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How to prune and train Australian native plants

Angus Stewart

Angus Stewart

November 9, 2013

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?

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How to prune australian native plants3Okay, 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).

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How to prune australian native plantsAfter 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.

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How to prune australian native plants8Hard 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.

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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!

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David Lynch
David Lynch
9 years ago

Great article Angus, the art/science of pruning, there is a natural aversion to pruning, it appears destructive rather than constructive when growing a plant. The plant in new growth has vigour, pruning recreates that vigour in new growth grazing/pruning new growth= more growth. Prune often and prune hard the results will astound.

9 years ago

Heard a term the other day when a farmer was confronted by some bewildering legislation regarding plant choices that had to be implemented on his farm. I was not impressed either. It flew in the face of all commonsense and was clearly absurd.

The farmer was upset when he referred to the extraordinarily blinkered command that came from the “Nativist ideologues”.

Love your work Angus. I recognise the passion you bring to the appreciation of native species and doubtless you do some good, but …I still prefer the chainsaw.


9 years ago

Hi Angus: Have a stand of ‘moon glow’ grevilleas. Planted to screen off neighbour. About 1.5 metres. Aiming for height. Also bushy. Would welcome advice on how to achieve this. Also do they like like worm poo? If so what ratio. Have fed with native food. They appear to be doing well.

Jeff Howes
Jeff Howes
9 years ago

A great article and photos, Angus.
I agree that light pruning often is best.
It should be mentioned (in my opinion) that the best time to undertake severe pruning of native plants is when the ground is moist, this gives the plant the best chance for produce new shoots. Hard pruning is risky at the best of times and best avoided.
…………… and why do articles on native plants always result in some negative comments, never seems to happen when there is articles on any other plants?
Curious Jeff

Alison Aplin
7 years ago

Where has this obsession come from that plants need to be so spectacularly ‘manicured’? The photos in this article all show ‘perfect’ plants. As a strong sustainable advocate, such pruning is at odds with this concept.
I love and grow hundreds of natives, and from significant personal experience have found that pruning makes no difference to the flowering display – and if it did and flowering became biennial, is this a problem? Its just nature doing it’s natural thing.

Catherine Stewart
7 years ago
Reply to  Alison Aplin

If garden writers want to encourage more people to grow Australian plants then we have to stop telling people that they should treat those plants differently, as if they were some separate, sacrosanct group. There will always be gardeners who like to manage and control how their plants grow with regular pruning – should we then advise them against growing Australian native plants?

Beverley Harris
Beverley Harris
3 years ago

These “”controlled” natives do look nice in certain circumstances. Large gardens large natives but small gardens means that one can have natives and tailor them to fit in with the space available. It is always worth bringing the birds in no matter what size our native bushes are.

8 years ago

The flowers in the pictures were absolutely stunning and have given me inspiration in what to try and achieve. Thank you.