Prune, plant, propagate

Lockdown gives more time for gardening

Life & Style
Clusters of scented, white summer flowers of crepe myrtle (Lagerstroemia Natchez) are followed by spectacular autumn leaf colour.

Clusters of scented, white summer flowers of crepe myrtle (Lagerstroemia Natchez) are followed by spectacular autumn leaf colour.

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Fiona Ogilvie's garden tips this week.

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Winter is a wonderful season for gardening but my only problem with it is that every day is too short.

Never mind, you can get a lot done with willpower and a wheelbarrow and since lockdown has brought travel to a halt, there's more time for the garden.

To make life easier I divide my winter jobs into three Ps: pruning, planting and propagating. Whenever I'm outdoors I do a bit of each.

If I hurl myself at, for example, pruning in one mega session I'm liable to become exhausted and discouraged. But if I limit myself to one shrub and then switch to planting or propagating, I get far more done.

Today I've been giving my crepe myrtle Lagerstroemia 'Natchez' a trim. My three-year-old tree doesn't need much clipping but cutting a crepe myrtle back when it's young helps to retain a rounded, bushy crown.

I cut the main branches back about 30 centimetres, to encourage new growth and plenty of flowering shoots.

'Natchez' is a beautiful small tree, with white flowers from summer through to early autumn.

It's the only crepe myrtle with scented flowers and it also has lovely patchy bark typical of the genus, and orange and gold autumn leaf colour.

'Natchez' is a beautiful small tree, with white flowers from summer through to early autumn.

Left unpruned it eventually grows to around six metres.

Hydrangea species that bloom on new wood, including H. paniculata and H. arborescens can be pruned now to encourage more flowers.

But leave large flowering, mop head hydrangeas (H. macrophylla) until late August or early September in all but the warmest parts of the state.

Leave oak leaf hydrangeas (H. quercifolia) severely alone: they flower on old wood and should be pruned (if at all) in summer, the minute their flowers start to fade.

Cutting back deciduous shrubs in winter is the perfect opportunity for taking hardwood cuttings.

I love these cuttings as they're dead easy, you can take a dozen in no time and in eighteen months you'll have a dozen lovely new shrubs.

Take cuttings from the current season's growth, from brown rather than grey wood, approximately 20 centimetres length. Bury up to two-thirds of their length in a slit trench in the ground or group them in a pot, but either way, be sure to keep them damp. This is vital.

Leaves will form in spring but make sure roots have formed by tugging the cutting gently before potting it individually.

It's time now for checking any soft-wood cuttings taken during summer and early autumn and potting those that have rooted.

I'm also checking my tomato seedlings that I sowed recently (The Land, 7th May). They're happy in their punnets on a sunny windowsill right now but will soon need pots.

Poppy seedlings emerging from the ground now need regularly thinning.

Bare rooted trees, shrubs and roses come into nurseries during June and July. With the current corona-inspired craze for gardening, you need to get in early. Heel plants into a trench and keep damp while you prepare their permanent position.

Dahlia lovers can order tubers now from Jenny Parish Specialist Dahlia Nursery (see catalogue at www.countrydahlias.com.au/). In cold districts, store in sawdust until all danger of frost has passed.

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