This information sheet is designed to assist gardeners with the basics in creating a rainforest garden. For additional information, or if you have any queries, please don’t hesitate to ask us.
The first thing to consider when planning your rainforest garden is where it is to be located on your property, how much space you have and what you want to achieve out of the planting. Do you want to recreate a rainforest environment with its canopy layers or do you want screening plants or a windbreak? Do you want local indigenous species or would you prefer a mix of species that occur throughout Australia ? Do you want to attract wildlife or are you after some bush tucker? Do you want to grow a cabinet timber plot? A rainforest garden can be any or all of these things.
It is best to make a plan and allow for structures such as paths, seating, ponds etc. Things to take into consideration when planning your garden are your soil type, drainage, light levels, protection from strong winds and competition from existing plants. All these factors will determine which species of plants will grow best in your garden. Remember to allow spaces for shade loving understorey plants once your new garden can provide them with shade and protection. Paths are really important in a good garden so people can wander through and experience your garden from every angle. Materials such as sawdust make a soft organic path through your garden. Another consideration if you are tackling a large project is to break it down into manageable planting stages. Here at GO GREEN we offer free garden planning and advice and would love to help you in planning your rainforest garden.
Once you have decided upon your site it is recommended to mark out the new garden area and spray the existing lawn/grass with weedkiller. Once this is done mulch can be laid after 7 days. Rainforest gardens prefer deep fertile well drained soils but will do well in other soils with a little bit of soil improvement. Contrary to popular belief most rainforest plants do not need lots of water to survive and prefer well drained soils. Ideally rainforest gardens do best on slightly sloping ground close to natural drainage lines so they get some moisture but not inundation. Heavy clay soils can be improved with the addition of gypsum, imported top soil and organic matter. Light sandy soils will benefit with the addition of organic material. There is no need to rotary hoe the soil unless it is heavily compacted. Regardless of your soil type the most important component to assist your soil and plants is mulch.
Mulch is essential in any good garden planting but even more so in establishing a rainforest garden. It improves plant growth by keeping plant roots cool, reduces evaporation of soil moisture, reduces weed growth as well as supplying some nutrients when it breaks down. The best mulch we can recommend from our years of experience is sugar cane mulch. It is cheap, easy to lay, weed free and most of all when it breaks down adds nutrients to the soil. The mulch should be laid to a thickness of between 10 and 15cm. For small gardens the application of wet newspaper under the mulch can also assist in limiting weed growth. Mulch should not be spread directly around the tree trunk as this can cause collar rot and plant death. After several years only minimal mulching will be required as your rainforest planting will create its own micro climate where weeds are shaded out and nutrients are gained through the breakdown of leaf matter.
Plant selection is one of the most important considerations when creating a successful rainforest garden. Rainforests always contain a large number of species, and we encourage you to mix up your species so you have a great diversity in plant heights, foliage, flowers and fruits. A good rainforest has several layers starting from the canopy, lower canopy, understorey and ground covers. Some plants such as understorey ferns and shrubs will not be able to be planted out straight away so spaces should be left in your plan to allow for them to be placed a couple of years down the track when conditions are suitable for them to grow. Here at GO GREEN we can help you design your garden and assist you in choosing a selection of trees that best suit your garden conditions and what you want to achieveoutof it. Just ask us for this free service.
Another misconception is that native plants, including rainforest trees don’t need fertilizer. All native plants need fertilizer. Some Australian plant species can’t tolerate too much phosphorus so you do need to be careful with species such as grevillea, banksia and acacia. Ideal fertilizers are Agriform tree tablets, poultry manure pellets or granular slow release fertilizers such as Osmocote for natives. Depending on the fertilizer you use you may need to fertilise your plantings several times before the natural leaf litter cycle commences. This is best done in Spring. Application rates vary so check the information provided with your fertiliser before applying. All these fertilizers work best when placed just below the surface of the soil adjacent to the new planting but not in direct contact with the trunk or root ball. Always water in your fertilizer when applied.
Once your site has been prepared you are ready to plant out. A general guide is to dig a hole twice as wide and as deep as the pot size you are putting into the ground. Backfill with soil, apply fertiliser and water in thoroughly. If your soil is poor you can help your new plant along by incorporating some good quality garden soil into the hole. Depending on the size of the plant and its stability you may need to stake your plant. Hardwood stakes or bamboo canes are suitable depending on the size of your plant. Old stockings make a soft and stable method of tying the tree on. As a general rule if you are trying to create a lush thick rainforest space plants approximately 2 to 3 metres apart. Start with species that can be grown in full sun and as shade and protection develops incorporate other species into your garden. If you have a large area to plant out break it down into manageable stages.
As long as rainforest plants are adequately mulched they do not require any more water than other native plants (with the exception of some NQ species on particularly hot dry days). We suggest only establishing watering then allow natural rainfall to take over. We recommend you water in your plant the first 3 days after you have planted it. For the next week water your new plant every second day. If there is decent rainfall then miss a day. After this establishing watering don’t water your plants again unless you have a prolonged period of no rainfall. They will toughen up, seek out roots to search for moisture, and in the process create a stronger root system that can withstand strong winds and seasonally dry conditions better.
Now all you need to do is sit back, relax and watch your rainforest garden grow. At first you wont recognise much happen but once the plants establish themselves many of the species will grow rapidly. In no time at all you will have shady cool places in your garden developing and the local wildlife will move in and thank you with their beauty and sounds. Build it and they will come. Establishing a rainforest garden for your family and the surrounding wildlife will be one of the most rewarding things you will do. Good luck and remember if you ever need advice don’t hesitate to ask the staff at GO GREEN !