Heatwaves are excellent times to assess your garden. What can be improved, what should you maybe get rid of? How much time do you (honestly) spend moving hoses?
My main requirement in hot weather is shade. Much as I love flowers, I don’t have an overwhelming desire to see them when temperatures are over 30 degrees C. When I’m indoors I like to look out at a shady oasis, not a riot of colour.
So I’ve corralled my favourites into a corner that with the help of compost and lucerne hay I can keep going through January and February, and I concentrate on keeping shrubs and trees alive that are the garden’s backbone.
If we run short of water, well, a brown lawn matches the paddocks.
Still, gardeners are never happy just singing oh how beautiful and sitting in the shade and there are always a few things to catch up on in January.
French lavender (Lavandula dentata, 80-90 centimetres when in flower) can be pruned in January, after flowering has finished. I cut mind to around half its height but not into the bare wood as this would kill it.
If you’re feeling adventurous you can pop in a few tip cuttings, as this lavender is easy to propagate. Otherwise wait till autumn and take half ripe cuttings with a heel.
French lavender is not terribly hardy – several of my bushes lost alarmingly large chunks last winter, though, they mostly recovered. If your district has heavy frosts it would be worth trying L. dentata var. candicans and the hybrid L. x allardii. They are bigger bushes (1 to 1.5 metres) with similarly tall, narrow flower spikes.
I also cut back catmint (Nepeta) and perennial Moses-in-the-Bullrushes (Tradescantia virginiana) at this time of year as they flop outwards in the heat and look terrible. Kept moderately damp they should shoot again and flower by autumn.
French lavender is not terribly hardy – several of my bushes lost alarmingly large chunks last winter, though, they mostly recovered.
Last pruning job for January is the dreaded wisteria. Cut back long, whippy new growths (you’ll need steps or a ladder) on old, established vines to within five or six buds of their main stems.
These will form flowering shoots which (I hate writing this) will need shortening again in winter. If you love wisteria it’s worth it, especially if you can keep it out of trees and gutters.
Propagation can go on all summer, provided you have a shady corner near a tap. Semi-ripe cuttings, if possible with a heel, taken from growth made this season that’s becoming woody should root by April.
Don’t forget your garden is as much about birds and animals as about plants and they need access to water all the time. Have birdbaths at several levels and keep them topped up as they evaporate.
I was recently consumed with guilt when I discovered an echidna clambering awkwardly into a pond because I’d neglected to check its normal drinking place.
Heads Up: Heritage Fruit Trees, Beaufort, 3373 (www.heritagefruittrees.com.au/) offer Summer Pruning Workshops, 20th and 27th January, 3rd February, 9.30am-12.30pm, $70. Learn how to prune a range of fruit trees, including standards and espalier.
Get ahead: order spring flowering bulbs.