Organic Gardener’s former horticultural editor, Jerry Coleby-Williams, describes spring in his subtropical garden as “beautiful, cool, dry…and brief”. Unlike the slow burn that happens in cold temperate climates, spring in south east Queensland is over in the blink of an eye. At the start of September fruit trees are blossoming, baby birds are chirping and the world looks fresh, vibrant, and full of possibility. By late September a steady flow of north westerly winds blow straight out of the desert, a belting sun sucks moisture from the soil and my community is on high alert for bushfires.
I wish spring was longer here in Queensland, but reality is what it is. So, I say, grab the season with both hands, no matter how long or fleeting. Plant while there’s moisture in the soil and the air remains cool. Use the season to dig up and divide perennials before the onset of summer. Feed the soil below hungry plants and refresh mulch beneath trees. Eat outside in the September sunshine and potter about doing small jobs here and there. Spring makes winter worthwhile.
For you hardy souls in central and northern Australia, there’s good news. The BOM is predicting an earlier than usual onset of 2015 wet season. The consequence of this is that you can start your summer planting a bit earlier but before you do, make it a priority to get the soil in top condition. Work in some organic matter and biochar. Both help prevent leaching of nutrients during heavy weather and provide habitat for soil micro-organisms. A healthy soil food web is the secret to fertility and microbes need extra support in the north’s harsh climate.
Pruning is a major job for early spring across the country. Follow the basic rules of cutting out dead, damaged and diseased branches. Then get specific. Prune frost damaged plants by cutting back to healthy new shoots. Herbaceous perennials and ornamental grasses should be trimmed close to ground level early in the month to allow new growth to power away and winter flowering natives such as banksias and grevilleas can be lightly pruned to stimulate a flush of new flowers.
Keep an eye out for aphids. They love sucking the sap from tender new foliage and many plants are vulnerable. If they appear in plague numbers you have a few control options. One is to do nothing, and let ladybeetles and other predators have an aphid feast. Another is to blast the aphids from foliage with a jet of water. Obviously softer plants will be damaged by this technique, so you can also spray the little suckers with horticultural oil. Give them a good coating, and repeat after a couple of weeks if necessary.
Lawns are growing again. Did you know that turf grass is the largest irrigated crop in the world. Yep, you heard that right. More land is under lawn than any other plant. This is a ridiculous situation, especially in parts of the world where water is precious. The remedy, however, isn’t to rip out and replace every square metre of manicured turf but to think about lawn more intelligently. Approach it from a design point of view. Use it judiciously. Where it’s appropriate, maintain it thoughtfully. Keep the soil well nourished with organic fertilisers, never mow the lawn too short, and irrigate only when absolutely necessary using greywater or rainwater and efficient sprinklers.
Finally, enjoy the spectacle of new bird life in the garden. We undervalue wildlife in gardens, not just for their pest controlling abilities but for the energy and wonder that birds and other critters provide. Swallows are among my favourites. To watch them swoop and soar above the vegie patch is a dazzling sight, and to know that they’re catching insects that might otherwise eat my plants makes me a very contended gardener. Ignore the fact that they make mud nests in places like verandahs and carports and instead, welcome diversity into your garden. You will be generously compensated for the occasional inconvenience.
By: Justin Russell
First published: September 2015