As we head into spring, we’ve asked gardening expert Roger Fox for some great tips to boost your gardening success as green thumbs near far head back into the garden as the warmer weather sets in. Gardening has been described as ‘10 per cent inspiration and 90 per cent perspiration’. But it’s the inspiration that makes your gardening efforts a success, and every gardener loves finding a better, or easier, way of doing things. There are thousands of hints, tips, and shortcuts out there in the world of horticulture – here’s a collection to inspire you.
Earthworms are the best barometer of soil health — the more you have, the better your soil is. They thrive on organic matter, but if you don’t have time to maintain a compost heap, then try this quick hack — dig small holes throughout your garden beds and bury your kitchen scraps in them. Cover over with soil and let the worms do the rest.
Moisture is the key
All garden soils, even those with plenty of organic matter, have problems with water repellency at different times of the year (especially after dry periods). Make applying a wetting agent to the soil a regular part of your gardening schedule — ideally twice a year. You can use liquid forms for treating small areas (these are mixed up in a watering can) or if you have a larger garden, it’s easier to apply a granular wetting agent. These are broadcast by hand, just like fertiliser.
You’ll never grow a flourishing garden in poor soil. If that’s what you’re confronted with, spend some time digging through lots of compost and cow manure weeks before any plants go into the ground. If your soil is woeful — hard and rocky, for instance — then instead of digging down, build it up. Install raised garden beds (30cm plus in height) and fill them with a top-quality planting mix. Success guaranteed!
Success beneath trees
Landscaping areas beneath trees is a serious challenge. It’s not so much a shade issue — there are lots of plants that will grow in shade — but rather a problem of hard root-filled soil, which makes it impossible to dig normal planting holes. Try this cheat’s trick.
In areas that are sun-deprived for most of the year, such as the south side of a house, don’t struggle with growing lawn — it will never thrive. Instead, loosen the soil and plant a shade-loving ground cover such as dichondra, native violet, vinca or ivy (note: some trimming required). For something taller, try mass planting liriope (also known as lily turf) and enjoy its pretty mauve flower spikes in autumn. Alternatively, opt for a hard landscaping solution and install a path of stepping stones, surrounded by a bed of decorative pebbles.
Instead of using plastic trays for seed raising, try egg cartons filled with a seed-raising mix. Not only are they perfectly shaped, with their separate cells, but they’re biodegradable too. To water, either spray lightly from above or sit the carton in a shallow tray of water and let it absorb moisture from beneath. When the seedlings are ready, you can cut out the individual sections and plant them directly into the ground. For large seeds, you can also use old cardboard toilet rolls, by stacking them closely together in a tray or pot, filling with mix and planting one seed per roll.
When you’re striking cuttings, try some homemade alternatives to using rooting hormone products. Dissolve a teaspoon of Vegemite in a jar of water and sit the cuttings in it overnight (Vegemite contains vitamins that aid with root formation). Alternatively, dip the end of the cuttings into pure honey right before potting.
Many shrub cuttings can be coaxed into striking by sitting them in a jar of shallow water. Place them in a protected spot for a few weeks, until you see roots appear, then pot them up into potting mix to grow on. This method works not only for soft-stemmed plants like impatiens but also for many woody-stemmed shrubs like abutilons, gardenias and others.
Snails and slugs
There are many homegrown alternatives to chemical snail baits. Protect susceptible plants by sprinkling a border of coffee grounds or crushed eggshells around them. You can also use a plastic dish filled with flat beer — the snails are attracted to it, and fall in and drown before they can get to your plants. To keep these pests out of potted plants, try wrapping some copper wire around the outside as a deterrent.
Many of the caterpillars that attack garden plants are the larvae of night-flying moths. If your potted plants are getting chewed, try placing a couple of mothballs (or camphor balls) on the surface of the potting mix. This will deter the moths from laying their eggs.
Homebrew for roses
To control back spot disease on roses, and discourage aphids at the same time, here’s a homemade rose spray that’s easy to make.
As we embrace the warmer weather of spring and as a result get outdoors for a spot of gardening, these expert tips from Roger Fox offer valuable insights to enhance your gardening experience.
Whether you’re improving your soil, solving shade issues, simplifying seed propagation, or managing pests, these tips provide practical solutions for a successful garden.
With these ideas in mind, you can approach the warmer season with confidence and inspiration, ready to make the most of your gardening efforts. Happy gardening!
This article was originally published on April 16, 2022, and has been updated on September 11, 2023.