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Winter colour, pruning and moon planting – Sue McDougall

It’s time to pull out the pruning saw and the secateurs and give them the once over before embarking on the pruning tasks. Sharp tools make pruning bearable and easy. Deciduous fruiting trees and roses are pruned in winter and often the branches to be removed are quite large. When this is the case cut into the branch from underneath before tackling the top of the branch. This reduces the risk of the heavy branch ripping the bark underneath if it drops before you have managed to cut all the way through.

Pruning is one of those gardening tasks that is dreaded by some and eagerly awaited by others. The patient gardeners are happy trimming shrubs with a small pair of secateurs while others insist on using a chain saw.

Many gardeners prune not at the time when it suits the garden or the specific plants, but the week the bulk rubbish is collected. There is usually a flurry of activity and plants are pruned so there is something to put out on the verge, with no thought to whether the plants will benefit from a trim. Winter pruning of spring flowering shrubs will reduce the flowering capacity of the plant in spring, so in this case keep the secateurs and pruning saw in the garden shed until after flowering, even if there is the temptation to make the most of the council pick-up.

Pruning is carried out for many reasons, the main ones being:

  • To increase flower production.  In the case of roses new water shoots are produced, which is the flowering wood. It’s important to retain water shoots and remove dead and diseased wood.
  • For the plant to keep a bushy shape and to keep it contained within the area it is planted in.
  • To regenerate a plant that seems to be on its last legs.
  • To remove pests and diseases.  For example, it’s best to remove fungal problems or insect damaged parts.
  • To decrease the size of certain plants that have taken over, this is when the chainsaw is warranted.
  • To maintain shape.  For example, with topiary or formal hedges.


Every year I promise myself that I am going to follow ‘planting by the moon’ practices and see if the results speak for themselves, but I never seem to get around to it. Gardening by the moon is an ancient farming practice that has been used for many thousands of years. Gardeners who follow this practice swear by the results and if a gardening practice is still surviving after so many years, there must be some substance to it.

The interaction of the moon sun and earth are very important as the gravitational forces affect many plants. Some scientists have confirmed that variation in sap flow corresponds with the gravitational pull of the moon.

The full moon phase is said to be the best time to sow or plant root crops and all fruiting and ornamental perennials. The full moon is also the best time for laying turf, taking cuttings and dividing plants. It also happens to be the best time for pruning winter dormant plants.

During the last quarter of the moon cycle you can rest from planting or pruning because this is the best time for weeding.  Then, during the new moon phase, get stuck into the garden and sow leafy annuals such as silverbeet or spinach. And if you have any energy left, during the first quarter, it’s the perfect time to transplant all annual fruiting plants where we eat the fruit or seed bearing part. This includes all berries, melons and capsicums, to name a few.

I garden when I have a few spare minutes or I know is the time to plant.  I never wait for the right moon but I must admit that I always wonder if  the results would be different if I planted at the correct time according to the moon. Let us know if you have had success, we would love to hear the stories.  The email address is


When the rain is pouring down and it’s a little soggy outside, add some winter colour to brighten up the outdoors. My choice for varieties that provide best winter colour are:

An annual that, when in full flower, has large heads of brightly coloured multiple daisy shaped flowers. Available in blue, mauve, purple, pink and cream shades, they provide an outstanding show in large pots. Some of the blue varieties even have a blue tinge on the underside of the leaves. A word of warning, snails and caterpillars can have a feast on the foliage so call into your local Better Pets and Gardens store for the safest caterpillar control.

This is my all-time favourite seedling. Bright faces, clear colours and all shades in between, these will stand up for months and brighten up any area. When planting pansies, choose a variety with good weather resistance so that it will flower beautifully in the wettest of winters.

Polyanthus is an often forgotten annual that is perfect for borders and window boxes.  It only grows to 15cm high and has a rosette formed with many flowers at any one time which makes it perfect for planting in small decorative pots to use as an indoor display and brightening up window sills. If you are selecting for indoor display, the yellow ones have a subtle perfume.

Produce many small flowers massed to create a wonderful display. They are perfect for borders and spilling over the edge of pots. Violas are available in clear colours or two- toned flowers with markings that resemble whiskers. Some of the new varieties have large flowers making it hard to distinguish the difference between them and pansies.

Are a cross between a pansy and viola.  They have the large flowers of the pansy and the hardiness and repeat flowering ability of the viola. I have seen panolas flowering for six continual months, right up to Christmas and they continue to look gorgeous.

To get the best out of your annuals for winter colour, plant them into a well improved soil and liquid fertilise fortnightly with a soluble plant food such as Thrive for Flowers and Fruit or Powerfeed. When planting into pots use a premium standards potting mix and start liquid feeding immediately.

To find out more about growing annuals, check out our Growing Annuals for Colour fact sheet.


Written by Sue McDougall, a qualified horticulturalist and experienced garden centre owner who grew up in the WA wheatbelt and has had experience in gardening throughout the entire state.  You may know Sue as the garden expert on 6PR radio and by her many TV appearances.

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