Native Growing Guide
Australia has around 24,000 species of native plants, so naturally there’s not going to be a one-size-fits-all growing guide! From a design and maintenance perspective, native plants should be treated the same as exotics, which is to say find out what watering, feeding and care each plant requires.
There are a few myths that can be busted though if we want native plants to thrive in our garden rather than merely survive!
Myth 1: Native plants don’t need water
Yes, many Australian plants are extremely drought tolerant when they’re established as they’ve evolved on the second driest continent on earth, but that doesn’t mean we should never water them. Establish watering is particularly important.
When we first bring our plants home they need to be weaned off the daily watering regime that nurseries lovingly bestow upon them. It will take a few weeks for plants to develop enough roots to start sustaining themselves with less water.
To help your plants become established, add Seasol when you water them in – this is proven to help plants develop new roots. Water the plant every few days for a couple of weeks, then weekly for a month, then every couple of weeks for three months and finally every month until they’ve been in your garden for a year. (If it’s particularly dry or hot, water more often.)
Your plant will now have the best chance to prove itself to be ‘drought tolerant’. Even so, on particularly hot days or longer than usual dry spells, give plants a deep soaking to keep them in good condition.
Plants in the Proteaceae family (grevillea, hakea, banksia, dyandra) need particularly good drainage, whilst those in Myrtaceae (eucalypt, callistemon, melaleuca, syzygium, leptospermum, and many others) can cope with having wet feet, and many grow naturally in damp soils.
Myth 2: Native plants don’t need pruning
Native plants are still getting over their reputation of being ‘scraggly’ plants. This reputation was both fair and unfair! Like many exotic plants, if left to their own devices, native plants can start to look somewhat untidy. Regardless of whether a plant is an exotic or Australian native, the same pruning techniques and principals should be applied. When we’re trying to develop a compact shrub it’s always a good idea to tip prune when they’re young. Likewise, when we’re pruning for shape or to rejuvenate a plant this should be carried out according to the plant’s needs.
Myth 3: Native plants don’t need fertilising
Australia has some of the oldest soils on earth, making them among the most nutrient poor. Our plants have evolved to survive in these soils, but our expectations of plants are higher when it comes to growing them in the garden – we want them to thrive, not just survive.
Tests have shown that native plants respond well to feeding, which makes sense. Give them a handful of native fertiliser around the base, once a year. Apply Seasol regularly as this helps thicken cell walls, making the plant resistant to pests and diseases, and helps develop a strong root system.
Many people know that some native plants need a low phosphorous fertiliser. The plants that fall into this category are those from the Proteaceae family – grevillea, hakea, banksia, dryandra, macadamia, etc. It’s not that they need less phosphorous than other natives; it’s just that they’ve developed roots that are highly adept at extracting phosphorous from Australia’s infertile soils. Applying phosphorous to these plants will kill them, so feed with a low phosphorous fertiliser. If your plants are in mixed beds, play it safe and feed them all with a low phosphorous fertiliser. If you want to give other plants in mixed beds a ‘standard’ fertiliser, apply it as a foliar feed.