A native garden (whatever that is!) is all sticks and no colour. OH NO!

This statement tells me immediately that there have been poor plant choices in the past, combined with no or very little pruning. This makes for plants that are continuing to grow up and out and dropping old leaves.

Many new hybrids and selections of seedlings are often chosen for their more compact habit over their parents. A good example is Melaleuca armillaris. It has in the past been planted as a screen or windbreak and can quickly ‘open up’. That is old leaves drop; branches die back and takes on the appearance of a scraggy open tree with multiple stems growing up to 8 metres. It can be pruned hard and regularly. Why bother when a perfect alternative is Melaleuca armillaris nana sometimes known as ‘Green Globe’ that normally grows to around 1.5 – 2 metres with a very compact habit.

Most older gardens will have the odd plant that have over time have become open regardless of their country of origin. The remedy is to prune, prune and prune some more. Now is a good time to prune very hard plants that will tolerate it. Callistemon, Eucalyptus and Melaleuca will but Banksia, Grevillea and Hakea won’t. There are exceptions and it’s worth asking if you are not sure. By a very hard prune I literally mean to ground level. The plant may take two or three years to completely recover but it will often make a quicker plant than starting from scratch.

Now that you have decided to prune very hard, plan to follow up this with a lighter prune on the regrowth late summer or very early autumn. Then, the following (late) spring prune again and so on.

The best option is to choose plants of the appropriate size and possibly even smaller compact forms and start pruning the day you come home from the nursery. Yes, tip prune the day you plant and whenever you feel like it. By tip pruning I mean the last 25mm or so off each stem. For very young plants use your thumb nail and for plants from a year or two use hedge shears. Wavy edged blades are the best so thicker stems won’t slide out.

Another excellent pruning technique is cutting flowers from your garden and giving them away. This not only puts you in the ‘good books’ of the recipient but also gives the plant a prune at the same time.

The wonderful result of all this pruning is vastly improved growth. That is denser growth with ten fold more flowers to enjoy.

So, all sticks and no colour? Start pruning today and plant smaller more compact forms of your old favourites.

This article first published in the Riverland Weekly © December 11, 2008.