The Hidden Garden: Natives in your yard

Local native plants are hidden in many Sydney backyards. They may have been living there before your house was built...they may be unrecognised, hard to see, mown over, or even in the form of seeds - yet to sprout!

You can promote your natives with a few simple techniques. What you do is up to you: you can grow a few individual plants, one particular species, or perhaps dedicate an area within your yard to them.

We will help you get to know some of Sydney's hidden native plants, showing you how to find and nurture them.

By promoting your local native plants you may also help the local wildlife to survive.

Anyone can try this, in their own time and at no cost.

Find your natives!

The Hidden Garden: Find your Natives

When you find natives in your yard, they could be in many shapes and sizes.
They could be well maintained like this Christella Fern...

...or they could be mown over, and hidden in the lawn, like this Native Violet.

Nearly all natives can be uncovered and restored to good health.

See our Before and After Pictures, to find out what plants may look like when you first see them, and then, what they may look like once restored.

Places to look for natives include the untouched, neglected and messy areas of your yard.

Try looking:

Here weeds, as well as natives, may flourish.

You can also find many small natives hidden in your lawn, even if you mow it. This is a common place for native groundcovers, grasses and violets. They are so small, they can survive here.

Use our Spot the Native exercises, to see what they may look like hidden in your garden.

Now you will need to take a walk in your yard, and see what you can find.
  • You may like to print off a copy of our native plant pages (choose "print preview" then "only the selected frame" to print your pages). Take these sheets and walk around your yard, marking off the plants as you find them.
  • Alternatively, you may like to take cuttings or samples of plants you find and bring them back to the computer for identification.
If you have found a plant that is not on our website, you can look it up on PlantNET (, or on the Web Weed Lookup ( if you suspect it is a weed. You can also send us in a photo and tell us where you found it (your suburb and state) and we will place it on our noticeboard and see if anyone else knows what it is.

What Next?

(If you have not found any natives: don't despair.)

The Hidden Garden: What Next?

Once you have found the natives in your garden, what do you want to do with them?

1. Leave them alone and forget you saw them. (Do nothing).
2. Leave them alone and don't disturb or knowingly damage them. Do not harm or remove them. (Protect them).
3. Promote and encourage them?
4. Maybe you would like to grow more of them from either seeds or cuttings?

If you wish to promote them, you can do so in a variety of ways. You may like to select only one type of plant to promote, or a number of different plants. Alternatively, you may choose to dedicate an area of your yard to them. Do whatever works for you!

There a few simple steps to follow to make sure your native plants flourish. These include:

  • Not walking on, or damaging your plants.
  • Keeping away fertilisers, paints and other chemicals that are toxic to native plants (set the ground-works for a nurturing environment for the plants to grow).
  • Remove competing species (weed around the natives).
  • Maintaining them. Make sure they have the water, sunlight or shade (the conditions) they need to grow well.
When you find your natives, and are ready to promote them, use the correct weeding methods to help them grow and flourish.

The Hidden Garden: Weeding

Help your Hidden Garden to flourish, by using the following weeding techniques:

  • Weed from the native plants outwards, towards the competition, taking them away.
  • You may make a 5-10 cm weed free ring around them. This creates a buffer where nothing else can compete with the plant you are trying to grow. This will help it get enough water, sunlight and so on, all to itself. It may grow and spread if you want it to.
  • Minimise your disturbance of the soil. That is, try not to turn it, or dig it up too much, as this is what stimulates germination for a lot of seeds (weeds as well, and we don't want these).
  • Try to remove the weed without removing any soil. (The soil often contains important bacteria that can help other plants to grow. It may also contain precious native seeds. If soil is left on the weed, it may continue to grow when thrown aside).

  • Keep any weed seeds/ flowers/ nuts/ fruit away from natives. Place them in the bin or create a 'weed pile' on top of a tarp and cover it to prevent weeds from spreading in the area (this can later be removed).
  • Use the correct Weed Removal Techniques. Each type of weed has a specific Weed Removal Technique that should be used to remove it. If you choose the correct one, then you may be able to get rid of the weed for good! The individual weed pages in our selection of photographs tell you what methods to use for each weed.
  • Ensure you weed at a pace that enables you to maintain the regrowth. That is, don't bite off more than you can chew. Remember, it may be relatively quick to remove a tree, but once exposed, that soil may see hundreds of grass seeds sprout, and YOU have to weed them all (and that can be very time consuming) - so, only do what you can manage. Do a bit at a time.

    Note: Identifying plants can be very tricky. You must be certain of what the plant is before you remove or promote it! This is vital to all regeneration works in your garden, to ensure you are removing the weeds and not the natives that you desire. Practice identifying plants with our Spot the Native and our Spot the Weed exercises. Also see our page on Similar Plants.
As the weeds diminish and the natives grow and increase in number, it becomes more likely the that future regrowth will be native. You are tipping the balance in the natives favour. So, don't forget to weed!

Important considerations: Is the weed providing habitat, a home or food source for wildlife? If it is, then you should try to ensure there is a suitable alternative home available for them, before removing the weed. (Perhaps trees, or other bushes in the area, that you know they like to eat, or make their nests in.

Further Considerations
when weeding.

Find out more about Native Regeneration Gardening, and the Three Stages of Weeding.

The Hidden Garden: Further Considerations

If you are clearing a large area, try to scale your works. That is, remove a bit at a time, perhaps work in a 'mosaic' or chequerboard pattern, ensuring there are always some areas with vegetation, so the wildlife can use it, and move between the areas without being too exposed.

Try to take and leave a variety of different species where possible. For example: leave a few large trees in an area, so birds can still perch. Leave a few shrubs, for smaller birds to hide in, and shady areas for them to keep away from the heat. (Your ability to do this will of course depend on the nature of the weed problem you have. Usually though, work can be staggered, to always allow animals a home, while you are transforming your yard).

Staggering your removal of plants can also help to prevent erosion, loss of topsoil and the general degradation of your site.

Note: almost anything can be a home (or useful) to wildlife. Trees, boxes in the garden, messy twigs left aside...most things can provide something useful to wildlife (whether it is natural or unnatural, native or not). A messy garden may be a great home for wildlife. Examine how something may be being used before removing it from your yard. Eg. that pile of bricks may be protecting skinks, that spiky overgrown tree may be providing protection for small birds from cats, etc.

Find out more about Native Regeneration Gardening, and the Three Stages of Weeding.

The Hidden Garden: Three Stages of Weeding

There are three stages to weeding, and bringing back the natives:

These stages are mostly seen, and used in areas where you want to have 100% native plants. eg. bushand, or an area beside your house).
  1. The first is 'Primary' weeding. Here you remove the most obvious weeds from an area (eg trees, lantana and so forth).
  2. The second stage is know as 'Secondary' weeding. This is where a flush of seedlings sprout from the soil, or grow after clearing. Weeds are again removed.
  3. The third is known as 'Maintenance' weeding. By this stage, most of the weeds have been removed, and the natives are growing strongly. All that is needed is minimal and regular weeding.
Note: At the second stage it is essential that you can manage the flush of weeds. If you unleash weeds and cannot remove them before they spread, you may have a bigger problem than you started with... and if you unleash natives, but cannot nurture them, or remove competing weeds, you can use up, or exhaust the native seed stock, leading to less chance of regeneration next time.

Again, take it slowly. You will get to know which weeds grow faster than others, and which ones to expect and target in an area (hint: look around, and see what's growing nearby, this will give you an indication of what may pop up in the soil). Also, get to know the flowering and seeding times of weeds - this will give you an indication of when they will be more of a problem, and needing to be removed).

The second stage is usually repeated several times before the regrowth swings in favour of the natives.

The Hidden Garden: No Natives Found

If you haven't found anything at all: don't despair!

You may still have native seeds in your soil that are ready to sprout when nurtured.

There are many ways to regenerate these seeds. The simplest of all is to stop mowing an area, or to leave it undisturbed, and see what grows. The best areas to try are original pockets of land, that have not been overly disturbed.

As the new seedling may be a native OR a weed, it is important that you know WHAT it is, BEFORE you remove or promote it. Do not let it seed or spread just in case it is a weed. Get to know native and weed seedlings.

If you have tried to find and restore natives, but have had no luck, and you still want natives in your yard, then perhaps you could try Planting.

The Hidden Garden: Planting

You may wish to have more natives, and there aren't any more in your soil, or you may only have groundcovers, and you you want a few trees. Why not try planting what you want? Try a local native. These are best suited to your area's soil and climate. Local birds and animals will love them too!

Call your local council to find out what natives grow in your area. They may also have the name of a local Horticulturalist or Bushland Regenerator who grows plants from seeds collected in the area.

Photos and descriptions of plants can be found on the Sydney Royal Botanic Gardens website (in our links section).

Note: Before you plant, get to know your yard. What is the soil type? Is it sandy or clay, wet or dry? How much sunlight is there? Knowing things such as these, then buying the right plant to suit your yard, will go a long way in making sure you have a healthy and happy plant, and gardener too!