What is an indigenous plant?
Indigenous plants are not only native to Australia, but they are plants that occur naturally in your local area. Your local council will be able provide you with information on plants that are indigenous to your area.
Why plant indigenous plants?
Since white settlement our indigenous plants have been removed or out competed by exotic plants.
Indigenous plants were and continue to be an important food source for our local fauna. They are unique because they are perfectly suited to the environment that they belong to. This means that they should survive on local rainfall patterns and in the local soil.
Indigenous plants also:
- Provide habitat, shelter and food for our wildlife
- Help preserve the local plants
- Save water and money
- Enhance wildlife corridors and provide links between fragmented and otherwise isolated areas
- Contribute to the distinctive local character of an area
How to use indigenous plants
You can use indigenous plants in the same way you use exotics or other natives. They can be used in formal or informal gardens, mass planted for greater impact and a modern look or mixed in with existing plants to add different colours and textures.
There is an indigenous species for most garden situations, with choices of groundcovers, shrubs, climbers, trees, wildflowers and grasses. There are even shrubs to make hedges and borders.
Indigenous plants can also make great pot specimens. Small shrubs can be planted with ground cover species to tumble over the edges.
What local plants do I choose?
Indigenous plants can come from a range of growing conditions within a local area. Therefore it is wise to match the natural requirements of a plant to the planting site within your garden. For example, some species are naturally found in wet soil conditions, so these plants are ideally suited to an area of the garden that is naturally moist.
Attempting to match the plant’s natural growing conditions to those in your garden will ensure better plant performance. Knowing what sort of soil moisture and drainage the plant likes in the wild also helps in placing your plant in the correct location in your garden.
Cross-pollination with exotic plants or varieties from different areas can cause changes in the genetic make-up of the wild populations, known as gene-pool pollution. This has the potential to change the way the plants interact with other species in the ecosystem and may unfavourably alter the habitat requirements for the animals and insects that live in the area. In Victoria, this problem has occurred in plant genera such as Acacia, Coprosma, Correa, Grevillea, Nicotiana and Pittosporum.
It is important that the plants you choose have been grown from seed or propagating material collected in the local area, known as the provenance of a plant. A Common Correa (Correa reflexa) growing in one area can be genetically quite different from one growing 20 kilometres away. The regional differences between plants within a species can be as obvious as in these pictures.
Correa reflexa from Heathmont in Melbourne’s Eastern Suburbs
Correa reflexa from Yanaki near Wilson’s Promontory
Both pictures © Rodger Elliot
Caring for Indigenous Plants
The beauty of local indigenous plants is that they need little maintenance! They can be established in the same way as other plants, but from then on they require little in the way of water, fertilisers or pesticides. Here are some tips on helping them along.
- Soak the potted plant in water for 30 minutes before planting.
- Dig a hole at least twice as wide and slightly deeper than the pot.
- Gently tap out the plant and place carefully in the hole.
- Carefully fill the hole and firm down so that a saucer shaped depression results.
- Water the plant well.
If planting in the ground, loosen the soil to the same depth as the pot and twice as wide. This allows the root system to spread without much difficulty. Place the plant in the created hole making sure that the top of the soil from the pot sits level with the top of the soil in the ground. Back fill the hole and firm the soil down around the plant.
Indigenous plants have evolved on the local un-amended soils. Theoretically, no soil improvement should be necessary if the correct plants have been chosen. You could give your new plant an easier time of it however if you improved the soil. For example if there is heavy clay, the addition of a little gypsum will help to break it down. The addition of some well composted organic material – like a simple (no added nutrients) potting mix will break the soil up and increase the porosity.
Keep an eye on your plants in their first year. They may need a good soaking once a week during dry weather. Mulch around the plant to a depth of about 7.5cm, but ensure you leave a clear space around the stem to prevent bark disease. Top up your mulch every few years as it composts down.
Indigenous plants respond well to pruning as this mimics the grazing of native animals such as kangaroos. Pruning after flowering encourages new growth and further flowering.
Enjoy the beauty of our unique indigenous plants and the wildlife that is attracted to them!!
Fertilising is generally not needed for Australian natives but you can be guided by the origin of the plant. Plants from arid conditions will not need fertilising as they have evolved in nutrient poor environments. However plants from the more moist, mountainous parts of Australia with deep loamy soils, may benefit from a light feed in spring. If you do decide to fertilise, use a low-phosphorous fertiliser that has been specifically prepared for use on natives. High phosphorous fertilisers may harm some natives, particularly those in the Proteaceae family such as grevilleas, banksias hakeas etc
They will appreciate a light trim after flowering to promote new growth, increased flowering and a fresh look. Regular pruning imitates the natural process of fauna eating the tips off trees and shrubs.
Staking is not necessary unless the plant is in real danger of toppling over. A plant should only be staked for 1 year, and it should be done lightly so the plant is still able to ‘feel’ some movement. This will help promote the root growth it needs to stabilise itself.
Caring for indigenous plants in pots
A little more care needs to be taken of plants in pots even if they are indigenous. In a pot, the plants have no way of sourcing their own water or nutrients. They are at your mercy. Therefore, in summer, they may need to be watered more often and twice a year in spring and summer they should be fertilised with a low phosphorous fertiliser. It should be remembered that potting mix is not what these plants have evolved in, so a very basic potting mix should be used. The plants may need to be repotted in the future too.
As indigenous species can have a shorter life span, regeneration of garden plants is part of maintenance. Some old plants may be pruned back hard to help them regenerate. Replace plants as they finish or if allowed to become old and straggly. Simply break up the old plants and leave them on top of the garden bed as mulch where they will gradually break down. This will replenish the soil with organic matter and nutrients, thereby benefiting the soil’s structure and health. There may also be a chance, given the right conditions that the plants self seed to produce the next generation.
Flora for fauna
Watching birds and animals play in the backyard adds a special dimension to the garden. Just by planting local species, you will attract the local fauna. You may also consider the following:
- Provide some water in the form of a pond or birdbath
- Plant thickly and prickly to provide nesting places and protection for birds
- Choose a variety of plants that will provide different food sources. For example, flowers for nectar feeding birds, and seed and fruit producing plants
- Leave logs and sticks on the ground to provide habitat for lizards and insects
If you are planting indigenous plants ask the staff at an SGA certified garden centre for some suggestions.
Information about indigenous plants from your area
Your local council will have information on plants that are indigenous to your area.
Some native plants have become weeds outside of their local area. Avoid using natives that are environmental weeds, for example Acacia longifolia (Sallow wattle), Acacia baileyana (Cootamundra wattle), Acacia decurrens (Early black wattle) and Pittosporum undulatum (Sweet pittosporum).