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Portulaca blooming in a pot

Colourful portulaca

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PENNY WOODWARD suggests a bit of colour to brighten your day

It was obvious early on that this summer was going to be hot and dry in my neck of the woods. So I hunted around for the best seedlings to give me great colour, but I also wanted ones that wouldn’t wilt in the direct sun and wouldn’t need too much water. The obvious candidates were portulaca, also known as moss rose (Portulaca grandiflora). These cheerful, no-nonsense plants can be grown from seed sown in spring or autumn, but I usually leave it too late and end up buying seedlings. Although I planted mine in early December, even now it wouldn’t be too late to purchase and plant them in temperate regions of Australia.

Seedlings transplant easily and spread rapidly. I put three small seedlings in each pot, which they rapidly filled and then overflowed the edges. They also work well on the edge of a garden bed or even in a hanging basket. I like buying the mixed punnets so that I get a profusion of colours, but if you are into colour co-ordination, then you can also get them in single colours. An occasional feed with some worm juice, seaweed solution or dilute fish emulsion will keep them growing and flowering right into autumn and early winter. Cut off dead flower heads to stop plants getting too lanky.

The only two downsides to these colourful plants are that the flowers are at their best in the morning, and gradually close in the afternoon, but then re-open the next day. The other is that in hot weather the birds love to nibble on the succulent leaves to obtain moisture. As long as your plants are growing well, and there aren’t too many birds, then it’s not a problem. But when the plants are small and not well established then it is a good idea to put a temporary net, cage or bit of wire netting over the top to protect them. At any time of year there will be different annuals you can plant. Pop some into a pot and enjoy their colourful contribution for many months.