Autumn in the propagating shed

Published 08/03/16 | by Naomie Sunner

Naomie Sunner sketches a new season in the nursery.

AUTUMN is my favourite time of year. A walk in local bushland reveals fresh growth on shrubs withered by summer, green shoots emerging from summer-dormant lilies, and seedlings germinating in the freshly hydrated soils. And, as most of my favourite wildflowers can be grown in autumn, it is also my favourite propagation season. 

While Australia is well known for its showy and strange flora, much of Melbourne’s flora is small and delicate, and is easily overlooked by the casual observer. The beauty of many of our wildflowers is best observed on close inspection with a hand lens or when experienced en masse. Many of our local lilies are examples of this: while a single flower of a Wurmbea dioica (Early Nancy) can easily go unnoticed, a swathe in flower is a stunning sight, and also brings the knowledge that spring is on its way! 

So autumn is the time to propagate many of these flowers that herald spring, whether by seed, cutting or division. 

  • Daisies germinate in temperatures around 18 - 25° C. They require light to germinate, so should be surface sown March – mid April. Some species have a seed dormancy which can be a year. Can also be sown in spring. 
  • Summer-dormant lilies such as Arthropodium spp. (Chocolate and Vanilla Lilies), Bulbine spp. and Burchardia sp. (Milkmaids) germinate in autumn, grow over winter and 
  • then flower and seed in spring/summer. Sow fresh seed in late March - May. Seedlings germinate in a few weeks and will continue to germinate over a few months. 
  • Many other wildflowers can be propagated by seed in autumn, e.g. Brunonia australis (Blue Pincushions), Eryngium ovinum (Blue Devil), Stylidium graminifolium (Grass-leaved Triggerplant). 
  • With the exception of summer-growing grasses, such as Themeda (Kangaroo Grass), Bothriochloa (Red-leg Grass) and Dicanthium (Silky Blue-grass), most grass species germinate readily in autumn, as do most rushes and sedges. 
  • Many species are easy to grow by division, such as Dichondra repens, Viola hederacea, Veronica gracilis and many species of Goodenia. It is best to do these before the chill of winter sets in, where cold temperatures and lack of sunlight inhibit growth. 
  • While cuttings can also be done in spring, flowers can significantly reduce the quality and quantity of cutting material available. Take firm but actively growing stems from species such as Correa, Grevillea rosmarinifolia, Goodenia ovata, Pimelea humilis, Hibbertia riparia. 

Happy propagating!