Summer Pruning

By Sharon Harris

A Summer Garden

It is early January, the weather is a perfect 26 degrees with a gentle breeze and I am currently doing bookwork outside in the garden. There is such pleasure in the small moments in life, & even though I am working, I am so lucky to be working here.

The Rhythms of Summer

Christmas & New Year are past, life is more gentle & kind after the frenetic pace of what I call the ‘slide’ into Christmas (no matter if we want to opt out or avoid it, there is nowhere else to go but to Christmas & New Year).  It is the first week back to work after a couple of weeks of our own time, & of hanging out at home which has been beautiful.

But now we are very busy with what I term ‘THE MAJOR SUMMER PRUNE’.   It is a bit more than that, but for me what we do now is fundamental to a great garden in late Summer & Autumn.

Being Present

We are always around home over January.  Of all the times of year to go away, traditionally this is not it for me as my garden is at its height in summer.  Plus everyone else has gone away. Melbourne is quiet, my garden is bountiful, and during our break the early mornings are a joy because they herald a day that is my own, in my own space.  But most important of all I get a chance to reconnect with my garden after the fast pace, early morning starts & long days at work in the weeks leading up to Christmas.  Being Present in ones garden is so important to the success of the garden because it means that you know where it is at & what it needs.  I see so many things that need doing (or enjoying) when I am present in my garden….some are very small, a weed here and there, others are much more dire, like the passion vine hopper I saw this weekend past. I am still tyring to decide how to tackle it if it becomes a problem. Or the blue tongue lizard I saw in November- a first in the life of our garden, & it explains why snail damage has not been an issue in the back garden.  Or the caterpillars on the Tuscan Kale. Or the dahlia that needs to be staked.

Mid Summer Pruning

Traditionally I think Australians think that summer is a time not to do major gardening, but rather to mow the lawn, prune the hedges when required, and of course enjoy.  Or something more involved if you have a veggie garden.  The weather plays a major factor in this, but I also think that there is an underlying thought that all the hard work in winter and spring is done, & now is a time sit back & enjoy it, or it is going to be hot so lets just water when required and weather the summer, so to speak. The 43 degree day just past is testament to the fact that there is not much once can do to reduce the impact of the air temperature on plants…. or is there….THAT is another topic all together.

To a large extent they are right, and of course it depends on the type of garden one has, but for me early January is a very busy time as it is a time to cut back all the perennials which require it, to selectively prune shrubs, roses, trees & to generally fine tune the garden so that as it moves forward into mid and late summer, it does so gracefully, and more importantly it does not fall apart completely in autumn. 

Summer Pruning- The Timing is Important

January 1st is the day when I know I need to start the process of cutting back a lot of my perennials.  Nepeta ‘Walkers Low’, all the Salvia nemorosa varieties, possibly Artemesia ‘Valerie Finnis’ are just a few. It is always hard to cut back plants when they are still looking good, both the Salvias & the Catmint (Nepeta) were covered in flowers. But if you look towards the center of the plant (or in many cases underneath the plant) you can see that there is new growth sprouting or ready to sprout.  These lants are cut back to the ground.  Other plants such as the Salvia microphylla  & S. splendens varieties need to be cut back by about one-third.   Knowing your plants is fundamental to gardening well & have a good garden.  I have been doing it for 26 years and I am still learning.

In my garden early to mid-January is the right time to cut back, and if I leave it too late then I just don’t do it.

Mid-Summer Show

If I don’t cut the perennials, that require it, back by early February I always, always regret not doing so……. by early February there are not so many flowers, the plant is starting to lose shape & form. By mid February the plants become messy & it only throwing off the occasional flower or none at all, and by now there is nothing you can do but wait for autumn, and by mid winter you a pruning back hard.

Hand Watering is a Chance to Say Hello

Remember that gardens need overhead watering; I don’t rely on my irrigation system.  It is a back up & a godsend when I am very busy, BUT it is not the start & finish of my watering program.  Outside of the benefits of hand watering, watering your garden personally, by its very nature, means that you are present in the garden.  It also means that you can water those areas that need it, and ignore the plants which don’t.

Feeding At The Right Time = Coping With Stresses of Summer

While fertilising is a topic is of its own, in relation to summer pruning let me just say that pruning without feeding the garden, or even not a pruning & expecting the garden is exist on the fertilise applied in spring is like running a marathon not eating appropriately before a run.  It is fundamental not only to the success of a healthy garden to fertilise correctly, but it

A Win Win Situation

The Pruning’s’ from Summer Can Mean Compost in Autumn

One of the things I like most about my garden is the cycle of life that is at its every essence.  Not only in the seasons with the dramatic life and death of many of the perennials, but in the presence of the bees and chickens (or chooks as they are know in our household).

In Winter and in Summer a very large proportion of the pruning’s from the perennials and grasses get thrown onto the floor of the Chicken Coop where the chickens scratch, poop and basically doing an amazing job of physically breaking up the plant matter, and then wonderfully providing heaps of nitrogen to the organisms that continue the decomposing process.  Once thoroughly scratched & destroyed as only chickens can do, the resulting  matter is then raked up & put in the compost bin where it further breaks down for use at a later date as a mulch, soil conditioner & fertiliser.