How To Grow Tomatoes

 

What’s not to love about tomatoes, the red, delicious juicy flavours, that go with just about any meal. Although not the easiest plants to grow, tomatoes are still a firm favourite for the family garden, so if you’re a serious tomato eater, or want to always use the expensive variety, why not grow some of your own.

Choose the right plant

Believe it or not there is a large variety of tomato plants available and some can be quite prone to problems and pests, do your research and make sure that you are choosing the right tomato plant for your location and environment, no point going against nature. You can also sow your own seeds which allows you greater variety of tomatoes and it’s very economical. With so many options, it best to trial a few to see what works in your garden space and its microclimate.

Use the right environment

Tomatoes need around 6 hours of direct sunlight ‘time to photosynthesize’ so make sure you are planting it in an area where it will get the correct amount of sunlight for growth. If you are planting the tomato’s in a garden, make sure they have a good amount of space between each plant grow and allow for supports as tomatoes have a naturally trailing habit. Tomato plants can grow to be quite big, so this is important to keep in mind when allocating space. You can also choose a bushy variety which can be grown in a container and does not require staking. Great option for the balcony gardener.

Feed them well

Like any living thing, tomato’s will require feeding frequently to ensure you get the best growth and fruit from your plant. Tomato plants grow best when planted in already fertilised soil – dig in plenty of well-rotted manure before planting. Make sure you feed your tomato bush every month until they are ready to pick with a balanced organic fertiliser. Watering your tomato plants is also important as they need a good weekly watering in which you can add a seaweed solution to help with fruiting. In the first few days of establishment and on hotter summer days you are allowed to water them generously, so please do. Just keep an eye out that you’re not over watering as this can lead to root rot diseases which is detrimental to these plants.

Check for Pests

Tomatoes are prone to diseases and pests so make sure you check your plants regularly for this. Fruit fly and wet humid weather makes growing tomatoes a little difficult.Keeping your garden bed/pot well weeded, with plenty of organic matter will make sure you plant is thriving, if you do see signs of any bugs you can hand pick them off your plants, this will help reduce more bugs from forming and moving in on your plant. Using an organic spray/insect soap can also help you eliminate those critters. Keeping an eye on your plants regularly and doing this on your watering days will also help you keep on top changes to your plant.

Picking them

Let the tomatoes grow on the vine for as long as you can before harvesting them. The perfectly ripe tomato will be bright red, hard and juicy. It’s really important to not put your freshly grown tomatoes in the fridge as it takes away the rich flavour. Tomatoes need warmth, not light, to ripen, so there’s no need to put them on a sunny windowsill either. Your best to pick them as they ripen and use them accordingly and if you have too much to even know what to do with making homemade tomato sauce is always a great option.

So make the most of the current season and get those tomatoes growing.

 

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.

 

Grow Your Winter Herb Garden Indoors

 

I’ts officially winter out there and the coming of winter is a not always the most exciting or activity packed time in most gardens. During this season of short, dark days, indoor herb gardens offer welcome greenery and fragrance. You can easily bring herbs indoors for the nippy months even if you have little experience with plants or very little space to work with.

Some herbs naturally lend themselves better to indoor growing conditions. Parsley, basil, sage and thyme are known to hold up stronger inside. Extra perk is they are all perfect herb solutions for winter stews, casseroles and roasts. Isn’t it great when those things work out?

To bring your herb garden indoors for winter you need to find a table or shelf with sufficient fluorescent light (you must remember that to a plant, light is food) this will guarantee that your herb plants obtain all the necessary light and will also prevent them from die-back that occurs from being against a cold window. In warmer months, you can move your herbs to a sunny window or a shady balcony that receives at least six hours of sunlight per day so that they thrive.

The easiest way to start your indoor winter herb garden is to buy established plants especially if you’re only a novice gardener. There are several types of containers you can use for the plants, but terracotta planters are very popular and can me the modest option if you’re only starting out. Make sure the pots and container you select have drainage holes in the bottom Whatever container you select it should be deep enough to promote proper root development. You can plant multiple herbs in one container or select individual pots for each herb plant. You should also make sure that your herbs are not to overcrowded as this, too can lead to fungal problems that may kill your plants.

When repotting It’s a good idea to go with a store-bought potting mix. Be sure the mix is lightweight and will drain well. Pour a 5cm layer of potting soil into the bottom of your container and place your plant gently in its location. Finish filling it with potting mix, pressing it firmly around the plants. Leave about an 3cm of space at the top to make room for watering.

Remember that too much love can kill your herbs by watering too often: Excess water is harmful to the roots and causes rotting. Fertilize your herbs once a month with an organic fertilizer. Once you start to see new growth, you can begin to use your herbs for cooking.

Here are a few herbs that are particularly well suited for indoor growth:

  1. Parsley: Parsley needs at least eight hours of direct sunlight each day. If you can’t provide enough natural sunlight, grow the plants under fluorescent lights.

  2. Basil: Requires bright light and warm temperatures.

  3. Sage: Appreciates a manicure (prune back spindly branches) and drier conditions.

  4. Chives: Member of the onion family is best used fresh. Chives like bright light and cool temperatures.

  5. Dill: Choose a dwarf variety. You’ll need to make successive plantings to ensure a continuous crop since dill doesn’t grow back after harvesting.

  6. Lemon balm: This is easy to grow from seed and its fresh fragrance can be enjoyed in salads and drinks.

  7. Oregano: The soil must need to be loose and well-drained to prevent over-watering. The plant requires partial to full sun light either in a well-lit window seal or under a florescent light for at least 6 – 8+ hours per day

  8. Rosemary: Soil needs to be well drained, but don’t let it dry out completely.

  9. Thyme: Many varieties of thyme are available. Very well-drained, or gravelly soil is especially important for woolly or creeping thymes. Keep the plants moist by misting until you see new growth.

 

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.

 

Gardening As A Workout

Spring is almost here and with it comes gardening and seeing new foliage grow and flourish, it’s the season for rejuvenation.

But did you know that while you’re getting your garden ready for the sunny season your also working up a sweat! Wow. Maybe we can have our cake and eat it too.

As a gardening enthusiast, you’ve probably spent hours reading and exploring how to produce a healthier, more beautiful garden or simply how to keep your plants alive and thriving. But have you ever considered how gardening can produce a healthier you without ever having to consume a single home grown meal.

There are so many simple gardening activities like raking, fertilizing, weeding and mowing that can all give you an enjoyable and rewarding workout. Gardening is, in fact, a legit physical activity. Sweet! It’s also a great alternative to traditional exercise because it incorporates elements of exercise while enabling you to engage in an enjoyable activity in the privacy of your own surroundings and amongst your own family.

Elements of gardening such as digging, weeding, trimming shrubs and mowing the lawn can require the same energy requirements as other physical activities such as walking, cycling, swimming and aerobics. It gives you zest for life and can even make you feel younger, after all it reminds us of those days as kids looking for the latest insect.

Gardening helps tone your physique while also tending to the plants. Work such as raking and carrying leaves can tone the upper arms and increase flexibility and strength. Gardening tasks qualify as moderate to high-intensity physical activity, you can expend as much effort raking the lawn as you would during a leisurely bicycle ride…it’s also great at perfecting your squat technique when pulling out those rude weeds.

Not only does gardening help you physically, but it provides us with the satisfaction of a beautiful lawn to look at or fresh fruits and vegetables to enjoy. So as the gardening season approaches, consider your gardening time as an opportunity to get a healthier lawn and a healthier you! Go green to get lean, seriously it can put a spring back in your step.

So tell me have you been gardening lately? Would you give up a day of working out to work in the yard? I highly recommend it. You can also incorporate this time and include the kids. Teaching the little ones about plants and seeing them discover the process and transformation plants undergo with both time and seasons is beautiful.

I love the idea that just gardening as a workout can exercise nearly every part of your body. It’s also soothing for the soul to be in touch with the earth, a concept known as “grounding”. It can also be a very meditative activity as you’re absorbed with the task at hand, so it’s great for clearing the mind of white noise. Finally sit back and enjoy the literal fruits of your labour. Simply being in the presence of trees and plants reduces stress, so once your garden is looking neat and tidy it will be time to start the barbeque.

Why is my Parlour Palm yellow?

 

I was chatting recently with my photographers John and Amanda when they asked me about their beloved Parlour Palm and why it was turning yellow. My response, “to much love”. That’s right we are sometimes so worried about making sure that our beautiful plants continue living, thriving and looking fantastic, we forget that too much love can be suffocating (this is true for most plants). Don’t worry you’re not alone, I’m guilty of this from time to time, it can be hard to ignore a plant you care for, even when you know you should.

But back to the Parlour Palm – Chamaedorea elegans . So being one of the most common house plants I thought I’ll go through the troubleshot guide with you on why they possibly could be yellowing.

Yellow leaves are usually a result of water stress, mineral deficiency and occasionally even insect damage.

With palms water issues are generally the cause if a few of the leaves are turning yellow. Mineral deficiencies will occur in a broader fashion. Insect damage usually presents itself with other signs before the leaves turn yellow. With that said we need to examine the leaves to see if we can pin point the problem and if you’re like me you will tend to closely examine your plant on a weekly basis.

First, to rule out insects you need to look at both the top and the bottom of the leaf, remembering to pay careful attention as insects can be well suited to their environment and hard to spot. If you find that your palm does have an issue with little yellowing pests, spray them with the appropriate insecticide “organic options are always best”.

Now to check for mineral deficiencies. Do you see brown or orange spots on your palm leaves? Is the yellow in a band across the leaf and not from the tip down? This could be a mineral deficiency and will need the proper fertilizer to correct it. Once again your local garden centre and nursery can help you.

Now to what I really think the problem could be, transplant shock and water practices.

Did you repot your palm when you brought it home or recently find your plant a wonderful new pot? If so, the soil maybe too heavy or may not be draining well.

You pot should have drainage holes to allow excess water to drain away from the plant. Palms need a moist but well drained soil. It should never be soggy yet the root ball should be moist throughout not just on the top. Palms also like humidity so misting them can help.

Beyond Sunflowers Tip*: I keep mine within another pot without a drainage whole; so plastic pot in a ceramic pot so we can easily remove any excess water.

Remember palms in general like bright light but directly in front of a window is not a good place for them. So check you light exposure as well as your water practice.

Above all don’t panic. The yellow leaves could also be a natural reaction to moving. Transplant shock occurs in every plant. Sometimes the plant exhibits signs of transplant shock and other times there will be no sign.

I recommend the wait and see approach. Take care of the palm the way palms like to be taken care and wait at least two weeks before you do anything drastic. The yellowing leaves should start to decrease and the plant should settle into its new home.