Angus StewartTo prune (or not) your Australian plants

One of the unfortunate myths that have grown up around Australian plants is that somehow they should not be pruned on a regular basis, if at all. It is important to challenge this if your native plants are to achieve what you want them to in your garden. There should be no hard and fast rules when it comes to this subject because it depends very much on what you are trying to do with your plants. For instance, you may want a formal hedge or an informal screen or indeed just a nice compact free flowering specimen.

Westringia cloud pruning on the Mornington Peninsula, Victoria

Westringia cloud pruning on the Mornington Peninsula, Victoria

There are several types of pruning that will be of benefit to various Australian plants:

Tip pruning Syzygium

Tip pruning Syzygium

1. Tip pruning involves pinching out the soft tips at the ends of actively growing shoots. This is easily done between finger and thumb as you move around the garden and is particularly beneficial to newly planted specimens of virtually every plant in the garden with the exception of plants where a single ‘leader’ shoot is desirable such as a Bunya or Hoop Pine.

The more tip pruning you do the more branches you will have and for flowering plants, this means a more spectacular display later in life.

2. Annual maintenance pruning involves pruning a plant after it has flowered or fruited. Generally this is done straight after flowering or fruiting has finished which often occurs in spring or summer. Cut back shoots to just behind the spent flowers or fruits and it is usually advisable to feed and water the plant at the same time to encourage a new flush of vegetative growth.

Acmena Allyn Magic

Acmena Allyn Magic

Topiary casuarina. Design Fiona Boxall

Topiary casuarina. Design Fiona Boxall


3. Hedge and topiary pruning is used to create very formal shapes in the garden and requires shaping of the plant from an early age and also involves regular trimming to keep the desired shape once it has been achieved. Generally speaking a hedge or topiary will need to be trimmed at least every couple of months through spring and summer to achieve a high quality result. Small leaved species that are tough plants such as various cultivars of lilly pilly (Acmena and Syzygium) Westringia, Grevillea and Callistemon all make good choices.

Callistemon 'Perth Pink'

Callistemon ‘Perth Pink’

A eucalypt sprouts from the base after fire - a similar effect can be achieved with pruning

A eucalypt sprouts from the base after fire – a similar effect can be achieved with pruning

4. Renovation pruning is used to cut hard into an overgrown plant that would otherwise be pulled out. A wide range of Australian plants will respond to this rather harsh treatment in the same way they respond to major bushfires where the top of the plant is usually burnt to the stump. Species that have a lignotuber such as the waratah, many banksias and eucalypts will readily regrow from pruning the plant to the ground.

The bottom line is do not be afraid to prune your Australian native plants. Treating them in the same way you would your roses, gardenias and camellias will reward you with more compact and more floriferous plants in your garden.

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Angus Stewart

About Angus Stewart

Gardening Australia TV presenter, author of 'Creating an Australian Garden', 'Australian Plants for Year-round Colour' and 'Let's Propagate', garden travel guide, native plant specialist and breeder. Central Coast, NSW. Find out lots more about native plants at Gardening with Angus.

6 thoughts on “To prune (or not) your Australian plants

  1. Wow, Angus. Really opened my eyes to possibilities with your pics of pruned natives. That topiary casuarina is really something and if I could have the flourish of Perth pink grevillea growing low and lush like that, I would be a v v happy gardener. Thanks for the post.

  2. Angus,
    A very welcome reminder that native plants are just plants and need pruning if they are to be at the best.
    Keep up the good work of promoting a wider use of our native flora.

  3. I am trying to grow a dividing hedge of nsw christmas bush. Can I prune this best by tip pinching or harder pruning?

    • Hi,
      Re NSW Christmas Bush.
      Provided your plants are well watered they will take quite hard pruning into old wood. I have done this quite a few times with success. Try light pruning up to late August, any later than that you may prune off the developing flower buds.
      If you are going to undertake hard pruning do half the plant at a time and once new growth has commenced do the other half of the plant. Hope this helps?

  4. Hi Angus,
    Your singing my song!
    Australian plants have an undeserved reputation of sticks and prickles because they don’t receive the maintenance required to keep them looking great …especially in the formative years. I find people simply don’t know what to do with them and so avoid using them.
    Thanks for helping educate Angus!

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