Name: freesia, Freesia lactea, Freesia laxa, Freesia hybrids.
Foliage: simple, narrow, sword-shaped leaves with a prominent midrib arranged in a fan shape, arising from an underground corm.
Climate: grows best in warm to cool temperate zones, avoiding very wet tropical areas, or areas with cold winters.
Soil: most well-drained soils are suitable.
Position: full sun or partial shade.
Flowering: colourful sprays of sometimes fragrant, six-petalled, trumpet-shaped flowers on wiry arching stems from winter to spring.
Feeding: use a controlled-release organic fertiliser specifically for flowering plants at planting in autumn and again in early spring.
Watering: keep well-watered during the growing season. Allow them to dry out in early summer once they have finished flowering and growing.
Freesias are perennials that grow from an underground corm and produce a mass of luminous, trumpet-shaped and delightfully perfumed flowers in spring. Flower colours in the wild species include creamy white, pink, purple or yellow, often splashed with brown, purple and pink. New modern hybrids make excellent cut flowers, and have extended the colour range to blue, mauve, red and pure white. Growing from as low as 10cm to around 70cm tall for some robust hybrids, they may require support for the lax leaves and flowers.
Freesias belong to the Iris family and originate in Southern and Central Africa, with most species from the Cape Province. Their natural habitat includes rocky upland locations to sandy lowland areas. Freesias have readily adapted to the warm temperate climate of Australia, generally growing in full sun or partial shade. Freesia lactea (syn F. alba, F. refracta) has become naturalised in some areas, and is considered a weed in some bushland locations.
Avoid planting freesias in hot, wet, tropical areas that do not dry out in summer, and in places with very cold winters. In cold winter areas, plant the corms in pots and put them in a frost-free greenhouse or frame over winter. All varieties of freesias can successfully be grown in medium to large pots and containers.
Freesias suit natural and cottage-style planting, and are at their best naturalised under trees, in mixed borders, or planted in pots close to the house, where the delightful scent can be enjoyed.
The best time to sow freesia seeds in Australia is from late summer to late autumn.
Freesias require a free-draining soil, so most garden soils are suitable. Enriching the soil with additional compost and soil conditioner will improve results. A pH between 6 and 7, which can be easily monitored with a pH kit, is preferred.
In pots and containers, always use a premium potting mix, and keep plants well watered throughout autumn to late spring/early summer.
At planting in autumn, apply a controlled-release organic fertiliser specifically for flowering plants, underneath the corms. In early spring, apply another top dressing of controlled-release fertiliser, or use a liquid feed for flowering plants.
Pruning is not generally required, apart from deadheading the flowers to stop them self-seeding in the garden or into natural areas.
Occasionally, slugs and snails may damage the foliage and flowers during moist or wet conditions. Organic control methods include beer traps, handpicking, and barriers of sawdust, crushed eggshells, wood ash or wood shavings. Adhesive copper tape works well underneath the rims of pots or containers. In the home garden, iron chelate-based snail pellets are the safest products to use.
In warmer areas, the wild species of freesia will self-sow around the garden once they are established. Otherwise, the seed may be collected in early summer and sown immediately or saved for sowing later in spring. Soak the seed in warm water for 24 hours before sowing.
The easiest way to increase freesias is by dividing up the clump of corms in late summer/autumn, before replanting. The larger corms will flower the following year, but the smaller cormels (tiny corms) may take another 2–3 years to reach flowering size, depending on the climate.
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