Handy hints from Anthony Tesselaar International

Published: Wed 11 Feb 2004 04:36 PM
Autumn 2004
Handy hints from Anthony Tesselaar International
With cooling air and autumn showers on soils still warm from summer’s heat, conditions are just right for planting. Autumn presents a perfect opportunity to make some changes in the garden. For many of us, anything that makes the garden easier to manage is a change worth making. Ideally, we are looking for the best of both worlds, a garden that looks great all year round and one that, once planted, pretty much looks after itself. Trees and shrubs are the way to go, but thanks to modern plant breeding that doesn’t mean we have to go short on colour.
Easy plants
Once ruled out for the low maintenance gardens, roses are now a number one option, thanks to the free flowering disease resistance of modern shrub roses such as Flower Carpet. Flower Carpet roses bloom for up to ten months of the year, and even when they’re not in bloom their dense glossy leaf cover and shrub-like habit makes them an attractive filler, multi-planted as a groundcover or low hedge. Unlike traditional roses, Flower Carpet Roses are without their leaves for a very short time. There are six colours to choose from; hot Pink, Yellow, White, Apple blossom pink, Red, and Coral.
Clump forming cannas are also famous for their easy care nature. Flambouyant Canna Tropicanna is now hugely popular for its subtropical effects. It makes a spectacular poolside plant with its expansive leaves striped in a vibrant mix of maroon, orange and green. The bright orange flowers are a bonus, though easily removed if you only want the foliage. New offspring, Canna Tropicanna Gold parades bright gold and green leaves, with gold flowers edged orange. In the warm humid north, cannas grow all year round, but a winter cut back ensures the most beautiful foliage in spring.
In a more temperate climate the foliage dies down with the first frost but sprouts fresh the following spring. Mulching gives extra frost protection, and in really cold climates they can be grown in pots. Although they will grow in any well-drained soil, cannas love moisture and respond well to lifting and dividing every few years.
When it comes to maximum effect for minimum effort, versatile Agapanthus comes up trumps. There are many good varieties but white flowered Agapanthus Snowstorm stands out in the crowd with its compact habit and prolific flowering. This most versatile of plants is excellent as an evergreen border with its lush healthy foliage. It is also spectacular as a weed-smothering groundcover in sun or semi-shade and looks superb mass planted on banks. For an elegant classic look, try it in pots repeated throughout the garden. Snowy white flowers on sturdy upright stems appear from late spring to mid summer with spot flowering through autumn (up to 60% longer than other varieties).
As well as being drought tolerant, Snowstorm comes with built in disease resistance, a necessary attribute in any low maintenance garden.
Once you have planned the renovations to your garden, it pays to put some effort into preparing the ground before planting. It is a case of greater, long term rewards for any extra work put in at the outset. The more compacted the soil has become, the more work will be required to make it suitable for planting. Choose a dry day to dig or rotary hoe. Digging when the soil is wet is not only hard work but bad for the soil, especially clay soils. Plenty of organic matter (e.g. compost) is the answer to improving any soil, from heavy clay to light sandy soils. Add as much as you can to the topsoil when preparing a garden. Make sure that any organic material you are adding to the soil is well broken down. Animal manures in particular can damage plants if added in their raw state. Bark or lawn clippings can strip the soil of nitrogen if too fresh.When drainage is poor, one of the easiest remedies is to raise the planting site above ground level. This also gives rise to a warmer soil in the early spring.
Autumn tasks
Trees and shrubs
The shrewd gardener plants mainly in autumn, when roots are fast to establish and growing shoots prosper in the cool low-stress environment, free of the baking heat of summer.
An autumn-planted garden gets its roots well established before winter, bursting into life with the first hint of spring. Now is a good time to plant new hedges and lightly trim established ones before winter.
If there are valued trees or shrubs in your garden which need shifting, start in autumn by digging with a spade to cut through the outer roots on the east and west sides of the plant and gently pull it in either direction. A couple of weeks later do this on the north and south sides. This is called wrenching and gives the plants a chance to grow new feeder roots during the warm, moist autumn months before being transplanted a month or so later.
Autumn is the very best time to create a new area of lawn, or revamp an existing one. Ground preparation prior to sowing can be the difference between a good and bad lawn so starting work early in the season will allow time to do all the things you need to before you sow the seed.
Autumn is the time for planting spring flowering bulbs. Warm climate gardeners can purchase tulip bulbs as soon as they come available and keep them in the fridge for 8 weeks prior to planting. Anemones, ranunculus and freesia can be planted in successive batches throughout autumn to prolong the flowering period, although in very cold climates these frost tender bulbs are best grown in pots or held for spring planting.
Annuals and Perennials
Plant pots with flowering annuals for winter colour. Remove spent summer annuals and rework beds with general fertiliser and compost before replanting for the new season. Seedlings to plant now include pansies, violas, polyanthus, Iceland poppy, cineraria, calendula and primula. Cut back, lift and divide perennials.
The Vege Patch
Prepare and plant the winter vegetable garden. Seedlings to plant now include broccoli, spinach, cabbage, and lettuce. Sow a green crop of mustard or lupins in areas not needed for vege planting. In spring, these can be dug in to enrich the soil with organic matter. Sow or plant quick to mature vege seeds in mild areas including: beetroot, cabbage, carrot, celery, cress, buttercrunch lettuce, leeks, silverbeet, spinach, spring onion.

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