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Into Horticulture Issue 19 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 19. To find out how to subscribe to the email edition (it's free!) or view archived online editions, go to Newsletters.

The Garden Scene

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

More habitat secured for Brisbane koalas

Brisbane City Council has added a 52 hectare property at Burbank to Brisbane's Koala Bushlands, which has grown by more than 1,000 ha during 25 years of the Bushland Acquisition Program. The recent Burbank acquisition contains a large number of mature scribbly gums, which not only provide koala food, but can be expected to provide tree hollow habitats for many species. Source: Brisbane's Koala Bushlands grows by 1,000 hectares (November, 2015)

Green walls a potential health hazard

While living plants are usually considered a beneficial inclusion in urban environments, new research suggests that green walls could have adverse health effects in hot, polluted cities. Reactive volatile organic compounds emitted by plants can oxidise to form ultrafine particle pollution and indoor levels could be made worse where green walls are located close to buildings' air inlets. Source: Green walls: a red card for office worker health? (October, 2015)

Brisbane to sparkle with new and revitalised fountains

Victims of the drought, three fountains in Brisbane's CBD will be flowing again by the end of 2015. This includes installation of "Water smart" systems to conserve water. The designer of the EE McCormick Place fountain (Upper Roma Street) has also been consulted to help restore the original 1971 vision for the project. Emma Miller Place (Roma Street) and Mooney Memorial Fountain (Queen and Eagle Streets) are the other two locations to be refurbished. Brisbane City Council has also committed to constructing a new fountain somewhere in the city. Sources: LM to bring back fountains and beautify Brisbane and Works start flowing on city fountain revitalisations (October, 2015)

Calliope tree planter honored

The work of former Calliope Shire Clerk Bob Smith planting and caring for over 400 trees since 1987 has been recognised with a ceremony and plaque at the site in the Calliope River North camping area. The site now features a substantial array of cabinent timber species including bunya pines, Mackay cedars and silky oaks. Source: Bob Smith's parkland vision recognised (September, 2015)

Weeds a window on origins of agriculture

Discovery of weeds typical of cultivated soils, along with cereal species and grinding tools at an ancient settlement on the shore of the Sea of Galilee now puts the date for the origins of agriculture to about 23,000 years ago , some 11,000 years earlier than previously thought. Source: International collaboration uncovers proof of earliest small-scale agricultural cultivation (July, 2015)

Plants need iron to make Vit A

A new plant enzyme critical to Vitamin A production by plants has been discovered. What's more, it's dependant a form of iron similar to that found in red blood cells. Source: Researchers discover new enzyme, link to iron in vitamin A synthesis (June 2015). In addition to the many implications this has for the study of vitamin synthesis and heme biochemistry, this indicates the way that soil nutrients can have many roles in plants. Iron doesn't simply just make leaves greener.

The rhythm of floral fragrance

An ordinary garden petunia, which releases its scent at night to attract pollinators such as months has been used to study the timing of fragrance. The LHY gene, which is associated with the circadian clock in many plants, was found to be active in the morning, regulating scent production through a suppressive effect. Scientists are now studying how pollinators respond to plants with and without altered LHY genes with a view to improving the pollination efficiency of crop species. Source: Researchers discover how petunias know when to smell good (June 2015)

Cucumber gender in the DNA

The genetic variation that causes some cucumber varieties to produce all-female flowers has been identified as a duplication of a particular piece of DNA. These "gyneoecious" plants are valued in horticulture because of their high yields (if conditions are good enough to support them), although pollination from a male flower is still required. Source: Extra DNA creates cucumber with all-female flowers (June 2015)

Path to rose fragrance takes unexpected turn

Researchers studying the biochemistry of rose fragrance has found that fragrance in all plants is not produced by enzymes called terpene synthases. Comparison of the cultivars Papa Meilland (highly scented) and Rouge Meilland (low scent) allowed them to identify RhNUDX1 in a different class of enzyme. Located in in the cytoplasm of rose petal cells it produces the primary part of rose oil, geraniol. This knowledge may be used in the future to help breed fragrance back into new rose varieties. Source: Unexpected enzyme may resurrect roses' fading scents (July 2015)

New Hervey Bay bushland has many benefits

Bushland is being re-created along the Link Mobility Corridor between Urraween Road and Bay Drive for beauty and environmental benefits. The more than 12,000 plants will help create a wildlife corridor linking to the Greig Dry Vine Forest in Stirling Drive and improve water quality in Eli creeek while reducing the need for mowing. Many of the plants have come from local seed collected by volunteers in Fraser Coast Regional Council's Community Environment Program. Source: Corridor to be shaded by regenerated bush (June 2015)

New works for Mt Coot-tha

Brisbane City Council has allocated funds toward a new visitor centre and other refurbishments at the Mt Coot-tha Botanic Gardens and Mt Coot-tha Reserve. "The new centre will provide a more formal entrance and dedicated facilities for the Volunteer Guides, with a gift shop, to provide a fitting welcome to Queensland's premier botanic gardens." Part of the $3.4 million construction cost will come from a $700,000 donation from a Brisbane resident. Source: LM delivers $6m boost to Mt Coot-tha precinct (June 2015)

Water returns to Brisbane fountains

Brisbane City Council have allocated funds to restoring water to fountains in EE McCormick Place in Upper Roma Street, Emma Miller Place in Roma Street and Mooney Memorial Fountain at Queen and Eagle Streets. They had been decommissioned in response to drought conditions. The Lord Mayor also wants a new water feature somewhere in the CBD. Source: LM to bring back fountains and beautify Brisbane (June 2015)

Flies outperform bees in mango pollination

A study of pollinators visiting mango flowers in the Mareeba region of Queensland has shown that native flies are more important than bees. Overall, 44 different insects were observed. When it came to amount of pollen transferred to a single mango flower, a native bee and several fly species were more effective than the honeybee. It is hoped that effects on mango crop yield can be investigated in future work. Source: Native flies leading the charge to help pollinate mango trees in new UNE study (June 2015)

Kershaw comes back after Marcia

Rockhampton's Kershaw Gardens are in the process of recovering after Cyclone Marcia. In May, the waterfall was turned back on for the first time, and fallen trees have been converted into some 3000 cubic metres of mulch so far. However, it is possible that rubbish may have contaminated the site. Soil testing underway will help managers determine which parts of the Gardens can be reopened to the public and which must be remediated. Sources: Kershaw Gardens waterfall marks recovery milestone, Council continues to clear, salvage and make safe (June, 2015)

Change of name for SGAP Qld

The Society for Growing Australian Plants Queensland Region, Inc. (SGAP Qld) has a new trading name: Native Plants Queensland. However, information and contacts can still be accessed (at least for now) via the old website address www.sgapqld.org.au.

Tree vandal brings tools

Public trees along the at Pialba (Hervey Bay) have been vandalised in a premeditated attack involving a saw. Lower limbs and hanging roots of figs along the Seafront Oval Esplanade were cut and six Coastal She Oaks on the dunes were cut down. The cut material was then hidden in hollows among the dunes. Anyone with information about the crime should contact Fraser Coast Regional Council on 1300 79 49 29. Source: Seafront Oval trees vandalised (May 2015)

Butchulla People's garden interprets Fraser Coast environment

The Fraser Coast Cultural Centre has a new garden featuring plants traditional owners the Butchulla People used to mark the changing seasons across the Fraser Coast. Designed in cooperation with the Elders, the garden helps to explain how the Butchulla People's intimate knowledge of the environment helped them live in harmony with it. It is planned to continue to develop this area as a community space. Butchulla Season Garden opened (May 2015)

Bamboo popularity raises concern

The increasing popularity of bamboo for landscaping could have an unexpected consequence The phenomenon of bamboo mass flowering (also known as masting) leads to massive seed production, which can go on for 18 months. Consequently, booms in rodent populations have been observed in Asia and South America associated with these events. Now, there is a concern that widespread landscape planting of bamboo in North America could lead to population booms of deer mice which can carry a potentially fatal human disease. Recommendations include eradication of aggressive running bamboos on public land and evaluation of varieties' flowering abilities and seed palatability before import. Source: WSU ecologist warns of bamboo fueling spread of hantavirus (May, 2015)

Major new addition to Mt Coot-tha gardens open

A four hectare expansion to Brisbane's Botanic Gardens at Mt Coot-tha is complete and opening to the public. This is the largest addition to the gardens since they opened in 1970 and includes 31,000 new plants. New gardens areas represent various Queensland habitats and themes including bush foods, coastal plants and the Queensland Conservation Walk featuring more than 200 rare and endangered species. Star of the new additions is a 250 year old, 6.5m high cycad which originated near Injune in South West Queensland. Sources: Four hectare Botanic Gardens expansion opens to public, 250 year old tree forms centrepiece of gardens expansion (May 2015)

Veggies in urban soils - how dangerous?

A study measuring uptake of various pollutants suggests the risk of growing vegetables in contaminated urban soils may not be as high as previously thought. Root crops remain a slight concern but were considered a minor risk at normal levels of consumption. Good horticultural practices and thorough washing of produce is also helpful in reducing risk. Read more: Gardening in a polluted paradise (May, 2015)

Pollen makes another kind of seed

Pollen particles in the atmosphere were previously thought to be too large to nucleate clouds and that they would settle out too quickly, anyway. However, it's known that pollen grains can break up into fragments which cause allergenic responses in sensitive people. When the affect of moisture on pollen grains was tested, it was found that these can rupture readily into pieces small enough to seed clouds. So, it's possible that a tree's pollen could help make the rain that keeps that tree alive. Source: Pollen and clouds: April flowers bring May showers? (May, 2015)

Fighting plant disease with nanoparticles

Silver nanoparticles are an emerging new anti-fungal treatment for plants. Researchers in the USA have found that silver nanoparticles prepared with an extract of wormwood (Artemisia sp.) are effective against Phytophthora. They say that it works on all stages of the pathogen's life cycle without affecting plant growth. The multiple modes of action means development of resistance is unlikely. Source: Researchers Find a "Silver Bullet" to Kill a Fungus That Affects More Than 400 Plants and Trees. (May, 2015)

Rosewood bottle tree on the move

A Queensland Bottle Tree (Brachychiton rupestris) which has outgrown its current Rosewood address has been donated to the nearby Cobb and Co Heritage Park. The approximately 60-year old tree is expected to live hundreds of years more in its new location. This iconic species will enhance the heritage theme of the park while providing visitors with shade and beauty. Source: Rosewood tree to be given new lease of life (April 2015)

Genetic insights into Citrus evolution

A large study of chloroplast DNA from 30 species of has confirmed that a single common ancestor gave rise to all Citrus fruit, although hybridisation occurred frequently during evolution of the genus. Furthermore, two genes believed to help the Australian species adapt to hotter and drier climates were identified. Source: Most comprehensive study to date reveals evolutionary history of citrus (April 2015)

Posh trees

A study has looked at the the number of trees and income levels in seven U.S. cities. The findings? "Simply put, wealthier neighborhoods, regardless of their ethnic makeup, are more likely to have more and denser trees." Source: Boise State Economist Gets to the Root of Urban Tree Cover (April, 2015)

Another award for Gumbi Gumbi Gardens

Gumbi Gumbi Gardens at the University of Southern Queensland has won overall champion at Toowoomba Regional Council's inaugural Gold Leaf Awards for Excellence, representing the most outstanding entry across the fields of urban design, heritage and environment. The Gardens tell the story of the country's Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander customs, rituals and practices. They feature a fire pit, basalt grinding stone, yarning circle and meeting place, with plants traditionally used by local peoples and work by local Indigenous Australian artists. A smartphone App that provides a guided tour of the approximately two-hectare Gardens can be downloaded for free. Source: Gardens take 50,000 years to establish (March 2015)

New plantings to welcome Buderim visitors

The major entry points to Buderim are in the process of being enhanced with specially-designed landscape plantings. The Mooloolaba Road entry is based on the dry eucalypt type of vegetation in this area, with the entry sign itself enhanced by banksia, bottlebrush, lomandra and grass trees. The planned Crosby Hill Road entry will incorporate local native plants including lilly pilly, grey myrtle, tree ferns and golden penda. Source: Buderim makes an entry statement (March 2015)

Origins of the bisexual papaw

Analysis of papaya (papaw) chromosomes, in particular the male chromosome and the altered form of the male chromosome which gives rise to hermaphrodite (bisexual) plants, has indicated that hermaphrodites arose about 4000 years ago. Papaya has been cultivated for more than 6000 years, and no hermaphrodites have been found in wild populations (Central America). It seems that this trait was selected during domestication of the crop, possibly by the Maya people. Source: Cultivated papaya owes a lot to the ancient Maya, research suggests. (March, 2015)

Skills grow in Ipswich prison

An agreement Ipswich City Council and Arthur Gorrie Correctional Centre will see plants for the council's free plant program being produced by prisoners. This is part of horticultural training, overseen by a TAFE teacher, designed to give inmates meaningful activity and new vocational skills. Source: Prisoners grow plants for Ipswich (February 2015)

Help stop Gold Coast plant crimes

City of Gold Coast is calling for help in stopping theft of plants from its gardens and public lands. This includes a large staghorn fern donated by a resident, stolen from the Gold Coast Regional Botanic Gardens on Saturday 22nd February 2015. "If residents see anything suspicious, they should report it immediately to police", urge Council. Anyone with information about stolen plants should call Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000. Source: Valuable plants stolen from City's parks and gardens (February 2015)

Illegal Kaffir lime leaves pose threat

An importer has been been charged with illegally importing kaffir lime leaves infected with Asian Citrus Canker. Leaves had already made their way into retail outlets prior to the discovery. Source: Kaffir gaffe lands fine for importer (February 2015)

Sweet potato leaves nutritious, too

Tissue analysis reveals the vitamin B6 content of sweet potato leaves is comparable with other produce such as broccoli, carrots, avocados and bananas as well as being a valuable source of other vitamins. Source: Sweet potato leaves a good source of vitamins (January, 2015)

Pre-colonial cycad a star of Gardens' expansion

A rare, 250 year old cycad will be one of the stars of the new Brisbane Botanic Gardens expansion at Mt Coot-tha. The 6.5m high, 2 tonne specimen came originally from Injune in SW Queensland. The cycad and 31,000 other new plants plus a new lagoon, playground, picnic facilities, and kitchen garden are a part of a major upgrade to the Gardens, the largest since it opened in 1970. Source: 250 year old tree forms centrepiece of gardens expansion (January, 2015)

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The SEQ garden in December

Jobs to do 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.

Hot weather combined with distractions on the social front means that December tends to be a month of general maintenance and enjoying the results of your previous work, rather than major garden projects.

If it's been dry, watering may comsume a fair amount of time and effort, especially if you want the garden looking good for holiday entertaining. (Consult your local authority for current watering restrictions. Check the Regional pages for links to many council websites in Qld).

Don't forget the pot plants - light rains might freshen up the garden but does little if any rain will reach the potting mix of container plants. In hot windy weather they'll especially prone to water loss, so check regularly. Remember that once dried out, the potting mix may require some effort to re-wet thoroughly.

See also: Container gardening, Potting mixes, Watering Issues, Watering Aids & Irrigation Equipment

As it gets hotter and wetter, many Pests and Diseases will be very active, so be vigilant with control to prevent buildup of pest populations. (When the rains come, don't forget to check around the yard for mosssie-breeding sites, too.

Poinsettia and Snowflake can be given a second post-flowering prune to promote bushiness and so, eventually, more flowers. If you're given a blooming Poinsettia for Christmas, remember they must be artificially manipulated to bloom for a southern hemisphere Christmas. They naturally bloom in the short days of winter, and will reveret to that habit if you plant them in the garden. It's also possible that they've been treated with chemicals to produce a compact potted plant, which will wear off eventually. Unless you have a genetically dwarf plant, the resultant shrub may grow much larger than you expect.

Know someone with good, tough old azaleas? Try taking some cuttings now to get one for yourself.

If you're having guests over the Christmas or New Year period, or just want to enjoy a relaxing "staycation", hurry to get as many garden tidy and repair jobs as you can done early in the month to avoid stress later.

Visitors on the way? Quick spruce-up tips for the garden

Of course, removing or fixing safety hazards (overhanging branches, slippery or loose paving etc.) are your first priority, but if you're pressed for time, here are some tricks to improve the look of the garden in a hurry:
1. Remove dead and yellowing leaves from plants.
2. Remove as much visible weed growth as you can (do the job more thoroughly or spray when there's time)
3. Lay a fresh layer of an attractive mulch over garden beds. However, it's hot sweaty work - definitely not something you want to do the morning guests arrive (freshly laid mulch can be a bit smelly, too). If you're not up to doing the job yourself, consider a engaging mulching service that employs a blower applicator.
4. Crisp, clean edges on gardens and lawns.
5. Lightly trim hedges and other foliage shrubs (cut back too hard and they might not regrow in time for the party)

If you have a little extra time, create some feature container displays for high-visibility spots like the front door or patio area. blooming annuals ("potted colour") can be purchased from the garden centre. You might even tuck in potted plants you might already have as accents (e.g. cordylines, succulents, bromeliads) in a mixed arrangement.

Christmas Gifts

Scrambling for last-minute Christmas gifts? Don't battle the shopping mall crowds, pull into your local garden centre and enjoy the relaxed atmosphere while you shop. Remember, gardening gifts aren't just for keen gardeners, because kids and newbies have to start somewhere! For apartment dwellers, think indoor plants and decorative pots. More ideas for garden-related gifts here: Garden Gift Ideas. Of course, many larger garden centres also stock homewares and more conventional gift lines, too. Meanwhile, if you want something for the garden, start dropping some big hints, ASAP!


December and January are generally "go slow" months in the vegetable garden, given the extreme weather and the family commitments that many people have at this time of the year. You may choose to put at least part of vegetable garden to bed for the summer under a good layer of mulch and wait out the heat, humidity, pests and diseases.

If there has been enough rain, you might like to try sowing a cover crop of "green manure". The easiest source is bird seed from the supermarket, but you might use leftover or saved seeds, or specialty cover crops from a seed supplier. They should germinate readily and grow like mad with all moisture about, and will help capture some of the valuable soil nutrients that might otherwise be leached away. Leguminous cover crops can also increase your soil fertility by fixing nitrogen from the air, (provided they nodulate successfuly).

If you want to have a go at veggies (and there's enough water available), try tomatoes, capsicums and eggplants; lettuce; sweetcorn; radish; beetroot and silverbeet; beans and snake beans; cucurbits (cucumber, melons, pumpkins zucchini and relatives); okra and rosella; sweet potato.

If growing lettuce, be sure to select the more heat-tolerant varieties (check your seed packet or catalogue).

Many people avoid the traditional large-fruited tomato varieties at this time of year and stick to cherry-types, which tend to be more pest and disease resistant.

Try to avoid walking on beds at all times, but especially when the soil is sodden. Raised veggie beds come into their own in wet conditions - you can avoid walking on the soil and drainage is improved. And no muddy feet! Instead of of cheap junk that will be soon broken or forgotten, how about investing in a prefabricated raised garden bed for the family this Christmas?

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

Garden shows, open gardens

Although you won't find a lot of public events over the Christmas and New year period, see what's included in the Events Diary for December. Submissions for 2016 are welcome now, so if you're organising a garden show, workshop, gardening opening or similar event in Qld next year and you have dates settled, please get in touch if you would like to have your event publicised for free on that page.

Looking ahead

With Christmas and New Year out of the way, you might have some holiday time left to think about garden improvements over the coming year. This is an especially good time to consider where you might need more summer shade (whether trees or shade structures) or privacy for your outdoor living area. You can research your options now and be ready to take action when temperatures are cooler. Don't forget to consider how these might affect sun access in winter, as well underground and overhead services, neighbours etc. See also Garden Ideas

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