Thursday, 25 February 2016

Foul funereal flowers and foliage - Catherine Stewart GardenDrum

Catherine Stewart is at it again - telling it exactly as she sees it! This time it's the colour black in plants.  

For full article click here.

Monday, 22 February 2016

Gardeners' Diary - February 2016

Image R. Moulds




At the February meeting Jane D. gave a presentation on Epiphyllum cactus (information and graphics taken from wikiHow).

Taking Cuttings:
You can buy epiphyllum cactus cuttings from a garden centre or an online plant store. Cactus cuttings are sections of a mature stem which are planted and used to grow a whole new plant. If you already own an epiphyllum cactus that is stong and healthy, you can make your own cuttings. Choose a healthy leaf of approximately 4 inches (10cm) and cut it off at the stem below the base of the leaf. Repeat this process until you have obtained the desired number of cuttings.

Store cuttings in a cool, dry place away from the sun for 10-14 days. Good places include a garden shed, bathroom, or basement. Because the epiphyllum cactus is a succulent plant, cuttings can remain good for up to a month. Storing the cuttings will allow them to cure. The purpose of curing the cuttings is to allow calluses to form over the ends of the cutting. These calluses protect the cuttings from rotting. If you purchased the cuttings and don't know exactly when they were made, cure them for a week before planting.

Plant three cuttings in a 4-inch pot with a drainage hole in the centre of the base. This will allow adequate room for the cactus to grow while the drainage hole will prevent over-watering. Plastic pots are preferable to terracotta pots, as they will allow the soil to retain moisture for a longer period of time. Choose potting mix for epiphyllum cacti. This consists of three parts potting soil, mixed with one part of coarse non-organic material such as perlite, which is also referred to as sponge rock. Alternatively, you can plant the cuttings in pure perlite. However, once the cuttings have developed roots, you will have to move them to epiphyllum potting mix. The potting mix should always be damp, ever wet. This will ensure healthy and faster growth.

Refrain from watering the cuttings until they are well rooted. If you water them too soon, the cuttings will rot. To check for rot, tug gently on each cutting. If you feel any resistance, this is good because it means the cutting is rooting. You can water the cutting. If a cutting has rotted, take it out of the pot, cut away the rot, cure the cutting and pot it again.

Place the epiphyllum cacti in hanging containers in filtered sunlight. Epiphyllum cacti love growing in hanging containers, and doing so will provide a good base for the pendulous growth of the plant. As an added bonus, hanging containers make it harder for snails - the number one epiphyllum pests - to get to the plants.

A shady spot under a tree or beneath a shade structure made of cloth or lath provides the right amount of light. If grown in direct sunlight, cacti can get burnt. If set in too shady an area, the cactus can become overly lush and will be shy to produce flowers. Also, the long stems won't be strong enough to hold themselves up and may fall over, sustaining damage. If possible, choose walls or eaves that face east or north for the best lighting. Ensure good air circulation, but protect the plants from storms and strong winds. Windstorms may cause hanging baskets to swing against each other and long stems to whip around, causing breakage.

Water your cactus every few days or every day in hot weather. The soil should never be completely dry, but should also never remain wet after watering. Check the soil regularly to gauge whether you need to add water. When you water, make sure to add enough water so that any excess water flows out of the drainage holes. This will rinse out the soil and prevent the accumulation of soluble salts in the soil.

Lightly fertilise your cactus with time-release fertiliser. Epiphyllum cacti bloom best when you give them regular, light fertiliser applications. Feed your epiphyllum cactus at each watering time from May to late August. After this period, only fertilise every other watering time. Only use about one-third to one-half the amount of fertiliser that is recommended on the label. Since cacti naturally grow in relatively low nutrient environments, they won't require as many nutrients for healthy growth. During the winter, fertilise with a low or no nitrogen fertiliser. The most optimal time to plant cacti is during the period from September to April. This will ensure a warm, sunny atmosphere while also avoiding direct sunlight that my hinder growth.

Clip off flowers after the blossoms expire. Make your cut just below the flower head. Pruning dead parts of the plant not only improves its appearance, it will encourage new growth and healthy blossoming.

Cut all dead, diseased and broken stems back to the point of origin on the main stem. When you locate a stem to remove, follow it back to the base of the stem and make a straight cut just outside the joint of the parent stem. 

Immediately disinfect shears after trimming dead or diseased stems. This will keep the disease from spreading throughout the plant. It is best to assume that any dead stem died as a result of disease. Disinfecting after each pruning session may require more bleach, but it will keep your cactus healthy and beautiful.

Remove any long stems that disrupt the balance of the epiphyllum. Trace them back to the parent stem and cut at the base. These stems are usually located along the outer edges. Remove stems as needed until all sides of the plant are fairly uniform.

Inspect your cactus for mealybugs, scale insects and spider mites. Snails are fairly simple to spot and remove (use store-bought snail bait), but the aforementioned bugs require specific measures for preventing infestation. Mealybugs have a waxy, white, cottony appearance. They are slow moving and usually are in clusters along leaf veins or spines, on the underside of leaves, and in hidden areas at the joints. Scale insects resemble small, cottony dome-shaped shells. They attach themselves to stems and leaves but can be pried off. Spider-mites are hard to see with the naked eye, but signs of infestation include webbing and small brown dots, especially on younger growth. If you tap the affected area of the plant over a piece of white paper, spider-mites will resemble dust. These insects tend to suck the plant's juices resulting in weak, wrinkled, or shrivelled leaves. Severe infestations can result in the death of the plant. First symptoms can include stickiness or black mould on or near the plant.

Spray with insecticides to kill bugs and stop serious infestation. Use insecticides like Neem or pyrethrum products for visible bugs. Systemic insecticides such as Hortico's Imidacloprid are best for controlling pests that aren't easily accessible. Consult the label to see how much you should use on your cactus and whether or not prolonged use is safe.

Editors Note: For mealybugs a cotton bud dipped in methylated spirits and dabbed onto the bug also works a treat but only if there are not a lot of them!

The reward for taking such good care of your cactus is the most beautiful flowers.


Many thanks to Jane for her presentation.

Sunday, 21 February 2016

President's Message - February 2016

We certainly covered a lot ground at our February meeting, and it looks like we have another great year ahead for our Club, with plans for guest speakers, events and activities starting to take shape.

It was great to hear Jane Durler’s inaugural gardener’s diary presentation on Epiphyllum cacti.  Many thanks Jane for taking this on and we look forward to hearing your presentations each month on a variety of flower and foliage topics.  By the way, we are still looking for someone to talk about fruit and vegetables!

Thanks also to Sue Young and Pat Roser for their work on the Council’s excess plant donation project, and the Graham Davey and Col Smith for exploring the idea of supporting a garden at the Mental Health Unit at the Coffs Base Hospital.

Our first major club activity is the annual Clean Up Australia Day effort at the old Coffs Cemetery.  This is an event that everyone can get into and one that is of real value to our community.  So please get involved if you can – you’ll find all the details later in the newsletter.

The Airside Garden maintenance program is, of course, continuing and it’s great to see new members getting involved – many hands make light work!  Our Club’s contribution to keeping the airport looking good is important, because we help provide a wonderful first impression for all those people coming to our lovely city by air. 

Coffs Harbour Show is the next major event on our Club calendar.  I believe we have done a great job over many years in putting on an excellent competition and a wonderful display in the Pavilion.  So please think about entering your cut flowers, fruit & veges, potted plants and floral art in this year’s Show – the more the merrier.  And, of course, many hands make light work when it comes to actually putting the Show on, so please let Marg Franks know if you are able to help out.

August offers us the opportunity to attend the Garden Clubs of Australia Mid North Coast Zone Day at South West Rocks.  This is sure to be a fantastic event where we can meet and mingle with lots of our gardener friends.  More on this in coming months.

So you can see the Club has plenty going on in 2016 (and I haven’t even mentioned the Spring Garden Comp).  A mighty thank you goes again to everyone who gives so freely their time and expertise in planning and putting on the Club’s program.  Without your wonderful work we simple wouldn’t be a successful club.

And on that note could I just say a big thank you on behalf of everyone to Anne- Maree Ely for taking on the role of Treasurer/Public Officer for 2016.  And thanks also to Anne-Maree’s husband, Tom, who will be helping out behind the scenes with some of the technical stuff that comes with the treasurer’s job these days.

Friday, 19 February 2016

Weeds - Cat's Claw Creeper

Cat's claw creeper is yet another escapee from the garden. This plant was introduced to Australia as a garden plant and has become a major weed of native forests of Australia. Its vigorous, climbing, woody stems cling to tree trunks, enabling it to grow into the forest canopy. It can grow in excess of 30 metres and has distinctive three-pronged claws along the growing portion of the plant. The stems in mature plants can be up to 20cm in diameter so this plant is no shrinking violet! The weight of this creeper can be so immense that it can topple the supporting tree's branches and even the tree itself.

Every Spring, many of our forests will be absolutely bursting with colour from flowers of all hues, shapes and sizes. But some will only be a sea of yellow - the yellow of the Cat's Claw Creeper Macfadyena unguis-cati with rather attractive bright flowers forming a bell shape when fully open and only occurring on mature plants.

Its name is derived from the three-clawed tendrils which grow from its stem, each resembling a cat's claw which it uses to hook on and climb onto trees.
This aggressive vine is native to tropical America.

Unfortunately once this creeper is present it can spread very, very quickly, climbing up and smothering trees and covering the forest floor much like a carpet. The vine produces abundant winged seeds in long narrow, bean-like pods which open when ripe to enable dispersal by wind and water, it also develops tubers on its roots that assist its survival and spread. Dense infestations of cat's claw creeper are very difficult to manage and can become overwhelming for landholders. 

The best method of control for Coffs Coast landholders is a combination of physical and chemical means. Cut the stem and paint with full strength Roundup as quickly as possible - best if it is a two person attack - one cutting, one painting. It is essential to monitor for regrowth from roots, tubers and stumps after the physical/chemical treatment. Spot spray regrowth as soon as it appears. 

On our small 2.5 acres there have been many trees with this creeper growing on and we have done the cut/paint approach - it is an ongoing attack on this vigorous creeper and the recovery of the trees once it has died is just wonderful to see. 

This photo is perhaps as clear as mud... however if you look really closely, the dead creeper can be seen as can the rejuvenating tree's bright new green leaves.

Thursday, 18 February 2016

Organic Approach to Pest Control - Part III Leaf-eating Caterpillars

Caterpillars are the larvae of moths and butterflies, generally they eat leaves. Providing there are not heaps of them, besides the aesthetics, for a human to eat a leaf with a hole in it has no impact on human health.

  1. Handpick as much as possible and drown in sudsy water (or feed to the chooks).
  2. Sticky yellow traps are useful to trap small night-flying moths.
  3. Large pieces of eggshell can be scattered amongst cabbages to confuse the Cabbage white butterfly - the idea behind this is other butterflies mistake the eggshells for other butterflies so will move to a less populated area.
  4. Sticks with light coloured shapes nailed to the top will do the same thing.
  5. Using an organic bio-insecticide Bacillus thuringlensis or BT that you can use and it works really well, Dipel (Yates). This works as a stomach poison on many leaf-eating caterpillars however, it is most important to spray the underside of the leaves.
It is said that vegies growing in good soil are less damaged by the caterpillars than vegies growing in poor soil. so obviously soil health has a big part to play in this idea.

What really helps is - keep a diary. There might be a particular variety or vegetable that seems to be not so attractive to caterpillars so it might be an idea to grown them instead of the ones that they favour or by the same token if there is a particular vegetable that caterpillars really hammer - cover them with a fine mesh!

Tuesday, 16 February 2016

More flowers, please - GardenDrum

This is a lovely piece from  Kate Wall.

To read this article, please click More flowers, please - GardenDrum: I want to tell you about a very ordinary little garden. It may be a bit of a mess, but it's always full of flowers: pretty, eyecatching and joyful flowers.

About Kate Wall

Kate has gardened since she was a child. Gardening as a profession came almost by accident - after volunteering to rescue flooded gardens and working in over 100 gardens, she felt her trial by flood had directed her to her true calling, and she has gardened professionally ever since. Kate is primary care giver to approximately 20 gardens concurrently (including her own), in addition to consulting, garden makeovers and creating new gardens. She lives and works in Brisbane, Queensland, and is passionate about gardening to suit our sub-tropical climate.

Sunday, 14 February 2016

Garden Clubs of Australia Photo Submissions

Hi, I am one of the GCA Calendar Coordinators for the successful GCA "Beautiful Gardens of Australia" Calendar. 

I would appreciate you highlighting at your February Club meeting that, even at this late stage, we are still seeking photo entries for the 2017 Calendar that closes on 1st March this year. 

With minimal time left before closer, I wish to simplify the process of entry for any of your members. 

I am merely asking that members send digital Garden Scene photos in landscape format in the largest MB file size they have taken the photos in. No time need be spent in photo manipulation such as Photoshop etc is necessary as we will do that in the process of preparing the chosen photos for the Calendar.

Send the photos via email to or ring me on (03) 9790 5659 if further information is required. If sending several photos then send in several emails if the photo file sizes are large. Photos can also be posted to me on a CD/DVD to 64 Timbertop Drive, Rowville, Victoria, 3178. 

For the photos finally chosen - either as the main large photo on each month's page or as the smaller "filler picture" photos on the pages, I will contact the photographer to get the garden name details of the photo, the members Club, clarify the legal issues of copyright etc. before we proceed further. 

As already indicated, the 12 main photos attract a copyright fee of $100 to the photographer for each photo. The smaller "filler picture" photos do not attract a fee but the photographer has the pleasure of their photo being in a National Calendar and acknowledged with their name. 

I appreciate that some photographers are reluctant to send their photos as they are unsure of their retention of ownership and copyright. They can rest assured that any files of photos not used and acknowledged will eventually be destroyed so no other person or organization can ever get access to them. 

There is no entry cost and those photos chosen will give great pleasure to the photographers, as they will be published in a Calendar that is distributed nationwide. 

Paul Lucas GCA Calendar Coordinator 
Email Paul

Saturday, 13 February 2016

Bulbs Suitable for Sub-tropics

The hot, wet, humid summers of the Coffs Coast coupled with the lack of real winter chill makes growing bulbs quite difficult. Bulbous plants generally cannot abide continuously wet soils as they just rot. If you intend growing bulbs it is best to place them in raised beds for excellent drainage. 

Most bulbs behave nicely if given a little TLC - add about a teaspoon of blood and bone with added potash at planting time with a further dose of about a tablespoon per plant at flowering time. 

Most successfully grown bulbs can be divided up when the clumps get too big. You can also of course, propagate by seed which will take longer for a mature plant. 

Listed below are just some of the bulbs that can be grown in the Coffs Region: 

Pink Cyrtanthus are wonderful bulbs for the sub-tropics as they are evergreen and winter flowering with small pink tubular flowers - just delightful.

Commonly known as Day Lilies because each flower lasts for just a single day, this small genus of 15 species of rhizome-rooted perennials from temperate East Asia is part of the Hemorocallis family. Even though their flowers only last a day they are produced in succession from late spring through to autumn, guaranteeing a blaze of colour in the garden. 

November Lily lilium longiflorum (or Christmas Lily down south) flowers earlier here on the Coffs Coast so is better known as November Lily. There are also a pink form as well as the white as seen here in the image to the left.

If white is what you are looking for in an Agapanthus there is a pretty one called 'Gettys White' which is a real show stopper. These flower from October through to December and need to be dead headed late in December/January to keep them tidy. 

The simple-flowered Rain Lily, Zephyranthes flava is always a delight to see after heavy rain events.

Clivias are always good for a shaded spot and there are yellow (as seen in top photo) or Orange as seen right. There is also a variegated foliage form Clivia miniata. 

A hardy form of Crinum Lily C. moorei a South African native is pale pink with pretty pink and grey stamens.  

So hope you can find a bulb from this small list that will grow in your garden.

Tuesday, 9 February 2016

Organic Approach to Pest Control - Part II Sap-suckers

To find something that will help us overcome pests in our gardens AND not do damage either to ourselves or the environment is a challenging juggle.  What has to be remembered that even though something is 'organic', caution still has to be exercised when using, for example: 
  • Always read the directions and most definitely only use at the recommended usage rates.  
  • Basic procedures apply, like always making sure that all products are given a good 'shake up' before use. 
  • Being mindful of weather conditions - there is not much point in wasting time and energy (not to mention the 'stuff' we are applying) if there is rain threatening, or there is a gale blowing or scorching temperatures that would make a decent candle droop!
  • Always wear protective clothing to avoid contact with skin.
What has to be considered is sometimes virulent outbreaks of pests can be a symptom of perhaps a broader problem. It might be a really good idea to look at the nutritional needs of the plant and there may even be as simple a solution as increasing watering. One very important element, for vegetable gardens is good crop rotation.

  1. Soap sprays can be very effective on aphids, fungus gnats, mealy bug, mites, scale, thrips, whitefly and other sap-sucking pests.  Some common organic applications are Natrasoap (AgroBest), BugGuard (Multicrop) and Nature's Way insect & Mite Killer Natrasoap (yates) and they work by breaking down the waxy exoskeleton and causing dehydration.
  2. Horticultural oil sprays - these are made from vegetable oils, light mineral oils and essential oils and some include: PestOil (Yates) and eco-oil (Organic Crop Protectants) and Ecofend Natural Solutions Fruit & Garden (Searles). These products smother the pests and have a repellent action against citrus leaf miner. 
  3. Neem oil may be diluted in water and sprayed onto plants. The organic chemicals present in Neem oil act as a repellant against sap sucking pests, thus assisting in controlling the spread of many types of fungus that infect plants that are carried by pests.
  4. Herbal Oils - by creating a cocktail of equal parts of thyme, peppermint, clove and rosemary oils mixed with water, shaken and applied to infested plants. This concoction will kill most garden insect pests as well as their eggs and larvae.
  5. If you wish not to use anything but want to lure aphids away from your more precious plants you can always grow sacrificial plants to attract them away  - some of aphids' favourite meals are asters, cosmos, dahlias and zinnias. This has an added bonus of giving the birds and predator insects a chance to devour them.
  6. If you notice Mealy bugs on your house plants the best method is to dab the affected area with cotton buds soaked with methylated spirits.
Further reading about scale can be found here.

Sunday, 7 February 2016

Review: why I don't like Mayfield Water Garden - GardenDrum

Perhaps some members have visited Mayfield Gardens near Oberon - I have and Oberon lived up to its reputation of a 'cold climate' area. This visit was undertaken during the Mayfield Autumn open days and it was wet AND very cold. We did get about most of the garden but afterwards had to visit a local pub where we (just to thaw out a bit) rotated in front of a roaring fire like chickens on a rotisserie.

This Water Garden was still in the construction stage on that visit so I was very interested to read what Catherine Stewart's impressions were of it some six years on. Catherine gives a good background to the garden and she doesn't pull any punches! Read on by clicking the link ....... Review: why I don't like Mayfield Water Garden - GardenDrum

Friday, 5 February 2016

A Backyard Stalwart - The Lemon

Easily the most popular home-grown fruit and synonymous with backyards across Australia, lemons are a versatile fruit and grow throughout a wide range of climatic conditions. They may be the most popular of all trees grown in the home garden but unfortunately unhealthy looking specimens are fairly common, as their needs are not always understood. Dad giving the 'good old lemon' a little night water is not the cure-all for lemon tree problems. When you listen to any gardening talk-back radio sessions there always seems to be a lemon tree question - this is not because they are particularly troublesome, but rather there are so many grown throughout Australia. 

Citrus are native to Asia and are attractive, evergreen trees with the most beautiful fragrant blossoms, so are worthwhile to grown just for their fragrance alone!  

Grafted trees are recommended for both pots and in-ground planting. There will be a lemon variety suitable for whatever application you wish - if, for instance, you are short on space, it is best to look for dwarfing rooting stocks. These grow to around half the height of varieties on standard root stocks but are absolutely prolific in producing full-sized, normal tasting fruit for their size.

Prepare the soil several months ahead by digging over well and adding half a barrow or more of good compost, 2kg of gypsum to the square metre if the soil is heavy and 300/400g of agricultural lime to the square metre if the soil is acidic (pH below 6.5). Mulch heavily and leave all this to decompose. Good preparation will set your lemon off to an excellent start! A fertile, well-drained soil is best so forming a mound that is 15-30cm high and about 1m wide will protect the base of the tree from fungal attack, allowing rain to run off and protecting roots from suffocation in saturating, rain events. This is especially relevant for clay soils. 

Soak the tree (in pot) for a couple of hours prior to planting in a seaweed enriched solution. When planting, add 1 kg of organic fertiliser to the bottom and work this thoroughly through the soil with a fork.  Remove from the pot and gently tease out the roots so they are not twisted together or circling. Trim off any damaged roots and gently backfill with soil. Make sure that the graft union is as high above the soil level as possible without exposing the roots. Form a rim of soil about the same diameter as the container to aid with watering. Give the tree a good soaking to remove any air pockets and never let it completely dry out. Mulch around the tree to about a depth of 5cm - keep grass away from the trunk to about the drip line of the tree. Lemons have fine, surface-feeding roots, so need to be protected.

On the Coffs Coast citrus can be planted in late winter or early spring but bare-rooted trees should only be planted in winter. Choose an open, sunny position with at least half a day's sun and shelter from strong winds. 

To help the tree establish strong roots and branches to support heavy cropping it is best to remove the emerging fruit for the first two years.

Citrus need regular feeding as they are hungry with high requirements for trace elements. A regular spray with a seaweed fertiliser will supply these trace elements. Fertilise citrus trees with a blended organic fertiliser every six weeks from spring to autumn, applying thinly around the roots from the trunk to the drip zone - never place this fertiliser too close to the trunk or in heaps but spread it as evenly as possible

Never feed a flowering lemon, as it can cause fruit drop. Wait until the fruit are about pea-sized.  Be mindful not to over fertilise with nitrogen based fertilisers in late winter/early spring as this could promote too much lush new growth for the Citrus Gall Wasp to lay their eggs.

Compost or animal manures can be used for feeding citrus at the rate of about 4kg in the first year and up to 20kg for a mature 8 year old tree! In November/December it may be necessary to apply agricultural lime or dolomite to correct the pH.

Prune in June or July - remove dead, damaged or inward and low growing branches - create an open vase shape to allow maximum air circulation. It is best to prune your trees to a height where harvesting is easily done without damage to the tree. Further shaping may be required after harvest in early spring. If you notice any Citrus Gall Wasp galls, cut off and destroy - this helps prevent recurring attacks, which weaken trees. Suckers below the graft point compete with the tree for energy so need to be removed by rubbing off - not cutting.

'Dwarf Meyer', a dwarf version ideal for pots, is also sold under the name 'Lots-A-Lemons'.

'Fino'  is almost seedless and is particularly suited to cool climates so great for Nana Glen and the hilly areas of Coffs.

'Lemonade' is an Australian hybrid between a lemon and a mandarin, with mouthwatering fruit. This variety thrives here on the Coffs Coast.

'Lisbon' and 'Eureka' fruit heavily between autumn and winter. If you'd like a lemon to help your homemade jam set, these two are perfect as they are rich in pectin. They are the best also if you require zest for cooking as they have a full flavoured lemon oil.

'Meyer' is a hybrid between a lemon and an orange. This will crop two or three times a year.

Rough skin (or bush) lemons are similar to true lemons but are larger and have a really bumpy thick skin and more seeds. It is often used as a rootstock for other citrus. Rough lemon trees are large with lots of thorns. Pulp is lemon-yellow, moderately juicy with a medium acid level and lemon aroma - a great zesting lemon.

'Villa Franca' crops in the temperate winter, and provides additional summer fruit on the Coffs Coast. This lemon has decorative foliage and fruit.