With good moisture during the past week, it's a great time to make new shrub and tree plantings.
Here in Whanganui we have a relatively balanced rainfall compared to many other parts of New Zealand, particularly the East Coast.
There are parts of Whanganui on lighter sandy soils that naturally tend to be drier. This leads to the frequent inquiry we have in the garden centre of "what plants will withstand a dry situation?"
There are a good range of plants available that, once established, will be far hardier for withstanding dry summer conditions than others.
The right plant in the right spot will give a garden that will thrive for years, providing great aesthetic value as well as environmental benefits.
To ensure success, thorough preparation should be done when planting. These steps are simple but will make the difference between a job done once or a job that has to be done again.
1. Select dry loving plants.
2. Dig a hole 2-3 times the size of the root area of the new plant and plant into a 50:50 mixture of compost, such as Tui Compost, and the surrounding soil.
3. Use an appropriate root establishment fertiliser for the plant (check with the store when purchasing) such as Ican Slow Food.
4. Mulch around the completed planting with newspaper and bark chip, feeding mulch or similar.
5. Provide weekly deep watering for December, January and February in the first two years while the plants are getting their roots established to source their own water.
Dry loving garden plants you should consider
Bottlebrush (Callistemon) is a plant that thrives in dry, sunny areas of the garden. There are a number of varieties that grow to different heights suitable for small or large garden situations. My favourites that do well in Whanganui gardens are Callistemon Red Clusters and Callistemon Little John.
Callistemon Red Clusters has stunning bright red flower spikes that cover the plant in abundance during spring and summer, though it usually has a few flowers on it throughout the year. This variety grows about 3m high.
Callistemon Little John is a compact dwarf-growing bottlebrush. It only grows around 1m x 1m so is suitable for smaller gardens and shrub plantings. It is often used in traffic islands and other public areas where growing conditions are tough. It produces masses of deep red flower brushes tipped gold, mainly through spring and early summer with occasional blooms almost year-round.
Strappy-leaved plants such as flaxes, Dianella and Lomandra are useful in dry environments and can form colourful contrast and structure to a garden. These look good when used with the smaller growing grass varieties.
Species such as the mini toe toe and the brilliant orange foliaged Carex testacea provide excellent landscaping opportunities when used in groups of three, or in larger mass plantings, using the colours of the grasses to contrast against one another.
Lomandra grasses have come to recognition in New Zealand in the last five years or so. They are valued for their general hardiness, the attractive form and structure they can bring to a garden through the movement they offer in the wind, the range of colours that are available and the ease of care.
Lomandra grasses are generally "self cleaning", meaning that old foliage shrivels and disappears from the plant rather than "hanging on" and needing to be removed by hand for the plant to look good. Where many plantings have been made in the past with Carex type grasses, the Lomandras are now being used to great effect with a much lower maintenance requirement.
The standout varieties would have to be Lomandra Lime Tuff and Lomandra Nyalla. Lime Tuff has a spiky fresh green appearance and its growth and survival in tough situations can best be described bullet proof. It grows to a useful 50cm x 50cm in sun or part-shade situations.
In the summer months it produces sweetly fragrant flower spikes that sit down amongst the foliage. This plant can be used to a highly attractive effect planted amongst a larger growing, darker coloured flax.
As well as a garden specimen planted in groups of threes, fives or more, Lime Tuff is the perfect pot specimen. Being so drought tolerant, it is great for the sunny patio or outdoor living area.
Nyalla is the same in its hardiness. Its appearance has a soft bluey-green hue and it is slightly taller, growing to about 80cm.
A favourite for coastal gardens is a dwarf variety of pohutukawa called Meterosideros Tahiti. This plant grows about 1m by 1m and has brilliant orange-red flowers during summer and into the autumn. It makes an excellent plant in the garden or in pots and handles tough conditions.
Another of the best performing small growing plants for dry areas is the Morning Glory, Convolvulus cneorum, not to be confused with the problem weed of the same name. This plant is not invasive.
It offers almost year-round colour - it is seldom without a flower. White trumpet flowers are 3cm-4cm across with a bluish tinge, shaded yellow in the throat. It grows 60cm high by 1m wide with stunning silvery-grey foliage.
A family of New Zealand natives that perform well in the drier environment are the Coprosmas. Coprosmas have many varieties that excel in dry, hot conditions. They also attract the birds with berries that develop each year. The range of varieties is diverse with a number of colourfully leaved shrubs growing about 1m-1.5m high. One of the most popular of these is Inferno.
Coprosma Inferno was released in 2010. It quickly raced into the best sellers list. Its foliage colouring orange, red and pink during the summer months deepens dramatically as the weather turns cold with foliage changing to deep reds.
There are also a number of varieties with divaricating type foliage. This is typified with small leaves on branches that have a tangled appearance. Coprosma Taiko is a good one to grow in the home garden with tiny green leaves on blackish stems offering an attractive appearance that can be used to good visual effect when contrasted with other plants.
It has a spreading habit, and is excellent for holding sand and banks together in harsh conditions.
A New Zealand native tree that thrives in dry conditions is pohutukawa. This is certainly one of the most popular when a large tree is needed. Other natives include some of the Pseudopanux varieties and Griselinia.
There are a number of other plants that originate from hot dry climates of Australia and South Africa that are suited to these garden situations. They include leucadendrons, protea, banksia, westringia and grevillea to name a few.
I also haven't managed to mention ceanothus, rock rose, escallonia and feijoa that do well in the coastal and dry environment too. So don't despair if you have had a few failures in a dry situation – there is quite a variety of things that you can grow. Many of these plants are attractive to birds, providing both flowers containing nectar as well as good foliage cover in which to nest as well as inhabit.
* Gareth Carter is general manager of Springvale Garden Centre.