Now is the time to get dahlias started, whether from tubers or seed. Dahlias love warm conditions and grow into large plants.
They produce flowers in many different colours and styles, on plants that range from dwarf sizes to varieties that may reach up to two metres in height.
Gardeners should consider the actual flower type as well as the plant size and weather resistance when choosing varieties for the garden.
Dahlia varieties are named according to the shape or style of their flowers. More common varieties that are generally available include; cactus, decorative, anemone, miniature, pompon and nymphae (water-lily like).
Most packages display photographic representations of the flowers. The tubers will be stored in a light-weight material, such as sawdust shavings. Tubers should be checked to ensure they are plump before purchase.
Dahlias start to flower between Christmas and early January from plantings in October and November.
To prepare the garden before planting, dig in well-aged compost or aged cow manure and Dynamic Lifter. As dahlia stems are quite brittle, a position that is away from strong winds will be preferable. If the soil is acidic, sprinkle lime or dolomite on the surface and then rake it into the soil. To determine if the soil is acidic or alkaline, testing kits are available from nurseries.
Gardeners who have selected tall growing varieties should place a stake, about two metres in length, next to the tuber before placing soil around the tuber. This will avoid damaging the plant at a later stage. As the plants grow, they can be tied to the stake using strips of old stockings, as these allow for some movement in the stems during windy weather.
Encourage bushy growth in plants, and more flowers, by pinching out the growing tips in the earlier stages of growth. Snails enjoy the young growth.
Eggplants, or aubergines, can be raised from seed that has been sown into seed trays.
It is preferable to wait until the soil is a bit warmer as germination will then be more successful. Seedlings will grow into large bushy plants with attractive purple flowers. The stems of the plants are spiky.
Eggplants need a long season to reach maturity. This may be warm to hot conditions for 5-6 months, if maximum yields are to be obtained. Periods of cooler weather will slow the growth and reduce the yields.
Soils that are light-textured, such as sandy or alluvial soils, will heat up more rapidly. Eggplants grow reasonably large and may need some staking. Grafted plants are available and these would produce stronger plants.
Eggplant fruits are predominately a glossy, dark purple colour, although their shapes may vary from the more traditional egg-shapes through to longer, thinner fruits. It may be possible to source seeds of fruits that have more unusual colours, including green, snowy white and pale pink, some with splashes or stripes of darker colours. Specialist seed suppliers may be able to supply the more unusual varieties.
Eggplants may be susceptible to fruit fly attack and so gardeners will need to implement strategies to avoid attacks by these pests.
Grevilleas are perhaps the most popular of Australian native plants because they are widely available and, especially at this time of the year, they are covered with an abundance of flowers. These are most attractive to honeyeaters, as well as providing areas of colour in the garden.
Some varieties of grevilleas, particularly those that originate in Western Australia, can be more difficult to grow as they dislike the humid conditions experienced in our region during the summer months.
However, increasing numbers of them are available as grafted plants. These plants have been grafted onto a plant stock, such as silky oak, that is not affected by humid conditions.
Grafted grevilleas are available in a wide range of flower colours and shapes, with growth from prostrate forms through to large shrubs and small trees.
Leaf structures also vary widely and are often as attractive as the flowers.
If growing a grafted plant in the garden it is important to remove any shoots that may appear on the root stock below the graft. These shoots can easily be rubbed off using fingers. If left to grow, the stronger growth of the root stock will eventually overcome the grafted plant material.
Companion planting practices, when applied to vegetable gardens, have several benefits. Companion planting generally involves the growing of combinations of flowers and vegetables, using nature to repel pests as well as to provide sources of nutrients to the soil.
Groupings of plants will achieve satisfactory results, with plant interactions working in specific ways between two or three plant types or species. The flowers that grow will attract bees that are essential for good pollination. The natural scents emitted by plants such as herbs will help repel the pests that would otherwise cause great damage to the neighbouring vegetables.
Plants that are suitable for companion planting techniques include; alyssum, daisies, lavender, borage, bergamot, marigold, calendula, coriander, sage and thymes.
WHAT YOU CAN DO
- Construct portable shade cloth tents that can be used to shelter newly planted vegetables from intense heat or drying winds, until they become more resistant.
- Larger succulents can add dramatic elements to the garden landscape, and often grow in darker colours.
- As buds form on geraniums, watch for small holes which will indicate eggs have been laid there, soon forming caterpillars.