Autumn gardening: time to get the pruners out

To keep perennial plants healthy, they should be pruned well in autumn. Perennial plants are those that repeat flower each year, without having to be replanted on an annual basis.

They often have woody stems that can become straggly if they are not pruned back. The plant’s stems can be cut back almost to ground level, to just above their leaves. In addition to removing older, woody stems, any diseased stems will also be removed, thus ensuring a healthy, more vigorous plant for the ensuing season.

Perennial plants that will benefit from this treatment include; agapanthus, cliveas, crinum, day lilies and Shasta daisies.

If the plant has spread and formed new plants around the original plant, it can be lifted out of the ground and divided or broken up to form new plants. 

Replace the original plant, adding some well-rotted compost to the soil. As weather and the soil begin to warm towards the end of winter, new shoots will appear from the plant and it will again produce its blooms later in the year.


A tree that is creating an attractive, and, perhaps, more unusual picture in local gardens and parks is the Koelreuteria. Koelreuterias are generally available in two varieties; Koelreuteria paniculata and Koelreuteria bipinnata. In both forms, somewhat insignificant yellow flowers are formed.

AUTUMN SURPRISE: The colourful seed pods of the Koelreuteria tree can be a striking addition to the garden.

AUTUMN SURPRISE: The colourful seed pods of the Koelreuteria tree can be a striking addition to the garden.

However, it is the resultant seed pods that provide the attractive autumn feature. Both varieties produce unusual seed pods that resemble Chinese lanterns and contain white seeds that turn black when they are ripe.

The seed pods form an umbrella-like covering over the upper parts of tree. K. paniculata has yellow-orange seed pods; while K. bipinnata produces pods that have a brighter colouring, in a carmine red-salmon colouring.

Both trees may have the common name “Golden Rain Tree” whilst Koelreuteria may also be known as the Pride of China. 

Koelreuteria trees originate from China, Taiwan and the rocky outcrops of East Asia and are relatively drought tolerant in Australia.

Adequate irrigation when the tree is establishing its root system generally results in reduced water requirements at maturity. A position of full sun is preferred. They will tolerate both acidic and alkaline soils. Fern-like foliage may turn to bronze-orange colours in autumn.

Because it has a slower growth rate, Koelreuterias are suitable for inclusion in medium-sized suburban gardens, as well as in streets and parks. Warm climates through to areas that have cool to cold winters are all suitable for cultivation.

Propagation can be from root cuttings, or from seeds. These should be planted when they have become black.

The seeds should be placed in moist peat and held in the crisper section of the refrigerator for 3 months. In spring, the seeds should be just covered with potting mix in a pot that is kept in a warm moist position. Plants that have grown from seeds may vary from the original plant.


Silver beet is a very useful vegetable to include in the home garden as it serves several purposes. The leaves produced are a good source of vitamins and minerals and can be included in a wide variety of recipes.

Silver beet is generally an easy-care plant as few pests attack it. Damage from caterpillars, evidenced by holes in the leaves, can occur in warmer months. Rust, a fungal disease, may result from humid conditions. Plants affected will have brown spots on older leaves. These should be removed and disposed of with the general garbage, rather than being composted, as this will encourage the spread of the disease.

Silver beet varieties include “Fordhook Giant”, the most commonly planted variety, as well as “Rainbow Chard”, which produces leaves similar to the main variety but with the addition of colourful stems. These can be crimson, yellow or orange and add a touch of colour to the garden. They can be planted in the ornamental section of the garden for added colour effects.

A sunny position should be selected with enough space between individual plants to allow for good air circulation. Good drainage is essential. Sandy soils should have compost and manure added to them a couple of weeks prior to planting. Heavier soils should be loosened to break up any clods. A steady supply of food (general fertiliser) and water will help the plants to grow quickly.


Colour can be added to the garden through the use of leaves, as well as flowers. Native plants are particularly suitable for this purpose, especially those in the lilly pilly family. Some plants in this family are Acmenas, while others are Syzygiums or Waterhouseas.

Lilly Pillies are evergreen plants and trees that originate from rainforest areas. However, they are most suitable for many and varied garden uses, including shrubs, hedges and specimen plants.

In general, they have shiny green leaves, but their new growth provides splashes of colour in the garden. These range from brilliant pinks to reddish browns. Flowers are often fluffy white or greenish.

Maitland and District Garden Club