Tropical Climate Gardening

Your guide to gardening in the tropics

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Gardening

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In previous blog posts I mention testing your soil which can be done with a simple kit bought from any good gardening nursery. The Kit is a pH soil test kit and should be used by all gardeners so you can ensure your soil is at the correct level. Your pour blood sweat and tears into your garden so it makes sense to ensure the soil has the right amounts of nutrients - let mother nature work for you.

Soils in the Top End sadly are quite poor in condition, I get jealous when I head south and feel the soil but a challenge is what I love and the tropics give me my fair share in gardening. What i battle is the wet season, as much as I love a good rain its the big down pours that leach all my nutrients out the soil which annoys me.

For new comers to testing firstly what is pH? Well pH stands for potential Hydrogen and the kits mentioned will test to see how acidic or alkaline your soil is. Most plants will prefer neutral soil which is around 6 but can vary slightly depending on which kit your using. Some plants do like to have acidic soils such as azaleas and camelias however there isn't to many plants that will thrive in alkaline soil.  Here in the Top End I find most soils are acidic a reading of 6 and below is common for first testing in most gardens I work on.

What causes our Top End soils to become acidic?

According to the research done our top influence up here is 

  • Rain- Our storms have a pH of 3.0 which is strongly acidic
  • Decomposing organic matter releasing organic acids
  • Chemical fertilisers most are quite acidic

So you have tested your soil and can see its lacking in nutrients and now you want to fix the problem but what? Below is a slight touch on a few nutrients i tend to use. From what i have learnt over the years is this:-

Soils on the acidic side:- Add dolomite lime at a rate of about 100gm/ m 2 2-3 times over a few months as trying to correct the balance in the one hit will cause shock to your plants.

Soils on the alkaline side:- A bit harder to treat but to get started try adding sulphur 25-50gm/ m 2 then start building the soil with organic matter. Up here in the tropics of the NT I have never come across a reading that has been too high in alkaline so gladly I have not had the pleasure of correcting this as yet.   

Gypsum

How this helps? Used as a soil conditioner Gypsum improves structure to soil helping with drainage mainly with heavy clay like soils. Gypsum is commonly known as a clay breaker and sold as such, I tend to use gypsum when preparing a garden bed then don't really tend to use it again for a few years as its quite long lasting. If using gypsum always water it well in so the ground really soaks it all up and only minimal traces can be seen to the eye.

Seaweed Solutions

How this helps? Most mixes have anywhere between 50-70 minerals and trace elements added to improve soil structure but remember this is not a fertiliser as many tend to think. Most mixes will contain Mannitol and Alginic which acidify the soil helping your plants to absorb the nutrients.  Using a solution will play a significant role in your gardens ability to fight fungi and disease.  You will find stronger crops, better flowing and an increased sugar content in your fruits as well. I use a seaweed solution when transplanting as it reduces shock due and promotes root growth.  I fill a watering can up and put in a few tablespoons in when using- always dilute.

Lime / Dolomite Lime

How this helps? Used as a soil conditioner by adding calcium carbonate which will neutralise soil acidity. I don't use this with any fresh manures as lime tends to release ammonia gas which is quite harming to your roots. Dolomite contains calcium magnesium carbonate which is also used as a soil conditioner and will also react with fresh manure releasing harmful gas.

Iron Sulphate

How can this help? Used as a soil conditioner, will add iron to the soil which is used to neutralise soil alkalinity.

Powder Sulphur

How can this help? Soil conditioner by adding sulphur into the soil which neutralises soil alkalinity.

Chicken Manure

How can this help? My favourite of all soil conditioner's, chicken manure will add nitrogen, potassium, ulphur, iron, zinc, phosphorous, calcium, copper, boron, molybdbenum and maganese to your soil. Don't ever use chicken manure direct, let it sit and weather for a few months otherwise it will burn your plants roots.

Green Manures

How can this help? Green manures increase the organic status of your soil, reduce soil erosion and will help the soil retain your added minerals. Nitrogen rich organic materials help break up compacted soils, smother weeds and provides habitat for all those beneficial insects. If your into veggie gardening you might be familiar with crop rotation many will use a green manure cover crop especially through the wet season. If your wanting to do this try buckwheat, cowpea, Japanese millet, lablab, mung bean or soy bean. Though the wet season i will write an article on using cover crops as I find them to be so beneficial yet not used enough in the home gardens. As a commercial gardener I'm always down at the local dump and the amount of green waste I see in trailers amazes me, all that can be used as compost adding nutrients into the soil please if your one of them save it. I bet you spend money every year buying fertilisers and hay bales yet what you throw out works better if its put to good use.   

Blood & Bone

How Can this help? A well known and used product on the market with its great mix of nitrogen, phosphorous and calcium. Nutrients all leak slowly supplying your plants with a steady intake of goodness. A little trick I like to use is composting my banana leaves with hay then adding the mix to my blood and bone mixture as you will find blood and bone hasn't any potassium so adding the organic mix just gives it the perfect portion of the missing element.  

Trace Elements

How can this help? Adds all types of minerals such as sulphur, zinc, boron, copper, magnesium, calcium & molybdenum which as are essential for the biochemical process but not used right can be quite toxic to your plants. 

Mushroom Compost

How can this help? Soil conditioner, mushroom compost is made from poultry manure and hay however I find brands can differ some will be quite alkaline whilst others acidic. So i would probably check this out if your using it on plants especially acid loving plants, a pH test kit will give you an accurate reading.

Rock Dust

How can this help? All rocks have mineral elements so applying rock dust is a way of introducing these elements without waiting years upon years for the weather to break down your rocks. The elements you will benefit from are silica, calcium, magnesium, iron and potash. When choosing rock dust the finer the dust is the faster the nutrients will be released with basalt and granite being the richest. Use your rock dust in conjunction with your normal composting routine, I like to scatter a few handfuls on my soil before laying down my composting layers.  

 Human Waste

The most unpopular of all I'm not promoting you rush out to the garden to relive yourself but yes urine is sterile and can be safely used if diluted 10:1. When your having your next BBQ and your men wander into the garden for sprinkle demand they take a bucket of water to dilute Smile    

 

If the above is still a bit confusing remember most garden nurseries are more than happy to help and full of information, the testing kit is simple to use so once you have your reading simple ring or email them and ask for advice. We are always here as well sending an email to us at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. with as much information as you can and we can also help you out.

Note: This article will be updated throughout the year.

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©Kylie Stephens- Lawn Ranger
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Lomandra Lime Tuff

We just love utilising all types of grasses into our projects so today I wanted to talk about a grass that been taking over the Top End with outstanding reviews from our suppliers and clients and that's the Lomandra Lime Tuff.

Lomandra Lime Tuff is by the talented guys at Bush Magik, which is a wonderful range of Australian plants developed by Ian Shimmen who has been growing for over 40years.

 

I've actually lost count of the amount of orders we have put in this year for more and more of this amazing grass and can only see its popularity to continue to grow if the trials are anything to go by up here.

 

 

Why do we love it? b2ap3_thumbnail_Lime-Tuff-In-pots.gif

Its compact with gorgeous bright lime green foliage, it looks great all year round and is extremely hardy it basically ticks all the right boxes. I have a soft spot for gardens that mimic the natural bushland and seeing a Lime Tuff in a garden just seems to give it that natural earthy feel.

On our property i have it  planted in my native / water wise side as well as around my home in pots, all are doing so well and the flowers are a welcoming site consisting of a spike of scented yellow. This year we conducted a landscaping project out in the rural area where our client requested large bush rock, we planted the Lime Tuff near the large rocks and i must say it looked just beautiful the contrast of the bush rock and the lime foliage just set the garden off perfect.

Where can you grow it?

 

 

Anywhere! Lime Tuff has been proven to grow in shade, full sun, dry areas and has the ability to stand up to frost for all you Southern readers.  I actually hope the Darwin city council starts utilising this plant more in streetscaping projects as its so low maintenance and requires no pruning which in turn would be saving us all dollars by not having to have workers out there cutting back the grasses. I see some really exciting projects happening around Darwin, it seems Darwin is really pushing towards a greener look which is so great to see.

Growing Guide b2ap3_thumbnail_Lime-Tuff-label.gif

Height- anywhere from 0.3- 0.5m

Width- anywhere from 0.3-0.5m

As with anything in the Top End it may grow a little larger but the guide is fairly accurate.

Soil pH around the 4.5 to 7.0 mark

Flowering season is all year round.

Uses

 

 

  • Mass plantings (spacing we do is 0.4m)
  • Height restricted areas
  • Erosion control
  • Boarders
  • Scattered planting
  • Pots
  • Wildlife attracting
  • Cascading effect when used with walls and rockeries

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 Care

 


Fertilise only with a slow release fertiliser with a low amount of phosphorus

No need for pruning

We recommend mulching around the base of the plant to help suppress water loss and aid in weed control

 

 

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©Kylie Stephens- Lawn Ranger
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Irrigation in Darwin has been a popular topic amongst gardener's with the rising water costs as well as the community becoming more aware of the impact its causing to our environment. Water is the most important factor for a successful garden however getting it right may take a little learning.

Whilst at the local garden nursery the other day in my work uniform I was approached by a lady who wanted to ask me about watering her garden's. What she explained was no matter how much water she seemed to give her garden's by the time she got home from work the plants looked all droopy and under stress. Apart from the obvious question of "what plant's do you have" the main topic I wanted to discuss in detail was her soil. Understanding your soil is vital in keeping a garden looking lush and will save on your water cost's not to mention the stress of seeing your garden wilting away especially in this terrible build up weather.

Firstly do you know what type of soil you have?

Loamy? This soil retains water well but yet also drains well, its ideal for plant growth.

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Clay? Easily identified as this soil holds water for long periods. When water hits this soil it can run off in directions away from the plant or tree so its important to water your plants in slowly giving the soil time to soak up the water.

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Sandy? This is the opposite from clay, this soil is thirsty and will drink up the water in a flash then dry out just as quick. Plants that are in sandy soils you will find it requires frequent watering in smaller amounts.

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In order to get the irrigation/watering correct start by improving your soil with organic matter especially for clay and sandy soils, the organic matter will feed the soil of vital nutrients.

When I say organic think, compost, types of manures, grass clippings, hay, worm castings, peat, leaves basically anything natural. Clay soils will need some lime and possibly gypsum to give it a head  start as well as the organic matter.

How often to water?

There isn't an easy answer here, it will depend on a your soil the temperature & location. I always say your own observation will be the best assessment as no one knows your garden like yourself . What you want to do is try  stretching out your watering by watching the leaves closely, are they curling or browning? Dig a hole near the root zone to investigate the moisture level using your visual assessment combined with digging down should be enough to guide you towards the correct watering amount for the specific location. As your building your soil up, keep the testing going as once the soil starts to hold water you can then adjust the irrigation to water less. Remember plants are pretty resilient and will survive under watering against over watering for example an over watered garden may loose 30ltrs + of water on a dry season day compared to a minimally watered garden that might loose as low as 5ltrs in the same period. Over watering will produce soft plants that will get into the habit of stressing out more and more every time that lack a bit of water.

The bucket Test

Get an everyday 10ltr bucket and now lets test your flow rate!

Fill the bucket with water making sure the tap is fully open, lets say it took 15seconds to fill the bucket that would make it 40ltrs per minute.

(60 seconds divided by 15 = 4 x10ltrs=40 so that's 40ltrs/min  or 2,400ltrs/hour)

 

When To Water?

I always advise early morning over night watering as over night watering especially in the tropic's as for some plants fungus can be an issue. If that time wont fit into your lifestyle evening is still much better than watering through the day time. Also be sure to weed the garden beds as weeds will compete with the plant sucking away the nutrients.

 

Bore Water / Hard Water

For those living rural on block's you will most likely have a bore watering your garden's which means your water can be a bit "hard". What I mean is the water has a high mineral content, for most plants you wont really notice anything to worry about but some plant's such as orchid's may need attention. Basically hard water can contain certain salts that are toxic to certain plant's & the soil pH becomes unsuitable for the plant/plant's. The easiest way to see if this is a problem is look at the leaves, are there any mineral deposit's on the leaves? If this is the case try not spraying the leaves, try to use drip irrigation and mulch heavily incorporating organic matter into the mix. Luckily for us we are guaranteed a wet season every year so this will wash away any salt's and re freshen up the garden ready for another hit of the dry season.

Remember we are in the Darwin area and can visit your property to go over all watering issues, happy gardening!

 

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©Lawn Ranger Landscaping & Irrigation
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  • marcymrussel@live.com
    marcymrussel@live.com says #
    I like this topical gardening information it is very helpful for people the first observation should have to be taken about the s
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Growing Bauhinia x blakeana - Common name "Hong Kong Orchid Tree"

Today I visited our stockist and have bought back some beautiful stock ready for our next landscaping project, I'm wrapped in the quality and cant wait to get the next project started.

I've picked up one of my favourite tree's to grow in the Tropic's, the "Hong Kong Orchid Tree" which I believe originated from China and were once called Sheep's foot tree's due to the leaf shape looking like a sheep's foot. I personally think this tree is far to pretty to be associated with any part of a sheep's foot, Orchid Tree fits perfect! 

The Bauhinia x blakeana is said to be a hybrid between the Bauhinia purpurea and B.variegata and is actually the official emblem of Hong Kong since 1965. It was discovered on the seashore of Hong Kong Island near the ruins of a house by Sir Henry Blake who happened to be enthusiastic botanist. Its said he named the tree after his wife Lady Edith Blake.b2ap3_thumbnail_Seed-pod-Bauhinia.gif

This pretty tree will grow up to 7m- 9m tall and has dainty orchid like flowers, in Darwin we tend to have the magenta colour and can see this tree flower from February right through to November. If you are planting from seed you can expect your Bauhinia to flower from a year to two from when it was a seedling.

Bauhiana trees can be grown in full sun in fertile well draining slightly acidic soil, the tree will produce large flat legume looking pods however the tree is sterile so it wont produce seed pods. The roots are deep and don't like to be transplanted so take care when planting out into your garden. What I like to do is soak the roots in seaweed solution for a few hrs before I transplant this will reduce the shock and give the tree a head start. Its such a hardy tree just a general fertiliser twice a year is all this tree will need, in fact I have one tree that I must admit I missed fertilising one year and it looked just as gorgeous as the others without the need for a feed. When I do fertilise I just use a slow release fertiliser and organic matter such as blood and bone.   

One of the things I love is how adaptable this tree can be, it will withstand the dry seasons with dry spells and tolerate our build up we have used this tree also in our smaller landscaping projects as well as our larger ones its such a versatile tree. If you're thinking of using this tree in a smaller garden or even a large container be sure to prune it for the first few years so the canopy is shaped and your tree will keep its neat form.  I've read you can even train a Bauhinia as a bonsai which I am keen to try out on one of our commercial oriental properties, and maybe one at home for trial purposes.

Commercial location's and street scapes love this tree also as its evergreen, the tree may drop a few leaves over a month or so but the new leaves are quick to grow and replace bare branches. 

Pest's aren't really a problem as i've never had to deal with any at our place or at any other location's where we have planted the Bauhinia, its said to be free of any serious pest's and diseases. Pest's that have been known to attack but quite rare are borers, caterpillars and mites. As for diseases leaf spot, and leaf scorch may require attention but once again quite rare.

 

 

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©Lawn Ranger Landscaping & Irrigation
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Welcome to our garden!

A few times we have been asked what our gardens look like, we tend to be passionate about so many plants & trees that we cant resist trialing them on our place in Girraween.

Firstly i would like to say YES we do make mistakes, in fact our whole garden is a series of lessons learned. Each year our gardens change in one way or another, I think what makes our garden work is responding to mistakes and not being afraid to correct them. It's not uncommon for Kevin and I to spend months working on an area then two seasons later decide okay that's not working the way we planned, lets rip it up. 'If i was to give any gardener advice it would have to be make mistakes BUT learn from them. Don't be afraid to rip up plants everything in a garden is workable we have revamped gardens which contained the wrong everything into welcoming areas in a matter of days.  Another way I like to look at gardening is this; If we all read books, blogs etc.. and followed everything we read to a tea who's to say these writers were partly wrong or not tried alternative methods? I'm not saying don't read and learn (gosh i read every night for hours on the topic) but do this...take a bit of information from here and there but be original, be creative! Use yourself as the teacher life experience beats anything in writing.

Now where do we live? Rural Northern Territory on about 3acres just on the outskirts Darwin, It's a little slice of paradise we love to call our home.

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Our block tends to have different landscaping concepts on the entire land, we like it this way so we can walk around home and feel a new feeling in each created space. We have the tropical area, native area, the kitchen garden, the kids area, the playing field and a recently added formal decking area that overlooks our property which we dearly love but sadly don't get much spare time to sit there but when we do its pretty special.

Having land we are fortunate enough to trail all sorts plants, trees and ideas here before getting to work on our customers gardens. Trialing has been allot fun and just about every weekend we tend to come up with some sort of idea for a particular area and before we know it our weekend has been consumed by the garden once again.

The kitchen garden was the first and major garden I wanted established as its the most useful and rewarding one on the property, nothing beats fresh produce with no chemicals!

A native garden was high on my list as I have a real love for the outback flora and fauna, I love sitting in our native garden watching all the different birds in the trees, between the parrots, cocky's and butcher birds there isn't much silence in the garden- just as well I love their harmony ha!

Living in the tropics I just had to add a tropical garden for our southern family and friends, they are always amazed at the colour in the foliage and sense of tropical feeling a garden like this brings. Whilst its not my favourite part in the garden I am always amazed by the little surprises in this garden.

Our block is a working progress, we have been out here for 5 years and basically started with a clean slate so every year as thing grow its nice to flick back through old photos and see how far the gardens have come.

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I'm often asked by visitors how did we pick all the plant species and to be honest like I said our gardens were never really planned we created them one at a time based on our personality. Some days I want nature so i prefer to hang around the native side whilst other days Ive gone troppo and want to sip on cocktails surrounded by bright vibrant foliage.

Being landscapers we tend to be run off our feet so weekends are not like a traditional weekend, Kevin is off Saturdays doing irrigation and quotes for our business so its me and the kids that usually get stuck into the gardens. Afternoon time when Kevin arrives home Ive usually though up ideas and get him to work straight away before the sun disappears on us. Sunday 's we love to listen to Macca on the radio whilst on our decking (coffee in hand of course) then we discuss the days plan. We both live and breath gardening in all its forms from irrigation, landscaping and general gardening/ maintenance so our business really suits us and I can truly say i love my job.

Now when most look at our garden they usually then mention how much did it cost to do all this and i'll be honest and say- not a whole lot. Yes we get wholesale from garden nurseries but but we are just so busy doing other peoples gardens that we do not tend to  order for us at all, its all cuttings, markets and specials i may see around the place. Anyone can have a gorgeous garden in any theme if your patient. There is nothing wrong with slowly adding plants here and there over time. Stroll through the markets on a Saturday morning and pick up plants that catch your eye, you dont have know the in's and out's of it then and there. Simply ask the name of the plant your buying, then do research find that location its best suited to and get digging. Buying mass amounts is expensive if your going to nurseries or even Bunnings. I hate to see people spend enormous amounts on all these different kids of plants only to know nothing about the species and then the plants either get put in the wrong spot, die or go wild suffocating other plants- take your time and learn on the way.

As landscapers we are obviously dealing with clients who want bare spaces complete with a ready to go garden so yes we are dealing with many species to customers who sometimes no little to nothing about gardening. We have a data base now in the office so I can actually print out a little about all the selected plants for the job and then that way our customers are not getting left with a garden with no instructions on how to care for it. Its like a newborn baby in a way, we hand the garden over whilst its new,  its going to keep growing so you need to feed it with the right fertilisers and water it at the right doses.

In the years to come our garden will join the open garden scheme here in the Northern Territory, if your local we would love for you to take a wander.

Plans for 2014- Ahhh so many but what we are planning for next year is demolishing our current kitchen garden to make way for an extended grassed area for the kids, constructing a new bigger kitchen garden, creating another native area around our decking and adding lots of tropical exotic fruit trees around our oval area.

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©Kylie Stephens
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  • Edwards Donovan Landscapes Pty Ltd
    Edwards Donovan Landscapes Pty Ltd says #
    Excellent Post...It's glad to see that you have provided complete end–to–end Garden Maintenance service. Anyone will be very helpf
  • Kylie Stephens- Author of Tropical Climate Gardening Blog
    Kylie Stephens- Author of Tropical Climate Gardening Blog says #
    Hi Edwards Donovan Landscapes, thankyou for the lovley comment
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