"New Year spruce-up"

Spruce up the garden for a new lease of life.
Sunday, 07 January 2018     

Artemisia Powis Castle (left) and Plectranthus argentatus can be trimmed now

I always enjoy the beginning of a new year. The whole year lies before us, pristine. Who knows what lies in store for us in the coming year: what new people and plants will we meet, what new things will we learn; what will happen and what events will fill our new diaries? Just the sight and smell of a brand new diary book make me feel excited - just one reason why I cannot embrace an electronic version!

One of my New Year's resolutions for 2018 is to be more experimental in my garden: to try out different techniques and take note of the results. A particular area of interest to me at the moment is pruning back at this time of year and what the effect of this will be. Maybe it is just my garden, but I find it becomes a bit shabby and tired at the start of January. This year, I have garden friends visiting me in mid-February and again in early March, and I would like the garden to look its best at these times. I have often done a bit of cutting back in early January to tidy things up but it has always been rather haphazard. This year I plan to be more systematic and observe the outcome of my work: specifically, how long plants take to start reflowering after their cut-back.

A particular focus is my collection of Salvia plants, as one visiting group is comprised of salviaphiles. I want my summer-flowering specimens to be as floriferous as possible in February, so I am trimming them back now and hoping for the best. I have never really thought about how much plant growth goes on throughout summer, but just one look at the rampageous Wisteria vine on our fence is enough to show me that growth continues all through summer: I cut back the long canes of the vine every couple of weeks. My pruning of the Salvia plants will not be severe as it is in late winter, but more a trim (in case it all goes horribly wrong). If the weather ever cools down, I will give them some liquid fertiliser as well - I don't feel it is advisable to apply this during our current heatwave conditions.

Other plants targeted for trimming are summer-blooming plants from the Acanthaceae family (including Justicia and Brillantaisia), which are looking a bit scruffy right now, along with the many patches of frothy seaside daisy (Erigeron karvinskianus) that adorn my stone steps and walls. These seem to flower all year but they look a bit tatty at the moment so will be cut back, as will my straggly Gaura plants. Semitropical foliage plants, such as Iresine, Plectranthus argentatus, Alternanthera and coleus, which play such an important role in the summer garden, will also be shaped, as they seem to expand exponentially through the summer. Other foliage plants that benefit from ongoing nipping back in summer are the Artemisia species and cultivars. Left to their own devices, I find they become gangly, with long bare stems. I simply tip-prune them regularly and they form nice rounded shapes.

Other tidying jobs include the ongoing deadheading of Dahlia and Canna: this will ensure they keep on blooming until May. These plants also benefit from fertilising on a cool day. The new-generation zonal Pelargonium cultivars such as 'Big Red' and 'Big Rose' will also benefit from regular deadheading, and continue to flower (all year round in some cases!). Pentas and Buddleja davidii shrubs will rebloom throughout summer and into autumn if you vigilantly deadhead their spent flowers. For plants where the flowering period is now over, deadheading will instantly tidy the garden: Agapanthus, for example, and Hydrangea bushes where the flowers are burnt or tatty. I leave well alone those Hydrangea cultivars where the blooms age beautifully, however. This includes a number of the white Hydrangea macrophylla cultivars and most of the double-flowered types.

Hedges and topiary shapes will benefit from pruning now, as will any other shrub that you like to keep to a vaguely geometric shape. The long wands of any exuberant climbing plant that are going berserk can also be reined in regularly at this time of year!

Keeping the water up is vital to help our gardens survive these horribly hot conditions. Watering is most effective if done in the early morning or late afternoon. A thick mulch applied to the surface of the soil will help retain moisture. Prompt removal of weeds not only makes the garden look neat but reduces the competition for moisture and nutrients.

Though I can see lots of changes I would like to make to the garden, now is not really the time to plant out new specimens or move plants around. Write down all your ideas and inspirations in a garden journal: when autumn comes round, you will be only too grateful to have a record of what your thoughts were. I will also be recording the results of my trimming-back experiments in my garden journal, for use in future years. Don't have a garden journal? Why not start one this year: it doesn't have to be fancy - any old exercise book will do. It makes fascinating reading to peruse the evolution of one's garden over the years!

 Reader Comments

1/9  Margaret - 2122 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Monday, 08 January 2018

Not good weather for gardening, with such high temperatures. I usually tidy plants, as they become untidy, at any time of the year - not a heavy prune, though. I have not done any pruning yet, thank goodness, as the overgrown plants are useful in protecting vulnerable plants. The dead-heading of dahlia and canna is never ending, plus now the Marguerite daisies and shasta daisies are needing attention. Garden work is never done! As you note, it is not a great idea to cut back in the middle of heatwave! I wrote the blog earlier in the week, not realising how horrific Sunday and Monday were going to be. The burned foliage can provide protection if future heatwaves come. My trimming, in any case, will be light! Deirdre

2/9  Peta - 2758 (Zone:9 - Cool Temperate) Monday, 08 January 2018

Happy New Year Deirdre. I"m one of the Salviaites hoping to visit in February. Our gardens are in different climate zones but it sounds like the maintenance is very similar. Yesterday"s heat was really destructive and I find no amount of watering works as rain does. Just when I think the garden looks spot on, it gets fried! Oh well, back to the dead heading. No good moaning I say to myself! Hope you got that nice downpour early this morning. So true that rain water is so much more beneficial than water from a hose! Let us hope we get lots more rain -- and soon. Hope to see you in February. Deirdre

3/9  Barbara - 6025 (Zone:10 - Mediteranean) Monday, 08 January 2018

What a timely article. I have let my garden turn into a jungle and I need to renew it. You inspire me with your blog, thank you Deidre and Happy Gardening in 2018. Thanks, Barbara; hope the trimming will restore order to your garden! Deirdre

4/9  Helen - 7256 (Zone:10 - Mediteranean) Monday, 08 January 2018

Thanks for the reminder Diedre. Good time for a trim as will help plants survive summer heat. I still have some spring flowering shrubs which are overdue for a cut back. I delayed pruning my winter flowering buddleia - love its beautiful foliage and didnt want to hack it as I had visitors at Christmas--but will get stuck in now. Hope your pruning all goes well. Deirdre

5/9  Christine - 2429 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Monday, 08 January 2018

Thankyou for your comments and enthusiasm Deidre. I too have a lot of salvias and have been giving them a trim but some of the taller ones seem to need a bit more off yet,,,when the weather cools a bit. Good old Jap buxus just keeps going and looking great in all weather. Pinkie rose still keeps blooming,as does clbg China Doll (I believe a parent of Pinkie) and Crepescule. Others are spot flowering and due for a summer trim and feed I think. Thankyou again...,good gardening in 2018..,,rain. Yes, I do think roses can benefit from a light trim now. I do not have any in my garden but it seems a usual practice, and gives me hope that trimming other salvias will give them a new lease of life. The very tall winter-flowering salvias can be pruned by half now; this will keep them a bit more compact when they bloom later in the year. I only plan to trim my other salvias lightly. Deirdre

6/9  Pam - 2159 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Monday, 08 January 2018

Sadly many tall shrubs have burnt leaves at the top after the heat yesterday. Even the flowers of one of my "Big Red" geraniums which was in full sun have all burnt. All the salvias and roses are surviving, but the flowers fade quickly. There will be lots of trimming when the weather cools down! I have found that the very hot days seem to halt the plants from producing flowers; probably a defence mechanism of some sort. Let us hope we do not have any more days like Sunday this summer! Deirdre

7/9  Betty - 3104 (Zone:10 - Mediteranean) Monday, 08 January 2018

I have a Wisteria with long canes which are running in straight lines down the side of the driveway!I cut the canes and made them into wreaths. I have a beautiful big one hanging on the front door with a bunch of dried Australian flowers on it, complete with Banksia and a tartan ribbon (for Christmas).The canes are very bendy and weave and dry well. A little granddaughter was pleased that she was able to make one too. The other wreaths will be decorated for the various Seasons. Happy New Year. Thanks, Betty. What a great idea to use the wisteria canes for a wreath! Sounds lovely. I am thinking they could be woven into other things too! Deirdre

8/9  Janet - 2322 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Tuesday, 09 January 2018

Happy New Year Deidre! I love Betty"s idea of using the Wisteria vines to make wreaths, I will give it a go next time I prune. I pruned my Salvias 2 weeks before Christmas and they have put on a fair bit of growth and are beginning to flower even in all this hot weather we are having. I walk the garden every morning with my cuppa and deadhead as I go it sets my mood for the day & gets my head in a good place, thank goodness for the garden! I love to walk around the garden with a cup of tea! Regular deadheading really does help keep things flowering well and in good shape, and it does not take too much time. Yes -- thank goodness for our gardens! I have missed mine during the horrible heatwave as it was just too hot to be outside for more than a minute! Deirdre

9/9  Gaynor - 5044 (Zone:10 - Mediteranean) Tuesday, 09 January 2018

Happy New Year Deidre, You have used the same school style notebook as I have and I thought that you had borrowed one of mine for your photograph. How that could be, I didn"t stop to consider during that first fleeting mini-second. Anyway, I do agree with you about gardening journals. They make great reading all year. In the past mine have been more about things I would like to do in the garden, since at that time I didn"t have my own (how I survived I am not sure). Funny about our matching notebooks! It is great reading over the old journals. I have kept a garden diary for more than 30 years. It is hilarious reading my early attempts at gardening! That is good that you were able to write down what you wanted to do in the garden during that time you didn"t have a garden. It is so nice to plan and dream. Deirdre

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