Enjoy the colour of summer
house & garden | By shhl publisher | Tuesday, 12 December 2017
Hello summer! Balmy weather stretches day into night so we only come in from the garden when hunger strikes.
Summer brings the vegetable patch’s peak of production. The heat of the sun powers growth, but threatens disaster too. Enemy number one is the afternoon sun — this is when a beach umbrella comes in handy. It’s up early to water — rise with the birds for early deep watering.
Now’s the time to take in the benefits of all the work you put into your garden back in spring. Share evening catch-up drinks out there with your friends, or easy BBQ dinners with the children in your life. Marvel at the big, showy bright flowers of hibiscus now in their peak, and the white flowers of Angophora.
Oh, the humidity! Spare yourself from the heat and head out into your garden early to get those jobs that can’t wait done.
Plant blue flowering plants such as borage, lavender, rosemary and sage in your vegetable patch and especially around your passionfruit vines. These flowers attract bees and increase pollination and therefore your fruit crop. Those wanting native bees to stay longer and pollinate more plants should find, or better still make, a little bee hotel with timber and bamboo lengths.
Pride of place in our Garden Clinic Christmas hamper this year goes to the mouth-watering geranium ‘Big Red’. This super successful culmination of an intense breeding program is a hybrid between the colourful zonal and the indestructible ivy-leaf geraniums. It’s become our go-to recommendation for hanging baskets for black thumbed or forgetful gardeners (us included!) and even performs in humid Queensland. Its flowers never fade and never seem to stop. Pot it up for the Christmas table, then replant into a hanging basket for the rest of the year. Liquid feed regularly for a constant display of vibrant red blooms. Find out what partners with Big Red in this year’s hamper on our back cover and get your order in early so as not to be disappointed. Join the Garden Clinic Club today. www.gardenclinic.com
It’s time to...
• Take in the Christmas reds of the Australian bush in the Illawarra Flame Tree, New South Wales Christmas Bush, and of course the show-stopping Flowering Gums.
• Ensure your mulch on garden beds is 5cm thick to insulate the soil, conserve moisture (you know the drill!) so top it up now before the summer peak. As always, keep it a few centimetres clear of trunks and stems. Raise your mower to set the blades at the highest cutting setting to achieve an optimal lawn root:shoot ratio for summer.
• Clear garden debris away from your house and ensure your gutters are cleaned.
• Use soil wetting agents and water them in well, so water from irrigation or summer rain goes down deep and doesn’t just run off the surface.
• Consider using protective film spray such as DroughtShield on new seedlings and plants, to protect them from heat, sunburn and drying winds for three months at a time.
• Take care of yourself too. It’s easy to get carried away outside trying to get everything done before Christmas but always wear a hat and sunscreen to protect your skin.
• Pop in Cosmos, Zinnia, Lupin and extra Petunia seeds, plus some Verbena seedlings.
• Keep an eye on the weather forecasts for extreme heat days and try to water your more fragile plants deeply the night before. Hanging baskets and small pots can really dry out so dunk them in tubs of water until the bubbles stop rising. Annuals such as Petunias may need daily watering.
• Fungal diseases thrive in high humidity so check the foliage of your Begonias and Fuchsias in particular for powdery mildew, and treat with a fungicide. Watering the soil rather than splashing the leaves will also help. Keep an eye on your lawn too for brown spots or patches.
• Shade any delicate plants which were planted in late spring as they won’t have hardened off enough to cope with really hot days. Use beach umbrellas or shade cloth stapled to garden stakes. Remove it towards the end of summer.
• Prune spent flowers on young Flowering Gums now so they don’t put all their energy into developing big gumnuts.
• Deadhead your roses to encourage even more blooms.
• Get rid of any seed heads on Agapanthus to stop them invading the bush.
• Tidy up Geraniums and pot up those prunings.
• Clear up spent summer annuals.
• Prune spent Lavender flowers and take the foliage back by one-third to prevent woodiness down below.
• Seeds germinate readily in warm humid conditions, so if you haven’t had much luck before, try it now with Pansies, Wallflower or Stock. If you’re growing potted standards, sprinkle some Alyssum seeds around the base to create inexpensive yet pretty living mulch.
Hibiscus are the flamboyant chorus girls of summer, and deserve top billing for scandalous skirts of tropical colour. Those wanting to tone things down a bit have plenty of options. Here are our favourites.
Chinese Hibiscus Hibiscus rosa-sinensis
Large summer flowers in white, pink, yellow, orange etc, single or double, with a prominent yellow staminal column. These evergreen shrubs like warm, sunny positions with protection from strong winds. Fertilise in spring and water regularly. Prune hard at the end of winter. Protect from beetles which eat holes in the flowers and leaves.
Confederate Rose Hibiscus mutabilis
White, pink or red double or single autumn flowers, darker at base of staminal column, with large cordate leaves. As a small deciduous tree or spreading shrub, position it in full sun. It copes well with frost. Prune hard in winter to remove spent flowers and fruit. Fertilise in spring with flowering plant food.
Rose of Sharon Hibiscus syriacus
Flowering from summer to autumn, often with a darker contrasting colour beneath a cream stamina column. Serrated leaves turn yellow in autumn before falling. Cool, moist climates are ideal for this deciduous shrub; it’s frost tolerant so prune hard in winter and use some of these prunings to make cuttings. Fertilise in spring.
Coral Hibiscus Hibiscus schizopetalus
Pendant pink-red frilly flowers with staminal columns that hang down, sporadically throughout the year. They open in the morning and die that same night. This arching shrub is best suited to tropical locations in full sun to part shade; however, it will tolerate some cold, drought and salt. Prune sparingly once every three years.
Q: I heard you mention on Garden Clinic Radio 2GB that hydrangea flowers can change colour with the use of coffee grounds and eggshells. How does that work?
A: Hydrangea flowers change colour depending on the pH balance of the soil. To send them pink, spread wood ash, eggshells or lime around the roots monthly in spring and summer. If blue is what you’re after, apply compost, coffee grounds or sulphate of aluminium or iron.
Help is only a phone call away!
Because too much garden talk is never enough, you can now listen to Linda Ross ‘talking gardens’ every day on Talking Lifestyle 2UE. She takes your questions and chats with friends and experts for a fun and fact-filled hour. Recently she explored the gorgeous world of orchid cactus, a favourite for easy hanging baskets with maximum impact. Tune in on weekdays from 12-1pm, or download the 2UE app on your smart phone and listen anywhere! Call on 13 12 83 if you have a question you need answered. ❐
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