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Healthy Living
Jan 04, 2023

Gardening tips and tricks in challenging times

In this gardening feature, IRT Maintenance Gardener Brian Wardhaugh discusses gardening in challenging times.

“Thankfully gardening is an outlet that can be really rewarding in the cooler weather"

With climate change well and truly upon us, extreme temperature changes can wreck havoc on gardens.

The bushfire season and recent floods are a game changer, as a warming climate is impacting the range of plants we can grow successfully.

However, there's not likely to be a more fitting word than 'resilience' when it comes  to Australians in general and particularly to our farmers and gardeners. Here's how to manage these challenging conditions:

Gardening tips during climate extremes

1. Water early during bushfire season

Get in early and get the water into vulnerable plants. Shade cloth or makeshift covers can also limit sun damage.

2. Choose tougher plants

Long-term resilience will mean choosing tougher plants. Species selection and placement will be paramount to a successful garden.

2. Use marginal plants

Only use anything susceptible to extremes of weather as short-term option. The bones of the garden will have to be really drought and heat tolerant, and anyone living near bushfire-prone areas will have to rethink their gardens entirely.

3. Consider flame retardant plants

Consider flame retardant plants and mulches, more setback areas from flammable bush, and more effective irrigation options.

Flammable trees like eucalyptus and pine species can be replaced with smaller deciduous trees and rainforest species like lilly pillies, which don’t burn as readily. With forests burning hotter it’s time for a more intuitive approach to dealing with our natural areas.

4. Get weeding when the rain returns

The return of drenching rain saw brown lawns turn green almost overnight and shrubs and trees responded by pushing out welcome new growth. Every weed seed lying dormant took the opportunity to sprout, with growing conditions perfect for reproduction, which meant lots of weeding when there was still warmth and adequate soil moisture.

5. Get planting

It is also a good time to plant hardy bulbs like daffodils and jonquils and rejig those pot plants that are looking jaded.

6. Plant carefully

In the garden in early summer bangalow palms and cyathea species will not look good until older foliage is removed and the rain returns. Once widely planted I would only use these rainforest species in really sheltered microclimates, as days over 40 degrees are sorting out what we are capable of growing well.

7. Accept the need to rebuild

Rebuilding gardens may be the only option after really severe weather. Some of the plants you might have more success with and are suitable for the smaller garden and heat include limonium perezii (sea statice), leucanthemum (shasta daisy), leucadendron (protea), euphorbia stardust, geranium big red, pennisetum rubrum dwarf form (purple fountain grass), nepeta species (catmint) and scaevola pink form (our native fan flower).

Petunias also revel in the warmer weather and provide colour and good value for money all through the summer months. A standout perennial though would have to be catmint for its all-round toughness and long flowering season.

8. Provide extra TLC for some plants

While many of our old favourite garden plants still power on through hell and high water, there will be others that will rely on supplementary watering and more tending while the dams are full.

Handy gardening tips and tricks

1. Watch gardening shows

To keep the appetite growing for gardening, why not watch the gardening and lifestyle shows on television.

2. Listen to the radio

Listen in to the radio programs on Saturday morning for some light entertainment and helpful gardening hints.

3. Browse magazines

Start browsing old magazines for inspiration and tips on getting the garden ready for spring.

4. Find old seeds

Dig out those old packets of seeds in the second drawer you were always meaning to plant but never got around to it. You never know your luck.

5. Keep your tools clean

Disinfect gardening tools and secateurs using a household disinfectant or two per cent bleach solution.

6. Try growing greens in water

Throw some edible greens in a reasonable-sized pot and keep them in a sunny spot with a daily water.

7. Mind the bugs

Watch out for scale insects at the moment. Many of the smaller lilly pillies are carrying white wax scale. Treatment is squashing them or spraying with eco or white oil. They can be very persistent and need multiple sprays.

8. Cut corners with cuttings

Taking cuttings of easy-to-grow plants, like succulents or geraniums, is a great way to start growing your own garden. It’s extremely rewarding and cost effective to grow your own plants, as many residents know. You can also divide your favourite perennials.

9. Hose your indoor plants

Indoor plants can do with a gentle hose down to remove dust and freshen foliage when water restrictions are more relaxed. Remember to only use a trigger nozzle before 10am and after 4pm.

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