Citrus For All Seasons

Freshly picked, home-grown citrus isn’t a luxury reserved only for the picturesque gardens in the warm and sunny climate of the Mediterranean. Short on garden space? Growing citrus in containers can deliver you lemons even indoors. All it takes is some simple citrus basics, a little human ingenuity and you’re on your way to growing your very own fruits.

Citrus plants grown in containers do best in porous pots that dry out fairly quickly since the roots do not like to remain wet for long. Make sure you remove your citrus from the plastic containers they come in when purchased as the heat from the summer sun and can cause the roots to burn. 

Envious images of potted citrus can steer you toward big pots, but starting small and steady will win this race. Extra soil around trees complicates moisture control, so work your way up in pot size as trees grow. For small trees, a 30-cm diameter container is perfect for starters. Mature trees need pots double that width and at least 50 cm deep. This gives roots growing room and prevents tippy, top-heavy trees. 

Be sure that whatever container you use has plenty of drainage holes so that water drains away freely. It is prudent to raise any container off the ground on “pot feet” to facilitate drainage and ensure good air circulation.

The soil should be sterilized, gritty, and free-draining. Some of the soil mixes especially formulated for containers work well; if they seem to hold too much moisture, add sand or gravel to the mix. Water carefully, as overwatering is a common mistake, you may feel you’re doing the plant a favour, but this smothering of love may lead to the drowning death of the plant.

Most citrus plants like to partially dry out (the top Five centimeters of soil should feel dry) before receiving more water. These plants are quite greedy and require regular feeding to do well. If you are repotting a plant, incorporate some timed-release fertilizer into the soil at planting time. Also, select a liquid fertilizer that is high in nitrogen and apply this approximately every other week.

Standard citrus trees grow too big for indoors, but dwarf varieties are grafted onto special roots that limit their size and speed up fruiting. Growing them in containers keeps them smaller, too. If you’re new to growing citrus, start with dwarf types known to flourish and fruit well indoors. Easy-to-grow favourites, such as Meyer lemon, Key limes, Kumquats and Calamondin oranges, fit the bill.

When bringing pots in from outside before a frost, giving them a nice warm, slightly soapy wash will help to remove dust and any hidden pests, like a good wash should. They will also benefit from daily spritzing with plain water throughout the winter months to help raise the humidity level. When moving citrus from one area to another, do it gradually. Temperature fluctuations will stress the plant and can cause bud and/or fruit drop.

Get The Gardening Glow

 

With almost 67 per cent of Australians living in our capital cities, we’re one of the most highly urbanised countries in the world. Considering the day-to-day stresses or urban living, traffic, overcrowding and simply not enough time – this means up to 16 million of us could benefit from the physical and mental advantages provided by gardening.

Whether it’s a sprawling veggie patch in the backyard, a flowerbed in a small courtyard, a window box or even a community garden space, almost anyone can achieve a gardening glow. 

Gardening is a great workout, It not only works all those major muscle groups, it burns calories as well. Also, gardening improves the mood almost instantly, so it’s fantastic for the soul.

The Fitness Factor

Forget about working hard in the gym or building up a sweat on the treadmill, gardening is just as good as a workout, if not better. Prolonged light exercise such as gardening can burn more calories than a gym session, despite being much easier to do.

Stress Relief

Gardening can increase life satisfaction, reduce and promote recovery from stress, enhance self-esteem and reduce feelings of depression and fatigue. Ask any gardener and almost all will insist that they feel better after getting their hands dirty in the soil. An activity like gardening gives you something to celebrate and care about. When you’ve tended and grown something it gives you a sense of purpose and pride, which in turn make you feel good about yourself.

Mood Enchasing

Having flowers in and around your home not only looks beautiful, they also have amazing health benefits, such as reducing stress and depression. Flowers increase positive energies and soothe and relax the soul. Plants in the home also increase energy levels and vitality. 

Immunity Boost

We often avoid getting our hands dirty but there are health benefits to be gained from exposure to soil. We need to be 100 per cent hygienic but we don’t need to be 100 per cent dirt or germ-free because our immune system needs something to spar with.

Air Quality

Plants have been shown to absorb and degrade all types of urban air pollutants, thereby reducing air pollutants, thereby reducing air pollution levels. We have a vital need for constant connections with plants for cleaner air, so gardening time is vital. Spending just 15 to 20 minutes each day in the garden can also improve sleep quality because breathing fresh air stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system in the brain, which is responsible for relaxation.

 

Beginners Guide to Hedges

 

Hedges offer many solutions to a garden and home. They are great at providing privacy, colour, design, background, visual barriers, borders, luxuriance and screens.

Used correctly and with the right plants they are fantastic at portraying a sense of space and perspective, and increasing the design potential of your garden, after all the outdoor space is an extension of your home.

HEDGE STYLES

There are multiple styles from neatly clipped to more natural un-kept means.

Formal  Suitable as an alternative for a fence or wall. Meticulous clipping to keep a tight/dense hedge which suppresses flowers and fruit.

Semi-formal – Pruned occasionally but allowing seasonal flowering and fruiting.

Informal – Allowed to grow naturally, clipped infrequently t look tidy. Typically used to provide a screen or privacy.

Pleached  neatly clipped trained large shrubs or small trees by structural training and manipulating branches into a tree like hedge.

PRUNING YOUR HEDGES

  • For formal hedges the tip is to clip little (tip prune) and often and make sure you prune constantly when plants are young for a dense hedge. Plants with smaller leaves are great for the classic formal look. The aim should be to make the hedge dense and then allowing the height and width to increase.

  • Formal hedges require the extra effort and you can set up a string line just above the hedge as a guide. In comparison to a semi-formal hedge which is pruned only to keep its desired shape and size but allowing annual flowering, so best pruned after flowering or/and fruiting if they are ornamental.

  • Hedges should also be trimmed wider at the bottom with slightly slopping sides to allow light onto lower leaves to promote low level leaf growth and density.

  • Pleaching is also a great tall screen option (hedge on stilts), by creating tree like hedge without blocking light from coming into your garden and provides a neat, architectural and formal feature to any garden. This option requires patience and precision.

ESTABLISHING YOUR HEDGE

Preparation before planting will repay you long term and make sure investment in your garden rewards you with amazing hedges.

Make sure all weeds are remove and dig the area over by at least 300mm deep, adding in well-rotted organic matter throughout. Let the area rest two weeks prior to planting so yu can come back through and remove any weeds the pop up. Once plants are in the ground make sure you mulch to help keep the soil moist and prevent weeds.

Regular watering will be required until plants are established. Best time to plant is during autumn in warmer climates or late spring in cooler climates unless your susceptible to frost, then wait until mid-spring.

Smaller plants should be planted 30cm – 50cm apart, with larger growing shrubs and smaller tress ideally planted 1m or more apart.

Make sure you also feed your plants regularly to promote leaf growth and prevent deficiency’s and diseases.

PLANTING SELECTION FOR HEDGES

There are many options for hedges with the following being some of my favourites. The most important and critical feature of a hedge is that it should be hardy and long-lived so you’re not needing to replace plants and gaps in between your hedge do not develop. Your climate and the soil type your working with also needs to be considered in the success of your hedge long term.

Photina x traseri – Red Robina

Mostly evergreen with feature new growth coloured pin to red. Produces small cream flowers with a slight perfume. Great for areas that require tall hedges/screens, can be pruned once a year with more formal hedges requiring pruning 2 – 3 times a year. Each prune produces a new flush of red leaves. Tolerates short drought but prefers fertile well drained soil with reliable moisture. Prefers full sun but can tolerate semi shade.

Rhaphiolepis spp – Indian Hawthorn

Dense leafy evergreen shrub, spring flowers of white to pink clusters. Used as a smaller hedge as it grows 2 – 3m tall. Grows in full sun to semi shade. Can tolerate salt and pollution so great near pools or busy roads. Tolerates short drought, slow growing and only needs to be pruned 2 – 3 times a year to maintain a formal hedge or shape.

Abelia x grandiflora – Glossy Abelia

Evergreen shrub and great if you’re looking for a bun shaped hedge. Flowers are white flushed with pink mostly produced in summer to autumn. Best grown in full sun and prefers fertile well drained soils. Once established they can tolerate periods of drought. Great background plant for a shrub border, low maintenance and reliable with neat foliage.

Buxus microphylla – Japanese Box

Evergreen shrub growing 2 – 3m tall. Bright green foliage maturing to lush mid green in colour. Small perfumed flowers in spring, requires full sun to semi shade. Tolerates frost, pollution and wind. Tolerate short drought and great for formal gardens, hedging and suitable for planter boxes. Will require clipping every 2 months to maintain neat formal hedge.

Viburnam odoratissimum – Sweet Vibrnum

Evergreen with thick trunk, and larger leaves compared to the other plants mentioned above. Foliage is dark green and leathery. Flowers appear in late spring to summer if hedge is not pruned. Requires fertile well drained soil with irrigation. Fast growing and establishes as a hedge quickly but will need regular pruning 3 – 4 times a year to keep the size restricted. The foliage is commonly seen in florists.

Murraya Pariculata – Murraya

Evergreen large shrub with glossy green foliage. Strongly perfumed white flowers produced in spring and late summer. Common hedge seen in Sydney both popular for residential and commercial landscapes. Prefers warm, humid and frost-free climate, Hedges will require bi-monthly pruning in warmer months but will tolerate a hard prune.

 

Growing Garlic At Home

 

There is no requirement at being a seasoned gardener or farmer to grow your very own garlic at home. It’s also very achievable and easy to harvest your own good quality garlic with a little patience due to its long growing time and by just following a few steps and keeping track of the seasons.

Soil Preparation

Garlic is luckily easily grown in almost types of soil with a preferred pH of 6-7, but to grow larger sized garlic bulbs it’s recommended that your soil is fertile and high in organic matter which can also be mixed in to the top layer of soil where you will be planting, also make sure you soil has good drainage or you will end up with rotted garlic.

Getting you Cloves

Sourcing your garlic is at the utmost importance as you don’t want failed garlic after nine months of looking after them, hence why you will need to be patient with garlic. Avoid using garlic heads bought from the supermarket unless you can source certified organic bulbs or some from your local organic farmers market. 

Once you have sourced heads your happy with, then start to break up your garlic head into cloves, as the cloves are what your will be planting. If everything goes well, every planted garlic clove will produce a lovely garlic head, fantastic!

Planting Garlic

Planting garlic is typically done in the autumn after the first frost sets in, so now is the perfect time to start preparing and selecting those garlic heads for planting in the next few weeks.

Just before planting and after you have separated your cloves soak the cloves in water for 10-12 hours, this makes sure you give your cloves the best start, try to also plan out planting area with a clove spaced every 10cm-15cm. 

Ensure you plant the cloves standing upright, so the tip facing upwards, this is where the sprout will shoot. Bury each clove about 6cm-10cm deep and give them a good soaking with a fish emulsion, seaweed fertiliser or homemade worm tea. In colder climates mulching is critical to keep the garlic from freezing and it’s also a great idea to keep those weeds at bay.

On Going Care

The cloves should sprout within a month from planting and the wait begins. Keep the newly planted cloves well hydrated in the warmer autumn months, watering every few days; expect for days with rain. Soils that are sandy may have to be watered more regularly to compensate for the faster water loss.

Feed the garlic with liquid seaweed fertiliser every month, and in midwinter, as the bulbs begin to form, apply a fertiliser high in phosphorous to help them swell and grow into lovely large bulbs.

Harvesting

Garlic is typically harvested in summer, but that can certainly change depending on where you are at in the country and warmer spring conditions. Reduce regular water into allow the bulbs to mature in the ground, checking their progress by digging with your fingers along the stem. The key indicator to know when the garlic is ready to harvest is the colour of the leaves, which will turn yellow and tanned when ready.

To harvest, loosen the soil surrounding the garlic without damaging the garlic heads and gently pull on the foliage. You can always select one as a test and determine by looking at it if the head and inspecting for well-developed cloves.

Once harvested hang your garlic in a cool, dry place. This not only helps the garlic keep for many months but you will also have access to new cloves to be planted once again in autumn.

 

Tools For The Urban Gardener

 

In these modern gardening times there is quite literally a device for every gardening function imaginable. With such a range available, it’s no wonder collecting gardening tools can border on addiction. The same could be said for the indoor garden, the only difference is you won’t need to install a tool shed to house all those addictive tools, a small basket should do the job.

There are only a few implements that are actually necessary when working in the urban or indoor garden, often coming down to personal choice or even adapting the odd household item for the task (trust me I’ve been known to have used a serving soon to move potting mix around).

So here are my “go to” or “must” have tools that I would suggest any novice gardener to invest in.

A fork of some kind is essential. The old two-prong kitchen variety is quite suitable but the prongs should be slightly blunted. This is a great tool, used to keep the top soil open, preventing soil compaction, allowing the passage of water and air to the roots.

A small trowel or garden scoop is necessary for filling troughs and other containers and a potting stick or dibble can also be used to make the appropriate size holes when planting all but the largest plants.

The selection of gardening tools should also include either a modern pruning knife or a small sharp secateurs that can be used for pruning and cutting, with the latter being my personal preference to snip off dead or withered leaves.

A finely nozzle spraying can, which can be used to spray the leaves of your plants (reducing cleaning) and also a great way to fertilise or spray pesticide on your indoor plants.

A watering can with a long narrow spout is also the best watering utensil because the flow can be directed beneath the foliage and away from the vulnerable crown of the plant, you can find some efficient watering cans that have a removable rose so you have both watering options. May I also suggest keeping the water at room temperature which can be most easily obtained by keeping a full can in the room.

Many other articles can be added as they are found desirable and could include a sieve for sifting soil for small pots, plant labels, twine, canes and stakes and gardening gloves or lined rubber gloves.

And as previously suggested if a garden tool basket can be obtained to hold all these gardening tools it will make for tidiness and save time. There is nothing more infuriating than having to search for a tool that is required for a certain trivial job at a certain moment.

 

Herbs And Medical Plants

 

In the middle ages, early gardens where typically filled with medical plants and were generally attached to temples or sacred grounds. Attended by monks and nuns which roles developed to physicians and nurses. This association between medicine, religion and gardens continued throughout history, with herbal and medical gardens planted in large numbers and within confined spaces, such garden where later referred to as physic gardens.

Medical treatments were heavily based on herbal remedies accompanied with superstitions, prayer and meditations, the treatments where heavily based and influenced by theories that man’s health depended on the balance maintained within the body and in correspondence with the four elements, air, water, fire and earth, with strong correlation with the two essences of yin and yang.

Once the modern system of medicine developed, the active principles in plants were isolated, tested, synthesised and incorporated into pharmaceuticals, with over 40 per cent of modern medicines having origins from nature. In eastern world both modern and herbal medicine still coexists and have also remained in use, unlike Britain, North American and Australia where traditions of herbal plants or physic garden barely survive. Luckily things are changing and until recently where interest has grown to take a much more holistic approach to our health with the help of our gardens and mother nature.

The best way to get started is to go shopping for some healthy, established culinary herbs which can also be easily grown from seed.  Don’t take the a chance on being confused over which herb or plant is which as its best to start with what you know and slowly growing your garden and collection of herbal and medical plants.

So lets start with some easy and commonly grown herbs and plants and there uses.

Rosemary, are great with foot-baths, a quick and easy way to relax the muscles and ease tension, by crushing and running a few fragrant leaves in hot water and letting it rest until a comfortable temperature for the skin. I cannot get enough of this herb and I just about incorporate it into most of my meals.

Chamomile, Basil & Geranium, are known to aid with sleep and insomnia and can be used by either adding a few drops of essential oils on your pillow or diffuser. You can also incorporate the dried flowers and leaves from the above herbs and plants in your very own blend of tea which will aid in its affect. The added bonus is that they all smell wonderful and will make your home feel soothing and comfy.

Lemon Verbena leaves are also great for digestive issues and as a sedative herb, with soothing, sleep-inducing properties. It’s also a lovely and fresh tasting herb which can also be added to your daily drinking water or most commonly used as a tea.

Lavender, best known of the headache herbs, with the diluted oil being used on temples and forehead or with the dried leaves socked in water and used as a lovely face rinse. These plant not only adds so much to your life, but also helps invite those much needed bees into our gardens.

Ginseng, grown for the root and can be grown in the home garden, used as a invigorating and energy boosting tea, Ginseng had a reputation in the East as the ultimate tonic medicine, strengthening all part of the body and prolonging life. The root can be purchased from health shops as a powder or already prepared in teabags.

Garlic, used and known to have amazing antiseptic properties, can be used to discourage infection from spreading. If your already incorporating Garlic into your life, then great and if the taste offends you then you could great a garlic vinegar which makes a stinging but cleansing wash.

The above ideas are a great way to start using accessible herbs in your daily routine. Remember, everything in moderation! Always consult a medical professional before adding it to your regular diet or supplement regimen. Incorporating your garden and plants into creating a much more holistic approach to dealing with the stresses of life and sicknesses we encounter is simple and a fascinating process, the more you get to know about medical plant and herbs the more absorbing they become.

 

Stop And Smell The Roses

 

Caring for roses takes very little effort once you have the routine down pat, with huge rewards of fragrant blooms through spring and summer and even into autumn.

1.SOIL PREPARATION & PLANTING

The first step to growing great roses at home begins with choosing an area in the garden where they are sure to thrive and selecting a rose to match your garden’s micorclimate and soil. Start by choosing a location to grow your roses even before you buy them, you will be on a better path towards rose growing success. 

Once you have selected your garden location, go about working up the soil. The soil can be built up by mixing in some well rotted compost prior to planting, if you have a pH kit on hand, the ideal pH is 6.5 for roses.

You may want them to climb a wall or a trellis, or fit into a nice rose bed or even be used as ground cover. Keep these points in mind when making your selection. Potted roses are also perfect for small areas, such as an apartment balcony, limited garden area or just for setting on a patio, with the added benefit of bringing your sweet smelling roses closer to the eyes and nose.

2.SUNLIGHT

Sunlight is very important for roses so selecting a spot that gets six hours of sun a day and has good drainage is best. Any-less sun than that and you’ll have fewer flowers, leggier plants, and more disease. Even roses labelled “easy care” need some tending to. 

3.SPACE

Adequate space is imperative. Roses require excellent air circulation to prevent disease and to ensure you have enough room to tend to them. Each rose bush should have space to flourish and spread its roots and branches. If your roses are potted then your roses will thrive for roughly three years and then will need transplanting. Roses in pots tend to deplete the soil of its nutrients more rapidly than if they were in the ground. Often they can outgrow their containers and need a larger home. In this case one can provide the rose with a container one or two sizes up from the previous one.

4.WATER & FERTILIZATION

Roses also need one to two deep waterings a week during warm, dry weather. Drip irrigation is ideal and avoid overhead watering to help prevent disease and to protect blossoms. To keep them blooming, most varieties should be fed every four to six weeks with a with a specialist rose fertiliser or a organic liquid fertiliser to encourage micro-organisms in the soil.

5.PRUNING ROSES

Since most landscape roses are hardy, they don’t require winter protection. In the coldest areas, choose hardy varieties grown on their own root stock. These roses also don’t need intricate pruning. Simply cutting back plants by half to two-thirds in late winter and thinning crowded canes will keep them compact and under control and promote new growth in spring. A good rule of thumb when pruning roses is to leave no wood on the bush that is thinner than a pencil. Then you can sit back, relax, and enjoy the colourful summer show.

Note: Roses are highly susceptible to diseases and pets, so spray the foliage with eco oil if necessary on a regular basis or on the first signs of destress. Its also important to deadhead your roses once they bloom to promote further growth and a spectacular array of roses, and if your roses are grown organically then these blooms can always be used to make some sweet tasting rose tea or jam.

Everyone can grow roses, no matter where they live. If you can grow grass, you can grow delightful roses for your own indulgence.

 

Starting a Vertical Garden

 

Vertical gardens have been around for centuries all though the designs were not as we know them today. Grape vines and fruit trees adorned the walls of ancient Egyptian Palaces, so living walls are certainly achievable in even the harshest of climates and quite capable of bringing our modern day residential and balcony walls to life.

Vertical gardens are great at providing privacy, a touch of nature and colour but they are also a great solution for growing those plants often thought to be restricted to a vegetable patch in the backyard such as varieties of lettuce and herbs. They take up less space, especially when room is scarce, and are wonderful at masking say an unattractive wall or dressing up an alfresco area.

You also have the added convenience of having your plants in an accessible location which makes maintenance and use easy and your chance of success at vertical gardening just about guaranteed.

CHOOSING YOUR PLANTS

Choosing your plants is like choosing a pet. Different plants require different amounts of care and it’s important to use plants that suit your lifestyle and the environment.

There are a wide variety of suitable plants that can be used for vertical gardening, the most common being succulents. Your other options include creepers, ferns, flowering annuals, herbs, natives and even trailing varieties like Devil’s Ivy.

Herbaceous plants are great at always looking lush than woody plants because the herbaceous kind are much more flexible in the way they fall. Woody varietals—like trees, shrubs, or vines have rigid, wooden stems, so they’ll grow parallel to the floor and stick out instead of flowing down nicely. On the other hand, herbaceous plants, like flowers and ferns, have soft, green stems, making an attractive vertical garden. Until you’re a seasoned green thumb, it’s best to opt for low-maintenance species before trying your hand at the needier varieties.

ENVIRONMENT OF YOUR VERTICAL GARDEN

Although a vertical garden can be fixed to just about any indoor or outdoor wall, the chosen location of your vertical garden will be crucial to its success. Even a small yard or garden has variances in air, light, soil, and water known as micro-climates. If your vertical garden is being kept indoors then you’re looking at the micro-climate in your home.

Micro-climates are very important zones that exist within or around your home and are crucial to the success of any garden including the vertical variety. To determine various micro-climates in your home, you will need to consider these four conditions: Temperature, Patterns of light, Humidity distribution and Air circulation. These factors are not just for determining the location of your vertical garden but will also assist you in working out what plants will do well.

In general, you’ll want to group all-sun or all-shade plants, using ones that have the same rate of growth and characteristics. Let’s say for example you put one that has slow growth next to one with faster growth; the more aggressive kind is going to take over and shade out the other.

TYPES OF VERTICAL GARDENS

There are many different varieties of vertical gardens available, from DIY readymade systems to homemade ones incorporating and using wooden pallets from example. These do-it-yourself homemade vertical gardens are great and have the same vertical green effect of that of the commercial bought systems available.

The only difference is the set-up time, as you’ll want to grow the plants horizontally for a few weeks to let the roots establish themselves and help hold the soil in place. If you try to plant it vertically straight away, you’ll have to contend with gravity pulling your soil and plants out as the soil is less contained. A solution for those of us with the impatient gene would be to use wire mesh to prevent the contents from spilling.

My preferred option for the home vertical garden is the easy option of a container vertical garden, which means potted plants (terracotta, plastic or metal) are attached to a wall or displayed in row in a clip or slot in system. Due to the popularity with vertical walls, there are now engineered options in the market which are self-watering and have the planting depth and functionality of a container garden.

Some of the containers and systems available are modular, or better yet, individually removable so you can hang them outside for the summer and bring them indoors for the winter or even relocate the pots when the weather changes for the worst. The individual pots can easily click into the sturdy frame and like the frame itself, be oriented in a choice of directions. 

Another is a “pocket” garden, featuring plants tucked into pockets made from felt or canvas which are lined for moisture retention. The pocket system is a simple and for the budget conscious gardener.

MAINTENANCE

At first, your vertical garden might need more maintenance than a regular in-the-ground garden or container plant. These living walls are more compact and therefore have less soil, so they may need to be watered more often. Watering can be tricky and the bigger the living wall, the more likely you will benefit from incorporating drip irrigation.

The correct potting soil mix can also help retain the water and hold in the moisture and I would suggest incorporating peat moss in the soil mix which helps water retention. Another important factor is gravity, which pulls the water down. Plants that don’t need as much water are recommended for the top part of the vertical garden, since these plants will dry out first. Place the ones more suited for wetter conditions at the bottom of the vertical garden. You can also use a watering can as you would with containers, but you’ll want to be sure that water is being evenly distributed

Small scale vertical gardens have the advantages of no weeds and reduced ground compaction, so you won’t need to work the soil as hard. A vertical garden is pleasing to the eye and can transform a small space into a green area or oasis. Vertical gardening is also being investigated as a means for air filtration so you have the added bonus of cleaner air within or around your home. As people think of maximising their growing space to increase food production the concept of vertical garden farming is emerging as a viable alternative to traditional farming and can be the solution to growing your own produce in small urban city spaces.