When spring bulbs have finished flowering, don’t forget to allow the foliage to die back before lifting bulbs. It is important to leave the foliage because the yellowing and fading occurs as the plants withdraw nutrients from the leaves to store in the bulbs for next season’s growth. Depriving spring bulbs of this essential part of their growth cycle will result in poor, or no, flowering next spring.
I often receive e-mails with questions about growing frangipani trees, and some readers may like to try growing them from seed. Paula Pugh Schipp of the Frangipani Society of Australia says that frangipani trees grown from seed grow much faster than those grown from cuttings because the root system starts to form when the seed germinates. Another advantage of propagating these lovely (Plumeria) trees from seed is that trees grown from cuttings will always be the same as the parent tree, but trees grown from seed are, like children, not usually exact duplicates of their parents. You may grow a tree with flowers with an entirely different colour combination if you have a variety of frangipani trees in your area.
Frangipani flowers do not always produce seed as the self-pollinating flowers do not always release their pollen. You can try hand-pollinating flowers with a piece of thick fishing line. Place the end of the line deep into the flower and wriggle it very gently to release the pollen. You have to be gentle as it is easy to knock the flower from its stem.
Seeds develop within a pod, often a double pod in a ‘T ‘ shape, which looks rather like two thin 17 cm zucchini in the early stages – changing over time to brown/black when mature (see photo, lower left). Pods can take up to 8 months to mature depending on the local microclimate.
When the seeds are mature, the pods become brittle and begin to split open revealing up to 60 seeds in each pod. Collecting the seed takes a bit of good timing because each of the seeds has a small ‘wing’ attached and, when the pod completely opens, the seeds can be spread far and wide on the breeze (see photo, below right). If the pod is in a position where you can easily observe its development, when the pod is just beginning to split, place a large basin under the pod structure and carefully cut the adjoining stem from the tree. If the pod is high in the tree and hidden by foliage, then when the pod starts to change colour, make a bag from nylon netting large enough to hold the pod structure with some room to spare. The will prevent the seeds from blowing away when the pod opens.
If you would like to try growing frangipani from seed, for best results sow them soon after they are collected.
This excellent Frangipani website provides a detailed guide to propagating frangipani, including an interesting method of germinating seed in paper towels: Frangipani Society of Australia
Bromeliads are an interesting group of plants with over 800 varieties. Some bromeliads are epiphytic (grow on trees or other objects for support) while some require soil for their roots – including the most well-known member of the family – the pineapple plant (Ananas comosus). Bromeliads are very easy to grow in warm and temperate climates, and have an amazing range of foliage and flower shapes and colours. Most bromeliads grow in a rosette form with a central well, and their unusual flowers grow from the central well.
The blade leaves of bromeliads funnel a lot of water into the central well, providing moisture for insects and other small creatures in times of drought, and the insects provide organic matter to fertilise the plants. This regular supply of food and water also attracts frogs.
If you like having frogs in your garden, try growing some bromeliad genera with soft, leathery, broad leaves – for example Aechmea, Neoregalia, Vriesea or Bilbergia, which grow best in part shade around the base of trees. These bromeliads rely mostly on their central well for water and food, and use soil mainly for support. The rosette of leaves also provides a hiding place for frogs.
Plant in autumn in warmer areas or spring where winters are cold. Grey-leaved bromeliads absorb moisture from the atmosphere and do not need soil, and bromeliads with heavily barbed leaves do best in acidic soil in full sun.
I live in Auckland NZ. I have white frangipani over 1.5m tall in a large pot. It last flowered about 4 years ago which was it’s first year in the pot. Now we are getting good leaf growth and new stems in the summer but the new stems rot in the winter and we have to cut them off.
There are several reasons why new growth on frangipanis can rot in winter – (1) water-logging of the mixture while the tree is dormant. (2) Lack of nutrients, such as potassium, which strengthens cell walls as well as promoting flowering. Have you given the tree any fertiliser? (3) Its position in winter is too cold for a tropical tree.
Remedies for (1) and (2): If your tree has been in the pot for 4 years, it is quite possible the roots have blocked the drainage hole/s, and that is causing the softer, new growth to rot when the tree is not using the moisture in the pot. Or, perhaps the holes have become blocked if the pot is in direct contact with the ground. Frangipanis form lots of roots and they must have good drainage.
As their roots are rather brittle, if you can’t remove the root ball from the pot easily, lie the pot on its side and hose out the potting mixture. Then carefully re-pot it into a larger pot with fresh potting mix that contains some complete fertiliser, and gently water it to settle the mix around the roots. If you can’t find a larger pot for the tree, trim the longest roots (so that they will have to grow about 5 cm to fill the pot) and re-pot in fresh mix in the same pot. Sit the pot on some pieces of tile so that the drainage holes remain clear of the soil.
Remedy for (3): Even the white frangipani (which is the hardiest) will not do well if temperatures are too low or they are in windy positions. When growing frangipanis in temperate zones, on the north side of a wall is a good position for them. A brick or concrete wall is best because the wall absorbs heat during the day and releases it slowly at night, keeping the air around the tree slightly warmer.
I have received an e-mail from a reader who is concerned about her neighbour’s plan to put a screen fence about 35 cm from the base of her beautiful frangipani tree, because the fence posts must be set in concrete and doesn’t know the size of the tree’s root ball or if it will damage the tree.
As new concrete near gardens is a common problem for gardeners, I am posting my answer on my blog rather than merely giving a private reply.
Generally, the feeder roots of shrubs and trees are located under the outer edge of the plant’s foliage in what is called the drip-line. Nature designed plants this way so that rain (and bird droppings, mineral dust etc.) running off the foliage falls where water and nutrients can be taken up quickly by the feeder roots (see diagram).
There are some exceptions to this rule as roots of umbrella trees, figs, crepe myrtles and liquidambers, for example, can wander all over the place in search of water. Usually, when trees or shrubs are severely pruned back, they will produce new feeder roots below the new drip-line and this can be helpful in preparing to move large shrubs and small trees.
New concrete contains lime that makes it alkaline, and hydrated lime (brickie’s lime) that is used in concrete will burn plant roots and should not be used on gardens that contain plants. If you are unable to avoid using concrete for walls or footings near established trees or shrubs, you can ask the builder to line the hole with strong plastic sheeting to prevent the new concrete coming into contact with plant roots. Plastic degrades in light but not in soil.
Adding plenty of mature compost to topsoil before planting trees and shrubs will help protect plants from the adverse effects of new concrete as one of the functions of compost is to buffer plant roots from unsuitable pH levels in surrounding soil. Where plants are established before concrete is used, adding a 5 cm layer of mature compost to the drip-line area, and covering it with 5 cm of organic mulch will help your plants. Remember to keep compost and mulch well clear of the trunk.
A more serious concern is where the concrete is to support a wall or fence close to established plants and the trees and shrubs need to be pruned on the side closest to the wall, as timing is important. Some plants, including frangipani, bleed a lot of sap if pruned when they are not dormant. The very best time for this type of pruning to reduce “bleeding” sap, is to prune during Last Quarter phase of the moon. For these plants, the wall or fence should be constructed during winter when the affected trees and shrubs are completely dormant. However, if a shrub or small tree requires a lot of sunlight or warmth for good growth, and the proposed structure will prevent this (i.e. the plant will be on the south side of the structure), it may be best to move the plant during winter for deciduous plants, or in autumn for evergreens, to a more suitable spot or into a large tub, if space is limited.
In the case of frangipanis, these lovely trees are often seen growing against north-facing walls of houses. Once concrete has seasoned, it does not seem to bother them, and they love the warmth that is stored in the wall during the day and slowly released at night.
Summer is a good time to take semi-hardwood cuttings of your favourite evergreen perennials to add to your garden or share with friends. The Full Moon phase is best for this job as root growth establishes more quickly when cuttings are taken in this phase.
Semi-hardwood cuttings are sections of stem that have stiffened enough not to wilt easily. Cuttings should be at least 10 cm long and contain about 5 nodes, so that at least 2 nodes can be covered with mix, and you have two sections for growth. A node is a joint in the stem where leaves or roots can form – and indicated by a line on the stem or a leaf scar. Pinch out the very tip of the cutting, and leave foliage on the next two nodes, then carefully remove foliage from the lower nodes and trim the cutting just below a node. (You will find a lot more detail about preparing different types of cuttings in Easy Organic Gardening and Moon Planting.) Then poke the cutting into a pot that contains organic potting mix with some washed river sand added to ensure easy drainage.
This week, I’ve been taking cuttings of thyme, rosemary, Arabian jasmine, zonal geraniums and some Hawaiian hibiscus varieties. We replace our commercial perennial herb plants every three or four years because younger plants produce the best growth for harvesting.
I cut the remaining leaves in half on geraniums and hibiscus (and any plants with large leaves) to conserve moisture in the cuttings, but leave some leaf material to photosynthesise (make energy to grow). Dipping the base of the cuttings in certified-organic honey can help stimulate root growth – you only need a teaspoonful in a shallow dish. I water the pots with an organic liquid fertiliser and poke the cuttings into the mix against the edge of the pot as it helps support the cuttings. The cuttings are kept consistently damp in a warm spot out of direct sunlight until they have formed roots and are ready for putting in individual pots or planting in the garden.
Most experts recommend that cuttings should be covered. However, we have found that the perennial culinary herbs, lavender, and a lot of plants with furry leaves don’t like the humidity provided by a cover. However, the pots of jasmine, hibiscus get covered with a large plastic juice or soft drink bottle with the base removed and the lid intact. At the first sign of new growth the lids will be removed to allow some ventilation.
Now is the perfect time of year to take Frangipani cuttings
Bill has e-mailed me about growing Frangipani in north-west Victoria – and his question may be of interest to other readers.
Frangipani trees are tropical plants, and your area of Victoria is not an ideal climate for them, because minimum temperatures for most of the year are not high enough. Plants grown outside a suitable climate zone are more prone to diseases. There can be, within climate zones, microclimates in protected areas where temperature variations are not as extreme as those in the general area, and plants that need warmer conditions can be grown in these positions – if you prepared to give them extra care through autumn, winter and spring.
The only variety you could possibly grow is the hardier white Frangipani, and you would need to grow that in a position that is protected from wind, and against a north-facing brick wall where the thermal properties of the bricks keep the air around the plant slightly warmer at night. If you find someone in your area who is successfully growing a white frangipani, and is prepared to give you a cutting, now is the perfect time to take frangipani cuttings. See my post on how to prepare frangipani cuttings for planting.
Otherwise, I think it might be wiser to choose a different tree that is more suited to the local climate.
Being away, and catching up on farm work, has caused me to fall behind with my blog posts, so I am a bit slow in relaying news about my Wollemi pine.
Following a light application of worm castings as fertiliser a couple of weeks ago, my comatose Wollemi pine has demonstrated a renewed will to live, and produced a flourish of delicate, light green fronds on almost every branch. The main trunk has also increased another 15 cm in height. (Click on image on left.)
In last Saturday’s Sydney Morning Herald (November 14) James Woodford quoted this blog in his lament about his pine that had “done nothing” in the past two years. I can understand Mr Woodford’s dismay, as he is an author of a book on the Wollemi Pine.
However, if he had read my book Easy Organic Gardening and Moon Planting, he would have known that he was really pushing the envelope expecting it to grow in a lawn, for a variety of reasons – including that lawn fertilisers are toxic to many Australian natives.
Not surprisingly, I think organic cultivation is the go for these fossil plants. They have survived in a valley where their only fertiliser has been what nature provided through the breakdown of organic matter. Decomposed organic matter performs a myriad of functions in soil. It maintains more consistent soil moisture levels; it is Nature’s slow release complete fertiliser; it provides a habitat for the beneficial fungi that assist perennial plants to absorb nutrients and moisture, and it helps control phytophthora fungi and other pathogens in soil.
If you have a Wollemi Pine growing in the ground (in a spot protected from full sun), my advice is to add 2 cm of mature compost or leaf mould to the soil surface around the tree and cover it with leaf litter or other organic mulch (keeping it clear of the trunk). If growing your pine in a pot, use only the special Wollemi Pine mix or a certified-organic potting mix, and use a modest amount of worm castings as fertiliser.
Yes, these trees are temperamental, but so are some other beautiful plants, including Daphne and some of our Boronias – yet gardeners who are prepared to cater to their needs enjoy thriving specimens. As I said in the previous post – do some research first.
The recently discovered Wollemi pine was a topic of discussion on the Don Burke gardening radio program recently. This fossil conifer has been a source of considerable disappointment to many gardeners since its release. One could reasonably think that a species of tree that has survived for 200 million years, according to the accompanying care guide, would be fairly hardy, but this is not the case. These trees cannot handle heavy rainfall, drought, or full sun. They are easily stressed, and prone to phytophthora root rot, as well several other soil diseases.
The tree I received last Christmas was soon re-potted into a slightly larger container with some coco peat, compost and worm castings as fertiliser, and a little coarse river sand. After re-potting, the tree was positioned on a verandah on the northern side of our house, but it quickly became apparent that it was not happy in a warm environment, and was transferred to the verandah on the south side where it has survived, but has made only a couple of centimetres growth. The care guide gives no real indication of the species’ fussy moisture requirements other than the vague advice to “check moisture levels regularly”. Neither did the care guide state that soil in the area where the trees were discovered could have a pH as low as 4, which is too acidic for most plants to survive, or that a coir supplier had developed a special potting mix for these trees.
Don said that little information on the species had been available, resulting in the death of a lot of purchased Wollemi pines, and asked a spokesman from Sydney’s Botanic Gardens why the tree had been released for sale prematurely. The spokesman’s response was that it was to prevent people from damaging the discovery site when attempting to obtain a specimen of these trees. This reasoning would be easier to accept if they didn’t charge such exorbitant prices for these pines.
My advice, if you would like to grow a Wollemi pine, is to visit the web site below and find out if you can provide suitable conditions for this plant before outlaying any money.
Ian, lIke many other gardeners, is unsure whether he should sow and transplant in the correct moon phase, or sow seeds by the moon phase and transplant anytime, or sow seeds anytime and transplant by the moon.
Over many years of experimenting with moon planting, we’ve found that it is more important to sow seed during the correct phase, than it is to plant out during the correct phase. Seedlings of some varieties of annuals are large enough for transplanting by the time the next correct phase comes around, so it is easy to sow and transplant in the same phase. Others varieties take a shorter, or longer, time to reach transplanting stage, and my advice is that these should be planted out when they are ready, and when climate conditions are suitable, whatever the moon phase. Seedlings sown in a tray will suffer some transplant shock because they often have to be teased apart for transplanting, and these will require some TLC until they become established. However, annual seedlings sown in segmented punnets or individual tubes suffer very little transplant shock and it does not seem to matter when they are transplanted because their root balls are buffered by surrounding mix.
Planting out during the correct phase is important for perennials as strong establishment of the root system is essential for vigorous growth of these plants. This group includes fruit trees and crowns of asparagus, artichokes, herbacous perennials, strawberries, etc., as well as all trees, shrubs and vines.
Most root crop annuals are best sown direct where they are to grow as many don’t perform well when transplanted. If you have to transplant these because mice or ants steal seeds sown in beds, and they are ready to transplant in an incorrect moon phase, just give them some extra TLC. Moon planting gives some extra help in getting plants growing, it is not essential to their survival.
Traditional moon planting is based on observations of farmers for many centuries but very little scientific research has been carried out on why, exactly, certain seeds germinate faster, and grow quickly when sown at particular times, and why cuttings form roots more quickly when taken during Full Moon phase. A brief coverage of this subject on a David Suzuki TV program some years ago stated that fluctuations in sap flow and plant hormones corresponded with the Moon’s gravitation pull, as did subtle variations in Earth’s electro-magnetic field. I think the changes in the electro-magnetic field might be the key to why moon planting works, as plants can only absorb nutrients as water soluble, electrically–charged particles. A serious scientific study of this subject would be most interesting.