Don’t be afraid of the Watsonia.
Don’t be afraid of the Watsonia.

Elementary for your garden

This week of horrible heat has been hard on some plants - we were just lucky that it wasn't windy as well, or there could have been some losses. It's also great to see the flowering plants that shrug off such desperately uncomfortable conditions - petunias, zinnias and salvias didn't miss a beat, and neither did the watsonias.

Watsonias have fallen out of fashion since their heyday in the 1930s. Australia led the world in hybridising these plants then, but unfortunately some garden escapees spoiled the reputation of the whole genus.

South Africa has been the source of many excellent bulbs for Australian conditions - some of them are so well-suited to the climate in the southern states that they have become weeds. Some of the Watsonia species are in this group, but don't let that put you off all watsonias. There are many species and hybrids that aren't a problem in our climate, and will be a useful, attractive and low-maintenance addition to our gardens.

When selecting watsonias, chose those that flower from mid-summer through to autumn. These plants will thrive on little more than natural rainfall, as their dormant period falls in winter. Watsonias grow from corms, and some species will also form bulblets along the flowering stem, or set seed. If you're growing one of these, be vigilant about dead-heading the plant.

The ideal spot to plant the corms is in full sun - any kind of soil will do, as they aren't fussy. They like a soil that is naturally a bit acid, like ours, so don't add lime. If you aren't trying to grow flowers for competition, there's no real need to fertilise, either, but you might have to control thrips. Watsonias are members of the iris family (Iridaceae), and they all tend to be vulnerable to these sap-sucking pests.


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