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!!

Reader Comments

  • By Gillian 2119 Monday, 28 August 2017

    Thank you Deirdre for sharing this information with fellow gardeners. I always struggle with this aspect of gardening but your blog inspires me to be "ruthless" in my approach to pruning knowing my garden will flourish as a result of it. Like you, every day I walk out and inspect for any new growth and will rejoice when this happens in the spring. Still work in progress for me as well and of course an excuse to visit a nursery to purchase some new plants to replace those gaping holes !!! Yes it does seem necessary to be ruthless sometimes but everything will fill in again and it is a good chance to go to the nursery for some new plants! Deirdre

  • By Sheryl 2251 Monday, 28 August 2017

    Hello Deidre , Thank you for your wonderful blogs , look forward to reading them . Could you tell me if you have a Smoke Bush growing and the best time to prune . I have had one for several years and always been one of my favourite plants but I had some help in the garden earlier in the year , thinking March and it was pruned back to about a third. It doesn"t seem to be recovering any thoughts ? Thanks , Sheryl. I haven"t grown that plant but it was probably OK to prune in March -- just give it some more time; not many of the deciduous plants have started to leaf out yet. Deirdre

  • By Lloyd 4060 Monday, 28 August 2017

    Have already got stuck into my sasanqua and camelia. Need to thicken them up for screening from the renovations next door, including a swimming pool. Took advice from some online camelia sites and reduced them to "hatstands" (the late Colin Campbell among them). Waiting for signs that they will spring lushly to life in the early Brisbane spring. Can anyone offer me any assurances....please!! Or is the recovery not as quick as was reported. I am sure they will recover -- as spring progresses. Make sure they have sufficient water and a bit of fertiliser to help them along! Deirdre

  • By Helen 7256 Monday, 28 August 2017

    Have pruned camellias with great success in zone 9b. Proved very reslient. Have always found pruning very theraputic for both plant & gardener.Have just finished pruning all my hydrangeas ( a big task)---tho this year I cheated and allowed my better half access to my giant ones with a chainsaw. In the past they were always too tall and thick for me to reach the centre of the bush. Thanks for your reassurance re the camellias, Helen! The hydrangeas should benefit from that hard pruning. I take at least one old, woody stem from mine at the base each year. Deirdre

  • By Helen 7256 Monday, 28 August 2017

    Sorry not chainsaw---hedge trimmer

  • By Beth 2257 Monday, 28 August 2017

    Deidre, I love your mini glass houses! Could you please give me some hints on the markers you are using to label each cutting? I find my ink fades so I cannot read the label which is frustrating. Also, where do people buy their plastic labels? Thanks, Love your informative blog. Thanks, Beth. I use various markers, including one designed for garden labels that I get from the newsagent. But recently I heard that a 6B pencil is very good for labels. I just buy my labels from a hardware shop but I have heard of people using old venetian blinds cut up into strips for labels -- they might be available at recycling type places? Deirdre

  • By Lloyd 4060 Tuesday, 29 August 2017

    Thanks for that Helen. Resilience - and not too long about it!! - is just what I am looking for! :-) For labels I am about to try cutting up icecream container lids and using a permanent marker for my various bins and bags of soil/compost/humus/leaf mould. Tried using cards inserted in clip lock bags but they went mouldy. The cut-up ice cream container lids sound a good source of labels. Hope all goes well for your plants. Deirdre

  • By Beth 2257 Tuesday, 29 August 2017

    Thanks, Deidre, for the venetian blind tip. I"ll keep a look out for some recycled ones. I have been using a big bag of plastic knives which I purchased for $2. Pity they are bright blue! Guess that means they will not be lost easily. The plastic knives are a good idea! Sometimes I see old venetian blinds when the council clean up is on. Deirdre

  • By margaret 2122 Wednesday, 30 August 2017

    Thank you for sharing and inspiring! My garden is looking sad, at the moment, and many plants need cutting back. Have made a start, with the pruning of two crepe myrtles, but still lots to do. I am lucky that our local council offers a free chipping service,bagging the chipped material, which I use for "paths" in the garden. So great that your council does that chipping for you. Hope you will soon be able to finish your pruning. Deirdre

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