Establishing a B4W Garden
Waterwise and drought tolerant gardens
Water is a valuable and increasingly scarce natural resource - we all need to use it wisely! Before water restrictions came into effect some households were using up to 70% of household water on the garden. Permanent water conservation measures in this state mean that we can no longer afford to be as extravagant and we need to consider how better to plan and manage our gardens. One of the options available to us is to plant the species that have for many millennia grown across the Adelaide region area surviving on rainfall alone. Using local native plants will drought proof your garden, save water and attract local wildlife.
How many native plants do you have in your garden? How many of those are local natives? Planting local native species is one of the keys to creating a wildlife friendly garden as they help recreate the relationships that existed between native plants and the local native wildlife. The original bushland species were naturally adapted to the soils, rainfall and climate of the region which means they will be hardy and drought tolerant in your garden.
When you buy a seedling from a nursery it has invariably been grown from a seed or a cutting. The source of that seed or cutting is referred to as the plant’s ‘provenance’, or where its genetic code originated from. Golden wattles grew across Australia but seedlings sourced in NSW may not be suited to Adelaide despite the fact that golden wattles were widespread here. The best native plants to establish in your garden are grown from seeds or cuttings sourced as close as reasonable to your home.
While nearly all the original bushland from the Adelaide Plains has been lost to development there still exist small pockets, sometimes no more than a handful of specimens that retain that original genetic material. From these remnants, local native plant growers can help bring back many of the species that were on the edge of becoming locally extinct.
Local native plant species are adapted to local climate and soil conditions and can survive on less water than most exotic garden plants. Once a ‘native garden’ implied a wild bush like form made up of species from other states, but those days are long gone. The numerous, specialist, native plant nurseries enable gardeners to select from a wide array of local species often specific to suburbs rather than simply being from ‘southern Australia’. With over 850 plants to choose from, there is a local native species suited to every garden and situation across Adelaide. These plants supported a rich array of animal wildlife and it follows that they are the most appropriate plants for the creation of a Backyard for Wildlife. Specialist nurseries across Adelaide grow an array of local native plant species that can provide a range of colour, texture and form to any style of garden.
To find out where you can buy local native species grown from local provenance seeds please see the link. We suggest that you should confirm with the nursery that the plants are native to Adelaide AND grown from locally sourced seed.
Planning Your Garden
Lots of native plants are sensitive to poor drainage, so determine where your good and poor drainage spots are and place your garden accordingly. For example, place your frog pond or wetland features in a naturally damper area of the garden and clump plants with similar watering needs together as this helps to reduce water use.
Plant several of the same species together in a clump, as this generally looks better, has greater habitat value and makes watering more efficient. Create a variety of plantings, for example a shrubby area, a grassland area and a wetland area. If possible include a patch of densely planted prickly shrubs for wildlife to shelter in or under, especially near waterfeatures. This is particularly important for small birds and lizards.
Where possible plant in early Spring, Autumn or Winter to give plants a chance to get established using natural rainfall. You may also have to water your new plants about once a week during the first summer as they get established. But in the longer term, the plants should survive on rainwater alone.
Often native plants can be slow to adjust after being transplanted from a container. To increase the success and encourage healthy growth of your new seedlings follow the following advice when planting:
- The most common mistake when transplanting from a container is digging the hole too shallow or too narrow. The ideal hole is the twice as deep and twice as wide as the container it is in. In compacted soils, or soils with a high clay content, it is important to avoid glazing – that is creating hard smooth sides with an almost polished look. The hard soil acts in the same way as the walls of the pot restricting root growth and causing the plant to be hole-bound. Avoid this by using a garden fork to loosen the soil around the walls and base. Fill the hole with water and allow it to soak into the ground.
- Soak the soil around the root ball by placing the container in a bucket of water until it stops bubbling (but don’t submerge the entire plant). This helps get rid of air around the roots and makes it easier to get the plant out of the container.
- Remove the plant from the container being careful not to disturb the roots more than necessary. The soil and root ball should come away easily, but if not tap the pot lightly with a small garden tool. Supporting the base of the exposed seedling with one hand, use your other hand to hold the roots and soil together as you place it in the hole. If the roots are coiled tight tease them out gently from the sides and base with a garden fork.
- Backfill soil and tamp firmly without compacting the soil, allow for a small depression around the plant to retain moisture. Always water new plantings immediately and well to settle the soil and reduce the chance of transplant shock. Newly planted seedlings need to be soaked - not sprinkled with water. A good soaking reduces evaporation and encourages roots to become stronger, by growing deeper and looking for moisture.
In summer, soaking once a week (depending on weather conditions) is better than a daily spray. Watering should also be done in the cool of the mornings or evenings to reduce loss through evaporation.
Adding a layer of mulch to your garden can reduce evaporative water loss by over 70%. A good layer of mulch will reduce weed growth and improve the biodiversity of soil invertebrates that maintain soil structure and productivity. It will also reduce stress to plants by keeping soil temperatures down.
It is worth remembering that small seedlings in tube-stock will generally establish faster and quickly outgrow those planted from larger more expensive containers.
Establishing a native garden does not necessarily mean that you need a large open space with full sun. As increasing numbers of people choose to live in apartments, units or houses with small yards a garden can sometimes be as simple as a collection of potted plants.
When looking for suitable pot plants for verandahs and courtyards many people traditionally choose exotic plants, notably palms and Mediterranean species. However it should be remembered that there are many wonderful local native species that are suitable for growing in pots and are understorey species adatped to less than full sunlight as well as being suited to local conditions.
To help promote the use of local native species in pots we have included a list of some of those that are suitable. Make sure you use a good potting mix that is suitable for natives.
There are a number of small ground layer plants that will look pretty in a pot. Check out Scaevola albida, White fan flower or Wahlenbergia stricta, Tall bluebell. More great natives for growing in pots are any of the local Dianellas. For a hotter site try the trailing succulent with lurid pink flowers, Carpobrotus rossii also known as Pigface or Kakalla. If you want to attract butterflies try the local Lomandra, Juncus and Poa species.
Looking for some big feature native plants for use in larger pots? Various Acacia, Melaleuca and even Eucalyptus species are all recommended by State Flora. State Flora also have a list identifying which native species are suitable for indoor use.
Suggested local native species (and common names) suited to growing in pots:
Bushes and trees
Acacia acinacea Wreath wattle
Eucalyptus socialis Beaked red mallee
Pittosporum angustifolium Native apricot
Senna artemisioides Senna
Hardenbergia violacea Native lilac
Carpobrotus rossii Kakalla
Dichondra repens Kidney weed
Convolvulus erubescens Australian bindweed
Themeda triandra Kangaroo grass
Chloris truncata Windmill grass
To attract butterflies
Poa labillardieri Common tussock grass
Juncus pallidus Pale rush
Lomandra effusa Scented Mat Rush
Ficinia nodosa Knobby Club-rush
Scaevola albida White fan flower
Wahlenbergia stricta Tall bluebell
Dianella revoluta Black-anther Flax-lily
Click on the 'Resources and Downloads' tab in the Menu bar and select B4W Resources to find our New Garden Design Fact Sheets.