I recently visited a stunning garden entirely populated by Australian plants. The thing that struck me most was the difference that regular pruning had made to the display. Whether it was a hedge or a feature flowering specimen the results were absolutely spectacular. So how do you get to the spectacular specimens seen here?
Okay, step 1 is to prune a little and often when the plants are young if at all possible. By this I mean tip pruning for at least the first two years after planting. Simply pinch out the growing tips of the plant, particularly during the warmer months of the year when the plant is actively growing. The use of a nitrogenous liquid fertiliser at the same time will help stimulate a vigorous vegetative framework. I prefer liquid from my worm farm, urea or some form of nitrate (I prefer calcium nitrate but it is not always readily available to the home gardener).
After a couple of years most woody plants are starting to flower and a light trim after flowering is generally all that is required to keep the plants compact and floriferous for next flowering season. Some plants such as certain callistemons and grevilleas are capable of repeat flowering through the warmer months and some judicious pruning will enhance the display even further.
Hard pruning seems to be the thing most gardeners tend to practice with Australian plants. Possibly this is because there has traditionally been a view that Australian plants should be left to their own devices in the garden. When the plants start to look straggly after a few years the male of the species appears with a chain saw to save the day. Many Australian plants will respond to this sort of savage treatment with bountiful new growth but it is far from the ideal way to get them looking their best from year to year.
It’s time we reached some sort of gardening maturity and simply treated our Australian plants with the same sort of technique and care as we do with exotic trees and shrubs. Let’s put away the chainsaw and sharpen those secateurs instead!