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News for Gardeners

News about plants and gardens in Queensland, plus other interesting horticultural news from around the world.

Into Horticulture Issue 17 online now

This online newsletter is aimed at the expert amateur gardener plus professionals in the nursery and garden industry, especially in Queensland. View the latest online edition here: Into Horticulture - Issue 16. To find out how to subscribe to the email edition (it's free!) or view archived online editions, go to Newsletters.

Origins of the peach

In spite of their popularity worldwide, or perhaps because of it, nobody has ever been sure where the crop was first domesticated. Radiocarbon dating of ancient peach stones found in the Lower Yangtze River Valley in Southern China indicates that selection for larger fruit size was going on there at least 7500 years ago. Its likely that people selected for other characteristics such as flavour and productivity, too. As peaches have a relatively short time to fruiting from seed this would have been quite feasible, but early orchardists would have probably also developed methods of vegetative preproduction (like grafting) to multiply the improved forms. The researchers think it took about 3000 years of breeding for the peach to be developed into the fruit that we recognise. Source: It's the Pits: Ancient peach stones offer clues to fruit's origins September 2014

UQ investigates office greenery

A collaboration between the University of Queensland and several international universities has studied the effects of plants in offices. The results suggest that increases in worker happiness and productivity will make the investment in office greenery worthwhile. Source: Leafy-green better than lean (September 2014)

For healthier people, plant trees

A US study has estimated that trees save the lives of more than 850 Americans and prevent some 670,000 acute respiratory incidences per year by removing air pollution. These positive health effects were valued at nearly $7 billion annually. Source: First national study finds trees saving lives, reducing respiratory problems: Air pollution modeling reveals broad-scale impacts of pollution removal by trees (July 2014)

Torres Strait Islands heritage on display in new Mackay garden

The newly-opened Torres Strait Islands Garden has been developed within the Mackay Regional Botanic Gardens to acknowledge the culture and history this community in the region. Design o the precint reflects the islands' geopraphy and the community's culture and lifestyle, including a meeting place where traditional cooking and feasting can tale place. Source: Garden pays homage to Torres Strait heritage (July 2014)

Sound as pest control

Test plants exposed to recordings of feeding vibrations later showed greater production of mustard oils when fed on by actual caterpillars. Other types of vibrations did not increase these chemical defences. Besides revealing new ways that plants interact with their environment, the research points to ways that natural defences might be stimulated by growers. Source: Plants Respond to Leaf Vibrations Caused by Insects' Chewing, MU Study Finds (July 2014)

Axinaea stamens an unusual bird treat

An unusual form of bird pollination has been described in the genus Axinaea from Central and South America. Instead of the more usual nectar, the stamens carry bulbous appendages which provide birds with a food reward. However, the structures incorporate a "bellows" action which eject pollen on to the bird in the process. Most of Axinaea's relatives in the family Melastomataceae are pollinated by bees. The researchers speculate that the strategy adopted by Axinaea may be an adaptation to growth at high altitudes , where bird pollination may be more efficient. Source: Flower's bellows organ blasts pollen at bird pollinators (July 2014)

2014 Garden Competitions
More links will be added to this list as information comes to hand. If you're organising a comp and it doesn't appear here, get in touch. Public tours of competition gardens can also be submitted for inclusion in the Queensland Gardening Events Diary.
Betascapes Spring Garden Spectacular, Rockhampton Regional & Livingstone Shire Councils Entries close 5 September. More: 2014 Betascapes Spring Garden Spectacular
Seniors Week Garden Competition, Cairns Entries close 7 August. More: Garden comp open to senior green thumbs
Cassowary Coast Regional Council Garden Competition Entries close 1 August. More: Green Thumbs! Get Your Garden Competition Entry Forms In Now!
Some roses tested for salt tolerance

18 popular rose cultivars promoted by Texas A&M University under the Earth-Kind® brand for their pest tolerance and landscape performance have also been tested for salt tolerance. The cultivars varied, with 'Sea Foam' being one of the best and 'Cecile Brunner' one of the worst. Source: Earth-Kind roses analyzed for salt tolerance. (June 2014)

Acacia seeds tough it out

Two wattles planted at the Royal Botanic Garden Sydney represent the durability and future potential of the genus for deployment in extreme conditions. One (Acacia pycnantha), was grown from seed that survived the microgravity and ionising radiation of 2800 Earth orbits in space, the other (Acacia obtusata) was grown from seed stored since 1899. Source: Wattles - to infinity and beyond (June 2014)

New hope for late blight resistance

The centre of origin of potato late blight, Phytophthora infestans has been genetically tracked to a valley in central Mexico. The cause of the devastating Irish Potato Famine and a serious and costly crop disease worldwide today co-evolved with relatives of the potato in this valley, from where it spread repeatedly. The discovery presents tremendous opportunities for finding resistance genes. Source: Tracking potato famine pathogen to its home may aid $6 billion global fight (June 2014)

Ornithophily at least 47 million years old

The oldest known example of ornithophily (the pollination of flowers by birds) has been recently described. Even though structural features of bird fossils had previously suggested a such relationship, pollen found in the stomach contents of a bird from the Messel Pit (Germany) has confirmed that it goes back at least 47 million years. So far, there are no plant fossils of this age suggesting ornithophily, but typical indicators like red flowers of lack of scent are not preserved by fossilisation. Source: Age-old: Relationship between Birds and Flowers- The world's oldest fossil of a nectarivorous bird has been described (May 2014)

Antioxidant roses
Rosa canina
Rosa canina. Photo by Valentina Schmitzer

A Slovenian study in which several rose species and modern cultivars were compared, showed differences in levels of phenolic compounds, Among those tested, Rosa canina leaves exhibited high and varied content of the antioxidants. This could be an underlying reason for the popularity of this species in traditional medicine. On the other hand, the modern cultivar 'Schwanensee' had the lowest levels of those tested, which might explain its susceptibility to disease. Differences in phenolic makeup of indigenous rose species and modern cultivars (May 2014)

Help preserve Picnic Point history

Toowoomba Regional Council are researching the century-old Picnic Point Parklands are are appealing to the public for photographs (copies), stories or information so that its history can be preserved for future generations. The insights gained will also guide preservation and management of the park into the future. The area under consideration includes Picnic Point Lookout, Lions Park, the waterfall, the flagpole island, Tobruk Memorial Drive, Heller Street Park and the Tourist Road memorial avenue. More information at the Council's website: Share your memories of Picnic Point (May 2014)

Please mow the footpath, asks Bundy council

Bundaberg Regional Council is urging residents to mow the own footpaths outside their own homes to keep Council maintenance costs down and improve the look of the region. Source: Footpath maintenace slashes Council costs (May 2014)

New nickel collector

A new plant species has been discovered in the Philipines that can accumulate nickel in its tissues at levels up to 1000 times higher than other plants, without being poisoned. Only about 450 species worldwide have exhibited nickel hyperaccumulation, a property which could be used for phytoremediation of contaminated soils, or even phytomining. Source: New species of metal-eating plant discovered in the Philippines (May 2014)

Temperature effects on plants can be complicated

In cold climates, warm temperatures might be assumed to increase growth. However, a study on two shrub species on an island south of New Zealand showed that episodes of activating warmth during winter are actually detrimental. Elevated respiration, especially by the roots, depletes plant reserves. If this were to occur repeatedly over many years, it could affect on the survival of these species. This indicates one of the unexpected consequences that a warming climate could have on plant life. Shrub growth decreases as winter temps warm up (May 2014)

New Timber Trees Arboretum for Mackay Gardens

A new planting of 75 trees along Lagoon Street of the Mackay Regional Botanic Gardens will form the Timber Trees Arboretum. Besides provifing an attractive and shady entrance to the gardens, the Timber trees will be educational. Most of the new trees are native to the Mackay and Whitsunday regions and have are significant to the past or future of the timber industry. Some trees will be removed to make way for the installation, but most of these are considered weed species. Source: Gardens plant the seed for education (April 2014)


Exposed complex mixture of plant aromas in a greenhouse of tomato plants, confused whitefly had trouble feeding in a UK study. The effect was temporary (no more than 15 hours), but could point to ways to delay attack until plant defenses can be activated. Source: Whitefly confused by cacophony of smells (April 2014)

Plants in glass houuses

Glass formed naturally in the extreme heat of a comet or asteroid impact in what is now Argentina has been found to contain plant matter. This has preserved detail down to the micron level, Scientists think that looking at impact glass on Mars could pould potentially reveal signs of former life if it existed there. Source: Impact glass stores biodata for millions of years (April 2014)

Good gardens reduce crime

A study in Philadelphia has correlated well-maintained vegetation with lower rates of certain crimes such as aggravated assault and and burglary. This could be partly due to the calming effect of greenery on behaviour, and partly due to the strengthened sense of community leading to greater vigilance by residents. Furthermore, the message that people care about their community - and are watching - is communicated with well- maintained gardens and public spaces. Source: Study examines deterrent effect of urban greening on crime (April 2014)

Lignin biotechnology may revolutionise paper production

North American scientists have engineered poplar trees with modified lignin that makes processing for paper and biofuel easier and more environmentally friendly. Importantly, the strength of the trees was not adversely affected. Attempts to reduce the lignin content of trees by gene suppression have resulted in stunted or weakened trees in the past. Poplars are a useful species for growing on land not suitable for food crops. Sources: Poplars "Designed for Deconstruction" A Major Boon to Biofuels and Researchers design trees that make it easier to produce pulp (April 2014)

Trees green anti-depressants

A survey of Wisconsin residents has shown that, independent of social factors like age and income, those who lived in a neighborhood with less than 10 percent tree canopy were more likely to feel depression, stress and anxiety. The findings suggest a simple way to improve mental health in urban communities. Source: Wisconsin Research Shows Green Space Keeps You From Feeling Blue (April 2014)

Sugar dominant in branching mechanism

A new study in which scientists from University of Queensland were involved has challenged the long-accepted theory that auxin is the key regulator of apical dominance. Instead, demand for sugars appear to be primarily responsible. Tracking the movement of sugars with the radioactive C11 isotope (applied as carbon dioxide which was converted into sugars via photosynthesis), it was found that decapitation of the plant produced a rapid increase of sugar delivery to previously dormant buds. The sugars move about 100 times faster than auxin. which the researchers now believe plays a secondary role. The demand for sugar by growing apical shoots, limiting availability, may be what suppresses growth of lower buds. Source: Tracking Sugar Movement in Plants (April 2014)

New plant protection rules in Qld

Following a review of the management of protected plants, the Queensland Government has introduced a simplified "risk-based approach" it says will reduce compliance costs and create new opportunities for harvesting and trade in native plants. Meanwhile, the state's most threatened species will still be protected via "tangible conservation outcomes". Anyone seeking more information should check the Department of Environment and Heritage Protection website. Source: Protecting native plants in a growing Queensland (April 2014)

Plan for koalas

University of Queensland researchers have studied how tree cover and roads affected koala gene flow patterns across eight local government areas in SE Queensland. They found that "genetic connectivity" dropped rapidly once forest cover fell below 30 per cent. The presence of highways also had a dramatic effect. The findings indicate that forest cover and incorporation of habitat underpasses and bridges can help urban planners accommodate the needs of koalas. Source: Better urban planning can save koalas (March 2014)

Plants too, fight in the mating season

Examination of an Oxypetalum species (Apocynaceae) from South America has revealed horn-like structures on the pollinia (pollen sacs) with which appear to have no other function except to prevent the hooks which the pollinia attach themselves to pollinators becoming entangled with rival pollinia. Researchers think this is the first example in the plant kingdom of males physically fighting over a mate in a way comparable to many animals. Source: First evidence of plants evolving weaponry to compete in the struggle for selection (March 2014)

Ipswich tough on mossie breeders

A local business owner has been taken to court by Ipswich City Council for failure to comply with directions to clean up mosquito breeding sites. Source: $550 fine is a warning to others (March 2014)

Urban gardeners lack information on soil contamination

One of the potential drawbacks of edible gardening in urban areas is the possibility the soil may have be contaminated from prior industrial uses or fallout from heavy traffic. A study conducted in Baltimore (USA), in which community gardeners were surveyed about their knowledge of these issues, has shown insufficient knowledge and expertise in assessing the risks of a site and how to minimise exposure to contamination that may be present. Source: Urban gardeners may be unaware of how best to manage contaminants in soil (March 2014)

New floral emblem for Bundaberg

The Golden Penda has been selected as the Bundaberg region's floral emblem. Besides the attractiveness of the flowers and foliage, its ease of cultivation in the region's conditions and the suitability of the tree for both private and public spaces was taken into consideration when making the decision. Golden Penda blossoms as Region's Floral Emblem (March 2014)

Study reveals unwelcome side effect of biochar

While stimulating marked increases in plant growth associated with brassinosteroids and auxin gene activation, a biochar study also showed that plant defence genes were suppressed by the soil supplement. This could have serious implications for the suitability of biochar for crop enhancement and carbon sequestration. Source: New study finds biochar stimulates more plant growth but less plant defence (March 2014)

Nitrogen and flowering in Phalaenopsis
The moth orchid cultivar used in the study at a nursery in Taiwan
The moth orchid cultivar used in the study at a nursery in Taiwan. Photo by Yao-Chien Alex Chang

A study on the use of nitrogen by Phalaenopsis (moth orchid) shows that adequate nitrogen fertilisation is required at all stages of growth for good flowering. The uptake and use of the nutrient throughout the growth cycle was followed by using the N15 isotope. It was found that a substantial amount of nitrogen taken up by the inflorescence was derived from fertiliser applied during flower development, but that some of the nitrogen applied in earlier vegetative growth stages also ended up in the flower spike. Source: Nitrogen source determined significant for inflorescence development in Phalaenopsis (March 2014)

Kitchens to compost at JCU

A composting scheme is being introduced at two James Cook University campuses to deal with food waste. The Bio-Regen units grind the material, add water and microbes. Digestion converts the material into a form suitable for use as a fertiliser, which the University plans to sell the public. Source: Food scraps to fertiliser at JCU (March 2014)

With the rain, mosquitoes

As the number of dengue cases rises, Cairns Regional Council warms residents that failing to empty water containers can earn property owners a fine. Water pooling in a tarp resulted in one of the recent Public Health Orders issued, so be sure to check everywhere. Read more at the Council's website: Hefty fines for allowing mosquitoes to breed (February 2014)

Tree plans for Garnet Lehmann Park

Designers of the detention basin (a flood mitigation measure) in Toowoomba's Garnet Lehmann Park will strive to remove the minimum number of trees necessary, and replant at least two trees nearby for every one removed. Toowoomba Regional Council streaa that the park will still be available for recreational activities. Source: Council working with community on Garnet Lehmann Park (February 2014)

New coconut policy for Cairns

Cairns Regional Council manages more coconut palms than any other council in Australia. The cost of regular de-nutting is significant, but so is the aesthetic value, including to tourists. A Coconut Management Policy is set to be adopted for land managed by CRC. Palms that a high risk to people or property will be removed, while others in key areas will be retained and maintained. Palms of a lower aesthetic value may receive less attention or be removed. Coconut policy to mitigate risks (February 2014)

Gardens gets more than a little help from its Friends

Cairns volunteer group Friends of the Botanic Gardens, has raised nearly $100,000 toward a new conservatory for the city, with additional funds from Cairns Regional Council. Replacing the current orchid house and fernery, the new structure will feature butterflies and barramundi in addition to palms, orchids, ferns and carnivorous plants. The design was inspired by the licuala palm. Source: New conservatory to showcase botanical beauty (January 2014)

Next generation for Isis Scrub hoop pine
Seeds from a survivor of the original Isis Scrub, a giant hoop pine 200 or more years old, have been collected so that seedlings can be planted in the Childers district as well as Bundaberg Botanic Gardens. Source: Relic from Isis Scrub gives new hope to rare Hoop Pine (January 2014)
What makes a petunia blue?

Researchers have discovered that if a newly-discovered type of cellular pump is defective, failure to acidify certain compartments (vacuoles) within petal cells makes petunia flowers blue instead of red or violet. The information may be useful in manipulating the colour in other flowers and fruits. Ways for plants to store toxic compounds within the vacuoles might also be developed. Source: Roses are red -- why some petunias are blue (January 2014)

Super plum from Queensland

The first commercial harvest of a new high-anthocyanin plum bred in Queensland is set to take advantage of the market for antioxidant-boosted foods. Production of the new Queen Garnet plums has started on the Southern Downs. The fruit is destined for processing into juice and other health foods. Queensland plum set to pack a powerful punch in the health food market (January 2014)

Origins of Corn

The grass teosinte looks so different from corn that many have doubted the theory that it is the grain's ancestor. However, researchers growing teosinte under temperatures and carbon dioxide levels similar to those 10,000 years ago have observed more corn-like growth patterns. These characteristics were probably those expressed in the past and selected for by early farmers. Source: Greenhouse "Time Machine" Sheds Light on Corn Domestication (January 2014)

Nodulation - not just for legumes?

Scientists have tested various non-leguminous plants to a chemical signal from rhizobia bacteria and found that the same inhibition of immune response as occurs in legumes. Perhaps a mechanism also exists for form nodules. If a way could be found to activate it, perhaps tomatoes or corn might one day be engineered to fix nitrogen like beans and peas. Source: First Step to Reduce Plant Need for Nitrogen Fertilizer Uncovered in Science Study (September 2013)

Hills District Community Garden

Moreton Bay Regional Council has provided a site and a three-year licence for a community garden in Bunya, within the Bunya Waste Facility grounds. Participants at the The Hills District Community Garden will have access to off-street parking and an "endless supply" of mulch. Source: Community Garden for The Hills District (December, 2013)

Redlands landmark safe for now

A 130 year-old Cook Island Pine at Wellington Point will continue to be protected by a Vegetation Protection Order (VPO). Redland City Council decided not to revoke the VPO after more than 70 submissions were received from the community. The tree is a local landmark and is appreciated by bird life including Eastern Osprey. Source: Council decision protects 130 year-old tree (December, 2013)

Clewley Park to help prevent Toowoomba floods

A redesigned Clewley Park Stage 2 in Toowoomba has been officially opened. In additon to other park improvements, a water detention basin has been incorporated. This forms part of a larger flood protection strategy for the city. Source: New-look Clewley Park opens for all to see (December, 2013)

Rare tree sheds light on floral evolution mystery

Amborella trichopoda, a small tree from only one island in New Caledonia, has provided insights into the origin of flowers. This species is of significance because it is the only survivor of an evolutionary lineage tracing back to the last common ancestor of all flowering plants. The genome sequence indicates this ancestor arose following a doubling of the genome about 200 million years ago. Some of the duplicated genes then evolved new functions, including floral development. Genome doubling may therefore explain the relatively sudden proliferation of new flowering species. DNA of Storied Plant Provides Insight into the Evolution of Flowering Plants, Study Finds (December, 2013)

Springwood Conservation Park reopens

Storm-related landslip damage in Springwood Conservation Park (Logan City) has been repaired. New works including a rock wall and drainage improvement has also be undetaken to prevent further problems. Springwood Conservation Park restoration complete (November 2013)

Planter boxes to enhance Lockyer towns

Lockyer Valley Regional Council are installing planter boxes in the main streets of Laidley, Withcott and Forest Hill with Natural Disaster Relief and Recovery Arrangements funding. The design of the boxes is sympathetic witht the rural and heritage character of the towns and will have seating on the sides. Initally two will be installed per town, with the possibility of more to follow if they are received well by the community. Source: Planter boxes throughout the region (November 2013)

Free fish for ponds in Logan

Logan City residents with ponds or dams can apply to Council for free native fish to assist with mosquito larvae control. More on this and other mosquito control advice at the council website: Pests' abuzz this summer (November 2013)

Golden-foliaged plants

Gold particles have been found in eucalypt leaves from the Kalgoorlie region of Western Australia using x-ray elemental imaging at the Australian Synchrotron. Using this method to detect gold or other metals drawn up from underground by the roots and deposited in the leaves (possibly as a detoxification measure) could be a way to prospect for minerals without drilling. Source: Gilding the gum tree - scientists strike gold in leaves (October 2013)

Megaphone leaves

A tiny Central American bat that uses furled Heliconia and Calathea leaves as a roost also uses them to amplify and transmit the bats' calls. researchers estimate that the curled leaves act like megaphones and increase the sound by up to 10 decibels. Source: Bats Discover Surround Sound: Nature's Horn in the Midst of Jungle Helps Bats Communicate (October 2013)

Native garden opens in Toowoomba

Gumbi Gumbi Gardens, comprising approximately 2.2 hectares of native flora at the University of Southern Queensland campus at Toowoomba, has been officially opened. A feature of the gardens are extensive plantings of plant species used by local Aboriginal communities and was designed inpartnership with Elders of the region. The gardens also include a number of teaching spaces. Source: Gumbi Gumbi Gardens set to impress (October 2013)

New species of Dracaena from Thailand has horticultural potential

A new species of dragon tree has been discovered in Thailand. Occurring naturally on limestone hills and mountains, Dracaena kaweesakii reaches about 12 m in height and is extensively branched with attractive foliage. Its beauty and the association of Dracaena species with good luck has meant that it has been transplanted into local Thai gardens. Potential over-harvesting for horticulture and habitat destruction mean the species is could be vulnerable in the future without suitable conservation measures. Source: A stunning new species of dragon tree discovered in Thailand (October 2013)

Research provides guidance for pollinator garden planning

Planting gardens to support bees and other pollinators has become popular in recent years. Recommendations are sometimes made based on anecdote and opinion, but there has been little scientific research to indicate which types of garden flowers are the most suitable. A study in the UK is one of the first. 32 summer-flowering garden plants were assessed, including 13 lavender varieties and 4 dahlias. Results showed a wide range of attractiveness among the plants tested. Open daisy-style dahlias were more successful than the pom-pom or cactus types types. Lavender varieties also varied. Marjoram attracted a wide range of insects including bees, hover flies and butterflies. Pelargonium was the least attractive of those flowers tested. Source: Flower research shows gardens can be a feast for the eyes - and the bees, Quantifying variation among garden plants in attractiveness to bees and other flower-visiting insects (October 2013)

Flowering of the Triassic

Drilling in Switzerland has produced pollen that sets back the origin of flowering some 100 million years earlier than previously believed (the early Cretaceous), to the early Triassic. Source: New fossils push the origin of flowering plants back by 100 million years to the early Triassic (October 2013)

Tarantula venom insecticide potential

University of Queensland (UQ) researchers have found a component of Australian tarantula venom that's highly toxic to some insect pests including cotton bollworm and termites. It's possible that new environmentally-friendly insecticides could be based on the discovery. Source: Spider venom to target insect pests (September 2013)

Hydroseeding goes organic

Mexican researchers are developing an organic hydroseeding techniques to stabilise sloping roadsides that is actually better than alternatives employing artificial polymers, adhesives and fertilisers. Components of the new technique include mycorrhizae to encourage soil aggregation and an adhesive made from the nopal cactus. Gardens used to reduce landslides (September 2013)

Some older news items of continuing interest have been moved to an appropriate subject page at Check the Guide to Pages.

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The SEQ garden in January

Jobs to do, things to watch and other highlights of gardening in SE QLD

Other Months

NB: These notes are under ongoing development. At present, the following applies to the greater Brisbane region only. It's hoped to expand on these notes in future updates, adding more details and (eventually) more regions.

Naturally, this is a general guide only and will vary depending on local conditions, weather, plant variety etc. Ongoing water availability is also a big concern these days, so take this into consideration too, especially if planning new gardens.

What's your gardening resolution for 2014?

With the turn of the year and holidays for some, it's a time for assessing the past and contemplating the year ahead. Perhaps you've decided that this is the year to focus on the home front, and get into the garden. What's your gardening resolution?

Tidy Up. Perhaps you've let things go and just need to catch up with basic maintenance. Pruning and weeds are likely to be on your list, especially if the summer is wet. If it's all gotten out of hand, you might consider bringing in a garden maintenance service to get the job done before it gets any worse. If you really don't have the time or physical ability to maintain the garden in it's current state, think about modifying your garden design (e.g. replacing roses with other shrubs) or alter your practices (e.g. better mulching to reduce weeding).

Create or renovate an outdoor living area. Outdoor Living and Balinese or "resort style" gardens have been a big trend of recent years. While some of the more expensive landscaping and accessories (like outdoor kitchens) might not be seen as often in new gardens of the future as they were during the "boom" years, an outdoor living area that's functional, comfortable and attractive could enhance your enjoyment of your home. Even if you can't afford a deck or patio right now, think about the vegetation beyond. While you can get fast tropical effects with some plants, trees and shrubs need time to achieve height and fullness. The sooner you can get them planted, the sooner you can enjoy the benefits. This is especially important to remember if you want to block neighbours. Some researching the species you might want to grow is an ideal rainy day activity. See also Garden Ideas

Start growing food. "Grow your own" has been another big garden trend internationally over the last few years. Some people like to know what chemicals have been on their food, some enjoy the educational and recreational aspects. If household budgets continue to be sqeezed, more people may turn to the backyard to save money, but do take into account that in the suburbs most inputs (fertiliser, mulch, seeds etc) need to be purchased and there are many things that can go wrong, especially for beginners. If you're a complete novice, start small and don't be afraid to ask friends and neighbours, or your local garden centre, for advice.

Enter a garden competition. You'll want it to look it's best at judging, which is usually springtime in SE Qld. If you're going to use a lot of flowering plants, timing will be crucial. Spring flowering annuals usually go in autumn, but you can begin preparing now with hard landscaping, soil preparation and lots of planning. Research, observation, and a certain amount of trial and error over many years undoubtedly go into the most spectacular gardens, but don't be deterred if you're new to the game. Some competitions even have special categories for new gardens. To find out what competitions are held in your area, check with local council, local newspaper or garden clubs. Some information may also posted in the news section on the home page here as it comes to hand and on the Garden Competition page at (if you're an organiser, please send in some information!)

More jobs for January

Considering the heat, there's usually enough to do in January keeping just the lawns mowed, hedges trimmed, weeds controlled and rubbish collected.

Unless there's significant rainfall this month, you will also be concerned with keeping water up to your most valued plants.

If we get drenching rains, on the other hand, constantly full pot saucers can cause waterlogging and rotting of potted plants as well as provide breeding grounds for mosquitoes. Empty these or remove them completely while the rain lasts. Check the garden for other receptacles that could harbour mossies, too.

If it does rain, the pressure may be off watering gardens for a while, but don't forget about your potted plants. They will dry out quickly in hot or windy weather and require regular watering. Don't be fooled into thinking a light shower of rain will do the job for you, because very little, if any, will reach the potting mix of a well-foliaged plant. Of course pots under eaves or a patio roof will still need watering by hand all the time.

If there's been good rainfall (or you can water adequately) apply a complete fertiliser to the general garden. In some cases a fertiliser formulated for certain plants may be more appropriate e.g. low-phosphorus for grevilleas and banksias (native plant formulation) or high nitrogen for lawns. With growth stimulated by summer rainfall and warmth, demand for nutrients will be high and deficiencies are likely especially if heavy rainfall has leached minerals from the soil.

If you haven't mulched in a while, top up garden beds to supress germinating weeds. With the warm weather, weeds will be growing vigorously, especially if some good rain falls. With the ground soft, however, it will be easier to manually remove localised weed infestations. Whether hand weeding or spraying, get to work before they set seed. Unfortunately, it's too late to do anything about bindii, except extract the prickles from the soles of your feet. Learn to recognise the foliage and be on the lookout next winter/early spring and attack the developing plants then.

The Queensland Turf Producers Association recommends mowing an established lawn no lower than 30mm in summer. (Turfgrass Quick Tips). Queensland DAFF gives a more detailed set of recommendations for specific turf types on their webpage Turning grass into lawn: Mowing tips.

Take note of where you'd like more shade next summer, such as entertaining areas, and try to determine the optimal location and height of shade structures or trees at the time of day you need it.. The movement of the sun is different in winter, and you can't use it's position in winter to position shade for summer. Of course, access to sun may be an additional consideration you may like to preserve access to sun in winter, on the other hand. (see also Weather and Climate, Outdoor Living)

Needless to say, when positioning trees, you also need to take other factors into account such as proximity to buildings, utilities etc. While potted trees and shrubs can be planted at any time in SEQld, you'll probably prefer to wait until it's a little cooler. This will mean less stress for both the gardener and the plant.

Be vigilant collecting fruit-fly infested fruit off the ground, to prevent the grubs pupating into a new generation of flies.

Give Poinsettia and Snowflake a light pruning to encourage more bushiness prior to the initiation of flowers as the days shorten. Prune Gardenias when flowers are finished.


Like December, weather conditions in January are usually harsh and pests and diseases so active that vegetable gardening is difficult, for both the plants and the gardener.

If you want to have a go, try planting tomatoes, capsicums and eggplants; lettuce (heat-tolerant varieties); sweetcorn; radish; silverbeet; beans; cucurbits; sweet potato.

Otherwise, wait until milder temperatures arrive, when a larger range of vegetables becomes more feasible. Furthermore, you'll want to make sure you have space available if you plan to put in a lot of temperate-climate climate veggies in autumn.

Even though they are essentially cool-climate vegetables, the long growing season required for cauliflower or broccoli means making a start while it's still hot. If you want to grow from seed, and you have the space to grow them, you can try starting a few in seed trays or pots for later transplanting. Don't forget that they will be very susceptible to caterpillars at this time of the year, as will other cabbage relatives, so take precautions. Make successive sowings over the next few weeks in case the earlier ones fail, as late as April/May.

Instead, relax in the shade and start planning what you'd like to grow this autumn. Get your order in to mail-order seed companies in plenty of time if you want to try unusual or hertiage varieties not available through regular garden centres and chain stores.

These days, many seed companies have extensive catalogues online. There are also many websites that can give you information about particular vegetables as well as other information and ideas for growing fruit and vegetables as well as the ornamental garden. Bear in mind, however, that the majority of gardening information online originates from cool, temperate or Mediterranean climates, and adjustments need to be made for out subtropical conditions.

Many plants are simply unsuitable for the coastal regions of Qld. Of the vegetables, brussel sprouts and scarlet runner beans are generally considered unsuitable. Others like broadbeans, parsnips and cauliflower are difficult and have to be timed to take advantage of the coolest weather, and results may be dissapointing. Unless you're a huge fan of these vegetables, or if you have plenty of time and space and like a challenge, you'll find it more rewarding to stick to the tried and tested varieties. Furthermore, there's a huge variety of tropical vegetables better suited to the Qld climate that most of us have yet to explore.

See also: Vegetables, Seed raising.

Fruit Trees

Sorry, I haven't prepared any monthly notes for fruit trees yet. In the meantime, you can try the main page dealing with this subject and check the links for the type of fruit tree you're interested in, here: Fruit Trees

The Flower Garden

See also: Annual Flowers and Bedding Plants, Seed raising

Garden shows, open gardens

See what's included in the Events Diary for January, although you won't find a lot of events over the Christmas and New year period. Entries for all of 2015 are welcome now, so if you're organising a garden show, workshop, gardening opening or similar public event in Qld this year and you have firm dates, please get in touch if you would like to have your event publicised for free on that page.

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