Hints and Tips

I have questions about my kit and growing seeds.

We've answered a heap of commonly asked questions in our FAQ section. If you can't find the answer to your question here, you can submit a question for our garden experts to answer.

When to Fertilise your plants

Plants take up nutrients mainly in the warmer months of the year. Except for the Tropics and Sub-tropics, gardeners would only want to fertilise in Spring, Summer and Autumn. There are many different types of fertilisers:

  • Granular fertilisers vary in their application time from 1 month to every 3 months.
  • Controlled release fertilisers have application rates that vary from 3, 6, to even every 12 months.
  • Soluble/liquid fertilisers need to be applied every fortnight.
  • Organic fertilisers: because soil microorganisms need time, warmth and moisture to release nutrients, you need to allow 3 months between each application.

Succession planting for everlasting crops

This type of planting means a new crop is planted immediately after the previous one is harvested. The best time for succession planting are the warmer months because most summer crops are finished halfway through the season. Vegetables finished early enough for a successional crop include French beans, many salads, early potatoes and carrots, onions and garlic, radishes and beets. Get these planted as soon as you have pulled the previous crop out and weeded the area. Have seedlings of what you want, ready to go to give your plot a jump start. What you can grow does depend on your district with warmer areas having a longer season that those in cooler districts.

Companion planting for bug prevention and better plant growth

Companion planting is the process of planting different varieties together in a garden bed that complement or enhance eachother, be it by improving the flavour of other crops or for warding off pests and diseases. There are some compelling reasons to companion plant:

  1. Improve Soil Health - Some plants add nitrogen to the soil to boost other plants
  2. Fight Pests - Some plants naturally repel pests of other plants
  3. Improve health - Some plants increase the harvest, taste and health of plants
It's really all about diversity rather than a monoculture. The more flowers you plant amongst your herbs and vegetables, the better the pest prevention and plant growth. This is because you are either masking the unwanted crop with other plants or because you attract beneficial insects that will snack on those pesky pests. As a start, dill, coriander, fennel, queen anne's lace, tansy and sunflowers provide nectar and pollen for ladybugs, lacewings, and other general predators that will help clean up soft-bodied insects. Planting Marigolds and Calendula amongst your carrots is reputed to improve their flavour. Companion plants can also be used to provide shelter from the sun in the height of Summer. Try planting corn inteerspersed with climbing beans or grow celery, lettuce, or Swiss chard between tall staked tomatoes. To find out what companion plants to plant with each of your seedling varieties, check out the individual plant info pages for details. Mr Fothergill's has a range of companion plant seeds, check them out here.

Protecting your plants from pests etc (rabbits, birds, fruit fly, codling moth)

For larger pests like rabiits, possums, wallabies, the only effective solution is to enclose the vegetable garden with wire mesh fencing available from hardware stores. To protect trees from birds or flying foxes, only use suitable wildlife friendly netting. Wildlife friendly netting should have a mesh size of less than 5 mm. Larger holes can entrap birds and choke them. Netting over trees needs some sort of framework. Another way is to use 4 stakes placed around the tree on top of which you can put pots to prevent the stakes from piercing the netting. Wildlife Rescue recommend a densely woven net that will not trap wildlife and doesn’t need a frame, such as the Fruit Saver nets, Hail Guard or Vege Net. Nets that have holes of 2mm woven mesh excludes fruit fly and codling moth as well as birds, bats and possums. You could even try making one yourself with Tulle from a fabric store. If netting is not possible, try bagging your fruit with "fruit protection bags" available online and from some garden centres.

How to transplant a seedling

When the seedlings has grown its second set of leaves (true leaves) and is at least 5cm tall, then it is ready to transplant. If you grew your seedling in a Jiffy pot, you can simply plant the pot and all into the new planting position. Watch our transplant video to see how easy it is! If you used traditional pots - Moisten the soil mix that it's in first, then carefully tip over into your hand and place in a prepared planting hole. Sometimes if the roots have grown strongly, you may need to gently squeese the sides of the punnet or cell, to loosen the roots from the edges. Never just tug the seedlings because your risk severing the top from its roots. Never plant your seedling deeper than it was in the punnet. There is one exception, and that is with tomato seedlings which benefit being planted deeper than what they were in the seedling punnet or tray.

Attracting Bees and Butterflies

Plant flowers that are filled with pollen and nectar throughout the year to attract these lovelies to your garden. Butterflies especially like flowers that provide landing pads such as Butterfly Bush or Davidii spp. Try these old fashioned flowers like Alyssum, Aster, Bee Balm, ( Monarda ) Borage, Calendula, Cosmos, Dayliliesm Delphinium, Dianthus, Hollyhocks, Marigold, Nasturtiums, Sage, Shasta Daisy, Verbenea, Zinnia. Bees prefer plants in the cool blues through to white and ultraviolet spectrum. Plant Asters, Basil, Bee Balm, Bergamot, Borage, Cosmos, Sunflowers, Lavender, Marjoram, Mint, Poppy, Rosemary, Sage, Thyme, Verbena, Wallfowers, and Zinnias. They also like fruit trees and shrubs such as blackcurrant and gooseberry, available from Mr Fothergill's Summer produce. To avoid accidentally killing off the adult and juvenile stages of bees and butterflies, avoid using non-organic herbicides and pesticides in your garden. Mr Fothergill's has a range of bee and butterfly seed mixes as well as bee and insect houses. View the range here.

DIY Bug spray

Note: Homemade sprays are non-selective and will also kill off any beneficial bugs and insects such as ladybirds, hoverflies and lacewings. Here's a recipe for Garlic and Chilli spray:

  1. Chop up or blend 8-10 chillies with 4 cloves garlic.
  2. Add 1 Tablespoon dishwashing detergent to 1 Litre boiling water.
  3. Mix all the ingredients together and pour into a glass jar and set aside for 24 hours. Strain and pour into a spray bottle. Must be used within 2 weeks.

How to make a compost heap

A good compost has a balance between carbon-rich materials and nitrogen-rich materials. Contact your local council for one of their black compost bins which is often available either free or at a reduced price for rate payers. Or you can just make a pile of veggie scraps, dead leaves, and grass clippings in the far corner of your garden. To avoid birds foraging in it cover your pile with shade cloth, but most people like to contain their compost in a neat-looking compost bin.
To make your compost heat up so that it breaks down fast, turn it weekly or at least fortnightly, otherwise it's considered a cold compost and won't kill weed seeds.

What can I throw in my compost heap?

Carbon-rich: shredded newspaper, torn up paper bags, magazines but limit the amount of glossy or coloured paper; hay, sawdust, straw and weeds that have not set seed. Nitrogen-rich: grass clippings, leaves and fine twigs that have been chopped, vegetable and fruit peelings, leftover food, coffee grounds, tea bags, and crushed eggshells. Use the ratio 2 parts carbon to 1 part Nitrogen for the right balance. If your compost starts to smell, add more carbon material; if it’s too dry add more nitrogen-rich material. Give your compost a weekly sprinkle of water to help it along. Things to note: No meat or dairy products and limit the amount of bread. No cat litter or dog poo. No plastic, glass or metal. If you have compost worms, they don’t like citrus and onions. Avoid diseased plant tissue; put that in the council’s green waste bin.

Fun gardening activities

We have compiled a list of fun activities you can do at home or school. Check them out here.

Why planting herbs in a veggie patch is a good idea.

Herbs are incredible and unsung heroes of the garden. When it comes to a thriving vegetable garden herbs a the very lifeblood of the garden. Herbs perform in the kitchen adding seasoning and garnish to many of our meals. They're found in everyday beauty products and their natural health benefits provide an alternative to modern medicines. As if all of those things weren't enough, many herbs produce flowers that are completely irresistible to pollinating insects such as honey bees and butterflies. For the majority of plants they're 100% necessary, so it's important to make pollinators at home in the garden and encourage them to stay. Every garden needs its super heroes, complete your garden with a few herbs to enjoy a safe and healthy garden!

Other easy to grow seed varieties

Here is a list of other easy to grow plants: Carrots – Why not try carrot tape which makes sowing easy! Beans Pumpkins Snow Peas Capsicum Watermelon Strawberry Corn

Products that make planting simple

If you're interested in creating an instant garden, Mr Fothergill's has the perfect product for you. Seed mats and tape are biodegradable paper pre sown with seeds so there is no need to space seeds. Simply roll out the mat or tape, cover with a thin layer of soil, then water in. You can check out our range of seed mats and tapes here.

Seed Growing Kits make the perfect gift

Plants continue to grow into something your loved ones will cherish for months to come. Mr Fothergill's have a variety of growing gifts for different ages and skill levels. What starts off as a kind gesture, will grow into tasty herbs, vegetables, or beautiful flowers. View the range here.

When to harvest your crops

We have listed approximate times for harvest within each seeds profile. Here is some more general information: Basically you have to know when a particular plant's fruit is ripe or when the fruit of the plant has reached mature size. For some, it's easy to tell when the fruit turns from green to red, as in tomatoes, or when beans reach a mature size of around 10 -15 cm. Here are some examples:

  • Garlic and onions are ready when the tops turn brown and wither or fall over.
  • Pumpkins and watermelons are ready when the part of either fruit that touches the ground turns yellow, and they sound hollow when tapped. For pumpkins the vine would have started dying off.
  • Broccoli is ready when the head is firm and tight, usually anywhere between 10 and 20 cm in size.
  • Carrots are ready when the shoulders of the emerging carrot reaches a minimum of 1.25 cm (½ inch ). Will vary depending on the variety and much less for baby carrots.
  • Spinach or loose leaf lettuce can be harvested one leaf at a time. Just cut the outer leaves with scissors once the plant has reached a mature size (at least 10 cms tall). These types of plants are called “cut and come again.”

Glossary of common gardening terms

  • Germination: when a seed starts to grow when placed in soil or seed-raising medium.
  • Propagation: producing a new plant from a parent plant by cutting off a piece or dividing the plant.
  • Annual: a plant that grows, flowers, sets seed then dies in one year or less.
  • Perennial: a plant that grows, flowers, sets seed, and repeats that cycle for a number of years.
  • Jiffy: company that makes Jiffy products.
  • Jiffy Pot: planting pot made from renewable Sphagnum peat that biodegrades when in contact with water.
  • Jiffy soil pellet: netting filled with compressed Sphagnum peat, that swells to seven times its size when immersed in water.
  • Seedling: a young plant that has grown from a seed.
  • Seed: a potential plant enclosed in a protective outer layer.
  • Pinching out: a type of pruning mostly on young plants, when you remove the growing tip with the tips of your fingers to encourage branching.
  • Transplant/re-pot: Moving a seedling or plant to a new location, either to a bigger pot, or a spot in the garden.
  • Thinning: removing some seedlings or plants to make room for others to grow.
  • Hardening off: acclimatising seedlings or plants to adapt to an outdoor sunnier spot for a few hours at a time per day over the period of a week.
  • Companion planting: different plants when planted together benefit each other’s growth in some way.
  • Succession planting: planting crops in the same space again after harvesting. Can also mean planting at regular intervals through the growing season so you have a continual harvest.
  • Trellis/staking: providing support to a plant while it grows with a stake or trellis. Often plants need to be tied to their support, for example, tomatoes.
  • Herb: a plant that is used for its culinary, medicinal or aromatic attributes.
  • Vegetable: edible plant that’s used as food.
  • Bolting: “when plants grow quickly, stop flowering and set seeds.” Usually caused by warm or hot weather and affects crops like lettuce, coriander and spinach, but may happen with your flowers too.
  • Mr Fothergill's: Mr Fothergill’s Seeds & Bulbs offer Australian gardeners the most comprehensive seed range on the market today, as well as an interesting and exciting range of both Spring and Summer flowering bulbs, a growing range of garden accessories and selected gift lines. Mr Fothergill's supplied the pots, seeds and soil for the My Little Seed Garden promotion.

Preparing a garden bed for planting

  1. Take out any existing plants and weeds: you can either do this by hand or you can use a herbicide. The herbicide method will mean you’ll have to wait a few weeks for the weeds or grass to die.
  2. Dig the soil: It’s essential your soil bed is rich with a crumbly texture, because that promotes strong root growth and the young plants or seeds you introduce simply take off. Compacted soil will make it difficult for small seedlings to establish as their fine root hairs won’t be able to push through the soil.
  3. These days gardeners no longer turn over the soil, but simply loosen the soil with a spade and break up any hard clods.
  4. Improve the soil: No matter what soil type, if it’s been sitting with nothing much growing in it, it will need a good dose of organic matter. Adding rich organic matter like compost, manure and fertiliser will add texture and nutrition to your garden's soil.
  5. You can start by adding a layer 3 - 4 cm deep of cow and compost, or similar and leave for a least a few weeks. You can dig this in or just leave as a mulch and let the worm’s do the job for you.
  6. Planting: you’re now ready to plant your chosen seedlings/shrubs/perennials. Water the garden bed first then away you go.
  7. Mulching: it is a good idea to use mulch over the soil to prevent the soil from drying out. This also adds more organic matter to the soil as it breaks down. Mucles can be made of bark, woord chip, leaves, straw or sugarcane.

Weeds and why they are bad

The definition of a weed is any plant that is not wanted where it’s growing. Most gardeners though recognise those pesky annual weeds like Bindii, wintergrass, chickweed, asthma-weed, and tradescantia (wandering jew.)
Weeds take the nutrients and water from the soil that your wanted plants need. They can also compete for soil space, smother smaller plants and block the sunlight that your wanted plants need to grow.
Weeds also provide food and shelter for insect pests such as aphids, leaf miners and leaf hoppers. These pests then seek out your good plants when their numbers increase and they are looking for extra food. Some of these pests can be vectors for plant viruses which are impossible to eradicate.
So, pull out those weeds and remember that maxim, “one year’s seed is seven years’ weed.” So make sure to pull out weeds before they flower. Do not place weeds in your compost (unless it is very hot to kill the seeds) as you will just end up reintroducing the weeds to your garden.

Supermarket plants you can re-grow

Vegetable and herb scraps can be used to re-grow plants. All you need to do is place the plant part in some water and leave for a week or two on a sunny spot in the house. Here are some ideas:

  • Lettuce: place the end of any lettuce in about 1 cm of water and place on a sunny windowsill. Keep the water level topped up and you should see new shoots within a week. When new leaves start to grow you can transfer and plant into a pot or your vegetable garden.
  • Carrots: place the cut-off carrot tops in a shallow tray of water.
  • Shallots: When trimming shallots, leave 2½ cm plus roots. Place the ends in 2 ½ cm of water in a small glass.
  • Leeks: the same as shallots.
  • Celery: re-grow celery by cutting off the base at about 5 cm and either plant straight into the ground or in a bowl of warm water. New leaves will start to shoot from the middle of the base in about a week.
  • Coriander: place a few stems in a glass of water. Roots will appear in 4-5 days. When the roots have thickened and grown longer, transfer to where you want your herb to grow.
  • Lemon Balm and Basil: Both can be re-grown by putting a 5-7 cm stem cutting into a glass of water. Stem cuttings include leaves and are cut just below a leaf node. When the roots are grown, plant them into pots first then into the garden.

Using plants for fundraising

As plants start from somehting so small and cheap and grow into very valuable plants, they are a great way to fundraise. Lot's of people love to buy already grown plants rather than growing from seed so if you do the work for them you can then sell them for a healthy profit! Simply pot up some seeds and grow them into seedlings or advanced plants then sell them at fetes and stalls. A $4 packet of seeds has the potential to grow tens or hundreds of plants. If you want to look at healthy ways to fundraise, why not check out Living Fundraisers who supply a range of beautiful healthy products you can use to raise money for your school or community group.

Plants as gifts

Plants make a beautiful and unique gift. What starts off as a kind gesture, will grow into tasty herbs, vegetables, or beautiful flowers to last long after the occasion. Mr Fothergill's has a large range of beautifully packaged kits that make perfect gifts that will continue to grow into something your loved ones will cherish for months to come. View the range here.