Q & A's

 

Q: How can I grow edible plants on my tiny balcony - I have no room! S.C North Perth

A: The good news is that with a bit of know how, it is easy to grow a variety of edibles in a small space. Depending on your aspect (ie sun/wind/heat/shade), consider growing heat tolerant blueberries like Misty or Sharpe in 30-40cm pots. As long as there is enough sun with half shade in summer (50% shadecloth works well); regular food, mulch and water, they will thrive and provide you many tasty little antioxidant pills!

The shade factor applies to all perennial and shrubby edibles during summer in Perth. It really is a lot to ask a food plant to cope with weeks of harsh temperatures over 35C and then effortlessly produce food with no shade, despite being watered well. 
 

Cherry tomatoes grow well in pots nearly all year round. Perhaps you might like to use thyme as an underplanting? Thyme is a bit of a nurturer - it  tends to help other plants grow. Any herb or picking green is fine in a container but please use a large enough pot or 1/2 wine barrel. 40cm pots are a good size. In summer, insulate by inserting another plastic pot inside (or bubblewrap) - this really helps plants cope better if they are in hot spots.

Basil and spring onions are other top choices for warm weather. Buy a bunch of spring onions from your green grocer or supermarket, use the green sections and plant the white bottom parts with the roots. With regular liquid fertiliser and water, they will continue to grow and clump for you, even when you keep snipping them - the gift that keeps on giving!

Or perhaps you would be creative and try growing a kale topiary? These grow best during cooler weather but some still soldier on during the summer months. 

If room is really at a premium, try growing mushrooms under the sink or in another damp cool place. Mushroom kits are available seasonally at garden centres or online.

Other options may include espaliering a dwarf fruit tree in a pot using lattice or reinforcing mesh. This looks great, can provide privacy from a neighbouring apartment and of course, you get to pick and eat the delicious fruit. Citrus, pomegranates, mulberries and figs are particularly tough, easy to espalier and don't mind the heat if mulched and well watered.

Whatever plant you choose to grow, please remember the mulch - it is equally if not more important for pots than mulching plants in the ground. We recommend coco peat mulch and find that it does a great job for plants in pots. Happy gardening!

 

Q: My waterlily which is in a pot filled with water has died down for winter. What do I do now, change the water, take away from sunlight as we do get frosts? R.G.Boddington

 

A: Don’t worry, simply leave the lily in the pond over winter – both tropical and hardy waterlilies go dormant in winter and start their growth as soon as the weather starts to warm up again in spring.

 

The reason you don’t have to remove the lily from the water in winter is because by the time the new leaf growth comes up, the weather will be warmer and the danger of frost will be over. In winter, if your area is exposed to frosts,  any leaves remaining on the plant will be submerged in the water which acts like a barrier and protects them.

 

Some websites recommend that you remove the lily from the water and put it in a hot house but that is only really necessary when you get snow – something most Perthites will be fairly unfamiliar with in their gardens!

 

CARE OF WATERLILIES

 

Waterlilies need 5-6 hours of sun for good growth and, like citrus, are very hungry feeders. Contrary to popular belief, the waste products from fish is not enough to feed your lilies and produce an abundance of flowers.

 

Many people use chemical fertiliser to feed their lilies, which works well and doesn’t affect the fish but at Garden Deva, we like to use organic methods wherever possible.

 

You will need to repot your waterlily every 2-3 years or whenever the plant starts to outgrow its container.

 

The growing season for hardy waterlilies is from Sept/Oct  through to April.  They usually start their new growth in August which is an ideal time to repot if necessary. To repot, use ¾ Gingin loam (Some soil yards sell this), or good garden soil + ¼ sheep or cow manure mixed well into the pot. Avoid using potting mix as it is too light and tends to float off into the water.

 

AUGUST IS THE BEST TIME TO START FEEDING HARDY WATERLILIES.

 

To feed hardy waterlilies naturally - use Shades of Green Garden Fertiliser or any other complete natural fertiliser (avoid Dynamic Lifter – it may turn your water green with too much nitrogen). Simply remove the pot, poke some holes in the potting medium, sprinkle in the food. Start this in August, then repeat in October, December and February to encourage beautiful blooms.

 

To feed hardy waterlilies chemically – use 2-4 fertiliser tablets pushed deep into the soil in August then 2  tablets every 2 months as per above.

 

OCTOBER IS THE BEST TIME TO START FEEDING TROPICAL WATERLILIES.

The growing season for tropical waterlilies is from Nov/Dec throught to June.

 

To feed tropical waterlilies naturally – see above fertiliser instructions but start feeding (and repot if necessary) in October. Continue feeding bi-monthly until the end of April.

 

To feed tropical waterlilies chemically – use 2-4 fertiliser tablets pushed deep into the soil in October then 2  tablets every 2 months as per above.

 

Please never feed tropical plants in the cold months, be they waterlilies, bananas or mangoes. In winter, they are bunkering down, frankly startled and wondering where their yummy warm temperatures have gone. They are resigned to battling temperatures well outside their comfort zone and do not need the confusion of food when they are freezing cold and not even thinking about putting out new growth.

 

 

THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN HARDY AND TROPICAL WATERLILIES

 

Q: I have just moved to a new place and inherited a pond full of waterlilies. How can I tell the difference between a hardy and tropical waterlily?

 

A: Once in leaf and bloom, it is fairly easy to tell the differences between hardy and tropical lilies:

 

1. The edges of tropical lily pads are serrated and those of the hardy variety are smooth.

2. Hardy lilies flowers tend to be at the water’s surface near their leaves while the flowers of the tropicals tend to be well above the water level.

3. Tropicals tend to flower more than the hardies, depending on nutrients.

4. Coming out of their dormant state begins a few months later for tropicals as they need more warmth to start their growth.

 

My blueberry bushes are flowering. Should I fertilise them?

Contrary to popular belief, blueberries are easy to grow in Perth. They are very high in anti-oxidants and most people find them utterly delicious. There are varieties like Misty and Sharpe and Sunshine Blue which have been specifically bred for warmer climates.

Yes, do liquid fertilise them now (early - mid July)and again in 2-3 weeks. In mid August, give them a dose of natural mineral fertiliser like Shades of Green Garden fertiliser or River Safe fertiliser. Please only fertilise plants when they are in active growth (ie they are putting out new leaves, flowers or buds).

Blueberries love acidic conditions, so in Perth, where most of our soils are alkaline you will need to improve the soil considerably with 1/3 pine fines/1/3 soil conditioner/1/3 soil plus a generous handful or 3 of clay amendment (sand remedy, Soil Solver, bentonite clay). Alternatively, grow them in a large tub in Camellia and Azalea potting mix to which you have thoroughly mixed in 20% soil conditioner. Mulch pots and planted blueberries with old Norfolk Island pine needles, pine bark or coir peat mulch. Tea leaves and coffee grains can also be mixed into the mulch to provide a slow release acid trickle. 

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A teaspoon of honey is the culmination of a honey bee's entire working life?