General Planting & Growing Guide
- Soak plants in a weak Seasol solution (15ml/10L) for 10minutes to ½ an hour prior to planting.
- If planting in the ground, prepare holes first. Dig the holes twice as wide as the pot and the same depth or a little deeper, if it’s not a grafted plant. If the plant is grafted, ensure the graft union is at least a few centimetres above ground level.
- When planting in containers, use premium potting mix to ensure healthier and more vigorous plants.
- Tease out plant roots and place the plant in the hole. Backfill with soil, water in well, mulch if appropriate.
- Spending time and money getting your soil right will pay dividends for years!
- As a general rule, most garden plants grow better in well-drained soil. It’s worthwhile getting to get to know your soil’s drainage characteristics by conducting a simple percolation test (see below for details).
- Some plants are fussy about pH, others couldn’t care less. It’s useful to know your soil pH for the times when you want to grow something that needs particularly acid or alkaline soil. Conduct individual pH tests using soil from various parts of the garden as pH can change over relatively small areas. If you need to amend your soil to adjusting the pH, you’ll need to repeat this process regularly as soil will naturally return to its original pH.
- Clay soil: If your soil is particularly heavy clay, it could benefit from an application of gypsum. When it’s dry, dig the soil over to a depth of at least 20cm, but preferably deeper. You may need to use a crowbar (or even machinery if practical) if it’s particularly heavy. Remove rocks and break up clods. Add gypsum at the rate suggested on the packaging. You may need a further application in a few weeks. While the soil is still loose it’s a good time to also add organic matter – animal manure and/or compost and/or rock-dust. Work these through the soil well.
- Sandy soil: Sandy soil drains too quickly for plants that don’t grow in it naturally. Sandy soil also leaches nutrients, so copious amounts of organic matter (animal manure, compost) should be added prior to planting and regularly through the year. Coco-peat can be added to sandy soil as a means of retaining water. Sandy soil can become hydrophobic, repelling water. If water doesn’t sink in, use a garden fork to loosen up the soil and apply a wetting agent if desired.
- Most plants benefit from mulching. They provide a temperature buffer for the roots, slow moisture loss (meaning less plant stress and less watering!), reduce weeds and, if organic, can improve the soil structure as they break down.
- There’s a variety of mulches to choose from: fresh mulch, composted bark, sugar-cane, straw, pebbles, etc. Organic mulches break down and need topping up every couple of years. If using pine bark, sprinkle fertiliser pellets on the ground before applying because as pine bark decomposes it uses nitrogen and will pull it out of the soil. Hay and, to a lesser extent, straw mulches contain weed seeds.
- Light-coloured mulches reflect light back into the plant, which is useful for plants such as lavender that need high levels of light.
- Inorganic mulches such as pebbles obviously last longer than organic mulches, and they can be a nice alternative in a feature bed. Don’t use pebbles in an area that receives a lot of leaf litter; it quickly becomes an eyesore as it’s difficult to clean. Inorganic mulches are a better choice for plants such as succulents, kangaroo paws and plants indigenous to desert regions because they don’t hold moisture and won’t contribute to fungal diseases or root rot that many of these plants can suffer from.
Dig a hole approximately 40-50cm deep and wide. Pour in a couple of buckets of water and leave to drain overnight. The following day, pour in another bucket of water and watch it drain. If the water level drops fast your soil is well-drained. If it drops very slowly your soil is poorly-drained. Slow and fast are obviously relative, but this test will give you an idea of your soil characteristics!