The days are now hotter and the colourful season has passed; flowers have turned into seeds, shrivelled up, fallen off their stems or faded in colour to off whites, greys and browns.
It is time to get the secateurs out, start pruning to get ready for the next colourful season.
So, where do you start?
Pruning native plants at this time of year often gets missed. This could be due to busy seasonal festivities, not knowing what and where to prune, or simply that it’s too hot in the garden.
To achieve plants that are full of colour, have great shape and are a haven for insects and small birds, pruning after flowering is critical. Pruning not only removes spent flowers, it provides an opportunity to reclaim the plants’ natural form and provide mulch for the upcoming season.
In general there are two pruning periods. One after the plant’s flowering season and the next is approximately 12 weeks before the plant’s main flowering season. The pruning after flowering is the most important, as you optimise growth energy to retain the plant’s shape. If you prune too late past this growth season, you will be pruning into the plant’s flowering energy. The outcome is a plant that will be limited or late in flowering next season.
Having a diverse selection of plants and their colours in your garden allows seasonal beauty and supports food and habitats for local insects, lizards and birds. It is possible for a native garden to have 12 months of flowering colour. However, as the bulk of these species flower between August and October, pruning between November and January is the best time. This allows the plant to recover if additional heavy pruning is required and gives it time to flower in the next colourful season. Pruning during these warmer months is also great as it introduces dawn or twilight pruning practises, enabling you to join the birds in their morning or evening chorus.
If you are not sure how to prune plants in your native garden, start with these three simple principles:
Identify the form so you know how to shape the plant
Many plants have a ‘form’ – be it a dome, vase, oval, round or sculptural look. If you don’t know the shape, search online for a few photos to see what the plant looks like in its natural form. You may notice none of them grow in squares!
Trim the plant to its natural shape
Now you know the shape of the plant, trim the plant like you would if you were to give (or get) a haircut. Grab a handful of foliage and cut it into the single length. For a plant 50cm high, I would cut 10 – 20cm off. This will leave some harder wood exposed (see next section on dealing with the hard wood). Now grab a handful of the foliage again, including a piece of the foliage you have cut, and cut them at the same length. Step back from the plant every few cuts so you can keep an eye on the shape. It takes a bit of practise to get your eye in on this method of pruning, but keep practising as once you get the hang of it you will see good results.
Trimming the harder wood
Take a step back and have a look at your work. The plant will now have a combination of soft wood prunings and hard wood. With the form in mind, the next step is to prune to remove the harder wood. This is done for a couple of reasons. The first reason is that the end of hard wood is where a lot of growth energy will appear. If this is not shaped, it will unbalance the plant’s form, which you don’t want. The next reason is that it’s best to bring the growth back into the centre of the plant and provide new growth here. When trimming the plant into the centre, find the next branch where the growth is and trim in at this location. Don’t trim too far in where a ‘crater’ in middle of the plant can be formed, so first visualise what it would look like if you removed the branch (but remember…pruning is like a haircut…it all grows back in the end).
With your prunings, chop them up into approximately 30cm sizes and scatter them over the ground as mulch. Laying the sticks, twigs and leaf litter allows the lizards and creepy crawlies to have protection as they go from one garden bed to the other. They also shade the soil and any new plants that have been installed.
Native gardening is a great way to connect to our local environment. Prune, observe, touch and connect – this will enable you to connect to the plants and what they need from you.
About the Author – Sue Dempster
Sue is passionate on sharing the connection that people can have with nature in their backyard. She and husband Graeme launched Boxed Green to create an urban wildflower corridor across the Perth metro area by creating eco-gardens. Boxed Green runs workshops and garden visits for home gardeners with practical information on gardening with West Australian Plants and how to create an eco-friendly garden. For more information visit boxedgreen.com.au.