Planting Australian native plants

Last weekend at Belair National Park was a great event called “Grey Box Day” – a national park open day and native plant sale aimed at restoring and maintaining grey box grassy woodland, the once typical but now endangered bushland of the Adelaide Hills face and Adelaide Plains. The plants sold out, and no wonder! They had trays of 20 assorted tubestock for $20!

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Growing native seedlings for Trees For Life last year

The plants came with descriptive tags but no planting instructions, so here’s a bit of general info to get started. For more detail, it’s worth referring to this list of the plants grown for the day and downloading the marvellous State Flora catalogue which is a good guide to the soil types, water requirements, shapes and flowering times of the various plants.

Generally most native plants will do best in full sunlight or light shade, with well drained but not excessively rich soil. They mostly don’t need much fertilliser – just a little compost when planting and if you like, a bit of slow-release native fertiliser. If planting into clay soil it’s worth aerating it a bit with a garden fork – just poke the fork in and wriggle it a bit to make some air holes, don’t disturb the soil structure too much – and give a good sprinkle of gypsum to assist drainage. Woody mulch is helpful to suppress weed growth around the plant as it is getting established and to increase moisture retention in warmer weather. If the plant might not get regular attention or if there are browsing critters around that might like the taste of it, protect it with a tree guard held in place with stakes – there are various types available (you see them in revegetation projects). A weed mat is also worthwhile if you’re not mulching, or you could use pads of newspaper or straw around the plant. Soak the soil well before planting, loosen soil around the planting hole, and give a weekly soak during the first summer. Once established they will be largely self-sufficient, providing much of their own mulch, and many can be pruned to achieve whatever effect you are trying to create.

Check the mature size of the plant – the Grey Box Day collection includes everything from delicate ground covers to the mighty Grey Box itself, a eucalypt that can reach up to 20m tall and the same width – to be sure that you can select suitable planting sites. Ground covers and climbers can typically cope with a bit more shade than large trees, and sedges and rushes can handle waterlogged soil – but some can also become a bit invasive if they have ideal conditions. Also be aware that existing plants in your garden may not necessarily appreciate having a great big gum tree or sheoak move in next to them, which will present them with root competition as well as releasing substances that inhibit other plants’ growth. However your council and neighbours may be more than happy for resilient larger species to be planted as street trees or established in a local park with your help (if in doubt check first).

For inspiration in designing native plants into your garden, check out the example designs at Backyards 4 Wildlife, which include several different styles and sizes of garden using Grey Box woodland plants – everything from wild to contemporary to formal.

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