Count to three, then chop

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Chrysanthemums… if they haven’t already been cut back to ground level, do so now without delay.

SOME weeks ago, I cut to ground level a miniature chrysanthemum, which only grows to 20 centimetres tall. The subsequent spread now forms a perfect grey-leafed ground cover. 

Cedric Bryant.

Each patch was about 30 centimetres round and has now increased to twice that area. This makes it perfect for digging up sections and dividing to fill gaps in the garden. 

From a patch the size of the palm of my hand I can easily get 10-15 rooted cuttings. Which brings me to the point, if chrysanths haven’t already been cut back to ground level, do so now without delay and divide. 

Hydrangeas… prune now as the new buds will be starting to appear.

Likewise, prune hydrangeas now as the new buds will be starting to appear. Despite advice that they will not tolerate full sun and must have regular and deep watering, I have found the opposite in numerous gardens. 

A classic example is in front of the Parish Hall of All Saints Church in Ainslie, where the hydrangeas receive the full summer sun and seem never to be watered. 

They were pruned back to just one metre last winter and are more than two metres tall now – and about to get their winter prune. From the base, I count three leaf buds and then chop, at the same time removing any obvious dead stems and thinning where overcrowding is obvious.

The same for wisteria; from the main branches count three buds and then chop, cutting back those long wispy shoots. It’s also advisable to give this superb climber a similar prune in summer after flowering. 

A few interesting items about wisteria: 

  • The spelling: the genus was named by Thomas Nuttall (1786-1859) after Caspar Wistar (1696-1752), a German glassmaker and one of the earliest colonists of Pennsylvania, US. Nuttall spelt it wisteria, as it is today.
  • Wisteria has been cultivated as a garden plant in Chinese gardens for more than 1500 years. The most widely grown is Wisteria sinensis or Chinese wisteria with various shades of mauve blossoms. Wisteria are unique in that the Chinese wisteria twines around its supports in an anti-clockwise fashion whereas the less popular Wisteria floribunda or Japanese wisteria twines in a clockwise direction. 
  • The seeds, leaves and flowers of the Chinese wisteria are all used in Chinese medicine and the parboiled flowers are eaten fried or made into sweet cakes. 

A POINT on feeding plants, the optimum time is early spring and autumn when the flowers and fruit are forming. 

When plants have already started flowering it is of no real benefit except for perhaps annuals with their relatively long flowering period, polyanthus, pansies etcetera and veggies. 

The best indicator is when one sees the buds forming on all varieties of plants including bulbs with buds forming soon after the appearance of the leaves. Once they start to flower it may make you feel good, but you are wasting plant fertiliser. 

MANY shrubs are now forming buds as can be seen on my Magnolia stellata, a small variety suitable for small gardens with its mass of star-like flowers. Likewise the Camellia sasanqua are coming to the end of their long flowering period giving us flowers all winter. The Camellia japonica is covered in buds. 

If ours are anything to go by, the mild winter and few severe frosts mean they will be flowering early, possibly by a few weeks. No, it’s not climate change!

With this in mind, now’s a good time to check out garden centres for shrubs showing lots of buds. This will be indicative of a good flowering plant.

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Cedric Bryant
Trained horticulturist and garden designer with over 30 years experience in the industry.

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