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Gazette Article

Late summer into autumn in the garden

As I write this, Queensland and parts of Victoria and NSW are cop ing with extraordinary floods. We are lucky to escape such drama but we still need to cope with the results of a winter and spring that have produced more rain than normal. This has resulted in some exuberant growth that needs to be subdued. Pruning has become the order of the day. When cutting a plant back, we need to consider its growth and flowering pattern so that we can choose the right time to attack it.

The best time for most spring flowering trees and shrubs like Prunus (Peach, Plum, Cherry) is immediately after flowering. If you prune in winter you will cut off most, if not all, of these shrubs and trees potential flower buds.

Rondeletia is improved by cutting back to leave 10cm to 20cm of the new flowering wood.

Hydrangeas can be pruned down to a pair of buds in June and they will still flower but they will respond well too if it is done now so that the plant's shape can be improved. Then feed them with blood and bone and potash in August to encourage and enhance flowering.

Sasanqua camellias have already formed their flower buds in February. If they have become too exuberant and you feel obliged to restrain them you will reduce, perhaps lose most of their display. Hold off for three months if you can.

The only azaleas likely to need restraint are the old robust Azalea indica varieties like 'Alba Magna' and 'Splendens'. They can be pruned now but no later than March so you don't lose their flowers.

Australian native plants are best pruned immediately after flowering and then only cut them lightly behind the flowering stalks.

Another matter for consideration in the next couple of months is the planting of spring bulbs. I banned most bulbs from my garden several years ago, all except the more amenable Spanish bluebells and some giant freesias that have colonised a difficult area. The problem for small gardens is that bulbs have to be left in the ground until the foliage dies down. Tolerating the wilting, dying foliage is difficult in a small shady suburban garden that has limited sunny spots. The bulbs need to be fed too to ensure next year's flowers. However I've really missed the old hardy 'Erlicheer' and 'Soleil d'Or' jonquils and the 'King Alfred' daffodils. This year I plan to grow them in pots that I can move around, half a dozen or more bulbs to each pot/tub depending on its size. If you want to grow hyacinths and tulips buy them early so that you can give them four to six weeks in the fridge crisper before planting them out by the end of April.

By the time of our next Gazette you will be considering whether you want to plant some annuals for spring/summer colour. I'm in the process of rescuing dozens of last year's primula self-sown seedling to replant after the hot weather is over. I'm hoping they will be white like their parents but there are no guarantees.

by Mollie Shelley

Courtesy of Gazette February 2011
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