Summer is challenging

Summer is challenging for gardens


Life & Style
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Garden guru Fiona Ogilvie gives tips on how to get through February heatwaves.

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True blue, bearded iris ‘Admiralty House’ is available by mail order from Rainbow Ridge Nursery, $20 plus postage, www.rainbowridgenursery.com.au/  The 2018 catalogue is online now.

True blue, bearded iris ‘Admiralty House’ is available by mail order from Rainbow Ridge Nursery, $20 plus postage, www.rainbowridgenursery.com.au/ The 2018 catalogue is online now.

There’s nothing like a late afternoon storm to lift the February gardener’s flagging spirits. And indeed those of the long suffering garden.

A storm cools the air, refreshes flagging flowers and drooping foliage and brings a haunting aroma of rain on dry grass. 

Best of all it allows a break from heaving hoses. Few things are more welcome, and while it seems odd to suggest watering the garden immediately a storm has passed, it’s actually perfect timing as slightly dampened ground absorbs moisture more readily.

February is a challenging month for gardeners. It’s our hottest time of year and gardens are often reeling from a combination of January’s heatwaves and their owners’ absence at the beach. 

February is a challenging month for gardeners. It’s our hottest time of year and gardens are often reeling from January’s heatwaves.

Keeping ground damp is high priority. There’s no need to stress about the lawn as it normally miraculously reignites itself in autumn, but beds need to be heavily mulched.

Pots are a major worry too. I keep large ones (anything over 40 centimetres high and across) covered with either hay or gravel (absolute minimum five centimetres thick) and I’ve found that Sweet Bay (Laurus nobilis), olives (Olea europaea) and Acca (formerly Feijoa) sellowiana will survive for at least a week. 

Evergreen magnolia cultivars including Little Gem and Teddy Bear also seem happy with this treatment.

It’s the smaller pots that cause me the most angst, in particular the cuttings I’ve been nurturing since November.

Cuttings are, in part at least, an insurance policy against summer losses so they are ultra valuable. At present mine are stuffed together in my four-shelf polythene propagating cupboard.

I give them a thorough drenching immediately before departure, zip the front flap tightly shut and hope for the best. So far so good.

Some pots are too big for the cupboard and here the ubiquitous polythene bag comes into play.

All pots are better on the ground than on a hard surface as they draw up moisture from below, in the dense shade of shrubs or trees.

February is the ideal month to divide and replant bearded irises. Some growers like to do this in November but this has never worked for me and my newly-planted rhizomes have always struggled with our dry summers.

Divided in early February, rhizomes should build up a good system of feeding roots by autumn and flower next November. 

An iris rhizome (in effect a large, fleshy root) only flowers once, in early summer, and then quietly creates new rhizomes that are ready to detach from the parent plant now.

If you’re bothered by irises that obstinately refuse to flower, it pays to try them out in a different part of the garden.

They need plenty of sun and good drainage.

I’ve had plants that sulked for years only to soar into flower when I relocated them, though I honestly have no idea why.

Heads Up: Perennial Hill, Mittagong is open 10am to 4pm, Saturday and Sunday, 3/4 February. $8, seniors $7, children free. 1 Nero Street, Mittagong, 2575, www.myopengarden.com.au/

Do it now: Prune Buddleia davidii as flowering finishes, to avoid woody, leggy plants. Nanho Blue is a lovely small cultivar (1-1.2 metres).

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