Spring clean for autumn

Denise Gadd March 10, 2012

Delphiniums.

Delphiniums.

Our weather can be unpredictable - often with four seasons in one day - but nothing beats autumn so savour the balmy days and get into the garden. Here are ways to enjoy this time of year.

Sunflowers flower from late summer to early autumn. While the large beauties create an impact, dwarf and mid-sized sunflowers are available from Yates. Sow the seed in late spring and you'll have glorious blooms this time next year.

According to the 1940 edition of The Australian Gardener, it's time to sow cabbage, Chinese cabbage, carrot, onion, radishes, parsnip, swede and turnip seeds. Maybe the last three vegetables aren't as popular these days but the others are. Also sow spinach and broad-bean seeds and plant seedlings of spinach, cabbage, cauliflower and broccoli for winter picking.

St Patrick's Day is on March 17, the traditional time to sow sweet peas. Sow seeds in a sunny, well-drained spot but not in the same position every year.

Deadhead summer flowers such as dahlias and liriope. Do the same with roses, then feed to ensure an autumn flush. Prune winter-flowering roses such as 'Lorraine Lee'.

Nothing says spring like jonquils, daffodils and the Spanish bluebell (S. hispanica), so plant the bulbs to ensure you've got a good show at the end of winter. For late-spring/early summer flowering, choose alliums, hippeastrum hybrids and dwarf gladioli.

Mass planting of annuals brightens up the late autumn-early winter garden so think bloomers like pansies either in garden beds or pots. Later, think about polyanthus, aquilegia (old-fashioned granny bonnets or columbine), dianthus and hollyhocks, delphiniums and larkspur. Also plant seeds of lobelia, cornflowers and cinerarias for spring flowering.

Keep the water up to citrus trees and avocados so they don't dry out, especially if autumn proves dry.

For a special treat, visit Duneira, heritage botanical gardens at Mount Macedon. Garden luminaries Stephen Ryan, Michael McCoy and Simon Rickard will take tours twice daily on Thursdays and Saturdays through March and April. The gardens display stunning foliage from gold to crimson throughout autumn. Get inspiration for your own garden if you're looking for a deciduous tree that will put on a spectacular autumn show. Entry $20/$15. Times/bookings 5426 1490 or duneira.com.au.

Nurseries are stocked with deciduous trees that will soon display autumn colouring, so this is the season to do your research. The choice is endless, from maples to golden and claret ash, flowering cherries and the malus or crab apple. Even try a pleached hornbeam if you have room.

For your diary: Ballarat Begonia Festival (March 10-12); Gardening and Plants Expo in the Tesselaar Gardens (March 17-18); Herb and Chilli Festival in the Yarra Valley (March 17-18); and the Melbourne International Flower and Garden Show (March 28 to April 1).

Plant new lawns from mid-March onwards so there's enough warmth in the soil for the new grass to establish itself. Feed existing lawns.

Prune salvias, geraniums, heliotrope and lavender as they finish flowering. Don't go into the wood with lavender as it'll end up leggy.

In autumn, either repot your cyclamens or tidy them up. Give a light feed so they flower during winter.

Plant native trees so they have a chance to establish themselves before next summer. If you're in a very cold area, wait until spring.

Keep harvesting your basil if, like mine, it's going strong. You can either dry or freeze it in plastic storage bags. Also plant parsley for soups and sow coriander seeds until the end of autumn.

Give box hedges a light trim now they're displaying some new growth. One of mine has turned a delicate shade of orange on top, which is a bit early, I would have thought.

In March, pick mature pumpkins, sweet potatoes, ginger and potatoes for winter storage.

Cut the yellow branches off tomato plants. If they look really bad, cut off the fruit (leave it on the vine) and hang in a sunny spot to ripen.

Transplant evergreen trees and shrubs, such as camellias and azaleas, in autumn. Leave deciduous trees until winter.

More on gardening at Domain's Your Backyard Index

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