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10 Sep 2020

Soil is the foundation to a healthy garden

Regardless of what you are planting in your garden, soil preparation is essential for happy healthy plants that will reward all your preparation work with years of colour and joy. 

Australian native plants are no different and what type of soil they require, can certainly vary depending on what part of the country they are naturally found. 

Check your soil type and pH

While the life going on above the soil is gorgeous and the star of the show, the real stars are the trillions of bacteria and microbes creating the ecosystem (or microbiome) below the soil. Without a healthy soil microbiome, anything you will plant will not perform their best.  
 
So before you start planting out your new native garden, there are a few things you need to do that will take time, but in the end that time will pay dividends with a healthy, flourishing garden, for your plants and all the animals, birds and insects that will want to visit.  
 
Firstly, check your soil type. Now this might sound difficult, but it’s quite easy. Get your spade and dig a few holes across the area that is to be planted. It’s a good idea to check a few different areas because soil type can change quickly from one area to another in a garden.  
 
Now get your hands dirty. Take a small amount of soil and squeeze it between your thumb and forefinger to create a ribbon of soil. The longer the ribbon the higher the clay content in your soil. If your soil only forms a short ribbon and you feel course particles in between your fingers your soil has a sandier texture than the long-ribboned example. 
 
Don’t be surprised if its clay as it is the predominate soil type around the edges of the Sydney basin. You will also want to know the pH of your soil and so purchase a soil pH test kit from your local garden centre and test your soil.  

East meets West with a huge variety of specimens in between

Now that you know your soil, think about how weather is going to impact the space and plan the shapes and spaces you want to create for your garden beds. Part of this planning needs to include what plants you are going to use. 

Native Australian flora is so diverse, in both what different plants look like, but also what growing conditions they need. The one thing they all have in common though, is that they have evolved over a very long time in soils that have had very little richness.  

Most west coast plant varieties prefer sandy loam soil, and if you are on a clay bed, you might need to look at raising the beds (if you want a quick turnaround). Or putting in some time and effort to change your soil type by adding organic matter like well-rotted manure, compost or leaf mulch. This will add nutrients, improve soil structure and help with aeration.   

Also raising the garden bed by adding a good native mix (your local soil supplier should be able to assist) that has been mixed with crushed sandstone, will help provide the plants with something to put their roots into, whilst the lower level clay will help to keep the moisture in the garden bed.  

Overall, it is recommended to do some soil improvement when building a garden bed to ensure a good success rate with your planting (which equals not wasting money by having to replace dying plants).  

Feeding the soil

Soil is far from a lifeless substance. Good soil is made up of trillions of life forms that are essential to helping your plants pull the nutrients they need from the soil via the roots to ensure it can sustain life. Most people will think of worms when you talk about life forms in soil, but worms and the other soil living macro organisms are but a few when compared to the trillions of bacteria and microbes that help to make healthy soil. 

There are plenty of options with fertiliser, and if you’ve added some well-rotted manure (as suggested earlier in this blog) you are already fertilising the soil. You could also add some slow release fertiliser, but make sure you purchase ones that area specifically for natives. Australian native plants don’t like fertilisers high in phospherous. 

Follow these tips as best you can and remember, your local nursery will have a number of knowledgeable staff to assist you with what is needed for your particular soil in your local area. 

For more inspiration check out the Gardening at Home section on our website or plan a visit to the Garden. 

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