SUNNY, still autumn days are wonderful for gardening.
They're the perfect time to tackle heavy tasks that reduce you to meltdown in the heat of midsummer.
I recently cleaned out a mass of dead wood that had built up during 2020's dry summer in several big old evergreen escallonias.
They looked to be on the way out but sprang back to life during a recent wet spell.
The easiest way to clear out dead wood is to start with the small stuff that you can break off and then tackle thicker branches.
Dead wood is harder to cut than living and you'll need either ratchet secateurs with uber-sharp blades or in the worst-case scenario a battery chainsaw - my little Stihl GTA 26 does a terrific job.
Removing dead wood transformed the escallonias and inspired me to tackle a tree ceanothus (C. arboreus), several Indian hawthorns (Rhaphiolepis) and Osmanthus 'Pearly Gates', all now sprouting shiny new shoots.
May is the time to remove seed heads of flowers that will otherwise take over, like agapanthus, garlic chives and the Gladwin iris (I. foetidissima) that has beautiful scarlet autumn berries.
Left in place they'll become a weeding nightmare.
I pruned several Italian lavender cultivars (L. stochas) that had bloomed through autumn, as they too self-seed rampantly if left unchecked, much as I enjoy the late flowers.
Tobacco plants (Nicotiana sylvestris) can come out now for same reason, leaving a few seedlings in place for next summer.
Herbaceous peonies that have retreated underground for the winter need a heavy dose of manure during winter.
Peonies are incredibly greedy, but the manure that produces the luscious blooms can damage the tender emerging shoots, so do it now.
If carting manure gets too much for you, turn it into liquid fertiliser. Put a shovelful in a large bucket, cover with water and a lid to keep insects out and stir occasionally. It's ready when the smell has faded, usually after two to three weeks.
Drain off the liquid, throwing the soggy remains on the compost, and dilute it with water at a ratio of 1:10.
May is the last chance to plant spring bulbs.
Tulips are traditionally last, as they are dormant until temperatures drop below 12 degrees Celsius. They dislike heat so plant bulbs at least 20 centimetres deep.
This is a splendid time to buy bulbs as mail order nurseries occasionally offer lovely end of season specials and there are bargains to be had. Try Garden Express (www.gardenexpress.com.au), Van Diemen Quality Bulbs (www.vdqbulbs.com.au) or Vogelvry Bulbs & Flowers (www.vogelvry.com.au).
Hyacinths planted to flower indoors this winter need checking occasionally to ensure their potting mix is damp: they won't grow in bone dry soil.
Autumn is the best time to choose nursery-grown trees for autumn colour as what you see is what you get. Plants are individuals like us, with endless variations within a species.
Liquidambars are classics, some colouring brilliantly, some hardly at all. The Asian tree, L. formosana handles dry summers better than its damp-loving American cousin, L. styraciflua.
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