Pruning your indigenous garden for more lush new growth What this column’s about

2015-08-27 06:01

THERE are usually two times to prune plants - at the end of winter and after flowering. In nature, plants are pruned by frost, animals or fire.

Light frosts are equivalent to a light prune that trims old flowers at branch ends. Fires prune the bush back to the ground, from where they send new growth from a healthy, well-established rootstock. A light trim to shrubs throughout the year mimics grazing animals; like maintaining hedges.

Pruning removes old growth and stimulates the plant to send out many more branches to flower next year. Shrubs tend to shoot just under the cut, so to avoid too much bare stem showing, make cuts lower down the stem.

Some evergreen shrubs respond much better to a light trim, such as the indigenous Buxus macowanii (Natal box) and Ehretia (deurmekaarbos). Plectranthus zuluensis and P. saccatus also do not like a harsh cut. Some shrubs or small trees, like Ochna serrulata (Mickey Mouse bush), flower on the old growth, so it is preferable not to prune them before they have finished fruiting.

Sometimes a tree has served its purpose and a change of scenery is needed. One could prune it right down to the ground and let it coppice into a multistem shrub (e.g. Halleria lucida — tree fuschia). This will let light back into the garden for a few years.

Old evergreen shrubs do not like to be pruned, so rather cut one branch right back and wait for the regrowth on that branch to recover before cutting another branch down. Deciduous shrubs can be cut quite harshly if you want them to stay small, such as Tecoma capensis (Cape honeysuckle).

Be very careful with species such as proteas and pincushions. Only prune them as far as the current year’s new growth. If cut back too far, the whole stem will just die back. Most aloes cannot be pruned, rather cut off and replant the top and it will re-root itself.

Always prune with sharp, clean blades and wash the resins off the blade to stop rust. After pruning, give the plant a good dose of manure to feed and encourage lush new growth.

Ochna serrulata

Every KZN garden needs an Ochna, such as the carnival bush (Ochna serrulata; Afrikaans: fynblaarrooihout; Zulu: umbovu), which is a popular choice for small gardens. Whether in flower or fruit, this stunning little tree never fails to delight. It grows to 1,5 metres, occasionally reaching three to four metres. Numerous white lenticels give the bark a silvery look. In spring, the rusty-red new leaves are followed by a mass of cheerful yellow flowers. The petals drop, leaving green sepals that swell and turn wine red. The fleshy seeds ripen to black and display against the red sepals, leading to its other common name, the Mickey Mouse bush.

Ochna serrulata seeds do not last long, so plant them quickly. They flower best in a hot sunny spot and do well in rocky or shale soils. In my garden, they often come up under trees where the birds have planted them.

They do not flower well in too much shade so I find it best to move them when they are still small since they do not like to have their long tap roots cut.


MORE often than not, we are told what we cannot plant, what we should eradicate from gardens, and recently, that we will be punished for not removing certain invasive plants. So what should we plant in our gardens instead? This Indigenous Gardening Wisdom column offers ways to incorporate local plants and wildlife-friendly practices in gardens. Members and supporters of the KZN Inland Branch of the Botanical Society of SA draw from their own gardening experiences to suggest fresh ideas for KZN gardeners.

• Comments are welcome: post on Facebook KZN Inland Branch BotSoc or e-mail

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