December is looming and as usual I’m racing to catch up in the garden. This year has been great for roses, they handle drought as well as any other flowering shrub and indeed better than many, but modern bush roses need pruning several times over summer to keep blooming.
This is an easy job for a quiet evening. Cut stems well below the dead heads, say by around 30 centimetres – pretend you’re picking flowers for the house. Start now and your roses should produce another couple of flushes before autumn. If like me you’re a propagation tragic, cuttings of the just-flowered shoot, that include a small section of older wood from which the shoot arose, often root readily at this time of year.
If the whole thought of regular rose pruning fills you with horror, many old-fashioned and species roses flower only once and therefore need pruning only once, after flowering, or indeed left to expand and take over your garden. For rose-tinted inspiration, visit the gorgeous Heritage Rose Garden at Saumarez Homestead, Armidale.
Spring flowering shrubs like Mock Orange (Philadelphus coronarius), Beauty Bush (Kolkwitzia amabilis) and lilacs (Syringa) can be cut back now as their flowers fade. The first two are easy, simply remove the oldest flowering shoots, the ones with the densest network of branches, from near the base of the plant.
Lilacs can be left for four or five years after planting but after that you may remove the spent flower heads at the first leaves below the cluster. As shrubs age you’ll need to remove a few of the oldest branches each year or the plants become enormous and bloom miles above your head.
Branches of evergreen Californian Lilac (Ceanothus) and native Mint Bush (Prostanthera) can be cut back by about one third when they have finished flowering, to prevent them from becoming leggy and brittle. The tips make great cuttings but it’s my sad experience that if I start slotting in cuttings when I’m pruning, neither job gets done properly. Better stick to one thing at a time – do the cuttings tomorrow.
What you don’t do in a garden can be as important as what you do. Don’t plant anything between now and March, it’s virtually impossible to keep anything alive during a hot dry summer unless you stand over it with a watering can 24/7. New acquisitions are better off in pots in the shade though they’ll still need regular watering. If you look round the garden carefully at this time of year you often find seedlings of trees and shrubs. To be sure of recognising them if you want to lift and replant in autumn or winter, label them now.