Tikorangi Garden Diary: Sunday 12 June, 2011

Fattening magnolia buds signal the need for a nightly possum patrol

Fattening magnolia buds signal the need for a nightly possum patrol

Despite the torrential rains this week attempting to undermine our gardening efforts, we are nearly at the end of the renovation of the Avenue Gardens. Now it is just a case of getting the mulch on to suppress the legions of weed seeds which will be triggered to germinate by digging and cultivating the soil. We have done a lot of lifting and limbing, reclaiming vistas that had gradually disappeared over the years. It always feels rather brutal cutting off branches laden in flower buds (both rhododendrons and camellias in this case) but it is best to carry out hard pruning in winter.

It may be fine in a small garden to plan hard pruning for the exact time as flowering passes its peak, just before the plant puts on its new growth. The timing is different for every plant and maybe in a small garden, one is out and about every day, ready with the loppers, saw and secateurs to seize the moment. But in a big garden, it is far more likely that we working somewhere else entirely and the opportunity passes without notice for another year. So we are hard pruning right now. Overcrowding had forced many plants to grow out at an angle so some of the pruning has been an attempt to counter that inclination.

The mulcher is working overtime (with Lloyd on the end of it). Small mulchers tend to be so slow and limited that they are more trouble than they are worth, but ours is a reasonably grunty machine capable of most of what we require. If the wood is too large for the mulcher, then it is big enough to warrant cutting up for firewood. We do not, however, mulch hydrangea prunings. Not after Lloyd told us he tried mulching his at home one year and discovered micro-propagation. The carpet of mulch became a carpet of hydrangea buds which all took root and grew.

Hydrangea and rose pruning has also started. While gardeners in colder climates may prefer to leave this until after the worst of winter (pruning can trigger fresh new growth which then gets frosted), our winter temperatures are not low enough to cause problems.

Mark thinks he is getting on top of the rat population but is now starting possum patrol. The magnolia buds are swelling and while they are not a favoured food for the pesky possums as the oranges are, every year at least one develops a taste for them. As they gnaw in and eat out just the tasty centre of the bud, it is not clear that anything has happened until the flowers open in a sad and deformed manner. Year in and year out we receive phone calls from concerned magnolia owners wondering what is wrong with their tree at flowering time. Nothing that high velocity lead earlier in the season can’t cure. Often the gaudy rosella parrots are blamed but in our experience, it is the other pesky Australian import – the possum.