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

Sunday Tasmanian - Tassie Living - - CONTENTS -

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.

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