Blossoms herald spring’s welcome return
A sure sign that winter is nearing its bitter end and spring is well and truly on its way is the emergence of beautiful blossoms on trees such as magnolia and plums, says PETER CUNDALL
There is always a sense of relief when the first pre-spring flowering plants come into bloom. In all parts of Tasmania, early-blooming deciduous magnolias (mostly M. soulangeana and M. liliiflora) are already opening up those glorious pink or purple blooms so the leafless branches appear to be sprouting tulips.
There is still time to plant one or two trees and even if space is lacking there are cultivated varieties that grow no more than 2m in height. Magnolias can even be planted out while in full bloom, provided root systems are undisturbed.
All magnolias prefer a slightly acidic, free-draining soil, which means no lime and definitely no heavy clay.
I even avoid using mushroom compost in or around the planting holes because it can be too alkaline. The ideal fertiliser is well-rotted cow or sheep manure spread over the surface around each newlyplanted
One of the most astonishing of all early-flowering large shrubs is a particularly spectacular Leucadendron
tree, covered with a mulch of any kind of straw or spoilt hay.
I rarely prune magnolias after flowering, apart from removing weak, diseased or dead branches. Sometimes a branch suddenly dies back during summer, the cause being either poor drainage in winter or water-logged soil at any time of the year.
If spotted in time, simply cutting away all dead material, wiping saw blades with methylated spirit between cuts, prevents the disorder spreading and infecting the rest of the tree.
Another sign that spring will officially arrive in 18 days is the earliest flowering plum (Prunus blireana). Covered with masses of rose-pink, semi-double blooms this is among the easiest of all flowering
trees to grow. It thrives in most soils and can even withstand a little winter waterlogging.
The flowers are followed by attractive, purple-bronze foliage that gradually fades as summer progresses. This small tree is virtually disease and pest resistant, although pear and cherry slug attacks can occur from early December, skeletonising the leaves over summer.
I have long-since managed to frustrate the activities of these pests – actually small grubs - by chucking builders’ lime over the leaves in mid-November. This is just before the eggs, inserted into leaf tissue by sawflies, begin to hatch. The whitened foliage makes trees look weird for a few weeks, but the lime kills all ‘slugs’ before they can do any damage. Best of all, this treatment so drastically reduces the pest population that little damage occurs, even over following years.
One of the most astonishing of all early-flowering large shrubs is a particularly spectacular Leucadendron. Called Inca Gold it forms hundreds of gleaming yellow, goblet-sized flower-heads always at the tips of branches. They are ideal for cutting and last well in vases. This shrub is worth searching for and can be planted at any time of the year. It forms a dense, 5mhigh bush with a spread of about the same and thrives in any sharply-drained soil, especially sandy loam. In fact it grows very happily in coastal regions and the rather leathery leaves are rarely damaged by salt-laden sea winds.
Like its protea relative, this leucadendron is remarkably drought-resistant, is frost-hardy and once established rarely needs watering or even feeding.
It can be kept fairly compact if a light pruning is carried out in late November after flowers fade mainly by cutting out dead or withered blooms while leaving any non-flowering branches untouched.