Why are my tomatoes splitting?

Inconsistent watering. Tomatoes like even watering which can be hard when it is hot and dry then a cool change comes through with a huge down pour of rain. When tomatoes are grown in Melbournes hot 30+ days, the fruit will develope a tough thick skin to protect itself. After heavy rain or if you decide to give the plant a good drenching, the flesh inside will grow rapidly and swell causing the fruit to split. So the trick is to give your plant a good drenching everyday when it is fruiting. But remember not to wet the foliage as tomatoes suffer from Black spot, a fungal infection encouraged by humidity

How to keep a pond clean

If you are planning to build a pond in your backyard, take care where you put it. Don’t put it under trees or large shrubs unless you are going to cover it with a net, otherwise you will spend hours cleaning leaves out of the water.  If you don’t clean out the leaves regularly they will rot upsetting the balance in your pond.  Then your water will go green and algae will grow which takes a lot of effort to rectify.  Choose an open sunny spot which aquatic plants need to grow well or they will become leggy and won’t flower readily.  The plants and a few logs will provide shelter for fish.


Plants for summer sun and winter shade

A difficult place in the garden to plant out and have great success is on the southern side of a building. An area that is shady in winter and sunny in summer is quite open apart from the building which cast shade in winter but is hot and sunny in summer as the sun rises in the sky. This can be rectified by planting trees adjacent to this area so it is shady all year round, then you can plant the area out with shade loving plants.  Alternatively this area can be planted out with deciduous plants as they don’t need any sun in winter. However if these two options don’t suit there are a few plants that will do quite well with full winter shade and hot summer sun. Suitable plants are limited but some good ones are, Dianella revolta, Azaleas, Dietes, Nandina domestica ‘nana’, Yucca,  Agapanthus and Abelia.

Plant nutrients and their function

Plants speak to us through their leaves, look at their leaves carefully to see what they need. Use the diagrams below.

Major elements
Is for plant foliage, it is essential for the photosynthesis, the formation of amino acids, cell division and vital for plant growth.

Is for a plants root system but is also responsible for the quality of fruit and flowers. It increases plants hardiness, water absorption capabilities, growth of root system and is vital to seed formation.

Is for fruits and flowers but also increases resistance to pest and disease, increases plant hardiness, increases water efficiency and photosynthesis.

Minor elements
is needed for Continuous cell division and formation ,nitrogen metabolism, reducing plant respiration, helps deliver nutrients for fruit production and increases microbial activity.

Is needed for chlorophyll production and uptake of phosphorus and many plant enzymes and increases iron utilization in plants.

Is needed for chlorophyll formation, enzyme development, amino acids, seed production and the formation of nodules on legumes.

Micro elements
Is needed for germination, seed and cell wall formation, sugar translocation and it also assist in plant growth.

Is needed for photosynthesis, chlorophyll production, plant reproduction and other functional processes. It enhances flowers colour and fruit colour by increasing sugar levels.

Is needed as it increases Phosporus and calcium avaliablity to plants and chlorophyll synthesis.

Is needed for cell division, growth, and chlorophyll formation and the plants ability to carry oxygen.

Is needed to convert inorganic phosphate into organic phosphate and it helps to form the nitrogen fixing nodules on legumes such as peas.

Is needed for starch, seed and carbohydrate formation, chlorophyll production and it helps the plants growth and enzyme system.



Nutrient deficiencies in plants

For healthy plant growth a number of essential nutrients must be present in the soil. They need the major elements in large quantities such as Nitrogen, Potassium and Phosphorus and also minor or trace elements such as iron and Molybdenum.
Signs of nutrient deficiencies can be shown on the leaves. It’s sometimes harder to tell if there is more than one but this is a basic guide.

  • Older leaves with uniform yellowing often with reddish tints; premature maturity; growth retard; excessive leaf loss.


  • Stunted growth; blue-green or bronze timings on older leaves.


  • Leaf margins scorched; some spotting surrounded by pale zones on leaves.


  • Patchy yellowing on older leaves with dark green triangular pattern at base of leaf; excessive leaf loss.


  • Distorted stems; curling and mottling of older leaves.


  • Yellowish or light green areas between veins on both older and younger leaves.


  • Yellowing of younger leaves with veins remaining green; reduction in leaf size and early leaf fall. Iron becomes insoluble as the soil pH goes above 6.5 and less avaliable to plants.


  • Reduced leaf size; twisted foliage; creamy-white to yellowish blotches on young leaves.


  • Tip curling; blackening and early shedding of young leaves.


  • Yellowing leaf margins; dimpled apples; hollow stems in cauliflower; distorted leaves on beetroot; fruit drop on citrus.


  • Twisted and curling foliage; tips of young leaves wilt and die; leaves darken to a blue-green colour.


  • Yellowing on young leaves; reduction in size and failure to mature.
    Soil pH
    A soil with the pH of 7 is neutral, below 7 is a acid pH and above 7 is a alkaline pH. To raise the pH add lime and to lower the pH use horticultural sulphur.
    High amounts of other elements such as calcium, zinc, manganese, phosphorus, or copper in the soil can make iron unavailable to plants especialy Australian natives and plants in the Proteacea family. A shortage of potassium in the plant will also reduce iron availability.



Below is a Gardenia with a nitrogen deficiency caused when fresh mulch was used around the plant and the mulch used the nitrogen in the soil to beak down. This is known as nitrogen draw down. It is always good to apply blood and bone to the soil before mulching to avoid nitrogen deficiencies in plants.



When to prune plants

There are thousands of different plants that require different pruning methods but without going into each specific plant and their pruning requirements here is a few of the most common pruning techniques. As a general rule prune plants that start flowering in early Spring  in late Summer early Autumn and plants that flower In Summer and Autumn in early Spring or after the last frost. Deciduous fruit trees and roses can be pruned late Winter. Prune grasses back in early Spring just above ground level.  Avoid pruning plants in late Autumn as pruning encourages new growth which can be damaged by the cold over Winter. Most plants need spent flowers removed to encourage more flowers to grow. Some fruiting trees get fruit on current years wood and some get fruit on previous years wood so you need to know which wood your tree gets fruit on before pruning. There are exceptions to these rules so always get a professional horticulturalists advice when you are unsure.

How often and how much should I water my garden?

How often and how much should I water my garden? This would have to be the question most clients would ask during a private garden consultation. This is almost impossible to answer without being in the garden of the person who is asking however there are a few basic guidelines that can be used to work out on average how much and how often your plants and garden needs to be watered.

Your soils water holding capability will depend on your soil texture, loam soil is the best as water penetrates and holds well, then there is a sandy soil where the water runs away too quickly and clay soil that is very hard and water tends to run off and not penetrate. Sandy soil and clay soils need a lot of compost added to it then its water holding capability becomes much better.

Soil that is mulched with approximately 7mm of mulch will protect the soil from wind and water erosion and protect it from drying out in the hot sun. Mulching also conserves water as its not lost due to evaporation.

The amount of water your plants will need also depends on a few climate factors specific to each plant as they loose water through their foliage, this could be hot wind exposure, a plant that is in the sun all day, just the morning, the hot afternoon sun or no sun at all. Other factors to consider are competition from near by tree roots, good drainage or poor drainage.

The species of plants in your garden makes a big difference in how much water your garden needs for example some Australian native plants such as Grevilleas survive on rain that comes maybe once a month however an exotic such as a gardenia only survives when the humidity is high and its guaranteed to rain at least once a week.

Plants generally grow there roots close to the surface as this is where the water comes from when it rains, however if you water for longer the water will seep down deeper and this will encourage deeper root growth.The best way to check if your soil is wet enough is to push back the mulch near the drip line of your plant and stick your finger in the soil as deep as you can, pull your finger out and if dirt sticks to your finger and you need to wash your hand that’s good but if you can simply dust the dirt off it’s too dry.

As a guide providing your soil is a loam, mulched, drains well and gets about 6 hours of sun a day between 10 am and 4 pm and is a plant of average water needs such as a Camellia, temperatures are around 21c daily with no rain and winds of up to 15 knots, 10mm of water once a week would be fine. To delivery 10 mm it is the equivalent of 10 liters over 1 square meter. The hotter and windier it is the more you will need and the colder and wetter the less.

To water 10mm with a hose, you will first need to check your water pressure, for example if it takes 30 seconds to fill a 10 liter bucket, it will take 30 seconds to water a square meter of garden bed 10mm. So if you have a garden that is 2 meters wide and 20 meters long you will need to water this bed evenly for 20 minutes.

To water a square meter with a drip system that has drippers 30 centimeters apart, drips 2mm per hour, has four lines 30 cm apart in order to covers the root system of a shrub that is a square meter evenly it would take approximately 27 minutes to water 10mm. Alternativley if you only have one line the 30cm area will require 900 ml which the emiter will release in 27 minutes. To test the rate at which you emiters release water with the water pressure you have place one above a bucket for 1 hour and measure what it collects so you can work out your watering times more accurately.

There are many variables to watering a garden adequately therefore the best way to get it right is to get a professional to visit you and tailor a system to your gardens needs.

Autumn garden tips

Autumn’s here and it’s a great time to propagate Australian native plants. Most gardens in Melbourne would be hydraphobic and in need of an application of soil wetting agent after our hot summer to let in the the rain we will be getting soon. Being the start of a new season it’s also a great time to fertilise, dig in compost water and mulch garden beds, this will give winter dormant plants a good pick up before Winter comes.
Enjoy Autumn it’s the best time of the year to be planting.