced, although it is unsightly. Green water (free-floating algae] means there are too many nutrients in the water, usually from rotting vegetation or too many fish for the space. Some blanket or string algae removal can be achieved manually, through scooping with your hands, or using various tools such as sieves, nets and screens to scoop them up. Sometimes a stick may be the simplest tool. Just twirl the stick around and you'll find that the algae will start to wind up on to the stick. Introducing more plants into the pond can help control green water algae. By doing so, you create more competition for both the available sunlight and also the amount of freely available nutrients in the water. Frequent, partial water changes (10% - 25%) will also help as this is a good way of diluting nutrients and toxins in the pond water. Additionally, you can introduce aquatic pond snails and tadpoles to your pond. Pond snails eat algae. Tadpoles not only eat algae but also mosquitoes and other insect larvae. However, tadpoles grow into frogs and can croak loudly at night, disturbing your sleep.
Narelle January 2014
Question 17: Are there frost-resistant ground covers?
Answer: Yes there are. See Question 15 above. I would also add that I have found Boobialla to be susceptible to hard frost.
Editor February 2014
Question18: How do I remove Mondo Grass that is spreading into my beds?
Answer: Mondo Grass Othiopogon japonicus is a hardy plant which will tolerate very dry conditions and is frost tolerant. It is not actually a grass but a lily. However it spreads underground and is excellent for filling in large, shady areas where grasses do not grow well. This becomes a problem if you have planted it as a border, especially if you have used the normal cultivar rather than the dwarf cultivar “Nana”. If you spray it with glyphosate (Roundup) you will kill the border as well as the errant outcrops so it is best to dig along the border edge with a sharp spade to sever the connections and then dig it up to give to neighbours, friends or the garden club plant sale. If necessary you can spray the wanderers with glyphosate and you should not affect the border (unless you overspray). The tuber of Mondo Grass is used in traditional Chinese medicine as the cardinal herb for yin deficiency.
Bill Avery March 2014
Question 19: What is the best position for orchids and bromeliads in winter?
Answer: Cymbidium orchids need a protected position away from strong hot sun, heavy winds and direct frost. The perfect environment should be warm, airy and bright and preferably off the ground. Northern facing verandas and covered patios are excellent as most of our cold weather comes from the south-west. However, cymbidiums do not like temperatures below 40C so on really cold days you may have to bring them indoors. Glasshouses and fibreglass roofed shade-houses will produce the best results. Whether they are in a glasshouse or under the eaves you must pay close attention to the potting mix to ensure that it doesn’t dry out. Look at the mix in the pot. If the top is moist watering is not required. If the pot is cold or has moisture on it then it may be okay for another day or two. As a guide use the following:
Summer: 2-3 times per week. Daily or twice daily in hot weather.
Autumn: 1-2 times per week. Slightly more often if warmer.
Winter: Once per week or two.
Spring: 1-2 times per week. Slightly more often if warmer.
Many bromeliads have similar requirements to cymbidiums but there are cold climate bromeliads and a list of these may be found on
Bill Avery March 2014
Question 20: My Gladioli set buds but don't flower. Why?
Answer: Gladioli are tough plants but they do require a location that provides full sun away from larger shrubs or plants to grow strong stems with large, bright flowers. They also need water throughout the growing season Lack of water may cause shorter spikes, smaller florets, and smaller corms for next season. Moisture availability is very important when flower spikes are beginning to form. At least 25mm of water is needed each week for good growth, provided the water soaks in 150-200 mm deep.
Bill Avery March 2014
Question 21: What is the best Lavender to grow in the Upper Blue Mountains?
Answer: There are four main groups of lavender. English lavender Lavandula angustifolia is known as true lavender, and is typically used in the production of potpourri and oil. Italian lavender Lavandula stoechas has two brilliantly coloured 'wings' at the top of each flower. French lavender Lavandula dentata is a large and billowy shrub with grey-green serrated leaves and a flat, furry-spiked purple flower. Winged lavender Lavandula 'Sidonie' has ferny foliage and forked flowers.
Due to its Mediterranean origins, lavender prefers hot summers, dry winters and a slightly alkaline soil. The alkaline soil may be overcome by an annual dressing of dolomite and our cool winters are best handled by English Lavender “Bee” which has been bred in Australia to withstand our humid summers. This cultivar is planted at Snowy River Lavender near Berridale which has a similar elevation to the Upper Blue Mountains. Unfortunately, the only nurseries that grow it are in Lilydale Victoria (Di’s Delightful Plants, Larkman Nurseries) but you can order them on the Internet
The key to growing lavender in cool climates is not necessarily mild temperature but limiting moisture all year round so plant them in the driest, sunniest, best drained location available and keep them away from spray or drip irrigation.
Question 22: What should we do with potted outdoor chrysanthemums when the flowers die off?
Answer: Most people acquire a chrysanthemum when they are given a potted plant on Mother’s Day. In a pot, a chrysanthemum plant lasts for a few weeks inside. Keep it in a brightly lit position and water when dry. Pick off any dead flowers or discoloured leaves. When flowering has finished, take it outside, cut it back to 15cm and plant it out in your garden.
When choosing a spot, bear in mind that potted chrysanthemums may have been treated with a growth regulator to keep them dwarf and compact, so they are likely to grow much taller in the ground. Chrysanthemums grow best in an open, protected, sunny position, although they can tolerate partial shade from afternoon sun. They tend to prefer well-drained soil that has been improved with the addition of compost and other organic matter. To perform well, they also must be fed regularly with a liquid fertiliser every four to six weeks. At planting, add some organic, slow-release fertiliser such as pelletised chicken manure.
Question 1: I have tried to grow fritillarias without much success. What is the best location for them and how should I look after them?
Answer: Fritillaries are reasonably hardy but need a cold winter to flower which is why they are seen occasionally in Blue Mountains gardens and not in Sydney. Whilst their flowers are very attractive they have an unusual “foxy” perfume. The two most common fritillaries are Crown Imperial and Snakes Head while Fritillaria persica is occasionally seen:-
· Crown Imperial Fritillaria imperialis stands about a metre high and has a circle of flowers at the end of the stem surmounted by a crown of leaves.
· Snakes Head Fritillaria meliagris is much lower (about 25-35cm) and has an inverted, goblet-shaped flower that has a purple, white or green chequered appearance that looks a little like snake scales.
· Fritillaria Persica is about a metre high and has up to 25 purple, bell-shaped flowers along its stem.
Plant them in early autumn in a well-drained position with soil that is rich in organic matter. Woodland conditions under deciduous trees would be ideal. They usually come in a pot or surrounded by a water-conserving fibrous sheath as the fleshy scales on the bulb must not dry out. Therefore, they should be planted immediately you receive them. Paradoxically, once they are in the ground the biggest danger is too much water as they will rot if the soil becomes water-logged. Dig a hole 12cm deep for Snakes Head and 20cm deep for Crown Imperials. Spread 3-4cm of coarse sand in the bottom of the hole and lay the bulb sideways and then cover it with another 3-4cm of coarse sand before filling up the hole with soil.
Only water in the growing season but do not water in their dormant summer season. Every 2-3 years apply mulch and well-rotted compost when they have died down.
Sylvia Smith January 2011
Question 2: Can I leave bulbs in pots over summer?
Answer: Bulbs should be left to die back naturally whether they are in pots or in the ground. Once the leaves have completely died down, you can lift them at any time that suits you. However, daffodils do not flower a second time if planted in pots so you have to lift them and re-plant in the garden. The most convenient time to do that is in January or February so you can hang the bulbs up to dry out before re-planting in the garden in April when the soil is cooler. It may take a season or two before they begin to flower properly after re-planting. Tulips must also be lifted from pots every year but they can be re-planted in the pot. I am currently experimenting with lifting tulips from pots and re-planting them at twice the normal depth (bulb size x 4) in the garden to see if they will flower for several seasons without lifting.
Bill Avery March 2014
Question 1: What is the preferred grass in the Upper Blue Mountains?
Answer: Tall fescue is the best grass to grow as grasses like couch and buffalo die back in winter and your lawn will turn brown although it will recover in late spring and summer. The turf farms in Windsor do not stock this turf as it will not grow in warmer areas. However there are turf farms at Bathurst and Orange that grow this turf. Like all cool-climate grasses, tall fescue is susceptible to hot spells in summer but if you keep the water up to it during these periods you will be rewarded with a lush green lawn throughout the year.
Dave Cullen D&J Lawn Care March 2014
Question 2: I have winter grass (looks like paspalum) amongst my buffalo lawn. Can I spray it with something that won’t kill buffalo?
Answer: The active ingredient in many lawn weed killers is often Dicamba, which will damage or even kill Buffalo grass. However there are other weed-killers that are safe to use on Buffalo lawns. Ypu should always purchase a product that is is clearly labelled as safe for use on Buffalo grass. If the product is not clearly labelled as safe for Buffalo grass, the you should check the label for the active ingredient in the herbicide:
- MCPA and Bromoxynil based herbicides are generally safe for use on Buffalo grass.
- Dicamba based herbicides are never safe to use on Buffalo grass.
Once you have selected a safe spray to use make sure that you dilute it according to the manufacturer’s specifications on the product label. Some weeds are quite robust and some have masses of seeds already in the soil so if weeds re-emerge or are still alive after spraying repeat the spraying in 2 weeks. As with all weed killers, never spray any herbicide on a lawn until week after its last lawn mowing. The open wounds created from mowing will quickly absorb any herbicide, and will quickly damage or kill any lawn type, not just Buffalo. If possible do not mow until a week after spraying to allow the weeds to take up the herbicide before it is removed with lawn mowing.
To remove winter grass from buffalo lawns you must spray at the right time of year. Winter grass germinates in May so that is the best time to spray - before it actually emerges from the lawn. You can still kill winter grass in June but the later you leave it, the less effective the spraying will be and spraying in July or August is a waste of time.
Finally, some bad news. If you have kikuyu or paspalum in your buffalo lawn there is no alternative except to dig it out whenever and wherever you see it. MCPA and Bromoxynil based herbicides will not kill kikuyu or paspalum. Any selective weedkiller for kikuyu or paspalum will also kill your buffalo.
Buffalo Lawncare web site March 2014
Question 3: Why do you have to feed Buffalo Grass differently from other grasses?
Answer: It doesn't matter whether you're fertilising Sir Walter, Palmetto, Shademaster, Sapphire, Matilda or any of the other Buffalo grasses, the requirements for fertilising all Buffalo lawns is almost exactly the same as fertilising any other turf variety. Despite the myths, you do not need to pay more for a special Buffalo grass fertiliser. The main reason that Buffalo lawns lose their colour throughout the year is due to lack of fertiliser. Soft leaf Buffalo grasses like Sir Walter become extremely pale when lawn fertilising is forgotten or neglected and buffalo lawns will not recover quickly from their winter die-back unless they are fertilised with a winter fertiliser. So apply a quality lawn fertiliser at manufacturers recommended application rates in the following months:
- January (if lawn is growing at a healthy rate this fertilising may be skipped)
Switch to a quality winter fertiliser (less growth nutrients and more nutrients for leaf greenness and health) for the following months:
Turf should be watered as soon as possible after fertilising. This is due to the Nitrogen in fertiliser which can burn the leaf of the turf if left to sit on top of the lawn for too long. This is more dangerous during the hot months so the hotter the day, the sooner the fertiliser should be watered into the buffalo lawn to avoid possible damage to the turf.
Soft Buffalo lawns have a higher than average requirement for Iron, which is a Trace Element which should be found in all quality lawn fertilisers. Your Buffalo turf will need an Iron supplement with an Iron Chelate, or Trace Elements supplement at least once per year to help the lawn maintain its dark green colour and these products can be purchased rather cheaply at all lawn care and garden stores.
You do not need a special Buffalo grass fertiliser. Purchase a high quality fertiliser from a respectable fertiliser manufacturer at a fair price. However, you should avoid Feed ‘n Weed as a fertiliser on a Buffalo lawn as it contains a herbicide that will damage or kill Buffalo grass.
Buffalo Lawncare web site March 2014
Question 4: How do get rid of moss in my lawn?
Answer: Moss loves acidic soil while grass prefers a slightly alkaline soil. Most mountain soils are naturally acidic which is why moss grows so quickly here. To eliminate sprinkle with lime or dolomite and the moss will turn black when it is dead. Rake it off and re-seed any bare areas with lawn seed in spring of summer. Most (but not all) mosses are unaffected by glyphosate (Roundup) as it works by absorption through leaves and mosses don’t have any leaves. Moss will return as the soil turns acidic again (its natural condition) so treatment is a continual process.
Bill Avery March 2014
Question 5: I have lovely moss in my lawn and I prefer it to grass. How do I encourage the moss and get rid of the grass quickly?
Answer: There are thousands of species of plants in the Bryopsida genus, which encompasses the mosses. These plants vary widely in colour and texture, but all of them are nonvascular, meaning that they lack familiar structures like leaves and flowers. Mosses also do not produce seeds; they reproduce using spores which are dispersed on the wind. Mosses have been around for at least 450 million years and they are extremely hardy; moss can be found flourishing in extreme cold, for example.
For more than a century, moss has been anathema to homeowners and gardeners. Type “moss” and “lawn” on an Internet search engine and you’ll find more ways to kill it than create it. But in recent years, this humble, hardy plant has been growing in popularity as an alternative to the traditional lawn. Moss, which grows fast and hugs the ground, prevents soil erosion. Its density repels weeds. Rabbits do not snack on it. It can be walked on. Even when it looks dead, a splash of water can restore it to emerald health within minutes. It doesn’t need fertilizer (lacking a root system, it takes nutrients from water and air). All it needs, in fact, are shade, moisture (though not large amounts of water) and poor-quality acidic soil.
Many landscape architects predict that the use of native and drought-resistant plants like moss as a sustainable substitute for grass will be a major design trend in the next 10 years as a moss lawn needs a fraction of the water required for a traditional grass lawn.
Moss also loves acidic soil while grass prefers a slightly alkaline soil. Most mountain soils are naturally acidic which is why acid-loving shrubs like azaleas, rhododendrons and camellias do so well here. So whatever you do, don’t sprinkle lime on your moss or fertilise with mushroom compost. Similarly most (but not all) mosses are unaffected by glyphosate (Roundup) as it works by absorption through leaves and mosses don’t have any leaves. Conversely glyphosate kills grasses and weeds. However, it is best to use a weaker solution of glyphosate than normal and test it on a patch of lawn/grass to make sure. It can be confusing because if you let weeds grow thickly over your moss and then poison them, the moss sometimes disappears. Probably it died off before you sprayed the weeds.
If you want to grow moss from scratch, first select a moss which you find attractive. Try to use a local moss that is growing in similar conditions to your location. If you want to grow moss on stone planters or flagstones, for example, look for a moss which is already growing on rock. Collect a handful of the moss, shaking off as much dirt as possible in the process. Add the moss to a blender along with a half teaspoon of sugar and one cup of beer, or yogurt. Blend the moss mixture until it is just combined, and the moss has been broken up. Spread the mixture where you want the moss to grow, ideally somewhere cool, shady, and damp. If you're spreading the moss mixture on soil, make sure that the soil is tightly packed, acidic and free of leaves, weeds and other debris. Don’t fertilise the soil beforehand but rake in a little compost. Moss growth will usually emerge within a few weeks. Keep in mind that moss grows slowly, so try not to be impatient.
Mosses are shade lovers and they will tolerate partial sun, but not prolonged afternoon sun. They are drought-tolerant once established, but require watering, misting, or sprinkling for the first two to four months. Once established, moss requires little care beyond being kept moist and free of leaves. As you often grow a moss lawn in a shady area this can be a problem but if the trees are deciduous you can solve the problem by stretching a bird net 15-30cms above the lawn and collecting the leaves every week or so from the net in autumn. In our climate, mosses dry off in summer unless they are kept moist. While they don’t die they do turn brown (some species even turn black) but they will quickly respond if a light spray is used.
Bill Avery January 2011
Question 6: How do I remove clover from my lawn?
Answer: If your lawn is fescue or couch then spray with Yates Weed ‘n Feed or sprinkle on the granular form of this selective weedkiller during dry weather. If you have a lot of clover then you may have to repeat this after 2 weeks. However, if you have a buffalo lawn you cannot use Weed ‘n Feed as it will kill the buffalo. In this case you need a selective weedkiller that does not contain Dicamba. Check the label to make sure it is based on MCPA or Bromoxynil. Yates Lush concentrate (now replaced by Yates Buffalo Pro concentrate) is recommended by Buffalo Lawncare web site.
Bill Avery March 2014
Question 1: Why are my cauliflower florets turning green or purple instead of creamy white? The plants are healthy and lush.
Answer. The good news is that this is not a disease, fungus, or pest. Some cauliflower varieties have a genetic propensity to produce a higher concentration of red, purple, or blue pigments. This is the same harmless, water soluble pigment found in eggplant, red cabbage, berries, plums and grapes. In other varieties of cauliflower the colourless or white pigments will predominate. Purpling may develop in white varieties of cauliflower if the heads are exposed to lots of light while developing.
If the cauliflower has a lot of purpling it is probably best to use it raw for relishes or salads. Heat may induce a colour change from purple to gray or slate blue, especially if the cooking water has an alkaline pH. If you prefer your cooked cauliflower to be white add a little vinegar or cream of tartar to the water.
To prevent cauliflower florets from turning purple or green, simply draw the surrounding leaves up and over the cauliflower head. Tie the leaves together with garden twine or rubber bands. That's all there is to it, and there will be no further colouring of the florets.
Bill Avery July 2012
Question 2: My "Sydney Crimson" rhubarb only has green stems. How can I encourage it to produce red stems?
Answer: One of my favourite desserts is rhubarb and custard while apple & rhubarb crumble runs neck-and-neck with apple pie in the pantheon of desserts. Originally the roots were used in Chinese herbal medicine almost 5000 years ago but were not introduced into Europe until the 1800s!
They are easy to grow and the green-stemmed varieties are ideally suited to our mountain climate although they die down completely in winter. Rhubarb growth is greatly influenced by day length and temperature. In autumn, shortening days gradually induce dormancy, especially with the thick, green-stemmed varieties. Leaves finally disappear leaving swollen roots just beneath the surface. These roots not only resist intense cold, but actually need to go through a period of intense chilling so they can send up sprouts again. Some rhubarb roots actually benefit from being frozen solid during winter! If you lived in Queensland you would have to lift the clumps in June, wash the roots and then stick them in the freezer for a month to obtain good yields.
There are dozens of rhubarb varieties and the green-stemmed varieties, such as Victoria, only produce green stems and cannot be made to turn red, although extra-cold conditions may turn lower stems slightly pink. The red-stemmed forms, such as Wandin Red and Sydney Crimson, are popular partly because of the brilliant, ruby-red colour and tartness. Also because, unlike green-stem forms, they continue to produce sticks all year round although this may not occur in our cold, dry winters.
So, if your rhubarb stems are not turning green they may not be true Sydney Crimson. How come? Well, punnets of rhubarb from a big nursery or retailer are mainly grown from seed. Unlike many plants that remain true to type from seed, rhubarb doesn’t. So even though the punnet has a “Sydney Crimson” tag with a pretty picture of red stalks, the reality is that the seedlings are likely to be a mix of different colours ranging from red to green. The only way to be sure that you are buying “Sydney Crimson” or “Wandin Red” is to buy a dormant crown from a reputable supplier or, better still obtain a crown from a friend or neighbour who will vouch for their redness and tartness.
Rhubarb divisions are called crowns and many nurseries sell them from May until late August and there are numerous Australian Internet suppliers. Try to choose crowns which have at least two eyes or buds. Avoid any that have shrivelled and become dry. Location is most important. Rhubarb plants have enormous leaves and in Australia's powerful sunlight the plants can wilt dramatically during sunny weather. So plant in part shade, especially out of the afternoon sun. Rhubarbs are gross feeders and need a combination of extremely fertile, heavily enriched soil and excellent drainage. Best results will come from enormous quantities of well-rotted animal manure mixed with blood and bone and enriched with plenty of diluted fish emulsion. In short, it is virtually impossible to over-feed rhubarb, provided the plants are kept well watered in summer. Prepare your planting area a month before planting by cultivating the soil and digging in a full barrow-load of manures and fertilisers. Plant the crowns about a metre apart and just deep enough for the buds to be level with the surface. Keep them watered during spring and summer and great masses of new stalks will appear. During the first growing season don't pull any sticks. This allows new plants to develop deep-probing root systems. During following years up to half the stalks may be pulled, provided the plants are kept well watered and every couple of months more ancient manure is added as a mulch around the plants. It is essential to pull rhubarb sticks properly not cut them. Grasp the stem and tug upwards and outwards, away from the centre of the crown. The entire stalk and flattened base must come away without breaking.
After several years in one spot, most crowns start to become congested, producing large numbers of thin, weak sticks, smaller leaves and flower spikes. Time to divide! Dig up the entire crown in June and chop it apart with a sharp, heavy spade. Make sure there are two eyes for each division, re-plant the healthiest crowns and discard all old, blackened exhausted material.
Bill Avery July 2012
Question 3: How do I grow broad beans?
Answer: As Margaret Stevens from Longview advised us last month, it is important to plant out winter vegetable seedlings and sow seeds as soon as possible while the ground is still warm.
The winter vegetable garden can be very productive. The bonus is that generally there are fewer insects and pests with which to contend. All winter vegetables are best grown in a well dug over garden bed with plenty of manure, compost and blood and bone or complete fertiliser. Providing a rich soil structure up front will greatly improve your crop. If you are preparing the garden bed for peas, beans and broad beans also add two handfuls of lime per square meter. Broad beans are one of the easiest plants to grow and they like a cool climate.
Broad beans are shelled beans with large, flat seeds. There are several types of broad beans and a good deal of variety in both the size of seeds and their colour (white, beige, brown, purple and black). March till early May is the ideal time to plant out broad beans, though if you have a warm micro-climate or greenhouse cover this can be extended till early June. Staged planting is best - every 3 weeks from late March until the start of June. Sow seeds direct 5-10cm deep, 20cm apart. You will need to stake or support with perimeter twine. They do not like wind and will benefit from protection.
The first beans should be ready to pick at the end of August and continue up until the beginning of November. The pods should be 6-8 cm long. When the beans are in full flower pinch out the tender top by 8cm to reduce the chance of blackfly infestation and to make the pods fill out. The tops can then be boiled and eaten. Keep the plants well watered during dry periods. Beans begin to ripen from the base of the plant up, so check the lower part of the vine from early spring. Pick the pods when the beans inside them have swollen. Some can be picked at an earlier stage for cooking whole. Do not allow the beans to become leathery and pliable as these are too old and will be tough.
Broad beans mainly suffer from fungal diseases and the main disease is chocolate spot. At the first sight of these brown spots, spray with Yates Liquid Coffer Fungicide. Also watch out for pests such as aphids, caterpillars and nematodes. The picked beans will store for around a week in a cool dry place. You can also freeze and dry broad beans.
Sources: Growing shoots, peas and beans by Richard Bird, Working Manual for Gardeners by Jane Edmanson and ABC Gardening Australia website
Narellle Nolan April 2013
Question 4: How do I grow Brussel Sprouts?
Answer: Those who love Brussels sprouts are adamant that they are a delicacy. They need to be lightly cooked, retaining a vivid green colour. They describe them as having a delicious nutty flavour that lends itself to pairing with chestnuts or walnuts, crispy bacon, or butter and some fresh pepper. There is no dispute that they are good for you, so you may want to give them a go in your garden.
Plant seedlings in full sun or partial shade. Choose a patch in your garden where there hasn’t been plantings of the cabbage-family (cabbage, kale, cauliflower, and broccoli) for 3 years. You will experience less pests and diseases. Sprouts grow well in soil that has previously grown peas and beans. As with all vegetables it is very important that the soil is rich and well prepared. Plant 45 to 60 cm apart and 60cm to 1 m between rows. Use mulch to hinder weeds. Give sprouts steady moisture, especially if the air temperatures rises over 260Cs because hot, dry spells will stunt sprout formation.
The edible sprouts grow like buds in a spiral array on the side of long thick stalks of approximately 60 to 120 cm in height, maturing over several weeks from the lower to the upper part of the stalk. Strip the leaves off the stem just above and below the young sprout buttons to help them develop. Pinch off top leaves to encourage side growth. This will help channel the plant's energy into forming the sprouts. After plants have been in about a month, stabilise them by trenching up more soil around the trunk to prevent the plants flopping over. When the plants start to form sprouts that are marble sized, sprinkle blood and bone or compost around the base of the plant, but not up against the stem, and water in. If your Brussel Sprouts aren't firm, then it's either too hot or you used too much nitrogen to feed them. Mulch will help protect from heat.
Harvest in 14-28 weeks. Harvest sprouts, starting from the bottom of the stem, when they reach 2.5 to 5 cm in diameter. If you haven't already done so, break off the leaf below the sprout and then snap off the sprout. Sprouts higher up along the stem will continue to grow. Entire stalks can be harvested. Sprouts can be blanched and frozen.
Sources: www.gardenclinic.com.au www.gardenate.com
Narellle Nolan April 2013
Question 5: How do I grow tomatoes in the Blue Mountains?
Answer: Home-grown tomatoes are delicious. Smaller varieties are more successful in the mountains than the larger varieties. To help you succeed adhere to these 3 principles.
· Water frequently and regularly
· Feed regularly once flowers appear
· Prevent and treat pests and diseases
Tomatoes need to be tied (e.g. pantihose) to stakes ( 1 metre or more high). When planting seedlings spread potash as Tomatoes need extra potassium.
Watering. Do not let tomatoes dry out as this can cause Blossom End Rot, a brown leathery patch on the base of the tomatoes where the flower was. The rot is caused by a lack of calcium which is a micronutrient required by the plant. Irregular watering – flooding and drying out makes this worse. If you have this problem, dig lime into your soil before planting tomatoes again. Optimally, water tomatoes morning and evening.
Feed regularly. Wait till flowers appear, then fertilise fortnightly. If you didn’t spread potash when planting, Yates use Thrive Concentrate Tomato Food ($15) with an appropriate proportion of potassium.
Prevent and treat pests and diseases:
· Fruit Fly lay larvae that hatch into little white grubs inside the fruit. Thankfully, we have little if any fruit fly due to colder conditions. However, should you have a problem, Margaret at Longview Nursery is very knowledgeable and will help you take the action required to eradicate this major pest. Caterpillars tunnel into fruit and create holes. Prevention is the key, once they enter the fruit they cannot be reached with insecticide. Several applications 7 – 10 days apart may be required. Spray Yates Success or Dipel, or Tomato Dust.
· Tomato Russet Mite. The mite is microscopic but damage is seen when leaves go brown and crisp starting at the base of the plant. Apply Tomato Dust or Natrasoap. Reduce the likelihood of attack by keeping lower leaves clear of soil using a mulch.
· Blotchy Fruit - parts stay orange or yellow. Either the plant may be too hot (above 35 degrees celcius) or lacks potash. Apply potash or liquid tomato fertilizer. During heatwaves, keep plants well watered and provide temporary shade. (We have had 2 days in the past month where temperatures have been above 35 degrees Celsius.)
· Wilting but not dry. Plants may be affected by root-knot nematode (eelworm) pest. Remove plant and grow marigolds or mustard to starve pest. Mustard can be dug in.
Proven varieties of tomatoes for a cool climate
· Broad Ripple Currant – golden yellow small
· Monkey Maker – red medium size
· Wapsipinicon Peach – yellow sweet smallish
· Tommy Toe – 3cm red fruit
· Roma – red oblong shaped best for cooking
Narellle Nolan February 2013
Question 6: How do I set up a vegetable patch?
Answer: Vegies need 3 things
- Full sun means at least 6 hours direct sunshine a day. 8 hours or more is better
- Fertile and easy to dig soil. – It is almost certain yours will need improvement – see below
- Regular water means keeping the soil lightly damp by watering it regularly when it doesn’t rain. To test the soil, push your finger into it, down to the first joint. If is feels moist, then it is. Very hot days in summer water twice a day. In spring, every second or third day. Less in cool weather.
Getting Started. Find a site in your garden with good sun. An area of 1.5 x 1.5 metres is enough to grow a sample of several vegies. Or 4 x 1.5 metres separated by a narrow access path is enough to grow a continuous supply. At this point, consider if the site might lend itself to erecting wire or mesh enclosures at a latter date to protect from bird and animal invasion. Bower Birds abound in the Blue Mountains and they have a voracious appetite for new seedlings
Remove whatever grows there now, then dig the soil over to open it up. (You may need to find a strong person to do this for you. Right after it has rained will be easier to dig). Sharpened tools help, especially a sharp edged spade.
Bags of cow, horse or sheep manure are needed. In the above examples of garden area you would need 3 bags for the smaller area or 6 bags for the bigger area. One 30 litre bag is enough for 1 square metre. In addition into each square metre sprinkle 1 handful of Dolomite Lime and 1 handful of any complete fertiliser. Dig this through breaking up clods and removing stones, roots and other debris. The aim is soil that is fine and crumbly for about a spade depth. If there isn’t a boarder around the site cut a spaded edge around the bed by pushing the spade down into the soil and flipping up the dirt leaving a channel. Gently water in. THE HARD PART IS DONE.
Planning your planting. Work out what vegies you want to grow. Check that it is the right time of year to plant them (local nursery or ABC Planting Guide on the web). Divide your patch up into areas of each type of vegie and plant out some each week. Thereby staggering the rate at which you pick the vegie to eat. This works for seeds but if you bought seedlings, you will need to plant all at once. (Allow plenty of room for growth, some vegies grow very big – pumpkin for one).
Seeds or Seedlings. Seeds are cheapest and the sowing of seeds can be staggered to allow for a continuous supply of vegetables. Most seeds can be sown directly into shallow rills in the soil that you can make with your finger. Read the directions on the seed pack. Alternatively, the advantage to buying seedlings (in punnets from the nursery) is that they are already growing.
Routine Care. Water the patch well using a gentle spray. The soil must me moist until seeds have germinated. Seedlings also need consistent moisture until they have started to grow. At first water morning and evening the cut back to once every day or to, less in cooler weather.
Controlling Pests and Diseases. The best defence is to keep your plants healthy and thriving. Do this by:-
· Ensuring healthy soil, containing lots of humus and microorganisms. Plants can shake off pests with less resistance.
· Companion planting, planting plants beneficial to each other together.
· Crop rotation to brake disease cycle.
· Encourage birds and beneficial insects into your garden.
· Combat common pests:-
· Cabbage White Butterfly. The White Butterfly lay larvae and hatching caterpillars chomp on a range of vegetables. Spray Yates Success or Dipel or use Deris Dust for caterpillars as well as a range of pests.
· Snails and Slugs. Modern formulae pellets are safe for pets. Or try Garlic Spray. Crush several cloves of garlic and mix with 2 tablespoons of paraffin oil. Let stand overnight. In a separate container mix 50ml water and 1/3 cup flakes of soft soap such as Lux. Strain the garlic and paraffin oil mix into the soapy water. This strong concoction is then diluted with water to spray around plants.
Fertilizing. In addition to fertilizing the soil before vegies are planted, it is necessary to add a liquid fertilizer during the growing and fruiting stage. Liquid fertilizers offer a quick response. The nutrients are almost immediately available for absorption through the leaves and roots. Plant roots take up nutrients in a liquid form. Solid fertilizers are slower to deliver nutrients because they must first break down and dissolve in water in the soil. The cheapest fertilizer is a home-made one using your own ingredients. In the following 2 recipes you can use compost, weeds or animal manure:-
· “Tea Bag Fertilizer”. Put a couple of shovelfuls of manure (fresh is OK) into a hessian bag or old pillow case and then steep it in a garbage bin full of water. Allow a day or two until the water is the colour of weak tea. Pour onto your plants. Do not pour onto dry plants as it may be too concentrated, water your plants first. It will keep for a week or so. Keep the lid on the bin.
· Concentrated liquid fertilizer which must be diluted. Use a large bucket or bin. Fill the container half way with fresh or aged manure and top up with water, cover. Allow this to stand for 4 weeks minimum before using. Dilute by 500mls fertilizer with 9 litres of water.
Vary the types of fertilizers used on your garden for a healthier soil.
Mulch. Is essential in any vegie garden as it:-
· Prevents the formation of a surface crust impervious to water;
· Reduces soil temperature fluctuations;
· Discourages weed growth;
· Aids moisture retention;
· Keeps fruit clean; and
· Helps to stop splash of disease spores from the soil.
Sugar cane, Pea or Barley straw make excellent mulch. Worms take the straw into the soil and enrich it. Woody materials, such as fresh sawdust, pine bark and woodchips suffer nitrogen drawdown, where soluble nitrogen is taken from the mulch by fungi and bacteria during decomposition. This can be overcome by applying a balanced organic fertilizer before mulching. Lawn clippings, and leaf litter are better composted before being used as mulch.
Bird Netting. Buy white small holed mesh as it is easier for animals to see. Sold by the metre and is 4 metres wide – about $4 per m. Use PVC piping to make a simple curved frame. 4 metres length cost about $6 per m. Take the garden bed measurement to the hardware to determine how much mesh and PVC pipe to buy. PVC bends easily and can be held in place by star stakes or 1inch PVC pipe in the ground. Use gaffer tape or similar to hold the structure where necessary. Stretch the netting over the structure snuggly. Divide up the mesh to create an opening like a tent door. Hold/sew in place with pegs, rocks, wire or ties.
Source: Jane Edmanson’s “Working Manual for Gardeners”. Better Homes and Garden “Organic Gardening Magazine”.
Narelle Nolan January February 2013
Question 7: How do I grow garlic?
Answer: Garlic likes a sweet soil with added lime as well as plenty of compost/manure in the garden bed. Buy an organic garlic corm from the growers market or nursery. Avoid planting garlic purchased at the greengrocers, as this is likely to be imported garlic with an associated risk of introducing serious virus diseases to our soil.
· 'Italian White' has a creamy white skin, and forms a medium to large bulb with up to 17 cloves per bulb. It is a softneck garlic which does not produce a flower stem. Do not plant the small, inner bulbs of softneck garlic as they are unlikely to do well. When the garlic bulb is mature the leaves begin to die back.
· 'Monaro Purple' is a hardneck or top-setting variety which usually produces a flower stem in spring/ early summer. It is mainly suitable for cooler areas. It is also called a 'rocambole' variety from the habit the flower stem has of looping over on itself to produce a distinctive twist. Rocambole types have a sweet, nutty flavour with 6-8 cloves per bulb. They are ready to harvest when the coil twist in the flower stem begins to straighten and the flower stem begins to soften.
To plant garlic break up the corm into individual cloves. When separating the cloves be sure to keep a lot of the base plate from the bottom of the bulb. Plant the cloves with the base plate down and the pointy end just below the surface of the soil. Space about 15cms apart with 30cms between rows. Fertilize once there are some warmer days in spring. Garlic can be planted among roses and fruit trees to repel pests such as aphids. Garlic grows well in most soils, but dislikes wet ‘feet’. If you have poor draining soil you may be best growing your garlic in raised beds or big pots - dig in some lime, compost or cow manure, water in. Then water as soil surface dries out.
Corms will shoot - and look like green spring onions at first. The corms will develop just under soil surface, gradually pushing their way up to the surface. Garlic usually takes about 7 - 8 months to produce a bulb.
Harvest when the tops begin to turn brown; don't wait until the tops have completely died back. Treat the bulbs gently as bruised bulbs do not store well. Hang the whole plant in bunches, or spread on racks, and allow to dry undercover for 2 to 3 weeks. The skins will then become papery and dry. Good air circulation is essential. Bulbs are better stored whole, not separated into cloves. If you wish to plait your garlic, leave it hang for 2 weeks, then plait before the necks have hardened off and then leave it to hang for another 2 weeks. Once the garlic has cured, clip off the root and the tops about 30mm above the garlic head and store in a dry, well-ventilated area, in the way you store onions.
Question 8: What vegetables can I plant in mid-spring (October)?
Answer: There is an enormous range of vegetables and herbs that you can plant now in our cool climate. Here is a list from the ABC Planting Guide:-
Cabbage (tight-headed types)
Pak Choy, Bok Choy etc
Narelle Nolan October 2013
Question 9: I have just sown asparagus. I know you don’t cut it for a crop until its second year but it is flowering now in its first year. How long do I leave it before I cut it back?
Answer: If you grow asparagus from seeds or seedlings you should leave them for 2-3 years for a strong root system to develop. Don't pick any of the crop, just let it grow naturally. When Asparagus is about four years old the fronds will have produced good, thick, strong roots and a good plant. The fronds will then go yellow in autumn and that's the time to cut them back to ground level. The Asparagus bed will be bare until spring, and then spears of Asparagus will pop up all over the place.
Gardening Australia June 2007
Question 10: Why doesn’t my pumpkin produce any fruit?
Answer: Sometimes pumpkins just keep growing and do not produce any flowers. This caused by over-fertilizing with high nitrogen fertilizers. The only way to force them to fruit is to cut back the sprawling runners. Usually, the shock forces them to flower.
However, if your pumpkin is flowering but not setting the problem may lie with poor pollination. Most of the early flowers that develop on pumpkins, squashes and cucumbers are male, and won't develop into a fruit. As the season progresses, female flowers mix in among the male ones, and late in the season, female flowers predominate. You can tell the difference between male and female flowers by looking closely at the base of the bloom. A male flower is borne on a slender stem. Female flowers have a swelling that looks like a miniature zucchini. If you have both male and female flowers then the pumpkin should fruit unless pollination by bees is not occurring. Bee populations vary from season to season and spraying your garden bed with insecticide for pets will kill off the bees as well. However, you can hand-pollinate pumpkins and there are two methods:-
1. Take a small artist's brush and dab it into the male blossom to pick up pollen. Transfer the pollen to the stigma (that’s the yellow bit in the middle of the flower) of the female blossom to effect pollination. (Burke’s Backyard)
2. Snap off a male flower and peel back the petals to reveal the stamen. Then, carefully wipe the stamen on the female stigma to transfer the pollen. Use fresh flowers when they first open in the morning when the male flower has plenty of pollen and the female flower will be most receptive. (theveggielady.com)
Diseases, Pests, Weeds
Question 1: How do I control or, preferably, completely destroy oxalis?
Answer: Only with great difficulty and a lot of patience! There are two main types of oxalis and they require different treatment:
Creeping Oxalis which has green or brown leaves and yellow flowers, which grows close to the ground in clumps, and this spreads by sending out very fine roots wherever it touches the ground, and also by setting seedpods which can burst and throw the seeds about 4 feet (1.2m) away.
Trying to remove this sort of oxalis by digging it out is
very hard, as the fine roots break very
easily, and any left in the ground will re-grow quickly. If you are lucky and there are no other plants
close by, it can be removed by spraying with glyphosate (Roundup) but make sure it is not windy, or about to rain before you start to spray. I have had success with spraying on paths, but it takes about 3-4 weeks for the oxalis to die, and it shouldn't be disturbed during that time. Other suggestions I have read about are:-
· Spray with vinegar, mixed with a small amount of detergent to help the vinegar penetrate the leaves better. This will only kill the foliage, but with constant spraying may get rid of the plants over time. Again, this works only if the plant is not close to other ones.
· A gardener who grew cacti in pots just kept removing the leaves and as much of the plant as possible with tweezers!
If there are other plants too close to the oxalis, you may carefully dig up the whole area around the plants and separate out the oxalis roots then replant the plants. However, this is a slow and painstaking process. This is probably the only way to do it if the oxalis is growing in the lawn.
Bulb Oxalis has long stems and clover-like leaves with pink flowers and is even harder to eradicate. This weed grows from bulbs and all the bulbs need to be removed to finally get rid of all the oxalis. However, the stems of the oxalis break very easily, and then it is difficult to locate the bulb, which keeps on growing and multiplying (and seems to get deeper and deeper into the soil). When you do finally get to the bulb, once it is disturbed, the bulbs seem to explode and multiply! It requires constant and very diligent digging to finally remove bulb oxalis. There are reports that November is the best month to dig it out as the bulblets are more firmly attached to the main bulb at that time. Spraying with glyphosate doesn't seem to kill the bulbs, only the foliage however Mt Tomah Garden reports some success with spraying Bulb Oxalis immediately it flowers. If it is left to flower, the flowers also set seeds which then become bulbs and the cycle continues.
So, I wish you joy and a great deal of patience in eradicating both sorts of oxalis, but it can be done!
Mary Coyne September 2010
Question 2: How do I eliminate montbretia?
Answer: Montbretia is a class 4 (worst classification) noxious weed. Originally from South Africa, It is a vigorous, perennial bulb that dies down in autumn after producing annual leaves and flowers. Leaves are bright green, spears and long spikes of small orange to red tubular flowers appear in summer.
Each plant bears a string of 14 or more flattened corms under the ground each capable of producing another plant as well as rhizomes and a mass of fine fibrous roots is also formed. It grows in any soil, wet or dry, poor or rich, in sun or shade. It can be seen on roadsides, wasteland and the disturbed edges of bushland. However, it thrives along creek lines and watercourses where it spreads with great vigour, fed by nutrients in the stormwater, and competes fiercely with all other plants, including other weeds.
It spreads vigorously by corm production, and perhaps by seed. Rhizomes will also produce new plants. Corms wash down watercourses to form new infestations and they may also be dispersed by the movement of soil containing corms,
Pulling this plant out will lead to corms breaking off to form new plants, increasing the problem. So dig deeply to remove all corms and rhizomes. Check the soil in the hole for small missed corms after you have removed the weed. Then wipe or spray the leaves in summer or autumn, using 13ml glyphosate per litre of water. Instructions on putting together your own glyphosate wiper are on the Blue Mountains Weeds web site . This wiper is good for using on any other weed that has emerged in a situation where you cannot spray.
Even after this treatment, montbretia may appear the next spring from small corms that you may have missed. Spray or wipe with glyphosate as soon as you see them appear so they cannot re-grow and set new corms.
Bill Avery November 2012
Question 3: How can I re-use weeds from the garden?
Answer: It is disheartening to see the volume of weeds leaving your garden in the garbage bin as all that growth has been developed from the fertiliser and compost you have fed your garden. If you try to incorporate it into your compost the seeds usually survive and your compost becomes an excellent media for transferring weeds around the garden. One solution is to convert it into weed tea - a fertiliser that has no seeds and can be re-used:-
1. Buy a normal sized garbage bin and a circular plastic clothes basket that fits into the bin.
2. Drill 8-10 holes in the bottom of the basket and pop it in the bin.
3. Put all your weeds in this basket and fill the bin about ¾ full with water. If you want your weed tea to have a bit of oomph you can add a few handfuls of manure. Make sure that the water covers all the weeds.
4. Keep adding weeds until the basket is full and leave the weeds to steep in the water for 5-6 weeks. This produces a brown, odourless compost tea and a sludge of rotted weeds.
5. Ladle the weed tea into a plastic container with a tap at the base.
6. When needed decant the weed tea into a watering can and dilute with water on 10:1 basis.
Bill Avery April 2013
Question 4: How can I get rid of rats from my compost bins?
Answer: Compost bins generally only encourage rats if kitchen scraps or waste vegetables from the vegetable garden are included. I add vegetable waste to my worm farms and place a heavy brick on top to prevent rat access. Rats generally only stay in a neighbourhood if food is readily available to them.
I have found the only successful way to discourage rats is to use commercial rat poison when they are a problem. Sometimes another household in the area may not have “good housekeeping” practices and this will encourage them. The non-poison solution is to employ the assistance of pet cats or snakes, but that brings its own problems.
Janine Shoemark November 2013
Question 5: What is the best way to treat and kill blackberry?
Answer: If it is only a new shoot from seed spread by birds or possums just dig it out but check that it is not a sucker from a much larger root. If it is or it is a large plant, cut back to the nobby joint at ground level and coat with undiluted Glyphosate (Roundup). Any side shoots should be also be cut back and painted with Glyphosate. Spraying the leaves will cause some dieback but will not kill the roots.
Bill Avery February 2014
Question 6: What is the best way to deal with sooty mould on Rhododendrons?
Answer: Sooty mould doesn’t directly affect the shrub as it is actually a black fungus that infests honeydew that is produced by small sucking insects such as scale or aphids. It is these pests that will actually damage the shrub but the sooty mould is very ugly. To control it, you must control the insects that are causing it. This is not easy as these insects are protected by ants that feed of the honeydew.
First check the leaves of the rhododendron carefully to determine which insect is responsible and treat it appropriately:-
· Scale. These insects are flat, tan-coloured discs on foliage and stems that at first glance appear to be growths on the leaves rather than insects. You can sometimes pry them off of the leaves with your fingernail or a sharp knife. To control the scale:
o Manually. Small infestations can be removed by hand. Either rub the scale off leaves or smooth stems or brush vigorously with an old toothbrush to remove scale from older branches. Remove and destroy heavily infested branches
o Naturally. Release ladybirds in the affected shrubs as these are predators of many species of scale insects. These are available commercially.
o Chemically. Once the scale is attached and feeding the most effective method of control is to use a mix of Pest Oil or White Oil and Pyrethrum and apply every 2-3 weeks. Pest Oil is more effective but more expensive. You can make White Oil yourself (2cups vegetable oil, 1 cup dishwashing liquid, shake well).
· Aphids – Aphids are tiny, pear-shaped insects that can be almost any colour but are usually green. To control scale:-
o Manually.Blast them off with a jet of water, spray with soapy water or squash them between your fingers. You can also make your own natural insecticide from garlic and cayenne pepper.
o Naturally. Larvae of the green lacewing are wide-ranging predators that will attack and eat almost any small insects or eggs. Lacewing larvae are particularly effective at controlling aphids and can consume 60 aphids in an hour. These are available commercially.
o Chemically. Spray with a systemic insecticide such as Confidor or Folimat or acontact insecticide such as Pyrethrum.
One environmental factor that is often overlooked with sooty mould is location. To prevent sooty mould don’t plant your shrubs in too much shade.
Bill Avery March 2014
Question 1: Is Council mulch OK or is it better to buy from a commercial provider even though it's more expensive?
Answer: I have used council mulch for 4 years and have had no problems with it. However, if you are picking up a load (ute, trailer) yourself from the Springwood depot in Lawson Road you need to make sure that the loader operator has banged out his bucket BEFORE he picks up the mulch. Otherwise you may get 5-10 kilograms of road base in the load. Also, I would not use council mulch for paths as it has usually been semi-composted and has not been shredded as fine as the commercial Euci mulch. The mulch from the commercial providers is usually cleaner and has not been semi-composted which means that it will last longer than council mulch but it is 3 times as expensive and for general mulching, council mulch is as good or better as it breaks down to provide a natural compost. Also the semi-composting tends to eliminate weeds. Finally, be aware that the Council depot closes at 3pm and is shut between 12:00pm-12:40pm for lunch.
Bill Avery January 2011
Question 2: When is the best time to fertilise the whole garden? Should it be done each season across the garden or should each plant be fertilised as it needs it? What should I use as a fertiliser?
Answer: I’ll hop on my soapbox and stress that improving the soil constantly with compost and worm farm products produces a healthy soil that produces healthy, disease-free plants. Soil improvement is particularly important in The Blue Mountains as we have soils produced from sandstone which are calcium poor and contain low humus levels. Because of their high porosity they quickly leach important nutrients. I add home-made compost to containing animal manure to any spot that looks as if it would benefit, regardless of the season. Plants will take up what they need from compost, especially when they are actively growing (usually spring-early summer).
Diluted wood farm liquid may be sprayed on any plant or shrub that is growing rapidly – vegetables, emerging bulbs, annual seedlings or any shrub coming into bud. It is also a great tonic for any plant or shrub that needs a boost. Well-nurtured soils produce thriving plants, an insect-friendly environment and wonderful bird life. Over-use of inorganic fertilisers often decimates worms and insects and is sometimes toxic to bird life and native fish. Organic products (like compost, manures, blood-and-bone, worm casts) are very satisfying for plants but chemical fertilizers are a bit like vitamin pills. They provide nutrition but not the full range of a plant’s requirements.
I don’t use inorganic fertilisers but there are many liquid fertilisers available that may be hosed onto the whole garden from a hose attachment. These should be used fortnightly when the weather starts to warm usually early spring) and there is active growth on plants and shrubs.
I do use liquid Seasol as tonic in spring and early summer to provide good health and growth and once again it may be applied with a hose applicator. However, it should not be used in windy or hot conditions. It’s a good practice to avoid fertilising (with organic or inorganic fertilizers) during hot, dry conditions as you may damage plants. You should also avoid fertilizing during cold and wet conditions as the plants cannot efficiently use the nutrients so you waste most of the fertilizer.
Gross feeders such as rose and most vegies must have good soil with plenty of organics such as manure or blood-and-bone. Inorganic fertilizers may be used but they should be watered in well. A good tip is to wait until it is raining in spring or summer; put on your gumboots, raincoat and rubber gloves; and walk around tossing fertilizer like chicken feed. Gross feeders need extra attention as our soils are particularly nutrient-poor and the price we pay for growing them is to provide plenty of organics.
Care needs to be taken with native plants and if in doubt, leave it out. Us only specific native plant fertilizers and avoid applying organic fertilizers that are high in phosphorus (e.g. chicken manure or any of its derivatives such as Dynamic Lifter). Also avoid using grey water on any native plants as it has a very high phosphorus level .
Fertilize lawns if you must but there are better things to do than constantly fertilize lawns so that you have to constantly mow them.
Also avoid mushroom compost on azaleas, rhododendrons or camellias as mushroom compost is very alkaline and these shrubs like a slightly acid soil (Ed).
Gardens and plants should be like people:
· When very young, use weak liquids.
· When actively growing add a variety of foods and solids for bulk.
· During the adolescent stage they will take as much food as you can give them.
· Adulthood is mostly maintenance.
· Mature gardens require very little food.
The seasons also have a similar cycle:-
· Spring is the youth stage and plants need instant reward via liquid fertilizers (diluted worm juice, Seasol).
· Summer is the adolescent stage and plants need feeding with more substantial fertilizers like compost, manures or blood-and-bone as well as liquid fertilizer as conditions dictate.
· Autumn is the adult stage and is mostly maintenance.
· Winter is the mature stage when plants require very little food as very little growth is occurring.
Enjoy time in your garden and observe the changes. Plants generally let you know if something is required by their appearance or lack of vigour. They will reward you with healthy growth and beautiful blooms when everything is in balance.
Janine Shoemark August 2011
Question 3: How do I clean sandstone without damaging the plants around it with chemicals?
Answer: Clean as little as possible as weathering forms a natural protective crust on sandstone which scrubbing or gurneying will remove thus resulting in increased erosion and degradation of the stone.
· However, if you have to clean sandstone, any cleaning agent should be suitable to use on bare hands. Remember – safe for skin is safe for shrubs! So any domestic cleaner and a little white vinegar is suitable.
· Lots of scrubbing with a stiff brush or even a high pressure gurney if the stains are bad.
Sandstone is extremely porous and absorbs any liquid very quickly so it is very important that you saturate the area with clean water before you begin. This will prevent dirty water generated from the cleaning soaking back into and discolouring the stone. It will also reduce the impact of cleaning products on nearby plants.
Apply the domestic cleaner (with diluted white vinegar) mixed in warm clean water. Scrub till your arm aches!
Either rinse off the dirty water very well or spread clean, dry sawdust (or shredded, clean, white paper) and wait until the soiled water has been absorbed. Once it has been absorbed by the sawdust (when it is still damp) sweep the sawdust away. Do not let the sawdust dry out otherwise the sandstone will re-absorb the dirty water.
For mildew stains use clean, white, shredded paper soaked in hot distilled water as a poultice. Remove the paper poultice before it dries out completely
For oil stains. As for mildew but douse the stain with white spirit first.
Unknown stains should be dampened with clean water and then sprayed with a weak solution of white vinegar. Finally sprinkle with bicarbonate of soda, scrub and rinse thoroughly.
If you prefer the appearance of weathered sandstone you can accelerate the weathering process by painting the sandstone with plain yoghurt or the cooking water from rice or pasta. This encourages the growth of moss and algae. This also works on other hard surfaces and the hot cooking water kills off weeds.
Janine Shoemark September 2010
Question 4: How do we stop our neighbours' cats from spraying our front door?
Answer: Dozens of methods were tried including commercial solutions such as Deter but the most effective was old-fashioned citronella oil. Just buy ordinary citronella oil and pour it, undiluted, into a small spray gun. Then spray all around the front door and the moggies will disappear, never to be seen again.
Lynton Phillips January 2011
Question 5: How do I set up a large-scale composting system?
Answer: Build 3 bays of concrete blocks with each bay 1 cubic metre. The two middle walls are lower than the external walls to allow for easier shovelling from one section to another. All the bays sit on dirt, allowing worms and micro-organisms access to the heaps. Plant cuttings, grass clippings etc. are stacked next to the bays waiting to be mulched. The concrete block bays receive sun and thus need more water than bays located in shade. The biggest mistake most gardeners make is to have their composting bin too dry. Note that a composting system of this size requires a large garden to supply it (including all lawn clippings).The process is:-
- Shredding. Use a heavy duty (5.5 hp) petrol chipper for all garden prunings as this can handle branches up to 5cm diameter.
- Layering Bay 1. The first bay is layered with mulched small branches, green cuttings and grass clippings and the weeds that had been soaking in the garbage bins. A handful of blood and bone is spread in-between the layers. This is built up past the internal wall (about 4 or 5 feet tall) then watered thoroughly, till water is flowing out the bottom. Old carpet is laid on top of the heap. Microorganisms go to work and the bay gets very hot and decreases in size. After 2-4 weeks the heap will have dropped considerably in height and it is ready to go to the second bay.
- Transferring to Bay 2. The material in each bay is not turned within the bay but is transferred between bays with the material from the front of Bay 1 being stacked in the rear of Bay 2.. Blood and bone is spread on each layer and watered in thorough;y. By shovelling material from Bay 1 to Bay 2 air is added. This aeration allows for a different set of microorganisms go to work. This bay doesn’t get hot. This is a cold compost and the heap must be kept damp at all times and the heap is covered by an old carpet. The material in the second bay drops by about 6 inches. After 3-6 weeks the second bay is transferred to the last bay.
4. Transferring to Bay 3. The material from Bay 2 is shovelled over to the last bay. A handful of potash is spread in between layers and watered in. This makes a good complete fertiliser for the garden which allows for setting of buds. In another 3-6 weeks the compost is complete and ready for use on the garden.
Use the compost around the vegetable garden, azaleas and most of his plants. Sprinkle blood and bone or organic life around plants then covers with compost. This keeps the fertilizer damp and assists it breaking down the fertilizer. The function of the blood and bone is to ensure there is no nitrogen leaching from the compost.
Don’t use kitchen scraps or meat in these open bays as it may attract bush rats. Use these in a worm farm instead. If you have an enclosed composting system (bins, rotating drums) then kitchen green waste in the compost is fine.
Bill Avery April 2013
Question 6: How do I set up a small-scale composting system?
Answer: The value of adding compost to gardens cannot be underestimated according to Janine Shoemark . It is important to remember that a $5 plant in a $15 hole is better, healthier and stronger investment than a $20 plant in a $0 hole. The compost process starts by collecting cuttings from the garden in numerous flexible plastic buckets. These are allowed to dry off. To help the drying off process the cuttings are laid out and raked over. Janine then uses a shredder (Yardeco petrol driven with a 6.5 horse power motor). Janine states that she uses the shredder, not her husband, and that it is easy to use – like using a lawn mower – same action to start. She said that she bought the shredder at a Garden Show and saved about one third on the total cost. Yardeco delivered the next day and when needed, send out parts. She is very happy with the product and service. Janine also says that, if she had to choose between the two, she would rather have a shredder than a power mower. Janine states that in our climate refuse would take a long time to break down unless it was shredded. Janine also shreds chunky kitchen wastes like corn cobs and avocado seeds. Shredded material also seems to deter vermin from entering the bins. Lawn clippings are an important part of the compost mix as it adds heat and Janine will shred and lay down her compost layers on the day she mows the lawn. As well as plastic buckets of cuttings, Janine has big plastic bags of leaves she has collected, ready for use as needed.
The Set- Up
Janine has about 7 compost bins all lined up (a mixture of 4 types). Janine prefers the bins with side ventilation as she believes air flow is important. She adds to some while some are maturing and some are ready to use. The bins all sit on bare ground. A bucket of matured mixture sits to the side with a cover ready for when Janine brings home a plant which can be planted immediately with her own mixture.
Janine alternates her shredded mix with lawn clippings, cow manure and some comfrey. Comfrey is either shredded or torn into the bins as needed. A bag of dry leaves will also be added in the layers. Throughout the layering process, a Molasses mix is poured over the layer. The mix is 1 cup of Molasses dissolved into hot water and then mixed into a bucket of cold water. In all about six buckets of the mix is poured into the bin.
The bins are covered and after a few days are aerated with a compost screw then aerated on a weekly basis. The compost screw is easy to use as the mix has been shredded and there are no long bits to get tangled up. The compost will reduce in volume. Dependent on the weather and the rotting materials more liquid may be required. Janine finds that the smell of the rotting compost is a good indication as to whether more dry material or liquid is required. Good compost is achieved in about 3 months.
Janine uses her compost to add to potting mix; in new planting holes, as top dressing for pots and denuded areas; as well as a mulch.
Janine Shoemark April 2013
Question 7: How do I set up a worm farm?
Answer: When Celeste decided to start a worm farm she researched the subject and spoke with an experienced friend to find out what was required. Celeste bought her worm Farm from Home Hardware and her worms from Longview Nursery. The cost was $89 and $50 for the worms. Since Celeste made her purchase, Celeste noted that Aldi started selling them for around $50 – always the way!!!!
The process starts in the kitchen with a beautiful silver pot in which Celeste keeps suitable vegetable scraps to feed her hungry worms. Some vegetables, like an apple core, she chops, so the worms process it quickly. She doesn’t add meat, citrus, bread or anything from the onion family. She keeps banana skins, not for the worms, but to put around her very successful roses. I also noticed egg shells and tea bags beside the sink. Celeste said that those go in the compost, but not other vegetables. Rats can be a problem in the compost.
Downstairs, in a little courtyard stands the worm farm next to the compost bays and a table with garden equipment on it. Importantly, the worm farm is in shade and not direct sunlight. The worms also have some protection from rainfall. The worm farm has a bottom tray and a lid. There are another 2 trays available which can be added as tiers, if needed. The clever little worms travel up through the holes between trays to get food. Their castings (poo) accumulate in the bottom tray when the worms eat the vegetables over a number of time. Every couple of weeks, Celeste adds a handful of dolomite lime and a handful of potting mixture to the top tray. If the mix becomes smelly or there are flies around, Celeste adds additional dolomite lime to sweeten the mix.
When establishing her worm farm, Celeste started out by providing only a small amount of food for the worms allowing them time to multiply. Celeste keeps a square of damp carpet on top of the worms and their food within the container. This keeps the worms cool and protected.
When harvesting the worm castings from the bottom tray, Celeste puts on her gloves and sifts through the castings to take out any worms that are in the castings. Celeste tells me that unfortunately, the worms will not survive in the garden. They are a special species of worms, unlike earth worms.
As the castings are very rich, a tray of castings goes a long way in the garden. Small portions of the castings are scattered around the base of plants. Celeste uses the castings mainly in her vegetable garden. As well as casting in the bottom tray, worm wee drops down through an open tap attached to the plastic bottom tray into a bucket. This can be used as a fertiliser around plants at a rate of 1 part worm wee to 10 parts water. It should look like week tea.
Celeste Shadie April 2013
Question 8: How do I manage frost?
Answer: The first frosts can start anywhere from June to July and finish from August to October but the hard frosts only start in August and are usually gone by the end of September but there may be-exceptions.
Frosts can ruin plants in one night so to dealing with them it helps to understand the nature of a frost. Frost is a volume of cold air which flows like water, down to depressions, hollows and drains at the lowest level of the garden leaving higher spots clear. Frost can also build up behind obstacles such as hedges and settle there. The frost itself doesn't kill the plants. It is what happens after the frost settles on an area of the garden that damage occurs. The cells in the plant leaves and stem freeze and swell and eventually burst.
To minimise frost damage the plant needs to thaw out gently before the morning sun hits it Spraying water over plants that have been hit by frost will raise the temperature around the plant's leaves. The plant will thaw gently and damage will be minimised. Still water can also reduce the effects of frost A pond or swimming pool will keep the air slightly warmer at night to protect surrounding plants.
Do not prune frost tender plants in early spring but wait until October. Young shoots are more susceptible to frosts than mature plants. Some gardeners use ant-transpirants to spray susceptible plants once a month through winter.
Bill Avery October 2013
Question 9: How often should I water?
Answer: Most plants absorb very little moisture through their leaves. Almost all the water they need has to get absorbed through their roots. A well-developed root system with lots of little sponge-like root hairs is a plant's best insurance. Windy days dry out plants as plants lose water through their leaves. 98% of the water absorbed by a plant goes out through the microscopic pores on the plant's leaves. This is a necessary part of the plant's metabolic process of absorbing soil nutrients. This transpiration also helps plants cool themselves in hot weather. One of the problems with soil that has dried out is it repels water. Soil wetting agents can dramatically improve water absorption particularly if the soil is already very dry.
Plants prefer a good soaking less frequently, rather than a little bit of water often. The frequency of your watering depends on your plant selection, your individual situation and soil type. For example, a shady garden will not dry out as much, nor be as hot as an open sunny garden. It is best to water early in the morning or during the evening to minimize evaporation. Pots require much more frequent watering than plants in the ground. Mulching 15-20 cm thick assists moisture retention particularly on windy days as the wind dries out garden beds more quickly than the sun.
The volume of water required for your garden or lawn will depend upon your soil and plant type. A well-designed garden may only require around 10 mm of water each week to sustain growth. A water smart lawn may require even less water - as little as 6 mm in summer when it is growing and 3mm in winter when it is dormant. As a guide the typical water delivery of sprinklers are as follows:-
• Pop-up/fixed spray delivers a typical watering rate of 35 - 45mm per hour.
• A rotary spray typical watering rate is 10 - 15mm per hour.
• A gear drive rotator typically delivers 10 - 20mm per hour.
• A dripline delivers 15 - 20 mm per hour.
However, be aware that there are water restrictions in place. You can only use sprinklers and hand held hoses before 10am and after 4pm on gardens and lawns.
Narellle Nolan November 2013
Question 10: How can I improve my soils?
Answer: Turn your soil into a sponge by adding compost, manures and other organic matter. Roots need to be able to push out into the soil. To do that, they need to be in a loose, friable soil. Making your own composts is easy () and you can buy manures by the bag from nurseries or by the ton from local sand and soil merchants. You can dig the manures into your soil or lay it as a topping and allow gravity and rainfall to work their magic. However, you should cover the manure topping with a thick mulch to reduce the flies and the smell. Mulches are also very protective of plants as they trap the air retaining more warmth around the plant as well as in the top few centimetres of the soil and they reduce evaporation from soil by up to 70 per cent Mulch is like a blanket on the soil, keeping it cool and protecting it from drying out Mulch also improves soil structure, increasing water retention, soil nutrients and worm activity.
Springwood Council sells mulch: A full truck load (8 cubic metres) at a cost of around $200 or you can pick it up in a trailer or ute at $18 for a cubic metre. Some arborists will deliver free tree mulch rather than pay Council tip fees. If you have a smaller garden, sugar cane mulch is easy to spread but doesn't last as long. A cost free option is to rake up and spread leaves around the base of plants.
Narelle Nolan September 2014