Tuesday, 31 January 2017

Dealing with Heat and Humidity

This is a repeat of what has to be a very relevant article about heat, humidity and gardening. As you can see by the table below I would suggest that most of us are working in the garden during extreme conditions and are really putting a lot of stress on our bodies. 

Even in the very early morning Coffs can 'pack a punch' and totally exhaust us. Please take care during the hot months and why not kick back and read this really good article from Kate in the cool inside!

Kate Wall gives examples of plants that are NOT suited to Coffs conditions - this has been discovered personally when great swathes of lavender, lambs ears and bulbs all came to their demise in our local growing conditions....

Kate writes: 'So many gardeners who live in the subtropics tell me they must have brown thumbs because they keep killing lavender. My plea to ‘subtropicallians’ is this – your ability to grow lavender has nothing to do with the colour of your thumbs and everything to do with your climate!
Modern western gardening has its roots in a cool temperate European climate, extending through to warm temperate and Mediterranean climates. This has taught us much about temperature tolerance of plants, with the impact of frosts and the severity of frosts still being the one of the most used climate factors when assessing what to grow where. For gardeners in those climates this remains very useful information. For those of us in the subtropical regions, it is almost useless. For us, temperatures matter mainly in that we have (almost) no frosts at all so there is no cold spell that many temperate plants need. And yet so many plants which are tolerant of high temperatures do not necessarily grow in the subtropics. Why? – Humidity! 
To continue reading this article please click here for full article from Kate Wall

Tuesday, 24 January 2017

Just a Simple Question.........

Red Caustic Creeper Chamaesyce prostrata

This post generated from a simple question to the CHGC facebook page from a lady who wanted this weed and another to be identified and advice on eradication. A lot of discussion from contributors on various facebook pages warranted an in-depth investigation it was felt and to share that information on the CHGC website. Thankfully Colin (a CHGC web visitor) was able to give a name to this common weed so there was at least a starting point for further research.

This weed is from the Euphorbiaceae family, which shouldn't surprise as it exudes a milky latex when damaged, which can burn the eyes and skin. It is a small, short-lived, herbaceous plant with reddish or purplish creeping stems and have a single row of hairs along their length. The dark green paired leaves (3-8mm) have entire or finely toothed margins. Its tiny reddish 'flowers' are borne singly or in small clusters in the leaf forks. 

The tiny capsules (about 1.5mm long) are three sided, with hairs along the angles. These capsules have three compartments each containing a single pale brown or yellow seed. It has to be said though folks, that these plants are proliferative seed 'throwers'.
The parent plant may not last long but they sure do their bit for generational continuance with copious 'babies'.

Also known as: blue weed, creeping spurge, ground fig spurge, ground spurge, groundfig spurge, hairy creeping milkweed, hairy prostrate euphorbia, prostrate mat-spurge, prostrate sandmat, prostrate spurge, red caustic creeper, red caustic week - so take your pick! Native to the USA, Mexico, Central America, the Caribbean and South America.

Red Caustic Creeper can be found in gardens, footpaths, lawns, parks, nurseries, disturbed sites and waste areas. Dispersal of seeds is by wind, water, foot traffic, vehicles, contaminated agricultural produce and soil transfer.

Eradication strategies: Small areas may be treated with a mixture of 20ml diuron plus 0.5g chlorsulfuron plus 25ml wetting agent in 10 litres of water. Spray the plants and a 4 metre buffer area until just wet. Repeat when new seedlings reach the 4-6 leaf stage.

Thursday, 19 January 2017

Can You Name These Weeds?

There has been a request via our facebook page about two weeds that are troubling a gardener. Can you help her identify them and what would be the best way to be rid of them?

If you could assist with this I'm sure that Kerri would really appreciate it. Either add your thoughts in the comments box below, or go to our facebook.

I'd be very interested in your answers as they are both growing very nicely in our garden too!

Wednesday, 11 January 2017

Frangipani Trees

Frangipani trees just seem to typify the tropics/subtropics and they are excellent trees to grow here on the Coffs Coast. Mature trees can grow to around 6 m high and 5 m wide, so this needs to be considered when selecting ‘the spot’ when planting. Frangipanis grow slowly – only around 20cm a year, so patience is needed to see this tree reach its full growth. They seem to thrive without a lot of maintenance and the only thing to keep an eye out for is rot.

Frangipanis have a small root ball, their non-invasive roots are ideal to plant near walls, retaining walls, pool surrounds etc. They look stunning as a feature tree in sweeping garden beds and offer protection to other more sensitive plants during summer. Or as a free-standing tree where their beautiful umbrella shape can be totally appreciated.

Can Frangipanis be grown in containers? Certainly, they flower reliably every summer giving a wonderful splash of colour. Needless to say, the best quality potting mix has to be used. If your potted tree is getting too big for your area, it can be pruned back quite successfully and your pruning pieces can be shared with your friends. To see a post on how to grow Frangipani from cuttings please see this post from May 2016.

Growing from seed

Frangipani seeds are produced in a long, narrow pod, which can contain around 40 or so seeds.

Remove the seeds from the pod and carefully tear off the wings. Dampen a sheet of paper towel, lay the seeds on top and dampen another sheet and place over the seeds. Place the paper sheets in a plastic container and store in a dim, warm place for about two weeks (or until the seeds sprout small white roots).

Fill small plastic pots with a blend of potting mix and coir fibre using a 50:50 ratio and press the seeds gently into the surface, with the roots pointing down. Dampen the mix with water. 

After a few weeks, the seeds will sprout their first pair of leaves. Repot into individual pots and allow to continue to grow. When the plants reach 30cm high, repot into a large-sized pot.

The classic white flowering Frangipani is the first to flower each season and is a firm favourite for many. Enthusiasts claim that there are up to 300 different flower colours found in Australia alone. From pale pinks to butter lemon to the wonderful vibrant blood red with peach, mango, lipstick pink, even a lilac (which I have yet to see growing). For folk who visit Moonee Beach there is a garden on the corner of Moonee Beach Road and Moonee Creek Road that has quite a few different shades growing atop a retaining wall. With the different colours come different scents like vanilla, coconut, apricot and jasmine fragrances. We have a bi-colour growing in our garden which doesn’t have much of a perfume at all.

On the Coffs Coast Frangipanis will flower from December until around April and thrive in well-drained soil, plenty of sun and frost free conditions. In frost-prone areas it is still possible to grow Frangipani if a microclimate can be established for them. Radiating heat from brick paving and walls will help frangipani withstand cooler winters. Or the use of containers can also be employed and these moved to a more sheltered area during winter.

They grow very well in the coast’s sandy soils and are perhaps one of the best trees for tolerating salty air. They do struggle in clay soils however, in our garden we prepared the soil quite well before planting and so far they are doing quite well. We are fortunate here in Coffs as our winters are so dry. Sometimes during wet, cool weather Frangipanis can be at risk of root, branch and tip rot, which is caused by a fungus. It is quite simple to discern which plants are affected when you notice that the stems become soft. To check on your plant’s health, squeeze the stems (firm stems indicate a healthy tree). To reduce the risk of rot avoid watering in winter. If you notice the stem becoming wrinkled spray leaves with AntiRot. If you notice spongy stems, remove the stem completely to the junction with a main branch. Thinning out 15 to 20% of the canopy every few years is good practice as it allows more light and air into your tree therefore, reducing stem rot.

It is not necessary to feed Frangipani trees however, they will flower bigger and better than ever if you spread some fertiliser around the drip line during the first flush of growth in spring and summer.

If you are down south towards the end of February 2017 you can learn more at the Begonia & Frangipani Weekend 25 & 26th February, 226 Annangrove Road Annangrove. 

It is a gold coin entry and you can peruse displays and stalls and attend expert talks and demonstrations. For further info see this link for details.

Monday, 9 January 2017


Flower of the Month - January 2017

image from Organic Gardener Super Sunflowers by Jerry Colby-Williams
Sunflowers just make me happy.
They're bright, they're simple and
even if you have no artistic talent
you can still draw them.
Jerry Colby Williams of ABC
Gardening fame has written a great
article for sunflowers https://
He says, cultivars range in size from
less than a metre to giants over 3.5
metres. You can grow them for the
beautiful flowers but if you have an
area of garden to establish, their
strong roots will do the job of
breaking up clay soil, you can then
dig them in for instant green
If you are aiming for show-quality
flowers or a heavy seed crop, feed
plants with 2 handfuls of poultry
manure per sqm when the seedlings
are 15cm high, then keep on feeding
feeding feeding. They're hungrier
than teenagers.
Small packets of seed offer the
prettiest options but good old farm
produce stores sell seeds by the kilo
which will give you flowers by the
Sunflowers have their very own
place in the natural world. Here is
where they belong: Kingdom -
Plantae; Division - Magnoliophyta;
Class - Magnoliopsida; Order -
Asterales; Family - Asteraceae;
Genus - Helianthus; Species - annuus

From President Sue & Editor CHGC Newsletter

If you are really 'in to' sunflowers and are in or around Ballarat, Victoria on the 12th of February take the opportunity to visit the FleuroSun Sunflower Open Day. 

9:30-4pm Copsley Ornamentals Development Nursery, Ryans Road, Blowhard via Ballarat. 

Visit the 2ha field nursery and hybrid trial site, featuring more than 2000 plots and 400 sunflower hybrids in a range of colours.

These beautiful sunflowers were grown by Sue - well done, what beauties!

Sunday, 8 January 2017

Vegetable Gardeners' Diary - January 2016

Pumpkins & Marrows

Simon's Harvest

If you have plenty of space in your vegetable garden, then it’s worthwhile growing some pumpkins and marrows. Both store well, and both have multiple uses in the kitchen, not just as cooked vegetables, but in soups and chutneys. Of course a marrow is simply a zucchini or courgette that is allowed to keep growing.

The other advantages of these two vegetables is that they are very low maintenance, although you may need to intervene to assist pollination if you don’t have many bees in your garden.

There are no special soil requirements for either of these vegetables, and they do equally as well from seed or seedlings. My preference is to use seed direct to where I want them to grow. I usually add a little liquid fertiliser when the seedlings appear.

The best time to sow is late winter/early spring when growth is likely to be most vigorous. However, you can start them off right through the summer months, and even into our mild Autumn.

The key to a good crop is to make sure that the male flowers cross pollinate with the female flowers, (If you can’t tell the difference between the male and female flower then I’m afraid you have led a very sheltered life).

The best time to cross pollinate is first thing in the morning when the flowers are completely open. Simply pick the stamen from the male flower and rub the pollen all over the stamen of the female flower. Or use an eyebrow brush to transfer the pollen.

Harvest your marrows at any-time once they get past the zucchini stage. Pumpkins should only be harvested when the umbilical stalk has dried right off, and the pumpkin returns a hollow sound when you tap it with your knuckle.

Both pumpkins and marrows will keep uncut for many weeks if stored in a cool, dry environment.

One word of caution. Be aware that our friendly Coffs Harbour snakes quite like hanging out in pumpkin patches where they can hide underneath the large pumpkin leaves. If you are a bit nervous about this at harvest time, then send someone you don’t like out to do the picking!

Happy Gardening, Simon

Tuesday, 3 January 2017

Poor Pollination

Corn Pollination

Pollination? It just happens right? Not necessarily, there are many variables in successful pollination. 

For instance corn is susceptible to pollination problems as it is pollinated by wind and therefore should be planted in blocks of at least four for adequate cross-pollination to occur. 

Corn anthers - male part of corn plant

Pollen from the male part of the plant falls onto the wispy immature heads of the corncobs. 

Poor pollination results in 'skips' or missing kernels and poorly filled ears. Inadequate watering can also affect the ability of the corn plants to pollinate properly. 

 Cucurbitaceae Family

Female squash blossom with a small, immature fruit
 at the base of the yet-to-be pollinated flower.

Crops in the Cucurbitaceae family, for instance cucumber, squash, pumpkin and watermelon, require cross-pollination to produce their fruits. 

They often suffer from poor pollination. 

Within a day of the flower opening and insects
have pollinated it the fruit begins to expand
and its supporting stem begins to strengthen
to support it on the vine as it ripens.
Separate male and female flowers are produced on the same plant. Pollinator insects move pollen from the male flowers to the female flowers where the pollen can fertilise the ovules (tiny seeds) inside the ovary (the very small fruits that appear below the female flowers).  

If the flower isn't well pollinated, the fruit will begin to yellow
and shrivel quickly, sometimes turning brown or black at
the flower end over time.

Blooms will often also simply drop off the plant if they are not pollinated. This can be caused by low bee/insect activity.
In the image (right) examples of a successful and unsuccessful pollination of a zucchini. 

Encouraging insect pollination

To encourage good pollination by insects we need to entice them to our gardens. Flowers which are particularly good at attracting insects to the vegetable garden and these can be grown as companion plants to our crops. Some good plants to grow would be comfrey, geranium, lupin (good as a nitrogen 'fixer' too), borage, buddleia, lavender, sunflower and alyssum to name but a few.

We need to be quite circumspect with the use of sprays in our vegetable gardens. Read the labels very carefully before use to see if it will be harmful to beneficial insects too.

Insects will always be the top pollinators in our vegetable gardens, so to encourage them is perhaps the best way to facilitate the process.

For the dedicated - hand pollinating

Hand pollination is not normally necessary if there are plenty of insects around. However certain vegetables (such as eggplant and kiwi fruit) can be a bit tricky to pollinate, so hand pollination may be necessary.

Pollinating by hand also avoids cross-pollination which can be useful if you want to save seeds. Cross-pollination occurs when pollen from one vegetable variety fertilises a different variety of the same (or similar) species. For example if a bee pollinates a pumpkin flower with pollen from a butternut squash flower, the resulting fruit could be an inedible hybrid of the two!

The method you use to pollinate your crop should depend on the type of flower you are pollinating. Plants in the squash family have male or female flowers. Female flowers have an immature fruit just behind the flower and male flowers have just a long stem with no swelling at the base. Simply pick an open male flower and strip off the petals to expose its stamens and pollen then rub them against the stigma of a female flower (the flower with a swelling below it) until you see the pollen has rubbed onto it.

You can also dislodge the pollen in self-pollinating flowers by shaking the plant gently. A more reliable method however is to use a soft paintbrush. Gently brush the inside of each flower. You will see the pollen transfer onto your brush; if you transfer pollen between the flowers you will mimic the natural movements of insects.

If you feel there has been insufficient wind to pollinate your corn crop, hand pollinating could be the go for you. 

The best supply of fresh, high-quality pollen is shed from mid to late morning, so that's the best time to assist in the pollination process. 

Take a broad, dry pan as as a pie tin and hold it beneath the tassels and give them a tap to shake out pollen. Free-floating pollen will likely land on many of the silks and some will accumulate in your pan. Sprinkle pinches of the powdery pollen over the silks of ears on the edges of your planting, as well as those on the upwind side of your plot.

Snip off a few anther-bearing branches from the tassels that look like they are freshly opened. The days new anthers often appear yellowish because they are full of fresh pollen (one dangling anther can hold 2500 grains of pollen). Gently tough the tassels to waiting corn silks, as shown here.

Sunday, 1 January 2017

Happy New Year

For anyone interested in what vegetables/herbs can be planted at this time in Sub-tropical Coffs Harbour there is an excellent link here.

Also found at that link is a planning list for February.

This extreme heat is really knocking vegetables and herbs about they, like us flag somewhat during the hottest part of the day - so early morning is the best time to get out and about in the garden.