I like to take an organic approach to gardening, improving the overall health of your garden from the soil up. Improving soil quality, planting the right plants for the situation, and using the correct mulch are the building blocks for a healthy garden.
The main factors that affect plant health are light, climate, soil, and water. For sunlight it is important to check what conditions your plants require and where to put them. For example popping some shade loving Hostas in a spot that gets afternoon sun is a recipe for disaster, but if you move them to a shady part of the garden they should thrive with the right water, temperature and nutrients.
Climate-wise, here on the North Shore we have a subtropical climate with few extremes of temperature (although there is the exception of the flat plains around Kumeu which are much more susceptible to frosts). Properties within walking distance of a beach also have to consider salt laden coastal winds when choosing plants. A good tip for wherever you are is to look at what is growing in neighbouring gardens and parks to get an idea of what plants would thrive in your own garden.
North Shore soil is generally quite heavy clay with the exception of the sandy coastal areas. Clay soil is comprised of tiny particles densely packed together which makes it difficult for water to drain and often leads to ‘root rot’. Sandy soil is made of large particles which have lots of air space around them and so cannot hold water or nutrients very well. Improving the structure of sandy soils can be achieved by adding organic matter to help lock in water and nutrients. Animal manure (beware of grass seeds in fresh manure), sheep pellets, compost, vermicast, and cocoa fibre peat are all great additions to sandy soil. These additions are also great for improving clay soil as they increase air space and drainage.
Another great addition to clay soils is gypsum which also works to bind the clay particles into larger crumbs. If you can wait a few months for the results, I’d strongly recommend looking online for ‘no dig gardening’ or ‘lasagna mulching’ to improve the quality of clay soils.
Watering is becoming more of an issue in Auckland; at the time of writing our dams are still at a record low despite water restrictions in place since May. With resource consent requirements removed for installing some tanks, now is a good time to invest in a rainwater tank and water harvesting system. A less costly option is to invest in an irrigation system such as drip irrigation, soaker hoses, micro sprays and sprinklers. Drip irrigation is the most efficient, but it’s worth researching the different types to see what will suit your situation the best.
When watering established plants by hand it’s best to water heavily a couple of times a week. This promotes deep strong roots and means that not only do your plants become stronger and more resilient, when a watering is missed you have nice strong plants which can cope with a little stress.
Last and most certainly not least, adding a thick layer of mulch is one of the single best things you can do for your garden. Mulch helps to protect the soil surface from the harsh rays of the sun, and greatly reduces the evaporation of water. Adding a layer of wet newspaper (6-10 pages thick) between the soil and mulch will also help to suppress weeds and will eventually break down to improve soil structure. Ensure you water thoroughly before mulching.
Finally, September is Bee Aware month so please consider our little pollinators. You could plant bee-friendly plants such as lavender or bee balm or many many others. Not spraying harmful pesticides makes a massive contribution to saving the bee population. If you really have to spray, you can greatly minimise harm by using organic sprays and spraying at sunset when the bees are less active.
For more information on bee-friendly plantings, mulch, watering tips and coastal planting ideas, pop over to my blog https://www.newhavengardens.co.nz/blog.