Monday, 13 March 2017

March To-Do List

It was pointed out to me from a near and dear that as we're almost half way through March this post is perhaps a bit misleading....... so I guess it should read 'March/April To-Do List'.

Most of us don't want to become a total slave to our gardens, however there are some vital jobs that need to be done this month. We can tidy up our Summer flowering shrubs and plan for winter and spring with some plantings to add bright colour and wonderful flowers.

Spring Bulbs for the Subtropics

Yes, I know it seems a bit premature to be thinking of spring bulbs.... yes it is too soon to plant them just yet, however nurseries and catalogues are bursting with tempting bulbs! 

It has to be remembered though, that a lot of bulbs here on the Coffs Coast have to be treated as annuals - these include Daffodils and Tulips [pictured above at Floriade in Canberra a few years ago]. Once you make the decision to have some of these wonderful flowers in your garden (or pots) and you have finished drooling over the catalogues and made your purchases, it is best practice to place them in a brown paper bag in your crisper section of your refrigerator in the lead up to planting. 

If, however you wish to have that lovely naturalistic effect of wonderful swathes or drifts of bulbs it is best to leave the Daffs, Tulips and Hyacinths in the nursery/specialist growers' catalogue and go for the South African species and cultivars which tend to do better in our climate - Arista, Dierama, Babiana or Freesia [photo left] (although care has to be taken with the latter two as they can get out of hand). You can see an article on growing bulbs on the Coffs Coast here. This article is just not confined to spring bulbs but others like day lilies as well.

Winter and Spring Colour

During rain events when it is too wet to garden, some thought could be put into deciding what we plan for that WOW factor in our gardens during winter and spring - remember also that the Spring Garden Competition is judged in early September see this article for information on the competition. Preparation, preparation, preparation is the key to any really good show of colour-popping plants. Ensure your soil is very well prepared by removing all weed growth and give your soil a treat with aged manure, compost and a little fertiliser. Some suggestions would be humble pansies and violas which are perfect for edging or low planting in drifts (they also make a stunning show in pots in a courtyard or sunny deck). 

A favourite of mine are primulas - could be due to their ease of growing! They work very well in some shade and bring some lightness and cheer to those areas, often self-seeding (but not rediculously so) they are a terrific inclusion to your garden and make a pleasant cut flower too.  

Sweet peas would have to be one of my all time favourite cut flowers, they will last from 3-7 days and are the ultimate 'cut and come again' flower (it's important to cut Sweet Peas regularly to encourage more blooms). There are plenty of colours to choose from, but a good mix of shades makes the prettiest posies. Cut the flowers just as the lowest bloom is opening. Never spray with water as this can disfigure the petals. 
If you wish to plant sweet peas prepare your soil as above and add some lime too. Yates have done extensive research into Sweet Peas - they deal in tonnes, not kilos of these seeds! The seeds that are recommended to plant in March are 'short day' seeds and are bred from the 'Yarrawa' stock which was released in 1911 in Australia. If you want to plant on the traditional planting day - St Patrick's Day (March 17), ensure that they are 'short day' seeds. Sweet Peas enjoy A LOT of sun to flower best, so a East-West fence or trellis is the way to go. I prefer to wait and plant next month as they seem to perform better here on the Coffs Coast.

If you are like many gardeners a splash of blue in your garden is just so restful - cornflowers (pictured right) really fulfil this bill. These plants make a wonderful drift of colour and with regular deadheading encouraging new growth and keeping them tidy. On the Coffs Coast the annual variety is best grown from seed and seems to do quite well in full sun. There are pink varieties as well which are quite lovely. Cornflowers have a rich nectar so are a beacon for bees.

Tidy Up

Geranium 'Apple Blossom'

March is an excellent time to cut back Geraniums or Pelargonium plants. They have worked hard all summer long producing blooms, however they will have become quite 'leggy' and will need some decent attention. They can be cut back by half, cutting back to just above a node or leaf joint. If you see any small side-shoots, appearing on the stems, cut just above this growth. Best to bin any shaggy growth as there may be fungal issues with Geraniums and Pelargoniums. Having said that though, if there are good healthy pieces these can be propagated by cuttings 10-30 cm long - more on this later.

Lavandula stoechas - Bella
Trim lavender bushes lightly to maintain their shape - DO NOT hard prune as this will be the death knell for them. If you've grown the 'winged' varieties eg Sedonie, Bee, Bella and Baby series, these plants have been bred in Australia and relish humid conditions here on the Coffs Coast. Guaranteed to flower throughout most of the year, they will have taken a well-earned break during the hotter months and will come into their own during autumn, winter and spring. If you haven't already done a little tidy up it is not too late to give them a little trim now.

Cut back kangaroo paws hard when they have finished flowering and remove any diseased foliage. 

To see more on growing Kangaroo Paws see this post.

It is also time for the big salvia trim up - they will have become 'leggy' and untidy after their summer flowering so cut back hard to encourage good growth, give them a little water and fertilise.

To read more on growing Salvias please visit this link on our blog and you can read more from ABC gardening's plant profile on Salvias.

Mango trees will take off like a rocket if they are left to their own devices. It is best to keep them to a 2-3m high tree not only for ease of harvest but also because it reduces the incidence of anthracnose. 

This disease affects not only foliage, but the flowers and fruit, severely reducing the harvest. The optimum time for pruning is just after harvest. The primary idea in this prune is to open up the canopy of the tree, allowing free air movement and sunlight to penetrate the canopy. Encourage lateral growth by removing any vertical branches, also remove anything that looks damaged or diseased. Go over the whole tree and prune the tips to encourage lush new growth with plenty of flowers next season. To read more about this disease please see this Northern Territory Department of Primary Industry PDF on Anthracnose.

If you have a giant of a tree it can be redeemed however not by you, the average gardener - this job is to be tackled by the professional guys. Once the major cut back has been done you will be able to tackle the annual prune as described above yourself.

Take Cuttings

This time of year is an excellent time to take cuttings. Preferably take cuttings in the early morning while it's cool. Select tip pieces that are at least 10cm long and with a minimum of two sets of leaves. If you can't pot them up straight away, wrap them in paper and put them into the refrigerator until you're ready to 'set-to' (with the exception of Geraniums and Palargoniums). Remove the bottom leaves and cut just below the node, if the leaves are large cut them in half. Use a knife or blade to scrape down the side at the base of the stem for about the last centimetre. This will form a 'wounded' area where roots are more likely to develop. Dip the base into growing hormone powder. Dibble with a pencil a small hole in propagating mix and insert the cutting into the hole and gently firm the mix to hold the cutting upright. Put a number of cuttings into each pot - there are always some losses! For a comprehensive article on cuttings see this link.

Take cuttings of native groundcovers like this beautiful Scaevola. A friend gave me some years ago and it has not missed a beat, such a terrific little performer for our climate. Also Brachyscome can be propagated now.

    As mentioned previously, it's the best time to take cuttings of Geraniums and Pelargoniums while you are giving them their end of season spruce up. For these old-fashioned favourites snip a nice healthy piece and leave on the ground in a pathway for a couple of days until the end callouses over so it won't ooze sap. Pot up in a good propagating mix.

    Pentas is one of the best butterfly-attracting plants around. It blooms all summer long, even during the hottest (and for here, wettest) weather. It is a stalwart in a lot of Coffs Coast gardens and we can 'spread the love' by taking cuttings of our best performers and sharing. Take softwood cuttings either in spring or now. 


    Dahlias require a feed of high-phosphorous fertiliser now to keep them blooming at their best for a bit longer. Keep deadheading spent flowers to encourage the development of further blooms.  If this is done now they should be looking very vibrant for the Coffs Harbour Show in May.

    Cannas will benefit from a high-phosphorous feed at this time too to keep them producing good flowers. If they are showing rust on their leaves, cut off at ground level and place in the green bin. 

    Transplant or Plant Trees and Shrubs

    Now is a very good time to correct an error or two....... not happy with where you planted a shrub last year? Now is one of the best times of the year to correct that little speed-hump in your gardening journey.

    Preparation is the key element in this process. Start by dosing up your shrub with a seaweed solution in the weeks leading up to the big move. Trim back your shrub and spray some Stressguard on the leaves (this will help with moisture retention). Lasso the branches together to prevent damage to them during the move. 

    As a general rule of thumb when moving shrubs or trees you add a zero to the diameter of the trunk and this will give the overall measurement for the rootball diameter.  For example if you have a 5cm diameter trunk it is fair to assume that a 50cm rootball needs to be taken with the shrub. Also at least a good spade depth is required too - up to 30cm if possible. See the illustration to the right.

    The intended spot has to be nurtured before the move as well. Dig over the site very thoroughly preparing a hole at least two times the diameter of the rootball, place some rock dust and compost in the hole and work well with the soil - use this to back fill when the shrub is in situ.

    Citrus Renovation

    Citrus trees need to be treated for scale and sooty mould by spraying thoroughly with horticultural oil. 
    Citrus trees can be treated much the same as that described above for Mango trees as it is a good idea to 'open up' the tree to allow light and air to get into the middle of the tree. 
    A quick trim up now will make your tree more manageable for harvest (and also spraying) if kept small.
    Citrus are also 'heavy feeders' so continue with your feeding fertiliser regime - best to feed small, often. This excellent article from ABC Organic Gardener's Phil Dudman will explain how best to trim (and why) a citrus tree.
    NB: don't feed citrus while they're in flower.

    Time for a Trim Up

    Hedges and topiaries need a tidy up now to bring them back into shape after their summer growth. Consider a string-line along the length of your hedge to act as a pruning guide. Trimming 'by eye' is always very difficult unless you are exceedingly practised at it. Always taper the sides of your hedge so that the base is a little wider than the top. This gives the lower growth greater exposure to sunlight, which helps maintain thick foliage growth from the top to bottom. On completion give your hedge some fertiliser and water it in well.

    For a comprehensive article on trimming hedges who better to visit than the UK Royal Horticultural Society!

    Divide and Conquer

    For the next couple of months it is the optimum time to dig up and divide clumping plants such as Clivea, Liriope, Lomandra and Dianella. 
    It's not only good for the plants, but it is a terrific way of increasing your plant stock for free and wonderful to share with our friends. If the ground around the plants is a bit on the dry side, give it a good water a day or two ahead to soften the soil and hydrate the plants. Drive a sharp spade into the soil around the plant about 10-15cm out from the base of the clump, severing the plant roots. Once the clump is dug out, use a sharp knife to cut and divide the mass into smaller divisions. Before you replant them, trim off any ragged roots and cut back some of the outer leaves to reduce moisture loss.

    Lemongrass is handy to have in our gardens and it really irks when a recipe calls for it and you slog down to the shops and get gobsmacked by the price! Growing lemongrass is dead easy, yes it does take up a bit of space however, what has to be remembered though, it does like boggy conditions so companion planting might be an issue!

    Every few years it's a good practice to lift and divide the clump as the middle of the plant seems to miss out on nutrient/water balance. So now would be an opportune time to do this - I always like to make a heap of noise whenever I attend to the Lemongrass as it's a fear of mine that there is a forky-tongued individual lurking there!

    Rest Up

    After all the essentials have been taken care of in your garden, make a cuppa, put your feed up and crack out the catalogues and gardening magazines to have a peruse on the latest for gardens - you deserve the break!


    1. Wow i can say that this is another great article as expected of this blog.Bookmarked this site..
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      1. Thanks Robert. Jane who wrote the post about Allamanda will be giving this presentation at our next Coffs Garden Club meeting along with a sub-tropical/tropical one from Gavin our Guru on that subject. Also when Simon is around he gives a presentation on vegetables. These three are the only three other contributors to this blog. I'm so pleased that you have enjoyed reading some of it. Regards Maria