Ten top tips for starting a new garden from scratch

posted in: Soil | 0

Reproduced from the March 2008 Newsletter

  1. Remove all the large weeds if possible. I’m talking camphor, privet and lantana here. However, it is always best to assess the block and see what will work best. It is not sensible to remove all the vegetation at once, particularly on sloping ground. If a large camphor is providing shade, then that should stay to act as an umbrella for young saplings. Privet should always be immediately removed; both the large- and small leafed varieties are serious weeds. The soil where lantana has been growing is always lovely and rich with nitrogen, so bear this in mind when planting.
  2. If you are creating a garden from a paddock slash the arca and rake up the clippings into mounds. These can either be left to rot down or be burnt when fire restrictions are not in operation. The area should only need slashing once, and therein after mowed.
  3. Mark out your proposed beds. A garden hose and some tennis court line marking paint is ideal for this.
  4. If you have a large garden, concentrate on doing one bed at a time. Mulch thickly with cardboard and newspaper. There is no need to poison the grass/weeds beforehand as the paper will smother them. Any that do pop up can be spot weeded with glphosate in due course. Cover the mulch with cane tops or other vegetative material.
  5. Start creating a sward of turf grasses by mowing with the blades set at the highest. Don’t worry if the area is predominantly weeds. Grass responds to regular pruning and will eventually establish itself as the dominant species. Once the lawn is up and running, you can hit the remaining weeds with a hose-on weed-and-feed preparation if desired. As a rule, it’s good practice to keep the mower blades high, as a scalped lawn dries out very quickly.
  6. Select your plants. Don’t be conned into thinking that plants purchased as mature specimens will create an instant garden. More often than not, the shock of being transplanted will set a larger specimen back by several years. It is much better to establish a new garden using tubestock or plants in 6″ (150mm) pots for two reasons: first, their roots are small and fine and can penetrate poor or neglected soils easier; second they are cheaper, so if you loose a few in the first couple of years it won’t break the bank.
  7. Harden your plants off for a couple of weeks before planting out. Very often nursery stock is grown under shadecloth and if you take them home and plant them in the sun straight away, they will get sunburnt. Far better to introduce them gradually to the sun, say by exposing them to morning sun only, and then gradually building them up to longer exposure.
  8. Soak the plants you want to dig in the night before in a bucket of water containing a very weak solution of seaweed (Maxicrop, or one of the fish and kelp emulsions work very well).
  9. Choose a planting day where mild weather is forecast, and plan to work either early in the morning or late in the afternoon to minimise stress on both plants and gardener.
  10. Place all the plants you want to plant in their positions. Move the mulch away from each spot and carefully peel away the paper/cardboard (which should be wet and easy to remove). Dig your planting hole, sprinkle a few pellets of pelletised chook manure (this is OK for natives too), backfill, water well and replace the mulch (being careful to keep it away from the main stem of the plant).

Depending on your site, you may need to protect young saplings from marauding wildlife, using wire cages or plastic sleeves and stakes. As far as follow-up watering is concerned, this entirely depends on the weather conditions in the weeks after planting. As a rule, if the soil is moist and the plant is small, it should only need a couple more deep watering over the next fortnight, and then it can be left to fend for itself. The less mollycoddling you do in the early stages of a plant’s growth, the stronger it will become.