Botanic Gardens Trust, Sydney, Australia

Growing native plants in Sydney

Soils and your garden

Knowing your soil type is an important step in helping you to select plants for your garden.

Plants which are suited to your soil type will perform better - they will be healthier, more disease resistant and produce more fruit and flowers.

The two major soil types in the Sydney Region are sandy soils (derived from Hawkesbury sandstone) and clay soils (derived from shales or volcanic rocks). Some soils may be a combination of the two.

Some plant species will only grow well on one of these two soil types, while others are adaptable and will grow on both.

Soil testing

There are a number of tests that can be done to determine soil type, pH (acidity/alkalinity), or the levels of nutrients in your soil. However soil testing is not usually necessary for the homegardener and can be quite expensive.

If your garden is not flourishing there are many possible causes, including problems with watering, drainage, aspect and suitability of the plants selected. Further information can be obtained from horticultural reference books or from experienced nursery staff.

Improving your soil

Sandy soils are fast draining with good aeration but are usually low in nutrients. They can be improved by adding well-rotted organic matter such as animal manure, compost or leaf litter. They require fertiliser more often than clay soils.

Clay soils are slow draining, have poor aeration and are usually higher in nutrients than sandy soils. They can be improved by adding gypsum and well-rotted organic matter. Correct cultivation techniques will also assist in improving soil structure. However, if the soil is too wet or too dry when cultivated or is always cultivated to the same depth, drainage problems may arise.

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Lilly Pilly

Australian Botanic Garden

Plant selection

  • Consider your soil type, and the amount of sun or shade the area receives.
  • Decide how much time you wish to spend on your garden as some plants need more attention than others.
  • Look at what is growing well in your local area.
  • Use good reliable species to provide the basic framework of your garden.
  • Consult horticultural journals, magazines and reference books.
  • Ask at your local nursery.
  • Contact your local branch of the Society for Growing Australian Plants (S.G.A.P.).

Sydney native plants for sandy soils

  • Acacia myrtifolia, Red-stemmed Wattle
  • Angophora costata, Sydney Red Gum
  • Banksia ericifolia, Heath-leaved Banksia
  • Boronia ledifolia, Sydney Boronia
  • Ceratopetalum gummiferum, Christmas Bush
  • Correa reflexa, Native Fuchsia
  • Doryanthes excelsa, Gymea Lily
  • Eriostemon australasius, a pink waxflower
  • Eucalyptus eximia, Yellow Bloodwood
  • Eucalyptus pilularis, Blackbutt
  • Eucalyptus saligna, Sydney Blue Gum
  • Grevillea sericea, a pink grevillea
  • Telopea speciosissima, Waratah

Sydney native plants for clay soils

  • Acacia decurrens, Black Wattle
  • Bursaria spinosa, Blackthorn
  • Callistemon citrinus, Crimson Bottlebrush
  • Casuarina glauca, Swamp Oak
  • Dianella longifolia, Blue Flax-lily
  • Eucalyptus moluccana, Grey Box
  • Eucalyptus paniculata, Grey Ironbark
  • Eucalyptus tereticornis, Forest Red Gum
  • Grevillea juniperina, a yellow grevillea
  • Hardenbergia violacea, False Sarsaparilla
  • Melaleuca thymifolia, a white melaleuca
  • Pimelea linifolia, a white riceflower
  • Themeda australis, Kangaroo Grass

The plants suggested above are usually available from nurseries and are fairly easy to grow. There are many other species native to the Sydney area which will do well in a home garden. Some nurseries specialise in native plants and can provide a wide range to choose from.

Further reading

  • Australian Plant Study Group. Grow What Where. Penguin Books Australia Ltd, Ringwood, Vic., 1990.
  • Benson, D. and Howell, J. Taken for Granted: The  bushland of Sydney and its suburbs. Kangaroo Press in association with the Royal Botanic Gardens Sydney, Kenthurst, NSW, 1990.
  • Burnett, J. and Leake, S. Making Your Garden Grow - A guide to garden soils and fertilisers. Lothian Publishing Co Pty Ltd, Port
    Melbourne, 1990.
  • CSIRO. Discovering Soils Booklet Series, CSIRO Division of Soils, Melbourne.
  • Fairley, A. and Moore, P. Native Plants of the Sydney District. Kangaroo Press in association with the Society for Growing Australian Plants NSW Ltd, Kenthurst, NSW, 1989.
  • Mount Annan Botanic Garden Native Plant Series, Simon & Schuster Australia, E. Roseville, NSW.