Your Spring Garden Guide

When it comes to horticulture, spring has already sprung in many Australian cities. So you can ignore the formal start of the season on September 1 and get stuck into your spring gardening now if you want the biggest, brightest, most fragrant blooms in your street.

Most Australians tend to associate spring with the three month period starting from September, says Dr Tim Entwisle, executive director of Sydney's Royal Botanic Gardens Trust. But it effectively starts a month earlier in cities with mild winters such as Sydney, Perth and Brisbane.

Dr Entwisle says many native plants start flowering in Sydney in late July, but September is the best month for other types of flowers, so there's still plenty of time to prepare your garden.

"In Sydney, if you go up into the mountains, you get a whole different climate and spring starts a month or two later than in the city," he says.

"In Melbourne, Hobart and Adelaide, wattles start in August but a lot of the spring flowering is best in September.

"Darwin doesn't really have spring: it really only has the dry and the wet.

"The start of spring varies greatly in a country as huge as Australia."

So how do you know if it is spring yet where you live? It's simple, he says: be observant and note when the first blooms appear.

"Don't get hung up on a season - you'll notice changes," he says.

"Get in tune with the seasons.

"Also, don't get select plants that struggle to grow in your area.

"Look around your neighbourhood and see what is going well.

"And no matter where you are, use lots of compost and a well mulched soil, which helps with the water restrictions that are in place across much of Australia."

Dr Entwisle says a visit to your city's botanic gardens can provide inspiration for gardeners seeking the best flowering plants for their climate.

"Wisteria perform well - sometimes too well in Sydney - and are vigorous climbers that need training and pruning.

"However, in the right spot, they're tough and rewarding, and provide a two week window of seasonal bliss with their joyous colour.

"Some of the most durable flowers we've planted at the Sydney gardens include pansies, primulas and snowflakes, and shrubs such as spiraea, rondeletia, brunfelsia, heliotrope and loropetalum.

"These would grow well in most southern parts of Australia and they're flowering now."

Dr Entwisle says roses aren't suited to central Sydney and prefer drier climates such as Perth, where native paper daisies flourish, providing a riot of spring colour.

"Roses and camellias don't require a lot of water - they're tough."

Boronias, wax flowers and wattles (acacia) are out in force in August across Australia, particularly in Melbourne and Hobart, he says.

"Someone once said there is a wattle in flower somewhere in Australia at any time and that's probably true.

"Some people have a problem with hay fever but I particularly enjoy the smell of wattle - it brings back childhood memories.

"Also, sweet pittosporum can be weedy but it smells fantastic."

Beware with the latter species: sweet pittosporum, which is sometimes called mock orange, is considered a weed outside its native New South Wales.

Dr Entwisle says bulbs such as jonquils and tulips are coming up in Australia's southern cities.

Tulips require more care than other flowering plants but are well worth it, he says.

"Here at the gardens, we keep tulip bulbs in the crisper of the fridge for between four-to-six weeks after they arrive to us from Tasmania.

"This both initiates flowering in the bulbs and improves size and quality of blooms.

"After planting the tulips, they're relatively easy to care for with few pest problems and low water requirements if they're planted in rich, improved soil."

Gardeners who want to attract birds to their garden would probably already know that grevillea does a fine job, but Dr Entwisle warns the genus could sometimes attract "pest birds".

"Indian mynas are a pest bird around Sydney that like grevillias but can take over from fairy wrens and robins.

"Banksias can provide a good habitat for birds, providing a tangled bush where they can hide from predators."
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