The kindest cut

Sunday, 27 August 2017

Pruning tools

At this time of year, all my thoughts turn towards pruning my garden. It is in fact the busiest time of the gardening year for me, and somewhat daunting. Not everyone has this chore - it results from my choosing many years ago to grow mainly warm-climate shrubs and shrubby perennials that flower in summer and autumn, rather than having a spring display. Anyone with a spring focus should not be pruning now, as their garden will soon be in full and glorious bloom! My plot, however, is far from glorious at this time of year. Once my secateurs have been wielded, the garden looks like some sort of moonscape.

Part of my bare front garden this week

Most of my shrubs and shrubby perennials become lank and scruffy over winter. For some of them, Sydney's winters are not to their liking, and they languish at that time. However, once the warm weather sets in, they will flourish once more. Cutting all the straggly growth from these plants is actually a huge relief: like having a long overdue haircut! And I know that my plants will grow back thick and dense, and flower so much better than if left unpruned.

Tibouchina mutiflora is pruned hard now

The sorts of plants I grow include the many warm-climate Salvia that bloom from late spring through summer and often into autumn (I don't prune the winter-flowering ones just yet, leaving them till around the end of September, and I had already earlier pruned those that make fresh basal growth in winter, such as Salvia leucantha and 'Meigan's Magic'); all my forms of Plectranthus; Tibouchina cultivars; Buddleja (though these too can be done earlier in winter if desired); and most of my Acanthaceae specimens (again, apart from those few that are in bloom now, such as Eranthemum pulchellum, Justicia floribunda (syn. Justicia rizzinii), Justicia adhatoda and Justicia scheidweileri, which will be cut back after flowering). As well as giving them an all-over trim, this year I have also tried to remove a few very old, woody stems, where possible, to help the plants rejuvenate better.

Coleus will be pruned in September in my garden

Some very cold-sensitive plants I leave until early September, as they prefer the weather to be really starting to warm up before they are cut back (and this does help spread out the big job of pruning, too!). Such plants include coleus, Begonia, Iresine, heliotrope, Alternanthera, New Guinea Impatiens, Clerodendrum, Hibiscus and Pentas.

Evergreen plants grown for foliage can be trimmed to shape now, such as this Euonymus

Evergreen shrubs can be pruned now too: not spring-flowering ones, of course, but winter-flowering ones that have finished blooming (unless they produce ornamental berries that you wish to enjoy seeing, in which case wait till these are finished), and those grown mainly for their foliage, such as Euonymus and Duranta , if you wish to shape them. If you want to rejuvenate large, overgrown Camellia shrubs, this is the time to do it. A courageous friend has just tackled her camellias with a chainsaw! They will recover!

After pruning is completed, I will spread organic fertiliser pellets and cow manure around the garden. In previous years, I have then added a layer of sugar cane mulch to each garden bed, but this year I am going to use my own half-decomposed compost, in an attempt to be more self-sufficient! Although, as I have said, the garden looks as if there is basically nothing in it at this point, I just love watching it all fill in as the days go past. It is so exciting and almost magical to see all the new growth happening! Some plants I will tip-prune as they grow, to create a denser form, but most won't need any more pruning until deadheading is required.

Cuttings taken from prunings in the garden

As I am pruning, I do evaluate each plant to see whether perhaps it is getting just too old and woody, which is what does eventually happen to many of these sorts of warm-climate plants. If so, I have to be strong and yank them out, and replace them with a new specimen (or not, if I decide I don't like that plant any more!). I do take quite a few cuttings at this time of year, from the prunings, to replace ageing plants as well as to give to friends!

All our prunings get shredded and added to the compost heap, thus adding to the future nurturing of the garden. Roll on spring!!