Friday, April 2, 2010

That's groovy, baby

Sydney's summers are very prettily bookended with purple showers. In spring (November usually) backyards throughout the city shimmer with the pale-purple blooms of magnificent, spreading jacaranda trees. And now, in autumn, it's the turn of the tibouchinas to provide a similar carnival of colour to farewell the summer. You can find tibouchinas in bloom in virtually every street here right now, and their version of purple is a stronger, bolder, more tropical hue, and the plants themselves are a fair bit smaller than the stately jacarandas.

The problem for me is that until now, I have run out of space in my garden and don't have anywhere to plant a tibouchina, but now all that has changed. A very small dwarf form has just been launched on the market, and I just planted one this morning. And my darling wife Pammy is so very pleased about all this, as it's another one of 'her' plants in our garden.

If some of you are saying to yourself "Tibouchina, never heard of them" perhaps their former name of Lasiandra might ring a bell? Like the jacarandas, tibouchinas are also originally from South America, but they are very much at home here in Sydney's warm climate, and they love things to get even warmer, thriving all along the subtropical coastline up to Brisbane and beyond. When in bloom, the trees are virtually covered in these simple, open blooms which are about two to three inches across.

This one belongs to my neighbour across the road and it's the typical size you see here, about 3-5 metres tall on average, but some species can grow a fair bit bigger, say 8-10 metres, in an ideal spot.

While jacarandas are a popular street tree in many cities and towns here in Australia and also overseas (eg, Pretoria in South Africa), tibouchinas are not used so often in this way, but about two suburbs away from me there is one street lined with tibouchinas, and this is how it looked this morning. It's no wonder Pammy likes these plants, but we just don't have space for even one extra 4 metre tall tree. And then I worked on an article in our magazine about the new dwarf tibouchinas, and when Pam saw little 'Groovy Baby', that was it. We were getting one.

This is such a new release that it's only coming out in limited numbers this autumn, and more are scheduled to be produced in time for next spring. In fact, none of our local nurseries had even heard of it, but I tracked down the supplier, spoke to the sales guy, gave his details to our local nursery, waited two weeks, paid $10.95 for it on Thursday, and I planted it today.

'Groovy Baby' promises to grow just 60cm (two feet) tall and 80cm wide, but I don't trust or believe plant labels, and so I am hoping it might even stretch to 80cm tall and 1m wide if I look after it very well. There are other dwarf tibouchinas around here in Australia, such as 'Jules' which reaches about 1 metre tall (but often exceeds that) and the new Jazzie and Carol Lyn, both of which are a bit larger than Jules (about 1.5 to 2m). All of them would be too big for the spot I have available.

Planting was easy, but I do have one or two little planting tips for shrubs which might be useful to someone about to plant a shrub or tree.
1. Don't add anything to the planting hole: no fertiliser, no compost, nothing. Sometimes too much fertiliser can burn tender young plant roots, but at other times an over-fertilised planting hole simply stops the roots from growing down and out in search of food. If roots are already surrounded by food, why go elsewhere?
2. The ideal size for a planting hole is the same depth of the pot's root ball (in this case about 6-8 inches) but at least twice as wide as the pot's root ball. So, don't dig too deep but by all means loosen all the soil around the plant, get rid of rocks, weeds etc.
3. Don't cover over the existing root-ball's soil surface with any more soil. Try to get the plant into the ground so its soil surface is the same as the surrounding soil.

Having managed all that, I watered the plant in well with a watering can mixture of a seaweed solution (in this case, Seasol), then I mulched the whole area. I won't be feeding the plant at all until it shows some signs of growth. At that point I'll give it some slow-release fertiliser. It has a few flower buds on it, so we're hoping for a early splotch or two of purple from our little 'Groovy Baby'.

And right now, when I say 'little' I mean teeny weeny. When it grows up it's going to fill that space, and so my job will be to regularly trim back the ever-encroaching grevillea on the left, and the thyme motherlode that's just barely visible on the right, to give Groovy Baby the space to get going.

Autumn is probably the very best time to plant things here in Sydney. It's a mild season and the soil is warm, so plants settle in well. Later on, our winters are mercifully mild and so by the time spring comes around I am hoping Groovy Baby will really get growing, and by this time next year Pammy will finally have that dazzling purple patch she has waited for so long.


HVHampers said...

Wonderful, detailed posting on the delights of the tibouchina - perfect for an easter planting!

Chartreuse said...

I don't think my two dwarf tibouchina are the same variety as yours, as I acquired them two years ago. Nevertheless, if yours behave as mine have, the space you've allowed will be perfect.

lotusleaf said...

Greetings! I followed you from India Garden. The tibouchina blooms are really dazzling. We have the jacarandas blooming everywhere now, but I have never seen a tibouchina.

Green thumb said...

I haven't seen tibouchina here around my place but vaguely remember reading about it somewhere.
At around 10$ it sounds pretty steep. Hope it turns out the way it has been mentioned on the label.

Evelyn Howard said...

Hi Kamie
Hope you had/are having a nice Easter break. I can't help but notice some very nice pots of succulents next to where Groovy Baby is growing :).

Elephant's Eye said...

Succulent pots do look interesting. Have you posted about them?

Jamie said...

Diana & Evelyn

Yes, I've blabbed on at length about my succulents in earlier postings. If you have half an hour to spare, try these two from November 2008...


Belinda said...

I love the Tibouchina - and am inspired to plant one now.

vodnivila said...

Yes I planted the Dwarf Tibouchina here in south Florida. First year we had beautiful flowering bush and now for 2 years the top of the tip of leaves is browning and curling and before it will bloom don't look very pretty. Don't know what it is. Thank you for any suggestion? vodnivila

Ozmac said...

Vodnivila; I am having pretty much the same experience with mine. It was great in its first year, but it didn't like our unusually hot and dry summer and its leaves are brown at the tip and it hasn't grown much, either. However, it isn't dead yet, and I'm just hoping it will get going this autumn and winter. All I am doing is pulling off all flower buds, so it can put its energies into growing roots and foliage until it is well again.

Jamie said...

Mine is struggling, too. I am pretty much doing exactly the same as detailed in Ozmac's post. Another friend planted one and it isn't doing well, either, so I have some doubts about this plant's general health at the moment. Haven't heard a success story yet!

Anonymous said...

Hi, we have a huge lasiandra here in Tasmania but unfortunately it has to be removed,,, does anyone know if it can be cut back hard and transferred?? I love it and want to save it,, its also winter here, I hope that doesn't ruin my chances. Sharon.

Jamie said...

I'm surprised to hear the lasiandra is even doing well in Tassie, as it likes warmth. I suspect its current position must be nicely sheltered from Tassie's chills?
Its new spot will have to be similarly cosy, sheltered from cold winds especially.
Winter is a good time to transplant anything, so do go ahead and do it now, but go easy on the pruning. That will only stress the plant even more.
Take as big a root ball as possible when transplanting, don't add a molecule of fertiliser until you see new growth later on in the year, in spring, but do pamper the plant with a seaweed product such as Seasol, applied monthly, to encourage new roots to grow.
Good luck!

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