Plant Life Balance

Plant novice to plant wizard in four easy steps

It’s time to level up!

It’s been three months, team. Three months since the COVID-19 social distancing measures kicked in, and for many of us, that’s been three months of having loooots of extra time at home. We know that plenty of you have been using this time to get super stuck in to your iso gardens – and for some, this is your first time putting some serious effort into gardening. Yay you! We see you, plant queen!

As fabulous as your new jungle is surely looking, getting them in the house is just the first step – now, you have to keep them growing. You don’t want your iso garden wilting once physical distancing eases and you’re let out of the house, right? Plus, gardening is so good for your mental health, it would be silly to give up now.

Lucky for you, we’ve got all the insider knowledge on keeping that garden looking LUSH, and the good news is it’s not tricky at all. From checking soil health to pruning, keep reading for our top gardening tricks that will have you graduating from plant novice to plant wizard in no time at all.

Soil

Whether you’re completely winging it or you already have an inkling about what’s going on down there, knowing your dirt is key to keeping your fronds happy. Soil isn’t just a place to put down roots – it’s actually full of liquids, gases, mineral elements, fungi, bacteria, and a whole bucketload of microfauna which are vital to keeping your plants growing, so keeping it healthy is really important.

Figuring out what pH your soil is and then matching it to your plants is a great first step – that is, do your plants like acidic, neutral or alkaline soil? While most are happy to grow in a pH of 7 (neutral), some prefer slightly more acidic or basic conditions. Your local nursery or garden centre will be able to help you figure this out if you’ve forgotten those year 7 science lessons (plus many stock soil testing kits – bonus!).

Also keep in mind that your soil may need a boost from time to time. A great idea is to always have worm juice or compost at hand to rejuvenate the soil once the nutrients have been sucked out by the plant.

For more dirt on dirt, check out our beginner’s guide on soil here. Our guide on plant feeding has a handy section on  soil health, too.

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It’s compost week! As my 8yo recently pointed out to me we have 6 bins: the worm farm, the compost bin, the dog, the chickens, our recycling bin and our rubbish bin. This is what goes into our worm farm or compost bin on a typical day, and a sample of we we get out of it (we don’t compost spring onion roots – we pop them in a jar of water to grow more). There are so many advantages to composting including diverting waste from landfill and enriching your soil to grow more food. There are also many different ways to compost, for our family a worm farm near the back door for kitchen scraps and a few large compost bins in the back yard for excess scraps and garden waste works well for us. Composting might sound difficulty, but really your aim is to make a giant house party for decomposers (worms, bugs, microbes) to come along and do all the work for you, as long as you have all the ingredients: Greens (kitchen scraps or garden waste) + browns (leaves, shredded cardboard or newspaper) + water + air (turning it occasionally) they will come. There shouldn’t be any smell, and in a few weeks or months – depending on the season and your style of composting – you will have some homemade, soil enriching, plant boosting compost to add to your garden. . . . . #mybackyard #westernsydney #organicgardening #greenthumb #kitchengarden #growyourown #gyo #organicgardening #gardentogut #gardening #groworganic #growfood #vegetablegarden #sustainability #eatwhatyougrow #urbangarden #sustainableliving #veggiepatch #growfoodnotlawns #gardeningaustralia #mumlife #compost #wormfarm #thehappygardeninglife #urbanorganicgardener #compostawarenessweek #internationalcompostawarenessweek #celebrateicaw

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Feeding

Just like us humans, plants also need the right balance of nutrients to feel great and to grow, grow, grow. So let’s make sure we’re feeding them the good stuff. In general, nutrients can be broken into two main groups:

  • Macronutrients – those required in larger quantities and which are vital to plant health
  • Trace elements – which also play an important role, though required in much smaller amounts.

These can be either organic nutrients (like plant or animal waste) or mineral fertilisers (which has certain minerals that can benefit a plant’s health).

But how do you know if your plants are in need of a feed? There’s two main ways to check: firstly, get your fingers in the soil and use your senses to do a bit of a dirt health check. It should smell nice and earthy, have a deep dark brown colour, and look alive – you should be able to spot some worms or friendly bugs. You can also do a pH test (see section above) or a soil texture test (available at nurseries and garden centres). 

Secondly, give the leaves a good going-over. If you spot discolourations and/or unusual patterns, it might be a sign of nutrient deficiency. Take a pic and head to your local nursery to chat with the experts to find out what’s going on.

For more hints and tips on feeding your fronds, check out our excellent explainer here.

Pruning

Pruning correctly might seem like a bit of a guess to beginners (where? how much? how often?), but with a few techniques up your sleeve, it’s a super easy – and necessary – habit to add to your plant care routine. Because yes, giving your plants a regular haircut will help improve their aesthetics, but pruning is also vital to maintaining your plant’s health.

There are other benefits to be had from good pruning, too, like inducing lusher foliage and better crops for plants that grow fruit and flowers. All you need to do is invest in the right tools – we recommend secateurs, loppers, pruning saw or hedging shears – and get snip, snip, snipping away when the time is right.

So, when is the right time to prune? The answer will be a little different for each plant, but in general you should be pruning:

  • After flowering
  • To remove dead, dying, diseased or damaged material
  • To remove suckers – this is for plants that have been grafted onto a rootstock (e.g. citrus trees, roses)

More more tips on where and how to snip, head to our ultimate guide to plant pruning here.

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Truth bomb – your plant will not look the same in your home as it did in the nursery where it grew. Similarly, a skimpy hot bikini or tight muscle tee is not going to look the same on you as it does on the model pictured in it. Sure, you can diet, calorie count, work out, and still not achieve that exact aesthetic due to genes, lack of motivation, whatever. Same goes for your plant babies. If you want them to look the same as they did when you brought them home, put them in a temperature controlled greenhouse. However if you want to have them in your home, accept that they will look different, just as you do when you compare how an outfit sits on your body vs the model in the catalogue shot. Sure, you can mimic their ideal environment by ensuring they receive ample indirect light by placing them near windows, and increase the humidity with a humidifier. But they will still grow differently because the conditions of your home still will not match that of a nursery. And that’s ok! . As much as I joke, I wouldn’t want to live in a nursery myself. And so instead you need to embrace the awesome way your plants adapt to your home. They’ll drop some leaves and grow new ones better suited to the humidity. They’ll lean (a lot!!) and splay their leaves towards light sources. They’ll get brown tips. They’ll grow around structures, up walls, around book shelves. They’ll send out aerial roots to reach for things to hold on to. . Personally, I think it’s so endearing watching a plant take to a spot over time, growing into their home and making it their own space. They may not be as green, or tall, or luscious as they were when they first came home with you, but don’t confuse imperfections with flaws. Plants bring the wildness of the outdoors in, and you don’t get to pick & choose the nice parts. You’re not god. You can’t control every element for optimal appearance. You’re a plant parent, doing your best to raise a plant and make it as happy as possible.

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Seasonal gardening

Finally, to complete your graduation to plant genius, be sure to always garden according to the calendar – i.e. with an eye to the change in season. Why? Because most of your fronds’ water, light and nutrition needs will change according to the change in climatic conditions, so it’s important that you tweak your gardening routine to match.

Plant Life Balance publishes a gardening guide with each change in season, so to get your garden whipped into shape for winter, check out our 2020 winter gardening guide with Charlie Albone here, and our guide to veggie gardening for the cooler months here. Lastly, as Australia is such a diverse continent and the seasonal changes will mean different things for each state, be sure to bookmark this handy guide on growing in different regions around the country.

Got a question? Have a chat with a seasoned green-thumb. Get in touch with your local Plant Life Balance accredited nursery to get all the plants, tools and personalised advice you need to maintain an expert-level home jungle.

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