Spring gardening tips for green thumbs
Unless you live in the tropics or the coldest parts of Tasmania and the Snowy Mountains, many of your plants take a good long nap during winter, saving their energy for spring’s warmer days and milder nights. This helps plants produce new growth and fresh young shoots and buds survive.
Many of us ‘hibernate’ in winter too, spending more time indoors and less in our gardens. It’s often not until the first warms days of spring that we feel like heading outdoors and notice that our plants and lawn need a little help putting on a good performance. It’s also more enjoyable gardening in springtime, before the long hot days of summer arrive, and the perfect time to plant flowering shrubs, vegetables, fruits and herbs that will produce throughout spring and into summer, when you can sit back and enjoy your homegrown bounty.
First ‘spring clean’ and prepare your garden
Grab your hat, gardening gloves, green waste container or wheelbarrow, rake and secateurs and take a tour of your garden to do a little spring cleaning and assessing of what needs doing now and in the coming months.
You probably haven’t spent much time in your garden since the weather turned cold and it may need a little TLC. Rake up dead leaves and remove fallen branches, check your hose and water system is in good condition, and trim back any plants that have grown over pathways or other plants, robbing them of sunlight. Despite the cold weather some plants continue to grow over winter such as native grevillea, azaleas, camellias, sasanquas and poinsettias, and these may need a little trimming if they’ve become overgrown or out of the shape you desire.
If the mulch in your garden beds has become thin over winter, apply a new layer (Yates GroPlus Moisture Retaining Mulch or Hortico Water Saving Mulch) to help reduce weeds, keep moisture in the soil, and reduce temperature fluctuations.
If you have a bird bath, scour off any mould and fill it with fresh water. Encouraging birds into your garden can help pollination and keep pest levels down. And finally, give your outdoor furniture a clean; you’ll welcome a spot to put your feet up and enjoy your garden. But first, some work…
The three best tips for pruning: know when to start, how much to cut off and use clean tools
In spring, a time of growth, pruning may seem contradictory, but according to Debbie McDonald of Home Life, trimming your plants encourages new and bushier growth, and in some plants like hydrangeas, bigger flowers helps them maintain good health and improves their shape through the removal of dead, diseased or weak stems.
Timing wise, Sophie Thomson of Gardening Australia advises to wait until warmer weather arrives as frost ‘burns’ off new growth. So, if you live in the southern parts of Australia you may have to hold off pruning until late spring.
Before you start, ensure your tools are clean and sharp to help make the job safer and quicker, achieve a smooth, precise cut and reduce the plant-to-plant transfer of disease and bacteria. Blunt blades make rough cuts, which not only take longer to heal but can promote insect infestation and disease. Keep your blades clean by washing them in warm soapy water or rubbing alcohol applied with a clean cloth and dry well to reduce rust.
Now you’re ready to prune: cut off old growth, dead flowers, and trim down over-grown stems, reshaping your plants as you go. During Spring, Yates recommends to prune blooms immediately after their show is over and follow by fertilising. When the blooms die during spring, give them another pruning (some call this ‘deadheading’) to encourage the next round of flowering.
Some plants such as hibiscus and hydrangeas produce larger flowers when ‘hard’ pruned, which means cutting the stems far down, and with hydrangeas, almost to the soil. If you don’t want to prune your hydrangeas this low, Jane Edmanson from Gardening Australia advises to cut off old blooms from just above the bud node below and prune stems without flowers below two healthy bud nodes; finish by pruning about a third of the plant further down the stems to encourage good foliage and big flowers in summer.
Jim Prudie, a hydrangeas expert, advises on Over Sixty to prune yours to suit the size and growth habits of each plant: prune about a third of the plant if it’s an average grower, about half it it’s a tall, fast grower, and just the tips if it’s a slow growing low plant. He also recommends to fertilise following pruning to encourage new growth.
It’s a great time to grow, sow and feed
Spring is the time to fertilise your garden and plant seeds for flowering plants and vegetables for summer eating, according to gardening guru Jennifer Stackhouse at Home Life.
The warmer soil encourages seeds to germinate and promotes ongoing growth, so depending on where you live you might have to delay planting until mid or late spring. Yates recommends to hold off sowing summer vegetables including beans, sweat corn, pumpkins, zucchini, cucumber and melons until the soil is warm.
For flowers, garden care product specialist Scotts recommends sowing seeds and planting when the soil has warmed, from early to mid-September and in colder regions such as Victoria and Tasmania, in early October. Spring is the perfect time to plant flowering annuals, including alyssum, petunia, French marigold, lobelia, portulaca, salvia and zinnia, and geranium, and green leafy vegetables (rocket, bok choy and lettuce, bush and climbing beans, zucchini) and herbs (basil, coriander, dills, oregano, parsley and mints). For tomatoes, Scotts advises to sow the seeds in trays and keep moist and place in a warm spot away from direct sun before transplanting into the garden or large pots in mid spring.
To encourage plant growth and health and give new plantings a good start, fertilise your plant beds in early spring. Most fertilisers contain nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium (which often appear as N, P and K on fertiliser packaging) which provide essential nutrients for optimum plant growth and for fighting disease.
There are a wide variety of fertilisers to choose in slow release granular form and liquid. There are also plant-specific blends including fertilisers for Roses, Hydrangeas, citrus plants and vegetables such as Osmocote Plus Trace Elements: Fruit, Citrus, Trees & Shrubs.
Jerry Coleby-Williams from Gardening Australia recommends to buy, where possible, fertilisers that suit your plant type to cater to their different needs and warns that some plants given the wrong fertiliser can suffer or die. He also recommends liquid or water soluble fertilisers as they can be directly applied to the soil and give quick results. If you prefer a granular variety, Jerry advises to remove the mulch before applying it and rake it into the soil to stop rainwater washing it away. Osmocote make granular and liquid fertilisers including such as Osmocote Plus Trace Elements Controlled Release Plant Food and Osmocote Liquids Plus Bio Stimulants.
Create a robust and lush lawn
We all want a healthy, lush lawn that is beautiful to behold, luxurious underfoot and the envy of our neighbours. Just like plants, your lawn will thrive by keeping weeds under control, watering it regularly and giving it a good feed of fertiliser.
Spring is also an ideal time to grow a new lawn and lay new turf. Yates recommends to first prepare the area with Dynamic Lifter Turf Starter, which will feed your new grass and help the soil retain moisture with its Waterwise water storage crystals.
If you are planning a new lawn, choose a variety that suits your lifestyle and climate; create a hardy lawn with Kikuyu Grass, one of the new soft leaf varieties of Buffalo grass which don’t irritate the skin, or a ‘designer’ blend like Pooch Couch by Munns Lawn Seed Mix, which has Ryegrass and Hulled Bermuda Couch varieties that are drought tolerant and cope with lots of wear, particularly by dogs and children (think games of cricket and touch footy) and Hortico Lawn Seed Tough and Drought Hardy. If you live in hot and humid regions, The Lawn Guide recommends Blue Couch and Kikuyu Grass as smart choices.
If you want a new lawn without the wait, lay turf; pop into Bunnings and grab some Sir Walter DNA Certified Buffalo Turf, which come in one metre square rolls.
Weed and feed for a robust, lush lawn
Unfortunately, while springtime’s warmer weather encourages lawn growth, it also speeds up weed growth.
There is a huge choice of lawn fertilisers and weed control products – and some that do both – on the market in both dry and liquid form to suit most types of grass, lawn size and budget.
The Botanic Gardens of South Australia recommends high nitrogen, slow-release fertilisers for lawns. Try Scotts Lawn Builder Slow Release Lawn Fertilisers, which have varieties to suit most lawns, Dynamic Lifter Organic Lawn Food, which feeds lawns with organic pellets made of chicken manure with added nutrients, and Seasol for Lush Green Lawns, a liquid fertiliser and health treatment that connects to the hose for easy application. ‘Double action’ products that feed and weed lawns include Scotts Lawn Builder Weed, Feed & Green Up Liquid Lawn Fertiliser and Yates Weed ’n’ Feed Liquid Hose-on, which can both be connected to the hose to quickly cover large areas.
Nothing ruins the look and feel of a lawn like weeds (bare feet and bindii are a painful combination!). Eradicate bindii, clover and dandelion patches in your lawn with Yates Lawn Weedkiller Bindii & Clover or Yates Weedkiller for Lawns Spot Spray and treat large areas with a product you can connect to your hose for ease of application such as Hortico 2L Bindii Killer Hose On.
To make it challenging for weeds to return quickly, thicken your lawn with Scotts Lawn Builder Lawn Thickener, a mix of lawn seed and slow release lawn starter food, which also helps fill bare patches of lawn where weeds have been killed or removed.
Non-toxic methods to kill weeds in your lawn, garden beds and between pavers
If you don’t want to use chemicals to kill weeds, you pull them out by hand, although this method is time consuming and can be hard on the back and knees.
To help ensure you remove the root, get a good grip on the plant as near to the top of the soil as possible before pulling and, for deep or stubborn roots, twist the plant 360 degrees once or twice to loosen or use a gardening tool to break the root’s grip. Don’t hand pull onion weed out by hand as this releases small white ‘baby’ bulbs which stay in the soil and create more weeds!
Another method to kill weeds without chemicals that is recommended by the Small Footprint Family is to pour boiling water or a mixture of 16 parts vinegar to one-part salt on the weeds, however be careful not to splash any on surrounding grass or plants.
Nip springtime pests and diseases in the bud
There are many different, region-specific garden pests and diseases, and a wide choice of products to eradicate them. It’s important to choose the right formulation, such as Yates Rose Shield Insect & Disease Spray which contains an insecticide and a fungicide.
If you would like to treat a variety of plants for a range of pests, try Yates Pyrethrum Insect Pest Gun, which contains natural pyrethrum daisy extract and can be used on vegetables, flowering plants, ornamentals and indoor plants.
Aphids unfortunately thrive in warm weather and can multiply quickly. Yates Scale Gun and Scotts Defender MaxGuard Insecticide can be used to kill aphids as well as leafhoppers, mealybugs, thrips, and mites. These products however are not for use on edible plants.
And the last springtime pest control tips come from the late, and great, Gardening Australia presenter Colin Campbell who preferred to use natural and home-made pesticides – often made from common kitchen cupboard ingredients – as they are kinder to the environment and the hip pocket than commercially manufactured treatments.
To deter aphids, caterpillars and other insects, Colin recommended dissolving two tablespoons of soap flakes in one litre of warm water and to spray this mixture onto affected plants.
Colin also championed the tactic of bringing insect predators into the garden – insects and animals that eat the pests you want gone; for example, Lacewings eat aphids. So how do you invite Lacewings over for a meal? Dissolve a teaspoon of yeast-based sandwich spread (Vegemite, perhaps) in water and spray it onto your plants. Cheap and easy.
Visit abc.net.au to discover more of Colin’s recipes for natural insecticides and fungicides.
Happy springtime gardening everyone!