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Gardening: Growing native plants in your garden at home

Australian native plants are becoming increasingly popular in gardens, especially in the drought prone areas of the country.

Natives are often easier to maintain than exotic species of shrubs and flowering plants. Generally not as showy as exotics, native plants provide a vast range of flower and leaf shapes, colours and perfumes.

What's more, they provide a habitat for local birds and insects and even frogs.

Planning a native garden

Other than rainforest species, most native plants are drought tolerant and water hardy, so are a great choice if you want a water-efficient garden.

With a wealth of colour and flower shapes, natives are good in flower gardens, even in your cottage garden. As well as suiting a bushland style setting, some native plants look stunning in a formal garden.

cream gum blossom

There are so many different types and sizes of native plants, from tiny heaths to towering blue gums that it's best to talk to the experts about what you want.

Decide what style of garden you want to create, then find a local nursery that sells native plants, as plants indigenous to your area will grow better than plants from an area with different soil and climate conditions.

There are also lots of good websites with information on growing native plants, so do your homework before deciding what to grow.

The importance of soil

A crucial factor in growing natives is understanding your soil type. Some natives prefer only sandy soil, others will only accept clay soils. Fortunately the majority of natives are adaptable to either.

Sandy soils are fast draining with good aeration, but are usually low in nutrients. They can be improved by adding well-rotted organic matter such as animal manure, compost or leaf litter. They require fertiliser more often than clay soils.

Clay soils are slow draining, have poor aeration and are usually higher in nutrients than sandy soils. They can be improved by adding gypsum and well-rotted organic matter.

Native garden maintenance

Caring for native plants isn't much different to caring for other garden plants. While native gardens are considered 'low maintenance', that doesn't mean you can neglect them totally.

Like many other plants, natives need an occasional prune to help them flower better and to keep them in shape. This is usually done after flowering. A good feed is also necessary to keep the natives looking healthy and at their best.

Pests and diseases also affect natives like other garden plants and are controlled in much the same way. It's best to avoid pesticides, where possible, since one of the joys of growing natives is attracting birds and insects to their flowers and seeds, and these could be poisoned by insecticides.

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