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Gardening with James Hilyard: How to bring out the best in your lawn and garden this summer

James Hilyard is Ipswich City Council’s Infrastructure and Environment Department, City Maintenance manager.

James is a horticulturalist, arborist and holds a master’s degree in sustainability.

In this month’s column, James shares his tips on what to do in the yard to have it looking its best in December.

With some rain finally arriving and the backyard cricket season in full swing it’s time to get your lawn up to Gabba standards and your garden in order for Christmas day.

Here are some tips to give your garden a boost and make your neighbours green with envy.

Tips for a healthy lawn

  • Firstly time to fertilise. A light application of a complete lawn fertiliser is due for grassed areas and we want to get everything growing and active. I prefer light applications and depending on your soil type every 3 or 4 weeks will keep the grass pumping along. If you don’t like mowing back off a bit, but if you want perfect grass you need to be committed.
  • Use a selective herbicide on your lawn to remove broadleaf weeds and bindi. Be very careful with products like ‘Weed and Feed’ as it is not suitable for Buffalo lawns like Sir Walter. You can use a different product for Buffalo lawns that does not contain Dicamba. At this time of year I like to add an iron product to the lawn. It will give the grass a deep rich green colour. We use it on our sports fields about a week before a televised game. It greens up the grass without promoting rapid growth. Just look for iron based ‘greening’ products at your nursery or hardware store.
  • If you water for a short time and often, your lawn will not need to put down a deep root system and will only have access to water in the first few centimetres of soil, leaving it prone to wilting. Deep watering with gaps between events will allow the grass roots to go deep looking for moisture, this will allow them to draw on moisture deep within the soil profile thus being able to withstand dry periods for longer and be healthier.
  • Start mowing more frequently, once or twice a week is required to start pushing your grass stolons sideways and growing into bare patches where the weeds once were.

Tips for a healthy garden

  • Fertilise your gardens with a fertiliser with trace elements. The best ones tend to be the controlled release fertilizers that are little balls wrapped in a semi permeable membrane. These are easy to find in garden retail outlets and have many brand names. Look at the contents on the pack as sometimes the cheaper brands are just as good as the big names. Add organics like blood and bone and chook manure but make sure you supplement with a product with trace elements too. Think of your garden like an old car. Adding organics and nitrogen are like putting petrol in it and driving off at high speed. Potassium and Phosphorous as well as trace elements are your oil and water. They need to be checked and topped up every now and again or you will have trouble down the road.
  • Avoid overhead watering on plants like roses, vegetables and fruit trees. Plants like these are particularly sensitive to rusts and mildews and in this humid weather splashing water around the leaves and flowers increases the risk of disease.
  • Hand pull weeds while the soil is wet and they come out easily. Spray herbicide if you prefer however be safe and keep to a minimum. Mulch, mulch and mulch again I am taking all the litter and straw out of my chook shed and spreading it around the plants. Composting straw laced with chook droppings is a Christmas present to your plants.
  • It’s not too late to plant vegetables and herbs, get your seedlings in while growing conditions are at their best and take advantage of the rain to get things established quickly.
  • Cut back any plants that have finished flowering and compost all of your pruned clippings with your kitchen scraps including egg shells. Egg shells are a great source of calcium and vital for healthy plants especially tomatoes.

Remember with the humidity and heat to drink plenty of water, wear a hat and long sleeve shirt as well as sunscreen and sunglasses. 

Plan your work so your digging, lifting and mowing are done in the cooler periods and the middle of the day is reserved for cool drinks in a hammock listening to the cricket. 

Merry Christmas from the city’s gardeners.

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