Tuesday, 30 June 2015

Gardeners' Diary - June 2015



Zygocactus as you give them their trim after flowering has finished - this is usually around 4 weeks after flowering has finished.  Select young, healthy tips about 10cm and cut between leaf segments. Leave them in a dry, shady area to harden and form small aerial roots. When ready to plant, use a good propagating mix and place several cuttings in the same pot and once they start to grow, transplant into baskets or pots using succulent potting mix.

Ginkgo biloba (maindenhair tree) - choose a male form as the female tree produces a smelly fruit as it falls. These trees grow 9m high and about 5m wide so allow plenty of room to develop where you place it eventually. Take a 15cm hardwood cutting. Place in propagating mix and keep moist, but not wet. Progressively repot into large pots and grow them on until ready to plant out.

General Tips:

Pull back on watering cacti, succulents, caladiums and epiphytic bromeliads as they start their winter dormancy.

Gardenias will yellow off now, this is natural for this time of year - so don't be tempted to make a grab for the sulphate of magnesium!

In the spring we will be giving our Gardenias some complete fertiliser like Osmocote, Multicote or Dynamic Lifter to give them their spring boost.

Prepare heavy clay soils fr spring shrub planting by using a mattock or crowbar to loosen soil and incorporate organic matter and gypsum.

Before the big rose prune do some tool maintenance - see this post to get some useful tips on how to do this.

When mulching around subtropical beauties like heliconias, gingers and prayer plants to insulate growth points, use lightweight material such as straw or dried fern fronds.

Trimmed asparagus should be given a really good feed and top dressing of cow poo and compost to get the best crop.

If growing winter crops of cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, brussel sprouts etc keep the fertiliser up as they need loads of energy to produce their best.

When pineapples start to turn pink, fertilise with blood and bone, mulch and water well. We need to take care of them as it generally takes about 18 months for a fruit to develop. Last season our pineapple was ripening up nicely until 'something' came in and hollowed out the fruit! This year they will be protected in the enclosed vegie patch.

Divide chive clumps. Before planting, dig some Dynamic Lifter pellets into the soil and feed every few weeks through the growing season with nitrogen-rich fertiliser. 

Remember our lemon trees need regular feeding. Use blended organic fertiliser, however never feed a flowering lemon as this can cause fruit drop.


Sasanqua camellias when flowering ceases.

Cut back mint, lift from pots, split and re-pot into excellent potting mix.

Lift ginger, galangal and turmeric. Trim off all foliage, save the plumpest, healthiest-looking rhizomes to use for next year's crop. Cut into 3-5cm long pieces and dip the wounds into powdered Sulphur before replanting.

A general rule of thumb when pruning roses - take the 50/50 approach, that is 50% off the height and 50% off the canes from the base.


Natives, it is always a good time to grow them. Please look at at this link to get some hints on providing some good habitat for native birds.

Asparagus, work compost, sheep or cow manure to a depth of 30cm. This is a very important to establish a good plot to learn more about growing asparagus click here where Tino from Gardening Australia gives all the details.

Rhubarb can be grown from crowns or seed. Plant in an open, sunny position in soil which has been enriched with rotted manure and compost. Leave undisturbed for 4-5 years and then divide the plants. The only way to get guaranteed lovely red rhubarb is to buy bare rooted crown divisions from a reputable nursery in winter. There is no amount of fertiliser, sun, shade, water or other tricks to try and change the colour of green rhubarb.

Lettuce directly in the garden and you may be picking by August! 

Another vegetable that should be planted successively for a continuous crop.

If you have grown kale from seed, now would be a good time to transplant. Space 30-45cm apart. Plant in full sun in fertile, well-drained soil. Keep soil moist and add organic fertiliser monthly. Harvest the young, tender, centre leaves. Kale is a 'cut and come again' vegetable and easy to grow. It can live for quite a long time if offered some support. I saw some beauties in the garden of a CHGC member recently....... even had some to take home for soup - delicious!

Broadbeans, they grow best in well-drained soils with lots of organic matter like compost or well-rotted manure dug into the soil. Don't overdo the nitrogen, or you'll have excessive leaf growth and few flowers or pods. Soak seeds overnight in diluted seaweed extrat (1 teaspoon to 1 litre) and plant about 20cm apart in blocks. Smaller growing cultivars are bushier so need to be a fit further apart. It is best to put solid supports around your broadbeans so you can run string between them to support the plants and stop them from being blown over. Water the seeds well but don't water again until they are growing vigorously. 

Beetroot - sow direct in garden at a depth approximately three times the diameter of the seed and space plants 20-30cm apart. There should be beetroot ready to pick in around 7-10 weeks. This is one plant that succession planting is a really good idea to have continuity of produce. Beetroot are compatible with onions, silverbeet, lettuce, cabbage, dwarf beans, dill, peas and strawberries. They don't like to share their space with asparagus, carrots and sweetcorn. There are some stunning beetroot which are really fun to grow (and eat) check out some of the heirloom seed distributors see here Eden Seeds for example.

Saturday, 27 June 2015

Reusing Pallets - What You Should Know

image the micro gradener
The trend of reusing wooden pallets and crates for gardening seems to have become very popular. It's a fantastic thing for the environment to prevent these pallets from being destined to landfill. However there are certain things to be considered before using them.

If you are considering using pallets in a construction involving the growing of herbs and vegies it might be worth a look at this article from the Timber Development Association (NSW) Ltd. There are some really good illustrations of what markings to look for when choosing a safe pallet to use for food production in our gardens.

Friday, 26 June 2015

North Coast Regional Botanic Garden Preamble

All the ingredients were there for a top outing to the Botanic Garden this week - perfect weather, a 'Friend' of the Garden Guide, enthusiastic membership and Coffs' own Botanic Garden.

Member Gavin did his usual superlative best in giving us the 'gen' on any subtropical species that needed clarification.

The members found it interesting to compare our own native species with those of other places whose climates are similar to our own. Seen here, the non-Australian tropical African area had the members looking up into the canopy of these large trees. 

One tree that took the interest of the 'preamblers' of the Garden was Dillenia indica  (Elephant Apple), a native of south-east Asia with leaves that are quite large with an interesting corrugated surface with impressed veins. The fruit is quite large too (12cm diameter) made up of 15 carpels, in an edible but fibrous pulp. Apparently the pulp is bitter-sour and is used in Indian cuisine in curries, jam and jellies. It is often mixed with coconut and spices to make chutneys. It is a main source of food for elephants, hence it's common name.

The Eastern  Australian coastal fringe collection has plants from regions with similar climatic conditions to Coffs, although we did notice that a lot of sand had been introduced to the beds for maximum drainage. 

The images for this post were supplied by member Michael R. Thank you very much.

Tuesday, 23 June 2015

Coffs Harbour's Community Recycling Centre

Information obtained from 'Our Living Coast'

This month saw the opening of the Coffs Community Recycling Centre at the waste facility on Englands Road.

The centre, which was funded by NSW EPA, is a FREE community drop off facility for household problem waste materials. These include:

Ewaste (tv's, computers, printers, keyboards)
Gas Bottles
Fire Extinguishers
Paint (oil & water based)
Fluro globes & tubes
Car Batteries
Household batteries
Motor oils
Cooking & other oils
Smoke detectors
Household cleaners & chemicals
Pesticides & herbicides
Flammables (old fuel, turps, kero)

Editor's note: I'm assuming we can drop off our empty herbicide drums here too.

Sunday, 21 June 2015

Gavin's Sub-Tropical Plant of the Month - Acalypha Wilkesiana

Acalypha is a genus consisting of shrubs and ground covers with colourful leaves which are mostly heart-shaped, while some species are pale green. They are native to most tropical and sub-tropical regions of the World.

Today, I will be talking about Acalypha Wilkesiana (Tricolour). It is native to Vanuatu and a few other Pacific Islands. It is a shrub which grows to about 3 metres with brittle branches. It is best pruned as it can become leggy. The leaves come in all colours of the rainbow.

Sometimes the leaves can be a completely different colour on the same plant. They can have lots of different shapes too, some flat, some curly and some lobed. As a foliage plant the flowers are insignificant, having little dupes hidden among the leaves.

Acalypha Wilkesiana requires a tropical to sub-tropical climate. Even just cold can set it back, making it drop some leaves, while frost will kill it. But in a warm spot it will grow well in a moist, well-drained soil. Grasshoppers love chomping on this plant and it is also prone to powdery mildew.

It makes a spectacular hedge especially when different forms are planted. They are commonly cultivated in Coffs Harbour with some impressive specimens on the highway on an embankment on the left side heading South from Combine Street.

Saturday, 20 June 2015

Establishing Native Bird Habitat in Your Garden

Amazingly our domestic gardens constitute a huge percentage of remaining vegetation that can be used as potential habitat refuges for native birds and other wildlife. 

Over recent times there has been a shift in the species make-up and types of birds found in urbanised environments. 
Some of the small native birds (Red-browed Finch and Fairy-wren) are becoming less and less evident and being replaced by more dominant and aggressive species such as the Noisy Miner, Pied Currawong and the Rainbow Lorikeet. 

This has to indicate that we, as gardeners are not planning and growing bird-friendly environments that offer protection and food resources for native birds.

There are some very simple guidelines for establishing a bird-friendly garden:

  • Provide a bird bath.
  • Reduce open areas by reducing lawn area.
  • Develop structural diversity in your garden. This can be achieved by planting small dense natives, even some of the 'prickly' varieties enabling small bird protection.
  • Use indigenous species in plant selection.
  • If you can, establish a nesting box - although sometimes possums take advantage of these!
  • Do not feed birds, it is more beneficial to establish a garden with a diverse range of native plants which can provide natural food resources for an array of native birdlife.
  • Select non hybridised native plants as the many large-flowered hybrid varieties of Grevilleas encourage large and aggressive honeyeaters. By selecting non-hybrid species (which produce smaller flowers) will attract less common nectar feeders to your garden.
  • Avoid feeding animals outdoors as this is a very attractive food source for birds such as the Indian Myna bird.
Understanding the resource requirements of native birds will help us gardeners to develop suitable habitats for birds in our gardens.

Are Coffs Coast gardeners being treated like mushrooms?

President's Message - June 2015

You may have noticed over the past month that the Coffs Coast Advocate has stopped publishing anything about local gardens and gardening.
Paul Worland’s excellent weekly column has sadly been replaced by an [occasional] syndicated column that seems to talk more about gardening in cooler areas than in our sub-tropical climate.  And the space provided for gardeners’ photos has disappeared, as has the space that was normally used each Saturday for a story about gardening. 

In addition, there are no longer any contact details for local gardening clubs and associations, making it even more difficult for these community organisations (including ours) to let people know they are here. 

And as I’ve reported to you previously, The Advocate has, in its wisdom, decided earlier this year not to provide any advertising sponsorship support to the Spring Garden Competition, although, to be fair, they have offered editorial support.  However, in light of the recent lack of support to local gardening, it remains to be seen whether this will eventuate.

It has been suggested to me that these decisions have been taken for purely commercial reasons, ie, The Advocate believes it is not making enough money by supporting local gardening and gardeners.

 If this is correct, then it would appear to be a very short-sighted position for the Advocate to take, if only because 57% of their readers come from pretty much the same demographic as many Coffs Coast gardeners, who in turn support many of the advertisers that The Advocate relies on for commercial survival. 

According to its own marketing statement, The Advocate “provides comprehensive coverage of local news, events and issues of relevance to the Coffs Coast community [and] directly reflects the coastal community it services”

Dropping all support for local gardening would seem to make a mockery of this statement. 

Hopefully, The Advocate will provide the editorial support they have promised for this year’s Spring Garden Competition.  However, if that doesn’t eventuate, I believe we will need to express our concerns directly to both the Editor and General Manager of The Advocate, and also to the CEO of APN Regional Media, and ask them to consider re-instituting the Saturday gardening pages and strengthening their support for what is an important part of Coffs Coast community life.

In the meantime, if you have any contacts at The Advocate, please let them know how disappointed people are that they have all but stopped supporting gardening here in Coffs region.


Flower of the month - June 2015

Although Camellias will always be associated principally with Japanese culture, some 75% of the world's 100-odd species originate from China, nearby islands and the Indo-Chinese peninsula.  These handsome, woody plants (and sometimes, trees) are not only prized for their wonderful blooms, but their glossy leaves which are used in floral arrangements.

The flowers of the vast majority are neither large nor spectacular but are about 4cm in diameter and plain white. Even smaller for the genus C. sinensis  the leaves of which make what we know as tea.

A small number of C. japonica first hit the shores of England in the early 18th century and their blooms immediately caught the fancy of nurserymen, so much so the varieties of C. japonica have swelled to over 30,000 varieties!

C. sasanqua, a slender, densely foliaged shrub or tree perhaps grows best here on the Coffs Coast. It has lightly fragrant blooms enjoying our higher temperatures and can be grown in full sun, blooming in the autumn.

C. japonica, C. reticulata and C. chrysantha will grow here but prefer to be protected from the sun in deep, neutral to slightly acid soil (reproducing their natural forest surroundings of shade, good drainage and humidity).

Growing Problems and solutions

Dull yellow spotting or mottling of leaf
Cause - usually scale (check for tiny pear-shaped or brownish pinhead-sized scabs mainly on backs of foliage). 
Solution - Spray with white oil or organic eco-oil.

Glossy, creamy yellow mottling or marbling on some foliage only:
Cause - Virus infection
Solution - Rarely of serious consequence. No positive cure. Do not propagate from this shrub or tree.

General yellowing and leaf fall:
Cause - Can be due to excessive dryness, or to bad drainage and root rot.
Solution - Flood soil during dry conditions.

Leaf fall and numerous dead twigs:
Cause - Die back, usually due to root rot in poorly-drained or slow-draining soils.
Solution - Impove drainage, free drainage holes of containers. Camellias grafted or budded on sasanqua usually have greater resistance to root rot.

Leaf fall:
Cause - some falling of lower leaves natural. Frequent heavy fertiliser applications can sometimes be responsible.
Solution - Flood soil. Prevent soil drying out after feeding and apply fertiliser to drip line only.

Large yellowish or bleached patches in centre of foliage, later browning.
Cause - sun scorched.
Solution - Provide light shade or select a more sun-tolerant variety for this situation. Soak soil regularly during hot, dry conditions.

Leaves lustreless, lack of growth:
Cause - either planted too deeply or over-limey soil.
Solution - Rake back excessive soil to expose top of root ball then cover with leafy mulch or compost.

Small corky incrustations, mainly on backs of leaves.
Cause - Usually a constitutional factor rather than disease.
Solution - Improve watering, mulching and feeding during spring and early summer.

Sooty film on leaves:
Cause - Sooty mould fungus which lives on sugary secretions from scale.
Solution - Spray with white oil or other preparation used for scale.

Small black creatures clustered on new spring growth:
Cause - Black aphids.
Solution - Spray with a preparation specific for aphids.

Excessive twiggy growth:
Cause - Need for pruning.
Solution - Remove all thin twiggy growth close to main stems or branches. Cut latter back to where they are at least 1 cm in diameter. Do this in late winter before new growth starts.

Friday, 19 June 2015

Body Workout - And The Dirt on Compost

Making compost is the best activity for getting a good body workout! (Stretch both before and after this activity.)

Layer fallen leaves, grass clippings and weeds (no seeds) and dynamic lifter, making sure there are balanced layers of green and dry material. Moisten well.

Turn the heap every two days for a week or so; then once a week for two months. The benefits are twofold - you're getting fitter turning the compost and you'll have wonderful compost for the spring! Apply compost in your bed preparation stage before sowing seeds or plants. 

Now for some really interesting facts on compost and why we should be proactive in using it freely in our gardens. Compost is magic stuff as it encourages healthy plants that are better equipped to fight off disease. The inevitable increase in yields is the added bonus of improving both soil and plant health. 

By applying good quality compost the populations of naturally occurring bacteria and fungi that suppresses the organisms that often cause disease will be boosted. These beneficial microbes found in compost are called biological control or biocontrol agents. Biocontrol is the use of natural predators, parasites or pathogens to control pests. 

Decaying organic matter provides the ideal conditions for beneficial microorganisms to grow, but not all types or organic matter are equal when it comes to disease suppression. Woody materials that degrade slowly can give long lasting suppression as they release nitrogen, potassium and phosphorus slowly into the soil. Carbon-rich composts are good at suppressing parasitic nematodes because they support fungi which are antagonistic to these nematodes. On the other hand, pyrolised bark particles are particularly inert, therefore will not suppress disease. 

The particle size of composted materials also affects disease suppression. As particle sizes decrease, the disease suppressive impact increases and disease suppressive duration decreases. The particle size also has impacts on the soil structure and water infiltration.

Therefore, it is important to have a diverse mix of materials in your compost to aid in the suppression of diseases and to have healthy soil and plants.

Tuesday, 16 June 2015

Outing to the North Coast Regional Botanic Garden

Thursday, 25 June 2015

Image L. Gardner

The North Coast Regional Botanic Garden is one of the major regional botanic gardens on coastal New South Wales north of Sydney. It covers 20 hectares of Crown Land and is bounded on three sides by the Coffs Creek, a wide mangrove-lined, tidal estuary.

The Garden was designed to feature natural forest, rare and endangered Australian species and exotic plants from other sub-tropical regions of the world. Officially opened in 1988, the Garden continues to expand, with the newest addition being a Japanese Garden featuring a lake, arched bridge and tea-house. 

Image L. Gardner

With five kilometres of well-made paths and boardwalks for visitors to explore and a glasshouse complex comprising of five interconnected pods for plants that require special growing conditions such as bromeliads, ferns, orchids, gingers and arid-land species, there is an abundance of plants for visitors to see.

There are an outstanding number of local folk who give generously of their time, expertise AND sweat to provide the Coffs community with something to be justifiably so proud of and also fulfils the 'Friends' aim to develop and promote the Garden for the enjoyment and education of the Coffs community. This Botanic Garden is testament to the power of the volunteer!
The Garden is located on the corner of Hardacre and Coff Streets, about 1km east of the Coffs Harbour central business district, where the CHGC hold their monthly meeting on the third Saturday of the month (Feb-Nov) at 1:30pm.
Details of Outing:

  • We will be meeting at the Botanic Garden cafe at 10:30am;
  • Our 'Friends' guide will meet us there to start our tour;
  • Our guide is free but it would be appreciated if you could make a gold coin donation;
  • For the less mobile members who would like to book a seat on the people mover, please advise a committee member so your place may be reserved. Cost is $3 per person;
  • After the tour we will be having lunch at the Botanic Garden.
  • Hat;
  • Sunblock;
  • Sturdy Shoes;
  • Water; and
  • Insect Repellent (there are some blood suckers lurking!)
If you require any further information please email Jane.

Image L. Gardner

Monday, 15 June 2015


Earwigs hide during the day in crevices, under debris and under pots. If you keen to have a look, night time might be a good time to check if they are the cause of the holes in your leaves, stems, flowers and fruit. 

Because of their intimidating pincers, or forceps, protruding from the abdomen, earwigs might appear to be a dangerous bug. This is a misconception. Earwigs can use their forceps to grasp onto a finger if agitated but they do not sting nor are they dangerous. They have no venom, so are not poisonous.

There is also a superstition that earwigs burrow into the ears of unsuspecting people while they sleep. This is a myth and without any scientific basis.

Earwigs use their pincers for defence and for sparing with rival earwigs. Depending on the species, adults range in size from 5-25 mm. They are slender insects with two pairs of legs. Some species produce a foul smelling liquid that they use for defence. Earwigs also produce a pheromone. Scientists believe that this pheromone is the reason that earwigs cluster together in large numbers. 

An eco way of getting rid of them is to lay pieces of ribbed cardboard on the soil overnight; in the morning, collect and dispose of the insects.

Monday, 8 June 2015

Weeds - Japanese Sunflower

Have you noticed the abundant yellow flowers growing up the steep slopes that were once banana plantations at Korora and other places along the Coffs coast? 

This is something that has intrigued me each year and I've thought .... 'must find out about that' ....... 

Well today was that day. At the Orara Valley Fair it seemed to be an opportune time to visit the Coffs Harbour Landcare information booth to ask about this plant.

The Answer:
The Japanese Sunflower has it's origins from Central America, with sunflower-like heads up to 10cm across, with orange-yellow peals 4-5cm long. The seeds are hairy with a ring of scales and two spines.

This plant is a weed  on the Coffs Coast and can be dug out or chipped, where infestations are small. Otherwise spray with metsulfuron-methyl at 1g/10l with surfactant. 

The flip side:

Even though the Japanese Sunflower is a weed that grows quickly, it has shown great potential in raising soil fertility in soil depleted in nutrients (nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium) to increase plant yields.

So now, both you and I have the 'gen' on those showy yellow flowers growing on the slopes around Coffs.