heliconias grow well in Brisbane, but those that do
are a real knockout. Newly imported cultivars and
locally bred selections mean Brisbane gardeners keen
to achieve that tropical look are now spoilt for
The parrot’s beak heliconia (Heliconia rostrata)
is possibly the best-known representative of the
genus. Established plants flower this month and will
display their 600mm long, red and yellow hanging
blooms continuously through until May. Plants grown
in more shaded conditions reach up to 3 metres in
height, whereas specimens in full sun grow less that
half this size.
Novice gardeners should start with the golden-yellow
Heliconia Birdyana. More hardy and cold
tolerant than most other species, this selection can
produce flower stems throughout the year. The
upright growing flower heads reach up to 40cm long
and grow to an equivalent width. Plants grow
1.5m-2.5 metres tall, depending the degree of
exposure to sunlight.
If you need something to screen an ugly outlook or
just create a backdrop for other planting, consider
Heliconia Richmond Red. Growing to the size of a
banana plant, its 3-5metre high clumping foliage
really creates that tropical feel. Tall flower stems
are topped by yellow edged, red flower heads up to
45cm in height. Peak flowering occurs during spring
with individual blooms persisting for 3-4 months.
Spot flowering also occurs throughout the year.
Columbia is the centre for diversity of heliconia
species. In the wild, plants are pollinated by
hummingbirds, but locally, noisy miners are
attracted to the nectar filled blooms.
All heliconias prefer rich, well drained soil.
Prepare the soil prior to planting by incorporating
plenty of nutrient rich compost or other organic
matter. Plants should be watered heavily two to
three times each week. Mulching will reduce weed
competition and help to retain soil moisture.
Sprinkling pelleted fertiliser over the mulch three
to four times each year then watering in well to
provide the constant supply of nutrients plants
require for good growth. If all this seems too
difficult or your soil is heavy clay and poorly
drained, try growing your heliconias in big, bold
Create An Oasis with Less Water
Start With The Soil
– Organic matter within the soil acts like a sponge.
It absorbs and holds on to moisture, making it
available to plant roots. Good gardeners know that
to maintain a healthy soil you must continuously add
organic matter. Compost and animal manure improves
the capacity of the soil to retain moisture. Soil
additives like coir peat can also be added to soil
to improve its water holding capacity.
Not All Mulch Is The Same - While bark mulch
looks good, helps to retain moisture and reduces the
need for weeding, it does not feed your soil. Not
all mulch is the same. Gardeners seeking to reduce
water use in the garden would be better advised to
select soil improving mulch products like cane
mulch, pea straw or chopped lucerne. These products
do require regular replenishment. This is because
they break down into the soil, providing nutrition
for your plants, encouraging the build up of
beneficial soil organisms and increasing soil
Choose Your Plants Carefully - Some plants
naturally require less water than others. Plants
that originate from drier regions, those with
felt-like hairs or thick leathery leaves are often
adapted to drier conditions. Some species that
are waterwise once established include:
– grevillea, acacia, banksia, grafted Geraldton wax,
austromyrtus and helichrysum daisy.
– rosemary, thyme, oregano, chives, lavender and
Grass-like plants –
variegated liriope, black mondo grass, dianella and
– Lemon (Villa Franca/Lisbon), Kaffir lime,
starfruit, bay tree and mulberry.
– old fashioned roses, groundcover gardenias,
bougainvillea, salvia, dwarf oleander, bromeliads.
Group Plants According To Water Needs -
Water restrictions should not stop you establishing
flowering annuals, vegetables or other plants that
require regular watering. Simply group these thirsty
plants in areas of the garden where you are more
likely to see and water them. Plant flowering
annuals in focal points where they create high
visual impact. Plant annuals, vegetables and
moisture loving herbs together to save water.
Anti-transpirant Sprays – Applying anti-transpirant
sprays such as Stressguard or Envy to the foliage of
plants can reduce water loss by up to 50%. Products
remain active on the leaf surface for six weeks or
longer, depending on conditions. Potted plants and
hanging baskets will benefit from their use. Apply
them when establishing new plants or apply treat the
entire garden to significantly stretch the intervals
– The more you fertilise your plants, the more water
they require. Use limited quantities of organically
based fertilisers and only apply these products
after rain or when they can be well watered in.
Remember that liquid seaweed is not a fertiliser,
but a soil conditioner and plant tonic. Seaweed can
be applied at any time and is especially useful
during dry periods. Seaweed helps to encourage
strong root growth. It thickens the cell walls of
plants, making them less susceptible to drought
Be Kind To Your Lawn
– Fit new blades to your lawn mower so that the
grass is cut cleanly. Raise the cutting height of
the mower a notch or two higher. Taller grass
provides shade for the roots and reduces evaporation
from the soil surface. Mow regularly without the
catcher. Mulch the grass clippings in to soil.
Reduce the use of fertiliser. More fertiliser will
make your lawn thirsty. When you do apply fertiliser
use an organically based product. Ensure that
rainfall or water applied to the lawn penetrates
deep down to the roots. Use a garden fork to aerate
the lawn, apply seaweed or use a commercial soil
Recycle Grey Water
- The water that goes down the drain from your
laundry, kitchen and bathroom is wasted. This grey
water could be reused on your garden, saving
valuable potable supplies. Simple diversion values
available from hardware stores allow water to be
temporarily diverted for garden use. You may need to
reassess the laundry products you use if you intend
using grey water on the garden. Look for products
with low sodium and phosphorous levels or simply
recycle laundry rinse water.
Low Phosphorous/Low Sodium Products Include:
Aware Environmental Concentrate, Planet Ark Ultra
Concentrate, Trinature Herbal Concentrate, Eco-wise
Washing Soda, Biozet, Lux Pure Soap Flakes, Aura,
Envirocare Plus, Bushland, Earth Choice, Australian
Earth Concentrate (according to independent research
undertaken by Lanfax Laboratories NSW). Use
common sense when recycling grey water. Grey water
should not be stored. Apply it directly to the soil,
rather than spraying it into the air or allowing it
to come in contact with plant foliage and lawns.
Only divert grey water when the soil is dry and the
water can be readily absorbed. Never allow grey
water to drain into neighbouring properties.
Use grey water around the garden, rather than
concentrating its use in one area.
Make Every Drop Count – To be most
effective, water should be applied to the root
system of plants. When watering by hand, move back
the mulch, water the roots of each plant and replace
the mulch. Ensure that the water you apply
penetrates the soil by using liquid seaweed or soil
wetting agents to aid infiltration.
Mexican Fire Cracker
care, drought tolerant plants with strong
architectural lines are certainly in vogue. A
striking new release known as Euphorbia Mexican
Firecracker is the latest addition to this range of
The plump, naked green stems resemble a mass of
Barrier Reef coral with the stems ends developing a
distinctive orange tinge in winter that reverts to
yellow during summer. The plant looks particularly
effective potted into a complimentary container and
placed against a rendered wall backdrop. With a
little up lighting, this new release makes a
striking courtyard or entrance feature.
An attractive, purple leaf form of the African Milk
Tree (Euphorbia trigona ‘Rubra’) has proved
also a popular release. Its upright growth habit,
angled stems and diminutive red leaves make for a
striking potted specimen.
Euphorbias are a highly diverse group of plants with
over 4,000 different species. Comprising anything
from groundcovers to large trees, they are found
throughout warmer parts of the globe with a number
of species native to Australia. Folklore has long
attributed the nuisance weed known as petty spurge (Euphorbia
peplus) with curative properties for skin
cancer. With preliminary research conducted at our
own Department of Primary Industries research
facility at Redland Bay, the plant is now coveted by
pharmaceutical companies in the US and will soon be
available as a topically applied cream.
Brisbane’s floral emblem, the poinsettia, is a
member of the euphorbia genus, illustrating the
diversity prevalent in the genus. Norfolk Island has
its own unique species (Euphorbia norfolkiana),
which is now so rare that it is listed as critically
Down Size Your Vegies
Once upon a time, gardeners keen to grow vegetables
waited months for their crops to mature and took
pride in growing the biggest cabbage or longest
carrot. It was all a bit intimidating for novice
green thumbs who lacked the experience and patience
to achieve similar results.
Modern cuisine now favours a smaller, younger and
more tender harvest. These leafy greens are much
quicker and easier to grow. If you are short on
space, you can even grow them in pots. Take wheat
grass, sunflower sprouts and pea sprouts as
examples. Simply sow your seeds into a seedling
tray. Water, wait ten days or less and you are ready
baby spinach, colourful beetroot leaves, silverbeet
or pungent, nutty rocket takes a couple of weeks
with leaves best harvested when they are around 10cm
long. The same applied to celery and parsnip greens
grown from seed. They add great flavour to soups and
casseroles or can be added to stir fry dishes.
Non-hearting lettuce and open-hearted cabbage
varieties known as kale, take just a few weeks to
grow. Because the leaves are picked from the bottom
up, you can achieve a progressive harvest over 4-6
Those with a little more patience could try growing
their own baby carrots, turnips and parsnips.
Several large commercial seed companies including
Yates, Mr Fothergills and Kings Seeds now produce a
wide range of organic seeds. These seeds are not
treated with the pink, green or grey fungicide dusts
commonly visible on conventional vegetable seeds.
This makes them ideal for gardeners wanting to grow
and harvest vegetables within a very short time
frame, as there is no risk of any residue. Keep them
in mind when growing gardens with children.
Growing vegetables from seed is an inexpensive
option and you can also forget about the pest
problems that plague conventional gardeners when you
downsize your vegetables. These crops grow so
quickly you will be able to beat the bugs to the
While many of us spend autumn furiously planting
bulbs and annuals in preparation for spring
displays, those who suffer from allergen-induced
asthma can view this activity with dread.
Is it possible to grow a low allergen garden? The
Asthma Foundation certainly thinks so. They
recommend avoiding wind pollinated species like
grasses and replacing them with plants that are
pollinated by birds and insects.
If you sneeze and wheeze your way through spring
consider reducing lawn areas or replacing your
existing lawn with one of the new fine leaf
selections of buffalo grass. Buffalo grass does not
produce large quantities of pollen. Remove weeds as
soon as they appear to avoid flowering and reduce
the need for weeding by using gravel mulch and
of the daisy family such as chrysanthemums,
calendulas and marigolds should also be avoided.
Replace these with begonia, alyssum, petunia,
nasturtium, impatiens, pansy, phlox, verbena,
snapdragon, nemesia and cornflower. Bulbs like
daffodils, iris and sparaxis are also generally a
When it comes to garden shrubs, roses, lavender,
abelia, native bottlebrush, leptospermum, westringia
and banksia are fine. So too are azaleas, plumbago,
gardenias and camellias.
Avoid planting trees such as olives, white cedar,
cypress hedges, mulberry and liquidambar. Replace
them with native lilly-pilly, citrus, magnolia and
Keep in mind even those gardeners who are not
affected by asthma, may develop dermatitis through
contact with plants including grevilleas,
poinsettias and primulas. Always wear a hat, long
sleeves, long trousers and gloves when working in
the garden. This will help avoid direct contact with
plants that may cause skin irritations.
Top Ten Tips
Ten Top Tips for Successful Gardening
Apply these principles and you cannot go wrong.
Prepare the Soil
Prepare your soil by improving a small section at a
time. Aerate the soil and add organic matter. Avoid
buying soil in if at all possible, work with what
you have or try the no-dig method.
Choose Your Plants Carefully
Select plants that suit your climate, soil type,
gardening expertise and lifestyle. If you never
water and rarely apply fertiliser, be honest.
Nursery staff will then be more likely to suggest
‘bullet-proof’ plants when you ask for suggestions.
Plant Out On The Day of Purchase
How often have you purchased plants from a nursery,
then let them sit on the back verandah for weeks
before planting them? Shop in the morning and plant
out on the day of purchase.
Always Add Compost When You Plant
No matter how well you have prepared your soil,
adding compost every time you plant puts fresh
pockets of compost all around your garden and
innoculates the root zone around plants with
Make Your Own Compost
Any compost is better than none when it comes to
planting, but homemade compost gives your plants a
shot in the arm. It is a source of inoculant
that places billions of beneficial fungi and
bacteria in close contact with the root system.
Fungi and bacteria stimulate the release of soil
nutrients and aid plant growth.
Always Water Plants In With Liquid Seaweed
Watering eliminates any air pockets and brings the
soil/compost mix in close contact with the roots.
Liquid seaweed is a great plant tonic. It
stimulates soil microbes, helps to build disease
resistance, reduces planting shock and generally
aids the plant’s transition from the pot to the
Give Plants Follow-Up Watering Until They Are
Newly established plants require a good soaking at
least twice a week for a fortnight or more following
planting. Give them more water than other plants in
the garden for at least three months. This applies
to drought tolerant plants.
Prune Little and Often
Tip prune young plants to encourage bushy growth,
prune out dead wood and old flowers whenever you see
them. Trim plants little and often to keep them
Fertilise the entire garden at least twice each year
(August and January for preference). Always water
well before and after you apply fertiliser.
Keep Simple Pest Control Products Handy
Oil and soap sprays control pests (aphids,
scale/sooty mould, citrus leaf miner etc) and
sulphur and copper help control diseases and mites
(powdery mildew, anthracnose, black spot, two
spotted mites). Keep them on hand.
If gardening becomes a chore, your garden is either
too big, poorly designed to suit your needs or you
are trying to grow the wrong plants.
The angular fruits of the carambola
or star fruit (Averrhoa carambola) are
produced in abundance with trees bearing two crops
each year, typically during early Autumn and late
Carambola trees make great garden specimens. They
are relatively quick growing, form small trees with
attractive pinnate foliage, produce fruit at a young
age and suffer from very few pest and disease
problems. Trees will loose a significant amount of
foliage during long periods of dry weather or very
cold conditions, but seem to have a remarkable
ability to recover as soon as rain occurs or warmer
of small pink flowers form within the canopy. While
fruit develop quickly, they can be hard to spot as
they are well camouflaged amongst the foliage. It is
often not until the fruit matures to a lighter
yellow colour that you realise the tree is laden.
Trees respond well to pruning and can be kept to
around two metres in height while still producing a
Seed grown plants vary enormously in growth habit
and fruit flavour, so take time to investigate
grafted forms of selected varieties before you
plant. Honey Sweet, Thai Knight, Maha, Fwang Tung
and Kary are just a few of those available. Take a
taste test of some of these varieties by visiting
several fruit shops, then select a variety that
appeals to your tastebuds.
Possums love to feed on the fruit, but there is
usually plenty to go round. A flower caterpillar
occasionally finds its way into the central core of
fruit, but this rarely warrants control.
How to successfully grow plants from cuttings
Why Bother Growing Your Own?
You achieve a great sense of satisfaction by growing
your own plants from scratch. It can be very cost
effective saving you lots of money. It provides the
opportunity to grow plants that are not generally
available in nurseries. You can share the excess from
your garden with friends.
If you know a few tricks of the trade, propagating your
own plants from cuttings is quite easy to do.
Hygiene is all important!
Collect good quality plant material
Cutting material taken from a half dead parent plant
or one that is suffering from pest or disease
infestation is more difficult to get to strike.
If you cannot propagate the plant material
immediately, wet it down then store it in a plastic
bag in the refrigerator.
If you are going to a garden for the specific
purpose of collecting cuttings prepare a
Cutting Survival Kit containing a
collapsible esky, a frozen ice pack, plastic bags,
secateurs, labels, pencils and a spray bottle filled
Be sure that the material you collect is young, but
Cut below the node/leaf joint on the base of the
cutting and above the node/leaf joint at the top of
Some leaves should be left attached, but no buds or
If propagating a number of plants at the same time,
drop them into a container of diluted seaweed before
placing them into hormone products and into the pot.
Use hormone products (liquid/powder/gel) for a
greater strike rate, quicker root formation and more
roots formed on individual cuttings.
Use Propagating Mix or good home made compost, not
Water plants in with seaweed.
Spray with an anti-transpirant like Stressguard and
place them in light shade.
Getting them to Grow
Never allow your cuttings to dry out or to sit in a
saucer of water.
Water each week with a seaweed solution.
Pot up into a good quality potting mix or directly
into the garden once the roots have begun to show
through the base of the container.
© Copyright Annette McFarlane 2007-2013 All Rights Reserved