SOPHIE'S TIPSWith Sophie Thomson.
Introducing SA’s Commonsense gardener, Sophie Thomson.
Sophie will be providing gardening tips every season for gardeners who shop at Garden Centres of SA.
Sophie’s tips for the Summer Season of 2023 and 2024.
Nothing beats the look of stunning hydrangeas in shades of pink, blue and white when they are in full summer bloom.
Even as their blooms age they take on attractive autumn tints. Perfect for a shady position where they only get morning sun or filtered light under a tree, they grow well in pots or in the ground if kept well-watered.
“These are the perfect way to create a tranquil, cooling effect in our hot dry climate. Even the smallest courtyard will benefit from a water feature as do gardens of a grander scale, and they can range from in ground structures to large containers such as glazed pots with no drainage holes, wine barrels or even old bath tubs. ”
“Plants are the perfect living gift, whether you choose something with a Christmas feel like Poinsettias or Liliums, or an all-year rounder like an indoor plant like a Spathiphyllum or African Violet teamed up with a cover pot.
Other gift ideas include garden tools, gloves or kneepads, garden art, pots or a gift voucher if you really can’t decide. Whatever you choose, a garden related gift will give lasting pleasure and will be remembered long after many of the other Christmas gift options are forgotten. ”
“For hours of school holiday entertainment, get the kids into the garden and off their devices. Plan projects like building a vegie or herb bed, making a fairy or gnome planter, or making a bee and butterfly garden.
With these fun kids’ garden tools, the kids will want to create their own projects, or just help you with yours. ”
Sophie’s tips for Winter 2023.
Plant…. but prepare first
“Get any new garden areas ready for planting by working through organic matter such as compost and aged manures. This turns your soil into a sponge, improves your soils’ structure, and encourages earthworm and microbial activity. Then you can have fun planting, and whether it is bare rooted fruit or ornamental trees, roses or vines, crowns of strawberries, rhubarb or asparagus, natives or potted perennials and shrubs, get them in as soon as you can so that their root systems get established. The only exception to this is when planting subtropical plants like citrus, passionfruit, frangipani or hibiscus in Southern Australia. As these plants don’t like being planted into cool soil, you are best to wait till the ground warms up in spring.”
“Repeat flowering roses produce more and better-quality roses if they are pruned, so get pruning this winter, ideally in July. It’s not just about aesthetics, it’s also good to remove dead wood and crossing branches, to clean the plant up, and reduce tendency to get fungal diseases next season. I find the 50/50 method the easiest. Firstly, tidy up by cutting out any dead wood. Then simply reduce the height of the bush by 50% and then completely cut out 50% of the canes at the base of the plant, removing crossing branches, weak growth, and choose to remove the older darker wood over the younger, fresh-looking wood.”
Fruit tree planting tip
“Bare rooted fruit trees, ornamental trees, roses, and other deciduous fruiting plants are available in garden centres. The term ‘bare rooted’ refers to the fact that all the soil is washed off the roots and they are stored temporarily in damp sawdust. They are great value and easy to handle. The bare roots must be kept moist until the moment of planting, so this is why the roots are wrapped up with damp sawdust, however this should be discarded during planting. Use a seaweed-based plant tonic to help the plant overcome any transplant shock and get their root system established in its new home. Be sure to follow the pruning instructions on the bag and label at planting time.”
Winter vege tip
“Growing vegies over the cooler weather is a ‘no brainer’ as the weather is cooler and we don’t need to water at all, or at least as much. Remember though that the quality of your crop is determined by the quality of your soil, so be sure to prepare well before planting with compost and organic fertiliser before planting, and use seaweed-based plant tonics to help young seedlings to overcome transplant shock. Longer term crops that were planted several months ago may also appreciate regular applications of soluble fertiliser and seaweed-based plant tonics. You can keep planting all the way through the cooler weather, however growth rate certainly slows down. By late winter, we can also start raising seeds of our summer crops ready for planting in mid spring, but this is best done in a warm sheltered position such as a sunny windowsill, verandah or mini greenhouse.”
Sophie’s tips for Autumn 2023.
“Autumn is the perfect time to plant most plants. With the worst of summer’s heat past, and while there is still warmth in the soil for root systems to grow, plants get six to nine months to get established before next summer. Your Garden Centre is filled with a wonderful selection of native and exotic plants perfect for every garden’s situation and need. Try to select varieties which will not only add colour and interest for your benefit, but also provide added rewards by creating food and habitat for other creatures which share your space, like birds, bees, butterflies and beneficial bugs. At a time when urban habitat for wildlife is under threat, adding native plants to your garden, and having some local indigenous species, turns every backyard into a biodiversity hotspot. As with every plant, find out what conditions the plants need and prepare the soil appropriately to get the best growth from your new plants.”
Nourish your garden
“Be sure to feed your whole garden, from ornamentals and roses to citrus, fruit trees and vegies, and don’t forget your pot plants too. Lawns also need a good feed now as the secret to having a good-looking lawn in winter as the weather cools, is to have it as happy and healthy in autumn before the temperature drops.”
“Top up mulch on garden beds too as a way of keeping moisture in the soil while it is still warm and we need to water, and as a way of reducing weeds. Leaving soil bare is no good for all the soil microbes we try to encourage by improving our soils with the addition of compost and other organic matter, and it also creates a void which Nature will try and fill with weeds. Not only do weeds look unsightly but they ultimately compete with our plants for nutrients, water, light and space.”
Grow your own
“Whether you have never had a go at growing your own vegies, or you are an experienced productive gardener, autumn is the perfect time to plant cool season crops like broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, kale, leeks and spinach, as well as the all-season crops like lettuces, rocket, spring onions and silver beet. Protect new plantings from snails and slugs which love the cooler, moist weather by using pet friendly snail baits, cooper-based snail deterrent sprays, or if you have raised beds, try a permanent installation of copper tape sold as Snail and Slug Barrier Tape which they hate to cross. The caterpillars of the cabbage white butterfly love to dine on brassicas like broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower and kale, so protect them by spraying weekly with an organic bio-insecticide like Dipel or Success Ultra, or by using insect exclusion netting”
“Autumn is also garlic planting time so have a go at this highly productive, premium value super food. Garlic needs a sunny position and grows best in fertile, well-drained soil. Buy whole heads of untreated garlic from your garden centre and split them up to plant individual cloves, with each clove forming a new head. Garlic takes up to eight months before its ready for harvest, but it is an easy crop to grow.”
“Bulbs are buried treasure for gardeners as they add seasonal colour and interest to gardens for very little effort, and while referred to as spring flowering bulbs, many start to bloom in winter. Choose from the huge range of varieties and colours, including daffodils, jonquils, Dutch iris, grape hyacinths, ranunculus and anemones, or scented wonders such as freesias and hyacinths. Ask about which bulbs are hardy in your area and those can be left in the ground for years, compared with ones need more TLC relating to their chilling requirements.”
Sophie’s tips for Summer 2022/2023.
Add colour to Christmas
“Jazz up your garden and entrances with strategically placed pots or baskets of colour. They could be massed displays of annuals, or a combination of different plants with interesting foliage, form and colourful flowers. This is a great way to make a favourable first impression when your friends and relatives arrive.”
“When thinking about Christmas presents, think of gifts for the garden or the gardener. Some great gift ideas include living gifts of a Christmas plants such as a Poinsettia or pot of Christmas lilies, or a rose, Hydrangea or Gardenia. Other presents that would be appreciated by any gardener include pots, statues, ornaments and bird baths, or practical gifts such as compost bins or worm farms and garden tools. And of you really can’t decide, why not go for a gift voucher and let them have fun choosing what they want.”
“Water your garden appropriately, aiming to give plants a good deep soak rather than a light sprinkle every couple of days. Re-check and repair irrigation systems to make sure that they are functioning effectively and efficiently. However, don’t forget your pot plants, most of which need daily watering in the heat, depending on the plant and its position. Mulching your garden beds and pots to helps the soil retain water, keeps the roots of your plants cool and gives your garden that clean finished look.”
“Don’t forget your garden when you go away on holidays. Ask a friend or neighbour to ‘garden sit’. Pot plants can often be the things to suffer when you are absent, so move them all together, making it easier for someone else to look after them. Make sure that they are also well mulched.”
Enjoy living and entertaining in your garden and have a very Merry Christmas!
Sophie’s tips for Spring 2022.
“Australian Native plants add colour and interest to gardens and are the best way to attract native birds, bees and butterflies to your backyard. Choose varieties that come from similar climate zones within Australia to ensure you are choosing plants which are hardy and waterwise. While there is a common misconception that Australian native plants cannot be combined with exotic varieties in a garden, a blended garden of natives and exotics can work very well. Try not to focus on just the flowers though, and consider the foliage, texture and form of Australian native plants throughout the year.”
“Vegies may feed our bodies, but flowers have the ability to feed our souls …… and bring a smile to our faces. Whether planting annuals such as petunias, salvias, vincas, alyssum, portulacas and impatiens, or perennials such as statice, daisies, Armeria, Convulvulus or lavenders, be sure to add some flowering plants to your garden for colour and cheer in the sunny months ahead. Have fun making up large mixed planters combining a few colourful perennial plants with some complementary annuals and use them as focal points or statement pieces in garden beds, or to frame entrances and pathways. ”
“Feed the whole garden, from garden beds and lawns to pot plants and hanging baskets. I like to use pelletised organic based fertilisers once a season as they do so much more than just feed the plant – they feed the soil and encourage earthworm and soil microbial activity. Healthy soil = healthy plants = less pest and disease problems. Remember ‘Happy healthy plants don’t get sick’. Roses, fruit trees, camellias, orchids, and other flowering plants benefits from products which have been specifically designed to meet their nutritional requirements, as do native plants. Soluble fertilisers are great, however they need to be applied every few weeks. ”
Plant warm season vegies for summer abundance
“Prepare the beds in your vegie garden really well before planting your warm season crops like tomatoes, capsicums, chillies, cucumber, eggplants, pumpkins, zucchini and basil. Ultimately the quality of your crop is directly related to the quality of your soil, so be sure to work through plenty of organic matter in the form of compost and aged animal manures, as well as pelletised organic fertilisers. When the soil is improved and the soil temperature reaches 16 degrees, that is the time to start planting these summer crops. In cold districts, be prepared to grow seedlings on in pots where you can better protect them until the risk of frost is over.”
Sophie’s tips for Winter 2022.
“Repeat flowering roses need to be pruned in winter and to do this you need a good pair of sharp secateurs, a pair of good thorn proof gloves or gauntlets, and maybe a pair of loppers or a good pruning saw. The reason we prune is to assist the rose’s natural process of flowering on strong healthy new wood, by removing the dead and old wood and encouraging new growth.”
“For bushy roses I simply use the 50/50 method, reducing the height of the rose by 50% and removing 50% of the canes at their base, starting with old wood, and any weak spindly stems or crossing branches.”
Fruit tree planting tip
“Take advantage of bare root season over winter to purchase new seasons stock of deciduous fruit trees that are more affordable, easier to handle and establish better in your garden. This means you can purchase several fruit trees for the same cost as one mature specimen.”
“Follow the instructions on the label or bag, and prune the bare rooted specimens back at the time of planting even though you mightn’t want to, as this ensures the tree develops optimal plant structure and ultimately fruits successfully for years to come. Check the pollination requirements of your new fruit tree in case two trees are required.”
Winter vege tip
“When space is limited, look at vegetables which can be harvested over a longer period. These cut and come again varieties include peas, loose leaf lettuces, spinach, silver beet, kale and broccoli (especially sprouting varieties).”
“While cauliflower and cabbages are delicious, just remember you will have quite a wait until they are ready and you only get one harvest from each plant.”
Winter flowering colour tip
“As the weather cools down, growth of annuals from punnets also slows, so use larger seedlings or potted colour for an instant show. Plant up some large pots and place them as focal points, by entrances or along pathways to add instant cheer and delight. Feed them regularly with liquid fertilisers and seaweed based plant tonics.”
Sophie’s tips for Autumn 2022.
“Plant now. This is the best time of year to plant most plants, both native and exotic, as it gives them 6 to 9 months to get their root systems growing and become established prior to the next summer’s heat. The choices are fantastic in nurseries and garden centres right now and plants will establish well while the ground is still warm. As always improve the soil with compost, and use gypsum on clay soils, as the success of your plant is directly linked to the quality of your soil and your soil preparation. ”
Plant annuals for winter to spring colour
“Plant annuals for winter to spring colour while there is still some warmth left in the soil to help them establish quicker. Choose from pansies, violas, cinerarias, nemesias, poppies, primulas, snapdragons, salvias, stocks and more. To keep summer flowering annuals going longer, give them a light haircut and feed them, and they can continue for several more months. ”
Add some native beauties to your garden
“Add some native beauties to your garden. The diversity of flowers and form of our Australian native plants is extraordinary, so why not add some to your garden to bring delight to you, the birds, the bees and the butterflies. There are native plants suitable for every garden style, from formal to cottage, and everything in between, and they are hardy and adaptable to our climate. ”
Plant winter vegetables
“Plant winter vegetables such as broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, kale, leeks, peas, spinach and silver beet. Be prepared to protect the brassicas (broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower and kale) from the caterpillars of cabbage white butterflies by netting to exclude them, decoys or using bioinsecticides such as Success or Dipel. To your own nutrient dense, immune boosting, organic garlic, plant Aussie garlic from April to June and you will be harvesting in 6-7 months. This superfood bulb is easy to grow in a sunny position in well-drained soil.
Plant spring flowering bulbs for a splash of colour in late winter and spring. Choose from daffodils, jonquils, iris, tulips, hyacinths, grape hyacinths, crocus and more.
Feed the whole garden – roses, lawns, fruit trees and citrus, everything. Plants will benefit greatly from a boost of nutrients, and it will keep them in optimal health over the cooler winter months.”
Sow sweet peas
“Sow sweet peas on or soon after St Patrick’s Day (March 17). Sweet peas are wonderful plants in the garden for their colour and fragrance, and they also make wonderful cut flowers. Choose from climbing or dwarf varieties in a range of colours and markings.”
“This Mother’s Day, don’t forget to give mum a living gift that will last – whether it is a potted cyclamen or chrysanthemum, an indoor plant, or even a rose, fuchsia or hydrangea, she will get pleasure from your thoughtfulness and best wishes for many years to come.”
Sophie’s tips for Summer 2021/2022.
Sophie’s tip for Christmas plants
“If you want to give a plant with a Christmas theme you can’t go past a poinsettia, in either the traditional red, or one of the other pretty shades. They are great value and although I treat them as annual, I still enjoy them ’til winter – much better value than a bunch of flowers!”
Sophie’s tip for growing in containers
“Water pots and hanging baskets daily in the warmer weather. Although this will depend on the type of plant, size of its pot and position, it’s a great general rule to follow. It’s what the staff in your local garden centre are doing each day too! Don’t forget to mulch your pots too.”
Sophie’s tip for summer colour
“Dead head spent flowers on summer flowering plants such as roses, butterfly bushes (Buddleja), geraniums, daisies, lavenders & petunias, for continued flowering. This will keep them looking fresh and will encourage new growth. Feed and water them regularly to keep their flushes of colour coming.”
Sophie’s tip to keep kids occupied in the school holidays
“Why not share in some fun garden activities with your kids and have fun too. Plant colourful flowers of their choosing and sow seeds of giant plants like sunflowers. Let them choose some veggies to plant and be sure to help them look after them for a successful harvest. They might like to have their own garden bed or large planter, or simply share in yours.”