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  • 28 Jul 2017 2:39 PM | HEATHER MILES (Administrator)

    Menai Group's April speaker was Lisa Harvey speaking on her Honours project – to fit tracking collars to Powerful Owls to enable research into habitat in urban Sydney.

    The Powerful Owl is Australia’s largest apex nocturnal predator owl, it is present along the Eastern Coast and is listed as vulnerable in NSW.  

    The owl is a territorial obligate hollow nester, 60cm in height with a wingspan of 140cm, it is estimated Sydney has 50-60 pairs with approximately 10-12 additional single birds. 

    The Powerful Owl Project was initiated by Birdlife Australia in 2011. This project is a citizen science project investigating breeding success, habitat use and diet of Powerful Owls in Sydney and the Central Coast. Lisa’s research extended this project to find more information about habitat use and  diet and to compare home range sizes of the Powerful Owl in areas of varying degrees of urbanisation across Sydney.

    To succeed, GPS transmitters with a weak link harness designed to fall off after a number of weeks were attached to 3 females & 2 males.  Suitable trees with reasonably clear surrounding foliage had to be located to enable the slinging of a net, raised with the aid of a bow and arrow, to trap an owl responding to the call of a female, male or even a young owl. 

    The owls were fitted with transmitters and tracked during the breeding season throughout the Sydney region. The GPS GSM transmitters enabled remote access to data via the mobile phone network. GPS fixes were first recorded ½ hourly then switched to hourly throughout the tracking period.  Lisa showed the results of the main areas tracked, multiple home range trips with the owls in Balgowlah Heights, Bonnet Bay, Menai, Centennial Park and the Botanic Gardens.

    The availability of vegetation may affect home range size, the variations found were: Botanic Gardens approx. 650ha, Centennial Park approx. 300ha, Bonnet Bay approx. 220ha, Balgowlah Heights approx. 110ha, Menai approx. 20ha.

    Greenspace is an important element to habitat. Different types of greenspaces were used such as structured gardens in the Royal Botanic Gardens and natural bushland in the Sydney Harbour National Park at Balgowlah. Overall 85% of GPS locations were recorded in greenspace, dwelling density within an owl’s home range varied between 0.43 & 6.26 km2.  Balgowlah had approx. 80% greenspace, Bonnet Bay approx. 60%, Botanic Gardens approx. 90%, Centennial Park approx. 95% and Menai approx. 99%.

    Collection and dissection of owl regurgitate assisted in determining the diet consumed by the tracked owls and also other known pairs throughout Sydney. Of the 74 pellets analysed, prey items were identified from bone fragments, hair and feathers.

    The GPS results in the Sydney region showed the common ringtail possum rating approx. 35% on the scale, the flying fox approx. 15%, rats approx. 15%, birds approx. 14%, common brush tail possum approx. 10%, sugar gliders approx. 3%, rabbits approx. 3% and unknown mammalians approx. 3%.

    What is the future for urban Powerful Owls? Prey is unlikely to be a limiting factor due to the abundance of key prey items such as the Common Ringtail Possum and Common Brushtail Possum. Habitat loss, especially the loss of old trees capable of producing large hollows for breeding is likely to be a significant concern.  Other issues include human-wildlife conflict, with the Powerful Owl being susceptible to car strike and collisions with buildings.  In highly urbanised areas, the owls may have to fly further afield to find greenspace and because of the risks associated with urban areas, greenspace design in cities could help reduce this risk. 

    Future projects will entail research into hollow availability and characteristics of greenspaces.

    The dedicated teams tracking, monitoring, researching and sharing their findings on these magnificent owls is greatly appreciated by all – we thank Lisa, Birdlife Australia, The University of Sydney, The City of Sydney and the Royal Botanic Gardens for their generosity.

  • 24 Jul 2017 9:39 PM | HEATHER MILES (Administrator)

    During a recent trip to Europe, I noticed a lot of quite large, home-made bee ‘hotels’. On my return, I undertook a bit of research and I found some excellent information on different home-made ‘hotels’ in the EU and UK. 

    After looking at all the pictures on that site, I decided to make one myself, to hopefully provide a home to our native solitary bees and other insects as they are important pollinators and pest controllers in gardens. They need to be encouraged as tidy gardens, lawns and lack of dead wood, mean less and less habitat for them.  

    The technical details of my ‘hotel’ are as follows: 

    • The back of the hotel is the same as the front.
    • The three drill diameters used to drill the wood were: 3.3mm, 6.5mm and 11mm. Depth of the holes were the drill length.
    • The sections of timber are old chemical free pine or Oregon.
    • The upright branches and the branches in the 50mm diameter plastic tubes were from the weedy Lantana plant. The soft core of the horizontal branches, were drilled out but not the vertical branches.
    • The ‘hotel’ sits on a 200x50 hardwood base.
    • I sited the ‘hotel’ in my garden so it receives dappled morning sun and full afternoon sun. Not ideal, as apparently it should be in a position that receives full sun, as the bees only become active around 18oC and above. A position that receives full sun is not possible in my northern Sydney suburban garden due to neighbouring trees.

    A few unanswered questions:

    • Will it work? Time will tell and apparently it can take up to 12 months to weather and lose its ‘newness’ before the tenants decide to call it home. Then again, there may be no native bees or other small insects to use it.
    • Should it be higher off the ground?
    • If it does not work, will it be the home to ants (hope not)?
    • Should it have a night light for those ‘guests’ returning back late (just joking).
  • 24 Jul 2017 9:32 PM | HEATHER MILES (Administrator)

    While rhododendrons are very popular plants in Australian gardens, there are only two species that we can truly call our own. 

    They are both Vireya Rhododendrons - rainforest species found in mountainous tropical areas of SE Asia, New Guinea and North Queensland. These species are members of the Erica family, which has a fairly small representation in Australia.

    Rhododendron lochiae was long thought to be the only Australian member of the genus, but in 1995 it was realised that there was a second and separate species which was named Rhododendron notiale

    Rhododendron lochiae grows naturally in north-eastern Queensland. Growing to 1.2m, this shrub has stiff foliage and reddish young stems. The flowers are spectacular, rosy-red bells which are borne in summer and autumn. It is slow-growing. 

    Rhododendron notiale is different from R. lochiae in that the shape of the flower tube is curved rather than straight. See a picture. Stems of Rhododendron notiale are not red like those of Rhododendron lochiae. R. notiale is indigenous to north Queensland.

    Vireyas are popular garden plants and will grow as far south as Melbourne provided they are protected from frost. Rhododendron lochiae has been hybridised with various other species to produce a number of garden plants such as ‘Tropic Fanfare’ and ‘Arthur’s Choice’.

    Both these native rhododendrons and the cultivars, require a sheltered position in a shaded location. They require acid soil, high in organic matter. In their rainforest homes they often grow as epiphytes wherever they can find sufficient light. They can be grown successfully in pots in an orchid-growing medium. Pruning lightly after flowering and pinching out young plants will help to produce compact specimens. 

    Propagation is relatively easy from cuttings. 

  • 19 Jul 2017 8:57 PM | HEATHER MILES (Administrator)

    For many years, I have been growing native plants, reading gardening books, listening to garden gurus, advising people on what native plants to grow in their gardens and listening to other people’s gardening problems. During this time, I have concluded that there is only one important garden principle that one must try to follow to succeed in your garden that that is: 

    Do not fight your site. 

    The plant’s natural growing conditions must closely match your site to maximise results. Failure to do this results in plants that grow far below their best and eventually require removal. 

    Your site’s environmental factors will determine how successful a plant will or will not grow. Try to accurately assess theses important factors:

    • Amount of light – full sun, no sun, morning or afternoon, shady etc. 
    • Soil types -- heavy clay, sandy or somewhere in between.
    • Soil water retention -- evenly moist, boggy or does it dry out quickly due to root competition from nearby plants. 

    Once you have assessed your site, the following are examples of mismatching conditions:

    • Trying to grow a plant that needs full sun in a shady position -- you will have a plant that grows weakly, flowers poorly and is susceptible to scale. Not a good look.
    • Trying to grow a plant that needs a shady/dappled light position in a full sun position -- the plant will at best wilt, because it is too hot, and at worst burn and die.  
    • Trying to grow a plant that needs a moist position in a dry position -- you will need to continually water it just to keep it alive. 
    • Trying to grow a plant that needs a dry position in a moist to wet soil -- you will need to provide additional drainage or add soil to raise the planting position.
    • Not selecting plants for the correct soil type. Plants that grow naturally in lighter, sandy soils often do not have a strong enough root system to establish themselves in heavy, clay loam. To grow a plant in this situation requires it to be staked and watered often. Conversely, plants that grow naturally in heavy clay loam, will establish in any soil as they usually have a stronger root system and are more adaptive. 

    Over the years, I have seen many examples of plants deciding their most suitable position in your garden, especially if they self-seed i.e. moving away from a sunny dry position to a more suitable shadier and moist position.  

    If your site does not suit the plants on your ‘wish list’ then all is not lost. Plant them in a suitable size pot. This way:    

    • They can be moved around to maximise sun and shade requirements.
    • You can provide the right soil and water requirements.

    To conclude --- know your site and learn to live with its limitations.

    By Jeff Howes

  • 19 Jul 2017 7:41 PM | HEATHER MILES (Administrator)

    For many years, I have been growing native plants and have picked up tips and tricks along the way. Here is a summary of some of my learning. 

    1. Planting under gum trees

    To maximise your success in getting your plants to grow, plant them as close to the trunk as possible. The reasons you do this are: 

    • There are very few tree feeder roots to rob your plant of nutrients andmoisture. 
    • During rain, a lot of water runs down the trunks of the tree and hence towardsyour newly planted plant

    2. A great screening plant

    If you need a great screening plant that is not too tall (three metres), not too wide (one and bit metres), grows in sun, grows in shade, is drought hardy when established and has coloured new growth…Then select Acmena smithii variety minor. You will find it at all good nurseries.

    3. Poor performers

    Be ruthless with plants that do not perform in your garden. There are far too many new and exciting plants to try, so dig out the underperformers and consign them to the bin.

    4. Group your plants

    To get the best out of your plants group those needing like-conditions together. Low water requirement together, shade loving plants together, moisture loving plants together. Basic, but vital.

    5. Forget the spring flush

    Design your garden so you have plants that flower at different times of the year and not only at spring. There is no better way to beat the winter doldrums than to see a patch of colour on a cold day – try Croweas or Correas.  

    6. Native plants are just plants

    Just a reminder – they are no different to any other plant, they need watering, fertilising and pruning to grow them at their best.

    7. Hardy orchids

    I have found that Dendrobium kingianum and D. delicatum grown on rocks and logs, above ground, in dappled light to full sun are tough near drought tolerant plants (water only every two to three weeks) AND they flower beautifully in spring – try some. 

    8. No feeding – not true

    Do not be afraid to fertilize your native plants and orchids during the warmer months when they are growing. Use any fertilizer labeled suitable for native plants. Your plants will look much better and healthier for it.

    9. If it's native it will grow anywhere – not true

    We have well over 20,000 plants growing in Australia and they are growing in deserts, along the coast and up to the Alps. When selecting plants for your garden, choose ones that naturally grow in similar conditions to yours, this will increase your chance of successfully growing them.

    10. Treated pine logs

    If you are constructing retaining walls and steps, use treated pine logs rated H4 as this is suitable for in-ground applications. The H3 rated logs are only suitable for above ground applications as they have a lower level of preservatives.

    11. Prune bottlebrushes to increase next year’s flowers

    When the flower has finished, and before new growth has commenced, cut the top 2/3’s off the flower. This will encourage multiple shoots from the remaining 1/3, each of which will produce a flower for next year. Well worth the effort.

    12. Pots

    If you have soil that is too heavy to grow plants like Boronias, buy a large plastic pot, cut the bottom out of it pace this on the ground (loosen the soil first) then fill the pot with potting mix and plant your plant. Finally mulch well the soil around the base of the plant. The advantage of this method is eliminating the need to repot the plant every two years or so.

    13. Habitat gardening 

    Think about habitat before you plant/dig/remove logs and rocks etc. Apart from planting native plants, you will also be creating a habit style garden where native plants will play a part of the food chain for any animals and insects etc.  That is why it is important not to remove any rotted stumps/fallen timber (unless a nest for white ants) and puddles in your desire to obsessively tidy up. You should be aiming for retaining a wide diversity of habitats.

    Because you do not want to end up with a jungle, you will need to selectively hand weed or mow at the appropriate time as well as prune….all part of becoming a habitat gardener, more so if you use indigenous plants.

    14. Landscaping

    Think of the site when you are landscaping and the existing biodiversity. In paved areas water must be allowed to percolate downwards, therefore no mortared joints. Use raised wooden decks rather than concrete for areas close to the house and boardwalks rather than paths.  For areas away from the house, try to create bird habitats, leaving dead trees if they contain potential nesting sites.

    15. Reduce the impact of Pied Currawongs

    Three things you should be doing: 

    • Reducing the amount of plants (native and introduced) with berries as this is a major source of food for Currawongs
    • Stop artificial feeding
    • Plant dense and spiky shrubs to provide safe nesting and hiding spots for smaller birds which the Currawongs prey on. 

    16. Long flowering mint bushes

    Prostantheras are not renowned for their long flowering time – unfortunate, given how attractive they are in flower. Two that I find to flower for nearly a month are: Prostanthera ’Poorinda Ballerina’ and Prostanthera phylicifolia. The second one also grows and flowers well in shade. Both are hardy and only grow to a meter tall.

    17. Kangaroo Paws, Anigozanthos

    Anigozanthos species are promoted as drought hardy. If yours are just sitting there looking unhappy and not flowering, it’s likely because they need a lot of water in winter (especially the taller flowering forms that flower in spring only). This is what they receive in their original habitat – the south western corner of Western Australia. For the smaller flowering Bush Series that flower all year round, it is best to give them less winter watering than their taller cousins. After flowering they all need to be cut back hard to the ground and cut leaves removed. It is rumoured that some growers actually mow them with their lawn mower – effective but a bit extreme. 

    18. Birds in the garden

    When I observe the limited amount of birds that my garden attracts, I am always fascinated that such a large bird as the King Parrot can eat very small seeds from plants such as Baeckia crenatifolia and Crowea Festival to name a few.

    19. Two excellent hardy grassy type plants to grow

    • Lomandra ‘Tanika’. This plant has attractive fine green leaves, is very hardy and only grows to 50 cms. Mine are growing in very dry situations and only get a burst of mid day sun, with dappled light for rest of the day. Talking to some “gardening industry” people, the only maintenance appears to be lifting them every five years and dividing them up and starting again. 
    • Poa australis. This is a very attractive small grey-green grassy clump whose flower seed heads appear above the plant in spring to summer. It is hardy in all situations and the only maintenance is again to divide them after flowering which is very easy to do and results in many more plants.

    20. Pretty and local to Sydney

    If you are after a long flowering plant, look no further than Ricinocarpos pinifolius or as it is more commonly known - the Wedding Bush. A local to Sydney, it starts to flower in August then rests with the odd spot flowers and then starts flowering again more heavily in November/December. The showy 2.5 centimetre five petal white flowers stand out well against the attractive green linear leaves. This plant is very hardy. My plant is about 1.8 metres tall and is in a well drained position protected from the westerly sun.

    21. Severe pruning

    Last year some of my Crinum pedunculatum, or Swamp Lily, which were growing in a very dry situation were looking a bit scrappy so I cut them down level with the ground and forgot them. In place of each plant I now have three very healthy plants that flowered at Christmas for me. So do not hesitate to resort to this type of “pruning”. Incidentally while this plant has the common name of Swamp Lily it is very hardy and will survive and flower well in situations which are dry and receive only dappled light – a great accent pant if grouped in clumps of three or five.

    22. Snail baits

    Be careful when using snail or slug baits as most commercial products contain metaldehyde which, when exposed to water, quickly breaks down to a harmless alcohol. (Fresh metaldehyde is toxic to slugs, snails, birds, cats, dogs, elephants, rabbits, humans and many more other creatures great and small)

    23. Benefits of rain

    I have often wondered, especially in drier times, why plants look and grow much better after rain than when they are hand watered. After surfing the wide world of the net I found that rainfall contains small quantities of dissolved nitrate and ammonia, which are forms of nitrogen, hence the growth spurt.

    24. Repotting

    I am sure we have all read the freely available advice about repotting pot plants into larger pots. The advice is along the lines of: “Only pot into the next size pot up or maybe the next two sizes of pots”.  An example of this would be to pot on a plant growing in a 150 mm (6”) pot into a 200 mm (8”) or 250 mm (10”) pot size.

    I have found this to be quite true because the potting mix can remain quite wet if there are no plant roots to take-up the excess moisture. This is especially so if the plant is potted on late into the growing season and growth has slowed. In this situation, the roots can rot and you lose the plant. There are exceptions of course, like plants with a strong and quick growing root system (e.g. Prostanthera species). However, as a general guide follow this rule and you will increase your success when repotting plants.

    25. Do not repot pot plants on to quickly

    it is best to wait until growth slows and roots appear out of the drainage holes. Another sign will be when the plant needs daily watering in summer. 

    26. Ponds work to attract frogs (in my opinion)…..

    If you install a pond you will quickly attract (stripped marsh) frogs.

    27. Dendrobium beetles

    If you do not have these beetles that originated in Queensland on your Dendrobium orchids read no further and count yourself lucky. 

    If you do read on …. these orange and black beetles grow to about 10 mm long and can fly. In summer months, the adult beetle eats the new leaves of orchids. They then lay eggs in the soft, new stems and the larva a soft white maggot like grub hatches, then eats and destroy the stem and growing tip. At their worst, they will destroy all the new seasons’ growth on your orchids.

    You can control by spraying an insecticide when you see them. The easier and more challenging way is to sneak up on them (there is always two of them), place your hand slowly below the leaves being eaten by the buggers and then, with your other hand try to grab them – if you miss, they will hopefully drop into your other hand as their defence is to drop to the ground when disturbed, now crush them.  

    28. Pruning rainforest shrubs

    Over the years I have noticed that many of my smaller growing rainforest plants such as: Acmena species, Syzygium species and Archirhodmyrtus beckleri, flower and set seed around the months of December and January. 

    After this they start to grow strongly until about April.  During this time of strong growth, I have found it to be the best time to prune (as severely as you like) as they quickly recover and look good again. Thinking about this, it is logical that this happens, as these are the months when Sydney gets it most rainfall and humidity.

    29. Soil

    When you are preparing new beds or refreshing existing garden beds, it is best to not import 'garden soil' from another property as there is every chance you could be importing trouble:

    • The soil could have been heavily limed or 
    • Had added fertilizers high in phosphorous – thus making it unsuitable for native plants especially those that belong to the Proteaceae family (Grevilleas and Banksias to name a few). 
    • There could be many micro-organism that may have harmful effect on your plants.

    The best option is to work with what you have got and improve your soil with your own home made compost. If you need large amounts of new “soil”, obtain it from a reliable supplier and make sure it is suitable for native plants.

    30. Yellowing of new leaves

    Sometimes when I plant new Grevilleas or Banksias, they do not perform well and their new leaves are yellow. This is often a sign of phosphorous toxicity in native plants. Once phosphorous is present in the soil it takes a long time to leach out. So to lock-up the phosphorous and prevent the plant taking it up, water the plant with Chelated Iron as per the directions on the packet. At the same time, I usually water the plant with some trace elements just in case the soil is lacking in one or more of the minor elements. 

    Watch for the new growth – it should be healthy green. If this treatment does not work the first time do it again in two weeks’ time.

    This treatment will not change the colour on old leaves. 

    31. Kentia palm

    This slow growing palm originates from Lord Howe Island. It is a very popular plant for indoors, because when young they do not need much light. In their natural environment, they do not receive much light when young as they are growing under existing mature palms – it is only as they mature that they need more light. 

    32. Healthy soil

    Your soil contains millions of different types of micro-organisms and one of their roles is to maintain soil fertility by recycling mineral nutrients essential for plant growth. This is a good reason to use a good layer of mulch over the soil. As the mulch breaks down, with the aid of these many micro-organisms, the soil is enhanced and over time the soil fertility builds up.

    As Australian soils are often deficient on phosphate, out native plants make use of a specialised group of fungi called mycorrhizal fungi which attach to the roots and enhance the uptake of moisture and soil nutriments from the soil to the plant tissue. These fungi are also crucial to many orchids especially those without any leaves – they often need the right fungus to supply their nutriments. 

    33. Lichen

    If you have rocks in the garden and sometimes roof tiles, covered with lichen (a living collaboration between algae and fungi) – congratulations as it is a good sign that you have healthy air low in airborne pollutants.

    34. A few landscaping tricks

    I have found that plants look much better when grouped together, especially in odd numbers – three of five ore the best numbers.

    For best results select plants that will grow well in the chosen area and group plants with similar water and cultural requirements in the same general area of your garden.

    35. Lawn alternatives

    Save water and fertiliser by replacing lawn grass with groundcovers which do not require mowing or edging such as Dichondra, Pratia or Microlaena stipoides

    36. Adding nitrogen to the soil naturally

    Chose Acacia, Senna, Casuarina, Pea flowers and other Australian legumes.

    37. Choosing flower colours

    Australia has more native plants than any other country in the world and there are a huge range of colours to choose from. We are particularly fortunate to have an abundance of blue coloured flowers. 

    Colour helps to create moods. You can use a colour wheel to choose colour harmonies or just go for a riot of colour – the choice is all yours and will be reflected in the character of your garden. 

    When choosing flower colours it is important to remember:

    • Warm colours – red, pink, orange and yellow, give a sense of fun and activity; they tend to come to the fore ground and thus appear larger. 
    • Cool colours - blues, greens and some blue-violets, give a feeling of space and serenity; they tend to recede from the eye and can appear smaller. 
    • Neutral colours - white, grey and black. Grey is an excellent “linking “colour, be careful with white and black, both can appear as “holes” or spaces in a colour scheme. Both work well as highlighters of other colours.
    • Limit the amount of contrasting colours. They are high impact so use them sparingly to create a focal point in your garden. Use more of the harmonious colours. They lie next to each other on the colour wheel; they relate to one another and do not clash.

    38. Cut flowers

    Helen Moody advised me of the following … and it works.

    There are three basic rules few simple to maximise vase life of native plants.: Keep them cool, watered and fed.

    • Cool: pick them in the cool of the day and place them straight away in a bucket of water, out of the sun. Keep arrangements away from heaters, draughts and air conditioners.
    • Watered: ensure buckets and vases are clean, top up as necessary, strip leaves that would be underwater, re-cut stems at an angle underwater.
    • Fed: add two teaspoons of sugar per litre, after first adding half a teaspoon of bleach. Adding a pinch of citric acid or a teaspoon of vinegar to each litre of vase water acidifies the water as plant stems take up acid water more readily than neutral of alkaline solution.

    39. Limited life of dwarf kangaroo paws

    The dwarf kangaroo paws such as Bush Pearl and Bush Ranger are only good for about three years. After that they do not flower as well and should be replaced.

    40. Pruning hard

    To keep Philotheca (Eriostemon) myoporoides looking great and flowering prolifically, prune 50% off the shrub after flowering.

    41. The advantages of using tube stock

    • They are economical and cheap to buy. 
    • They adapt quickly when planted out. 
    • They only need a small hole to be dug when planting. 
    • If the tubes are a square section, the roots run straight down and they should be easy to remove from the pot.  Sometimes it the plant is pot bound then the tube will need to cut away to minimise root disturbance. 

    Many Thanks to Tharwa Nursery for reminding me of this.

    42. Psyllids

    Lillypillies are the name adopted for Acmena and Syzygium and a few other related plants. They are generally hardy and pest free. However when grown in dappled light or shady areas some of them are particularly prone to being attacked by Psyllids – a small insect that gets into the leaf and produces tiny “bubbles” on the surface – it can create quite bad distortion of new growth and looks unsightly. 

    Some of the lillypillies are resistant to it. Resistant ones are:

    • Acmena smithii  var. minor and its cultivars ‘Hot Flush’. ‘Allyn Magic’, Hedgemaster’, ‘Minipilly’ and ‘Dusky’
    • Syzygium luehmannii and its cultivars such as ‘Royal Flame’ and ‘Little Lucy’
    • the hybrid Syzygium ‘Cascade’. Syzygium paniculatum  dwarf doesn’t get it very much. 
    However all the cultivars of Syzygium australe suffer badly from the pimple psyllids.

    Treatment consists of cutting off the damaged growth. The other method is to spray with a systemic insecticide. However this is not always effective as the insect is often gone when you notice the damage. If you have plants that are attacked, it is best to remove them and replace with forms that do not suffer from Psyllids.

    By Jeff Howes

  • 19 Jul 2017 7:00 PM | HEATHER MILES (Administrator)

    I have a north-facing front courtyard at my house, in the northern Sydney suburb of Westleigh. In this courtyard, I have a large (about 5 tonne) imported sandstone rock that has many native Dendrobium kingianum and D. speciosum orchids growing on it even though it receives full afternoon sun. I should be more correct and call them Thelychiton kingianum and T. speciosum, as they have been recently renamed. 

    As I always wanted a small pond/water feature, I created a dry creek bed leading from the rock to a small stainless steel 47 litre laundry tub. 

    To make it all appear ‘natural’ I did the following:

    • Sealed the drain hole and lined the tub with some black butyl rubber sheeting
    • Overlapped the edge of the pond with some bush rock that I had in my garden
    • Placed some ‘lucky’ type stones from the rock to the pool, to create a dry creek bed ‘look’
    • Added a layer of fine 5mm gravel to the bottom of the pond and then placed a small pot of a native aquatic plant on the bottom to give the fish somewhere to hide and add some oxygen into the water
    • Installed a small electric pump and timer to run the pump from 9am to 5pm seven days a week. The sound of running water is very pleasant and relaxing and it also helped add oxygen to the water
    • Added some native snails that breed quite prolifically, to help clean the pond
    • Introduced four or five Pacific Blue-eye native fish to stop any mosquitos breeding.

    Benefits of native fish

    I have had no mosquitos and this is a result of the fish and the splashing water from the pump on the pool surface making life all to difficult for them. 

    The Pacific Blue-eye fish have coped well with the fluctuating summer to winter temperature swings that one must expect in such a small volume of water.  I feed the fish every second day or so in summer and only once a week in winter when the water is colder and they slow down. 

    Pacific Blue-eye fish (Pseudomugil signifer) are an Australian native species that occur in coastal streams along the eastern coast of Australia from northern Queensland to southern New South Wales. 

    They are particularly suited for garden ponds and aquariums as they are carnivorous. They help control mosquitoes by feeding on the larvae and more importantly are frog friendly as they do not tend to eat tadpoles. 

    They are about 5-6cm long and fully grown in 6 months.  

    Do not use the introduced Gambusia affinis, a cold-tolerant strain of mosquito fish, as it is a predator that poses a devastating threat to the native frogs and fish in our waterways. 

    The outcome

    It took only a few weeks for my first Striped Marsh Frog (Limnodynastes peroni) to appear and it even find a mate, judging from all the eggs contained in the foam raft floating on the water surface and resultant tadpoles.

    This pool is now five years old and the only problems I have had is a build up of some sort of green strand-like weed in summer when the pool receives the afternoon sun and the water is warmer.  

    As for maintenance, I change the water very six weeks in summer and a bit longer is winter. When I change the water, I add the required amount of chlorine and cholamine remover (available form pet shops) to ensure the fish survival.

    Overall, a great success for me as it looks great, sounds great, is a watering point for local wildlife and is quite low maintenance.

    Jeff Howes

  • 19 Jul 2017 6:44 PM | HEATHER MILES (Administrator)

    A few years ago I had quite a few native snails in one part of my northern Sydney garden and now they are gone. A pity as the species I had was carnivorous and fed on the introduced garden snails (Cantareus asperses, which are from Europe). 

    I have no idea where they came from or where they have gone. Maybe it is because I now have no introduced snails in my garden and as a result no food for the native snails anymore. 

    Keep an eye out for them if your garden backs onto bushland as they are the ‘good guys’ and deserve to be encouraged.

    Some snail science

    Australia has about 2,000 species of native snails and slugs, none of which cause problems to garden plants. Some are even carnivorous, feeding on introduced garden snails. 

    A snail’s body consists of a foot, a head with a mouth and tentacles, a shell and a coiled visceral mass (the snail’s organs), which is contained within the shell. Most land snails have a blood vessel lined body cavity which functions as a lung so they can breath air.

    Snails are hermaphrodites; they are equipped as both a male and female but it still takes two to mate. After mating, small clear or white eggs are laid in a moist position.  

    Jeff Howes

  • 22 Jun 2017 10:37 AM | HEATHER MILES (Administrator)

    I have been gardening using native plants for nearly thirty years. And for six years I opened my garden three times for the Australian Open Garden Scheme. My aim was not to show my garden off but to show people that you can successfully grow native plants in suburbia and to promote the Australian Plants Society.   

    What I find interesting when I talk to the visitors is comments like, “When you go to most open gardens you know nearly all the plants that are used – only the site and method of use changes. With a native garden, you do not know most of the plants!”. 

    So I am asked many questions like, “How you I grow them?”, “Which ones do I use?”, “What can I use in my garden?” 

    I start off by saying that there are over 20,000 native plants in Australia that are growing from the coast to the desert. You need to select the ones that will grow in your microclimate and local conditions such as: 

    • How much sun is present

    • What type of soil is it? Well drained or retains water?

    One of most frequent question I receive is how I manage to grow Thelychiton kingianum and Thelychiton speciosum orchids on my rocks and ‘apparently’ in the ground. 

    These orchids are really very hardy and many are killed by too much kindness and water. In fact, they can endure extreme desiccation and flower best in full sun to one quarter shade.  

    To establish them on large rocks, obtain some aerial shoots that have been removed from existing orchids or cut off clumps with three or four pseudo-bulbs and hold them down with small rocks (or even tie them down with old stockings) and then surround them with plenty of old leaf litter. 

    Use an open friable litter that does not hold too much moisture and drains well.  Keep the orchids moist (not wet) until new growth commences and then only water occasionally and apply more mulch as they grow. 

    To appear to get them growing in the ground, (which they won’t), place a few 50 mm thick paving blocks on the ground and follow above method. In no time, they will multiply and reward you with flowers. Liquid fertilizer can be applied monthly during spring and summer at 1/2 strength but they generally get enough nutrients from the decaying leaf litter.

    Jeff Howes 

  • 21 Jun 2017 10:14 PM | HEATHER MILES (Administrator)

    The idea of a cosy cottage garden, with herbaceous borders of annuals and perennials against a backdrop of shrubs and (maybe) a small tree or two, is becoming popular again especially as gardens become smaller.  

    Remember, plants that self-seed in a garden can easily become weeds in nearby bushland. By introducing native plants, especially local (i.e. indigenous) species, you will reduce your garden’s weed potential and make it more attractive to flora and fauna. 

    The principles of colour

    Australia has more native plants than any other country in the world. There are many low growing annual and perennial Australian plants and shrubs that can be used in a massed display to create a cottage garden. There is a huge range of colours and we are particularly fortunate to have an abundance of blues to choose from. 

    You can use a colour wheel to choose colour harmonies or just go for a riot of colour – the choice is all yours and will be reflected in the character of your garden.

    Colour helps to create moods. When choosing flower colours it is important to remember:

    • Warm colours – red, pink, orange and yellow, give a sense of fun and activity; they tend to come to the foreground and thus appear larger. 
    • Cool colours – blues, greens and some blue-violets, give a feeling of space and serenity; they tend to recede from the eye and can appear smaller. 
    • Neutral colours – white, grey and black. Grey is an excellent ‘linking colour’, but be careful with white and black. Both can appear as ‘holes’ or spaces in a colour scheme. Both work well highlighting other colours.
    • Limit the number of contrasting colours. They are high impact so use them sparingly to create a focal point in your garden. Use more harmonious colours. They lie next to each other on the colour wheel and so relate to one another and do not clash. 
    By Jeff Howes
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