Ep.23 Garden Maintenance - Ben Sims (Plants Grow Here, Ben's Gardens, LIAWA)

You're on the plants grow here podcast. I'm Daniel Fuller. Come along with me as we enter a hidden world of deep horticultural, ecological and landscape gardening knowledge with featured experts, industry professionals and enthusiasts.
Ben Sims is the other half of plants grow here. And in Episode Three of this podcast, he came on to speak about Native landscaping. In this episode, we wanted to talk about maintaining existing gardens. And our aim is to give you a bit of basic knowledge and direction so you can avoid some of the biggest mistakes we see out there on domestic properties. Yeah. Thanks, Dan. Good to be back. Yeah. So how important is it to keep maintenance in mind when we're designing our gardens? Yeah, really important? Yeah, you want a well designed garden that, you know, has a level of maintenance that you can keep up with otherwise, yeah, if it's not well maintained, it's gonna look pretty ordinary pretty quick. When we're talking about that, we're thinking in advance about how we're going to be taken care of the garden. So these are things like gate and walkways, what sort of mower needs to go through, can we fit a ride on through if it's an acreage, absolutely, or any other sort of thing you need to get through like a wheelbarrow or something like that, you want to consider all things like that, how much mowing you're prepared to do, you don't want to have like, hundreds and hundreds of square meters of lawn, if you hate mowing, and you're not going to do it, you're not gonna pay someone to do it. Also, the same goes for hedging. You don't want to have a huge amount of hedging to maintain regularly if you don't want to do it, or don't pay someone to do it. So yeah, it's really important. And make sure you've got time to get out there and check the retake, especially when it gets really hot. Right plant right place. So don't put a yoke right next house until we things like that. Yeah, that's asking for trouble if you're gonna play the giant eucalypt. Even if it's just a baby, when you plant it one day, that thing is going to be a giant, and it's going to drop limbs on your house every time a storm comes through. Absolutely. I remember once I had property that we used to do, and they planted a palm tree there. And obviously, that palm tree was going to get bigger, and it started blocking off. They'd planted it right next to the footpath and it was sort of blocking off the footpath. So what they'd asked us to do was to hedge this palm tree. And we sort of said that this is a silly thing to do. And they just hedge it.
You can sort of imagine how that looks. So we've got these dead palm fronds down the bottom that was dying. And we've got this weird little growth bit at the top. It wasn't a pretty thing at all.
Yeah, silly. But yeah, there you go.
So how can we have the perfect catch, then? Ah,
yeah. So you want to hedge lighten often, you want to have a decent quality machine, double sided hedge, your cuts are much, much nicer in nature. And yeah, and make sure that the machine is sharp, the blades are sharp. So when you do a nice, sharp cut when you do, yeah, don't leave it to cut it just say twice a year, which I've seen before, and you're taking a huge amount off at a time and it's a really rough cut. It's never gonna look good. So yeah, make sure you do it regularly, every two to four weeks during the growing season.
That's great advice. And you know, well maintained machinery as well as going to help along with that. So that's sharp blades, well oiled, put a bit of lanolin spray on your blades. Yeah, if
you can afford it at about 20 bucks. I think it goes up goes pretty quick. But yeah, that's good. Very, very good stuff. That's what the process, so yeah, no, it's the best.
Yeah. And if you're doing a lot of hedging, and you're spraying it every time like I do it, yeah,
you go through a can pretty quickly, you know better it is the best. So yeah, worth the money if you're serious.
And I've heard that lanolin spray is better than other brands because other products can actually burn the leads whereas a lanolin spray is based on a sheet fat so it doesn't actually burn the leaves in quite the same way that other lubricating sprays can.
Yeah, yeah, I've heard the same. Yeah, it makes sense.
So what are some other tips for keeping our plants looking healthy? Um,
reading is really important. So yeah, it's a bit of a similar to the hedging, but obviously you don't have to print that often in that amount but yeah, just less printing and more often. Try not to print more than a third of the time if you can, but there are some flats that are happy even if you have from nearly to the ground. Yeah, most things yeah, prone. More often like back to printing this regularly favorite nice, bushy, unhealthy looking and prone for maintaining size and shape to encourage flowering and fruiting and also to reduce pests and diseases. So getting rid of dead wood and stuff like that to build up fungus and boars and other things that like the dead wood. So getting rid of that is a good way to keep your plants healthy and also regular fertilizing over here. Monthly wetting agents if it's really hot, which it does get every summer so yeah, helps the water in their niche Trying to get to the root zone. And good soil prep to begin with will help hold the water, nutrients and everything around the root zone for a lot longer and not just like, let it into the groundwater like a sieve, which Sam will do so yeah.
And just to touch on pruning again, there's a lot of theory behind pruning. So different types of cuts are going to promote different types of growth. My pruning Guru is cast Turnbull from plant amnesty and she's passed on now, but she's provided some really beautiful resources for people like me to learn how to prune properly. And the three different types of cuts that she explains. And you can take that theory into a lot of different places on basically all types of plants. I will leave a link in the show notes for our listeners to follow and watch our YouTube videos because they're a fantastic resource that I definitely recommend you guys listen to the plant amnesty motto is working to end the senseless torture and mutilation of trees and shrubs through mal pruning. And I think that that's a great little message to be sending out. So definitely check that one out, guys.
Yeah, for sure. And yeah, simple pruning technique that works well on a lot of plants is like base pruning, where you open up the inside to let Latin air through? Um, yeah, so just learning some of the basic printing techniques is a really good start for sure.
We're gonna have to do quite a number of episodes on pruning.
Yeah, we'll go into it in a lot more detail.
I mean, whether that's amenity pruning, whether that's fruit tree pruning, there's all different ways of pruning? Absolutely. Can you tell us a little bit more about maintaining soil and what sort of checks we need to be doing?
Yeah, so so you don't want to make sure that you know, over here, not hydrophobic, which is where it becomes water repellent. And the water just sits on the top and then evaporate. So you can overcome that with wetting agents. Or if in the beginning, he used some good products like SoulSilver to hold the water nutrients in the soil. Make sure the soil is not too compact on the lawns. And that can be overcome by coring aeration, and also test the pH because if the pH especially on the coast, he gets very, very alkaline, and you're going to look at nutrients and a poor old lemon tree and stuff like that. It's not going to be too happy, because it'll be starving of certain things. So there are a few simple checks.
Yeah, the pH test that I like is the manual check one. It's the same one that Dr. Sam recommend in Episode Two. Yep. Developed by the CSIR. Oh, so you know, it's good. Absolutely. So tell us a little bit about mowing. What are your tips when it comes to maintaining your lawn?
Oh, yeah. A bit like hedging. Yeah, you want to mow light and regular. And also at Golden 1/3 rule sort of applies where you want to take off too much at one time. And yeah, don't leave mowing, or at least over here with the warm season grasses. I'll be mowing fortnightly at the longest. weeklies better. And people are really serious might open multiple times in a week, but I couldn't keep that up. But yeah, yeah, so yeah, just often at the right height as well.
Not hard. It's going to depend on the grass. We've done a bit of a series earlier on with Eric Baeza. Definitely recommend people check out that three part series on whipping mowing and blowing. Absolutely. So when it comes to mowing the lawn as well, you might find that as you're walking over the lawn, there's a bit of a spongy effect underneath the feet. This is called batching. Can you explain what the batching means Ben?
Yeah, batching is just a natural dead layer that builds up as the grass grows, some grasses build it up a lot quicker like kitchen clarkia. And it can become a real problem because it can stop 70% of water and nutrients reaching the root zone. Other lawns like buffalo don't tend to build up hardly at all. So yeah, to overcome that. The best thing is getting a professional in with a Vernier mower. And they'll cut it back to the brown which is like ground level and get rid of that thatch layer and it also prevents pests and diseases building up and that touch layer and renovate your lawn and rejuvenate it. So we'll come back really nice and healthy after that.
In what time of year would you recommend shaving off that grass?
Um, the best times early in the growing season, but it can be done at any time in the growing season, provided you get enough water on it after it's done.
It might be the wrong time to do it at the end of the growing season. Because that grass may not make it through that stress. Yeah,
yeah. And then weeds can get in and stuff like that. So yeah, you want to do it. September to December, ideally, over here anyway. And wi
Yeah, so that that is just a dead layer as you say, I think of the lawn as being a kind of a grass hedge. So I guess that that would be like the dead wood in your hedge and as you're sort of mulch mowing and you're throwing all that sort of the debris down on top of that thatch layer, because that layer of dead material hasn't broken down yet. The soil biology isn't breaking down that material and dragging it down to the soil. So that's just going to keep building up higher and higher and higher and you're going to have less leaf, less grass. leaves as compared to Yeah, you know, dead stems and stuff like that, huh?
Yeah. And that's not what you want.
So what do we do if that soil has compaction?
Yeah, so you can run a lawn core over it, and that'll air raid it and break up that compaction. And that can be done every few months throughout the growing season. It's really good to do it straight after, like the beginning of the growing season and during, and at the end. But yeah, it depends. I mean, you can really do that quite often if you want, every month or two, if you really want. But yeah, at least, I'd recommend probably twice during the growing season. But if you don't have a specialized machine, it can. It's very, very life intensive. I've got a little manual core and the legs are hurting after an hour of that up until you and I don't really get through more than say 50 squares. So yeah, for anything large, you really want to hire a machine and maybe share that machine with your neighbors to split the cost.
Yeah, that's a great point, because they're not cheap. And I know in Melbourne, I don't think it's a really big thing that people do, even though we get a lot of compacted clay soils there.
They should be doing it more there than over here even but we're over here. People are very proud of their lawns. And yeah, we'll do anything to make sure they look good throughout the whole growing season at least.
Yeah, I mean, if you're in Melbourne, maybe it might be good to do a bit of market research as to whether it's worth it, because I'm not sure if people if consumers are there or if they're not.
Yeah. Yeah, well, the heavier soles, I think you need to know more about
even just gypsum helps with clay soils. Yeah. So I think that compaction is generally thought of as more of a heavy clay soil problem. But can you tell us a little bit about how lighter sandy soils can also be compacted?
In a similar way? Yeah, yeah, just from people walking over an area or a lot over a small area, or a lot from heavy mowers or machines or vehicles driving over on, say, a lawn in particular. Or even like, a lot of water. So wedding that area all the time that also water will definitely come back sound as well. So yeah, the ways that the sandy soils do get compacted and yeah, using the core that that can break that up. And yeah, go back to what you want to get some air and life back in the soil.
Yeah, the soil biology supposed to be doing that. And sometimes we, yeah, we can damage that soil biology. So the worse it gets, the worse it gets, the worse it gets.
Yeah, it really does. Yeah. And then you've got a real issue. And
so, on this podcast, we like to talk a lot about how the biology in the ecology is so important, not only to the overall environment, but also to the health of our plants. Can you tell us a little bit about why we shouldn't just reach for the chemical first, when it comes to controlling pests and diseases?
Yeah, well, quite often, it's a sign that the plants are happy in that microclimate. So there's definitely better plants, that would be happier in that place. So it's a matter of finding a plant that you like that will like suit your environment, like you might might be going in too much sun or too much shade, or it's a plant from a country with conditions much different to your garden, and we where you're trying to grow it. So yeah, definitely. Right plant, right place, get the soil right, get the rating, right. And yeah, you won't have that issue. So yeah, that's not something I, in my own garden, don't use chemicals at all, really. I'm considering killing a few ants at the moment. But that's about it in the low end. But yeah, in general, we had last resort.
Yeah, we're definitely gonna have to do a whole episode on integrated pest management, which is sort of a philosophy about prioritizing control methods for pests. And yeah, play right plant, right place is definitely the right place to start. Because those pests and diseases actually exist for a reason. In nature, they destroy the wrong plants so that the right ones can grow there. So when is it a good time to declare nuclear warfare on our person diseases?
When you've exhausted all the other avenues, so you know, you've water water is not an issue, you know, it's getting enough water, you know, it's holding on to the water, you know, your soil is not hydrophobic, you know, it's getting adequate nutrition, you know, it's gonna, it's getting adequate light. And then you can see that there's something there. Like, you know, ants will leave, you know, little mounds or, you know, you might see the fungus on there, or you might say, catch the pest there. So, and there's a lot of them. So yeah, when you when, you know, what's the issue on it's a last resort and enterprise plant, then? Yeah, then I would, but if you've got it all year, after year after year, you ask the question, you know, could I plant something more suitable there that doesn't require such a high level of maintenance? Because Yeah, as you touched on, it's generally because the plants not happy in that spot, or in that climate.
Yeah. I'd like to touch on ants a little bit more to because ants aren't always a pest, are they?
No, no. But over here they can be. They're definitely an abandonment.
So what are some of the negative effects of ants in the sandy soils around Perth?
Yeah, well, sandy soils dry out as it is. And when the ants get in there and tunnel, they create even more dry conditions, particularly under the roots of lawn shrub trays. And they can dry out so much that the plant is can't get access to the water at once. So yeah, they can really kill a plant pretty quickly once I get in there. And in high numbers in the soil that is, so yeah. Over here, that's another common issue. And in some cases, yeah, you need to trade it if you've only got a small area of lawn and it's in festival that's well, you know, you don't look ratty because of that.
So if you had a dead patch on your lawn in Perth, what would you first sort of assumed that the problem would be water?
Sorry, yeah. Either the sores got hydrophobic, or the radio coverage isn't there? Or you're not putting enough water on in the first place? Yeah, so that's the thing I'd check. And then I'd also look, especially as it gets hot, I definitely look for ants and, and stuff like that. Because Yeah, they are a problem. But what is the thing you start with over here? And why anyway?
And are there any other sort of pests or diseases that you might consider other than water issues? Or ants?
Um, yeah, we
get stuff like cut worm and stuff like that. And everyone talks about lawn Badal in that, but they have to be in huge numbers to really do any damage. Yeah, different plants get different pests and diseases as to lawn. So there's a whole range. It's a really complex sort of, technical area, or it's not something I focus on a lot. In here. There's different pests and diseases, citrus get leaf minor and stuff like that. But it's really, really complex area, pests and diseases. And I really think this, the easiest way is just to get the right plant in the right place. Yeah. With the right soil on the right rating.
Yeah, just use nature to your advantage.
What are your thoughts when it comes to fertilizing plants?
Um, yeah, fertilizing is is good to keep a plant healthy. There's definitely certain plants, natives don't need a lot of fertilizer, especially once they're mature. They will last a little bit. But yeah, they're not going to require a hate life and say, like your animals, your vegetables and all that sort of stuff or your roses. So yeah, fertilizers necessary. But yeah, you can definitely choose plants that require less than if you're like near rivers and streams, and that you definitely want to have a very low fertilizer garden. So you don't have a huge amount of lawn and, and stuff like that, because it'll end up going into the, into the groundwater and then getting the rivers and the streams and stuff like that. So, yeah, it's definitely no good. So you choose plants that have the last fertilizer use that you can find. Yeah.
And that's very important when you're talking about sort of those ecological effects of fertilizers, especially when it comes to waterways, and even leaching into the water table. And I guess the same really goes for chemicals, too, doesn't it?
Yeah, absolutely. Yeah, a lot of those can be quite nasty and build up in the environment, or at least be slow to break down.
And they can cause damages that you may not necessarily initially have considered.
Absolutely. Even things like wedding agents and stuff like that, you know, frogs have got a sensitive skin. I believe that it's not good, especially if there's like toxic things around. It'll help it get inside the frog mall. and stuff like that. A wetting agent. That is because it's a surfactant.
And what does that mean? breaks down waxes. So going back to fertilizers again, a lot of people say Oh, don't fertilize your natives. Now, we're really talking about protease see family members here. So that's a Banksy as you grew really is and plants like that. Can you tell us a little bit about why we shouldn't be over fertilizing our bank season grevilleas
yo Banksy is have got what's known as a cluster root system, which is an adaption to be able to mine phosphorus out of low phosphorus soils, which is what they've evolved with. So when you're putting in fertilizers with too much phosphorus over, say, 1% Yeah, they're very sensitive to that, because they're already very good at getting what they need. So it just becomes toxic to them. So yeah, but then there's $95 million, and that you can you can treat them like an exotic I just love all the everything you throw at him just about so. Yeah, it varies a lot.
I think a lot of people are going to be shocked to hear that because probably a lot of people have heard that advice of don't over fertilize your natives or even just don't fertilize the natives. And they may not have considered that that's not necessarily all native plants, huh.
Yeah, natives is a very broad term. And, yeah, even amongst wi natives. I differ a lot. Totally.
So let's go back to retake again, Ben. Can you tell us a little bit about what maintenance is required for your retake or irrigation system?
Yeah, so nozzles can obviously block up. So that's gonna be check regularly, sprinklers can be off target, so you got to make sure that they are on target and covering where you want. Seals can go in the sprinklers so it can be wasting water and then the sprinkler is not getting the coverage you want. You can get cracked pipes. Yeah, solenoids obviously can not close properly. So you've got to find locate the solenoid that's faulty and fix that or clean it? Yeah. So they're sort of main issues that you deal with reading.
So really, a lot of the things that we've said today require a lot of being observant.
Yeah, absolutely. Yep. And plants will let you know when they're not happy. So yeah. But yeah, you've got to keep an eye on the garden, especially when it's hot. Things can change day to day, really. So if you're really serious about having a nice garden throughout the year, you need to be out there observing What's going on?
Totally. Can you tell us some of the main things that you look out for when you step onto a garden and think about how do I need to maintain this place?
So yeah, look at the garden, no matter what needs to be pruned. Plants look hungry, do they need to be fed? Is the soil likely to be hydrophobic? Is the rate probably the first thing I look at is, you know, there are a lot of like dry and dead plants? because that'll tell you if the retakes not working well, or the soil might be hydrophobic. Have the plants been pruned regularly enough? The right way? Things like that. Yeah, really varies.
I guess when it comes to maintenance, a lot of gardeners, especially in Australia, unqualified, and we tend to just think it's a lot simpler than what it really is. And that's because it's an unregulated industry. So, how important is it for professional gardeners to be educating themselves? Whether that's formal or informal education?
Yeah. If, if you're getting paid to do it, then yeah, you want to make sure you're up on how to do things correctly and efficiently. And, and doing the right thing at the right time? is really important. Yeah, there's a lot of two stroke cowboys out there, that's for sure. And yeah, a lot of them are not really interested in learning any of the data. So
you kind of have a bit of a responsibility don't need to your client.
Yeah, just depends on what they're after. And they might have a very basic garden that just requires a bit of hedging and witness sniffing and mowing. And that's it. A lot of people I work for passionate gardeners. So yeah, we sort of work together on the garden. So yeah, they really appreciate that extra knowledge and advice, whereas some people just don't, and they don't want to pay for it. So it's whatever suits your budget and requirements.
Ben, you've got a wonderful website in this. Matt, you've got a wonderful website, and it has a lot of info on there. I can't get enough of the content on there. What are some of your favorite maintenance resources for educating yourself? For free? Um,
there's quite a few Facebook pages, things like Wi Fi alone. Alex is a good one for learning about low maintenance. That is a very good one. You've got a really, there's a lot of amateur advice on there, too. So you've got to be able to sift through that as well. But reading books is good. Yeah. Just Yeah, things like that. Just make sure it's a resource that is credible. And professional. Yeah.
Yeah. Just immerse yourself into it. And it does take time, just like anything. And if you're going to take the easy way of, you know, avoiding TAFE or university, you know, and just trying to do it off your own back. The risk is that you might be learning from the wrong people. And it's sometimes hard to tell when you're early in your career. Hmm,
yeah, I think we take a lot of that for granted now. So long, so yeah, just chip away at it. Read the right books, check out the right Facebook groups, that sort of thing. The right web pages Yeah, there's a lot there's no shortage of information out there. It's whether it's good quality information or not
any other books or web pages that you can recommend and
check out my blogs is quite a lot of stuff on there. The water cup water Corporation, nws got a really great website which focus on waterwise the waterways initiative and they got like water wise advice water wise plants, what do I specialist water wise products and things like that? That's a good start, because there's a lot of clever and experienced people that have sort of brought that together. The Facebook's got a page for long called the double A lunatics that's really really good. And then just books and stuff like that. So yes, hey, for different books out there. Yeah, just browsing different, credible resources really. And also I love the plants grow here, blogs, and the bar culture. Our webinars are really good too. In the UK.
Yeah, the arboricultural Association has some great webinars. We've had john Parker on a few episodes ago. And those are some really great resources. Some of them are free, and some of them do cost money. But there'll be links in the show notes for all of these resources. And we do encourage our listeners to always be learning. Yeah, absolutely. Fantastic. Well, thanks, Ben. We love you here at the plants grow here podcast, and we can't wait to see you again, Matt. Thanks, Dan. We don't have a Patreon or a way for you to make donations to us. But if you've received any value from our content, and you'd like to support us, the best way to do so is to tell all of your friends and family about the plants grow here podcast was still just getting started, but we're already 23 episodes in and I've covered a range of beginner and intermediate topics. So definitely make sure you've listened to all of the episodes because there's bound to be a little nugget in each of them that you might find informative. As always, check the show notes for relevant links.

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