Planting a garden with locally indigenous plants provides important habitat for local fauna. Think of it as a small wildlife reserve! Also, local plants are suited to local soils and climate, which means they require less maintenance than exotic gardens.
Before choosing plants for your garden, it is important to observe the soil type and the aspect of your garden.
- Is your soil sandy, loam or clay?
- Does water pool after rain or feel relatively dry?
- Is your garden in full sun or in shade?
It is important to know the answers to these questions before choosing plants so you get those that will thrive in your garden.
It’s also important to have an idea of what you would like the garden to look like.
- Do you want a densely treed garden?
- A cottage style garden filled with wildflowers?
- Or even a formal garden?
Once you have a good idea of your site and your plan, your local indigenous nursery will be able to advise you on plant selection.
Preparing the site before planting helps ensure that your plants thrive. Remove all weeds from the site and use wood mulch to help retain moisture and prevent further weeds germinating. Many local councils have sites where street tree mulch is provided for residents to pick up for free. City of Port Phillip offers this at their transfer station in Boundary Street South Melbourne. This mulch is often variable in quality and may have weed seeds in it, however, as it usually contains a mixture of leaf matter and wood chips, it is better for your garden than many commercial mulches. If you do need to purchase mulch, find a eucalyptus mulch or wood chip mulch with varied sizes of chips, from 1cm – 4 cm. Mulch with consistent-sized particles can create a ‘blanket’ and prevent rain from penetrating and breaks down at the same rate, providing a flush of nutrients all at once rather than gradually.
Mulch the site to a depth of 5 – 9 cm depending on the type of mulch used. Leafy mulch or mulch with small particles should be used more thickly as it will break down faster, and mulch with bigger particles or made of harder wood can be used more thinly. Whatever mulch you use, it’s important that it doesn’t contain many nutrients, as locally native plants are adapted to your local soil.
To plant, pull the mulch away from the position you want to plant and dig a hole approximately twice the size of the pot containing your plant, taking care not to leave any soil on top of the mulch as this probably contains weed seeds. This will ensure the soil surrounding the plants roots is loose, allowing it put roots out in the soil more rapidly.
Where conditions are very dry putting jelly-like water crystals in the base of the hole can make water available to the plant for 3-12 months, improving its chances of survival.
Use gravity to get the plant out of the pot – turn the plant upside down and tap the upper edge of the pot on something firm. It should come out cleanly. We don’t, in most circumstances, recommend teasing out the roots unless the pot is extremely pot-bound. Place the plant in the hole so the base of the stem is at soil level and fill the hole around the plant with soil, taking care to avoid air pockets. Gently press the plant in the ground, then pull the mulch back around the plant, allowing some room around the base. Water in to ensure the soil settles.
While local plants require less maintenance than exotic plants, this does not mean they require no maintenance. In times of extreme drought they will require watering, and often pruning. Many grasses and wildflowers are adapted to being eaten by herbivorous animals or being burnt. After a few years they may look shabby and, unless you have some resident wallabies, cutting them back harshly will allow them to generate new lush growth. Many shrubs and trees also benefit from pruning, however some plants can be susceptible to disease or insect attack if pruned. Ask your local nursery for advice for each species.
Weeds inevitably will encroach on your garden. When weeding, try to disturb the soil as little as possible, as soil disturbance encourages weed seed germination.