A delight of the winter garden is observing the different birds that frequent it in search of food sources.
Honeyeaters will be attracted to a variety of plants, including native grevilleas and banksias, as well as camellias and other flowers rich in nectar. As many plants are devoid of leaves, the birds are also able to find grubs and insects that frequent the plants. Spider webs will provide a good source for nest building, in preparation for the laying of eggs.
Blue wrens, silver eyes, golden whistlers and eastern spinebills are all in evidence now.
The red wattle birds are also quite prevalent. These larger birds have striped feathers, but they can be identified by their rather raucous noise, and the red “wattle”, on the side of their necks.
Birds still require a source of water, so a dish of water, suspended at an appropriate height that will provide protection from cats, will provide drinking water as well as a place where the birds can splash about in.
Parrots and other larger birds will also be seeking food sources, including supplies of berries.
As citrus trees come towards the end of their fruiting cycle and still have some fruit left on the branches, flowers for next season’s crop will begin to appear. This is the time to give the tree some feed, using a complete fertiliser that has been specially prepared for citrus trees.
This applies to all citrus trees, including lemons, oranges, cumquats, limes and mandarins. After weeds have been removed, the fertiliser should be added to the drip line of the tree, underneath the outer branches, and watered in well. Add a cover of mulch, using compost, sugar cane or leaf litter.
New growth will also appear soon. Citrus leaf miner attacks tender new growth, leaving silvery trails under the surface of the leaves and causing them to become badly misshapen. However, in order to reduce the incidence of citrus leaf miner, Pestoil, which is a biologically friendly horticultural spray, should be applied about every 10 days.
Wallflowers are plants that are often overlooked for the winter garden, perhaps because they may be regarded as being somewhat “Old fashioned”. However, they are quite a valuable flowering plant to add to the garden at this time, for several reasons. Wallflowers are mostly evergreen annuals in our climate, although cooler areas that are protected from extremes of summer heat and winds would be able to support perennial varieties. Plant sizes can range from rockery plants through to medium-sized shrubs.
A variety of hybrid varieties is available, usually in specific colour ranges. They are floriferous, producing their flowers almost continually during their shorter season.
The flower stems of wallflowers are usually tall, although hybrid varieties may produce more compact blooms.
The flower heads carry dense clusters of smaller four-petalled blooms on stems that have narrow green-blue foliage. Colours can vary from strong yellows, oranges and reds, though to perennial varieties that feature softer colours including blues and purples through to pinks and paler oranges. Cooler weather will lead to more intense colouring. As the warmer weather commences, the colour of the flowers, particularly the perennial varieties, will become paler.
However, in whatever form is chosen, wallflowers add bright colour to the winter garden.
One of the main features of wallflowers that are overlooked when they are being considered for the garden is the richly fragrant scent they produce. It is a warm, musky scent, somewhat similar to that produced by older style pansies. The warmth of the winter sun will bring out the fragrance so that it fills the surrounding area of the garden. Wallflower plants should be planted into moist, well-drained soils. Maintaining a good water supply will help to prolong the flowering season.
Regular feeding, trimming and the removal of dead flower heads will also assist to extend to season.
Perennials that are older and have developed woody stems should be cut back hard. They can be raised from cuttings taken from non-flowering stems, while annual plants are raised from seed.
Certain weeds are produced during winter and should be removed from the garden to reduce their numbers next year.
If they have produced flower heads, these can be removed from the plant. The plant is then soaked in water for a couple of weeks. The resultant solution is nutrient-rich and is ideal to add to the compost heap.
Another beneficial plant to add to the compost heap is comfrey. The leaves can also be used as mulch, as they contain silica, nitrogen, magnesium, calcium, potassium and iron. Adding comfrey leaves to a worm farm will assist in producing larger worms.
Comfrey is an herbaceous perennial. It has large hairy leaves and grows in a rosette to a metre in height. Although it is dormant in cold areas during winter, it is a hardy plant with a wide, climatic range. Plants produce high yields in fertile, well-watered soil.
Plants, in the form of root cuttings or crown divisions can be planted out in spring. If the roots are disturbed once the plants have become established, a new plant will be produced. Excess plants can be covered with layers of wet newspaper and mulch. The plants underneath will rot away, leaving a rich, black compost.