How to keep your house plants alive with sunlight

ATTRACTIVE: A flowering Zygocactus is a lovely highlight, and natural light is the key.
ATTRACTIVE: A flowering Zygocactus is a lovely highlight, and natural light is the key.

If pots of Zygocactus plants were placed into areas where they only received natural light, once they had finished flowering last year, they should now be coming into full bud.

Some earlier varieties may even have commenced flowering.

Zygocactus and certain other plants such as chrysanthemums and poinsettias set their flower buds when the hours of darkness reach a certain level.

Zygocactus are also known as Crab’s claw cactus and Christmas cactus, as they flower at Christmas time in the Northern Hemisphere.

Pots of Zygocactus can be enjoyed indoors if they are placed in a well-lit position while they flower. They make most attractive subjects for hanging baskets as their naturally pendulous flowers are most attractive when viewed from below. A good draining potting mix should be used.

Plants perform best when the soil is kept evenly moist. Good air circulation in a position of filtered sunlight is ideal.

Light feeding of a soluble fertiliser can be applied during spring and summer.

Once the flowers buds begin to appear, the fertilising should be stopped, but it can be started again when the flowers have finished.

In order to enjoy the same display next year, it is important, once they have finished their flowering cycle, to again place the pots into an area of natural light, where they will only receive light during daylight hours.

Time of colour

Autumn is the time of the year when gardeners can enjoy the beautiful colours that deciduous trees produce.

Whether the tree is a Chinese Tallow Wood, a liquidambar, a member of the ash family or one of the many other varieties that may be growing in the garden or park, the colourful display will be followed by a carpet of dead leaves.

For many gardeners it is very tempting to rake up these leaves and then dispose of them with the weekly garbage.

However, this yearly supply of leaves can be used in quite purposeful and useful ways in the garden, depending on the preference of the individual gardener.

If a smaller amount of dead leaves is available, then they can be simply spread over the surface of garden beds, forming an instant layer of organic mulch.

This will retain moisture in the soil, suppress the formation of weeds and, eventually, when the leaves decompose, provide a rich source of nutrients for the garden soil.

However, with a little effort, the leaves can be used to create rich compost that can be added to any area of the garden, providing a long lasting beneficial effect.

In order to achieve compost, a container that will hold the leaves will need to be constructed.

A temporary square or rectangular shape, made by stretching wire netting between posts is sufficient, although the netting can restrict access to the pile when turning of the material is desired.

A more robust construction might have sides made from boards or flat pieces of timber or other materials.

A base is not required as it is preferable to have the leaves in contact with the soil, allowing worms and other organisms to access the plant material.

If the leaves that are being added to the container are large and thick, it would be preferable to speed up the decomposition process by either mowing over them, or putting them through a shredder.

Layers of leaves can then be placed into the structure, alternating the layers of leaves with layers of manures such as chicken, horse or fowl manure, depending on what is available.

A sprinkling of Dynamic Lifter or blood and bone to each layer will help to ensure a rich compost results. Sufficient water should be added to the heap to make it damp, but not too wet.

The top surface of the heap can then be covered with plastic or some other material such as pieces of old carpet.

The whole heap should then be stirred with a fork every couple of weeks, ensuring that the different layers become inter-mixed.

Keep the material damp. Worms and other creatures should be present in the mixture as it goes through its decomposition process.

However, fat white curl-grubs should be removed and left out in the open for the birds.

The following spring, rich, crumbly, sweet-smelling compost will result.

This will be ideal for including in new garden beds or for adding to straw, lucerne hay, sugar cane mulch or other materials placed over the surface of the garden.

Plant seedlings

Seedlings of cauliflower, lettuce, spinach, radish and broad beans are all suitable for planting out now.

Broad beans grow easily from seed planted out now. However, the pods will not form until the weather starts to

warm up in spring. It is preferable to pick the pods when they are young and tender. Once harvesting has finished, the plants should be dug into the soil as they will add nitrogen to the soil.

Plants that are commonly grown as spinach are often actually silver beet.

Traditional English spinach is much more tender than silver beet, which has large, crinkled leaves that are more strongly flavoured.

However, English spinach can be difficult to grow if the weather becomes warm.

A “Perpetual” form of silver beet, which is more like spinach in growth and flavour, is now available. Its name comes from the plant lasting for more than one season.

Maitland and District Garden Club