Noticed our “messy” gardens?

Some of the gardens at Forest Heart may look a bit “messy” or “wild” to you – but it’s deliberate on our behalf. And here’s why ….

Most plant litter has the potential to become nutrients and rich soil for your garden. We can all to often think this cover of leaves and dying plants is unsightly, but removal of this material takes natural fertility along with it. Year after year, we deplete this natural source of nutrients, until we need fertilizers or compost to get our lawns green and our garden growing robustly. So how does nature use up this plant litter and turn it into soil?  Invertebrates, such as earthworms, beetle larvae, millipedes, mites, slugs and snails, that live in the soil shred plant materials into smaller and smaller pieces, increasing the  surface area on which soil bacteria and fungi can work.  Next up is the   activity of Fungi that colonise and send out filamentous threads, called  hyphae, that operate much like plant roots. These hyphae release acids and enzymes necessary to break down dead plant material. This makes nutrients available to plants to sustain their own growth. You may have seen this whitish “mold” under leaves and thought poorly of it. It’s quite hard-working and adds a lot to your soil.

Coeranoscincus reticulatus, the Three-toed snake-toothed skink, loves mulch!
Image: Wetland Info – Department of Environment & Science

As this leaf and branch litter is consumed by the decomposer food web, water and inorganic nutrients (i.e. nitrogen and phosphorus) are released into the soil, where they can be taken up again by plants to foster new growth.

This valuable process of decomposition provides habitat for the worms and other invertebrates that are the food source for our Three Toed Snake Toothed Skinks.

The Three-toed snake-toothed skink is a large burrowing lizard with a head and body length of up to 23 cm and a thick, long tail. It has four very short legs, each with three clawed toes, and has long curved teeth. The body colour varies from fawn to dark brown, usually with a dark collar on the back of the neck and fine patterning on the belly. Because of its burrowing habits, it is seldom seen. These skinks enjoy messy mulched garden beds.