Sunday, January 8, 2012

Melianthus major in bud in January!

If you have even the slightest interest in gardening you cannot fail to notice that, so far at least, this is proving to be a very mild winter. Here in East Devon, we've only had a handful of slight frosts so far. Even so, at one week into January, whilst having a brief rummage through the garden I was very surprised to find that my Melianthus major has a big fat bud on it. Talk about early!

New flower bud on Melianthus major

I know some gardeners that turn their noses up at this plant and I've heard it said that it's a bit too common, but I rate Melianthus major very highly. Besides, plants have to earn their popularity, right? I love the large, ornamental leaves. I love the slightly glaucous colour to the foliage. I love the rapid rate of growth. And I love the way it fits in so well with other subjects in a subtropical garden setting. It's my kind of plant!
Beautiful glaucous leaves on Melianthus major
However, I have a confession to make. I've killed a few of these now. I have read that Melianthus major is easy to propagate from seed or cuttings, but I've never tried either. Instead, I've always bought plants and been really pleased when they take off so well upon planting. They grow fast. But each time, I'd made a critical mistake, and planted them out towards the end of the summer. Melianthus major is not massively hardy. The leaves go black at around -4, and the stems can be cut to the ground at around -5 or lower. Thankfully, it resprouts from the ground, and due to the fast growth rate will usually have recovered well by the end of the season. That is, if it has an established root system to regenerate from. My newly planted specimens were never established enough to make a reappearance after being frosted.

This year, I found one for sale late February. It got planted out in March. Once the soil warmed in the Spring it really took off. 9 or 10 months on and it has had the entire growing season to put out roots and harden off the new wood. Now, in January, it is looking fantastic. And with that bud! I would normally expect flowers in late Spring on the previous seasons growth (plants that are cut to the ground and reshoot after winter won't flower) so this was a real surprise.

Lets hope that the rest of the winter is just as mild and that the flower gets it's chance to open!
Detail of new leaf opening
Melianthus major and a Kniphofia sp (red hot poker) photographed at Abbotsbury Subtropical Gardens in sunnier times.


  1. A most excellent post! I love melianthus major, I agree, it's my kind of plant. I work at a nursery where we grow them from seed and surprisingly they go from seedling to monster in only one season. We had a flat attacked by rats and I ended up finding the seedlings popping up all over the greenhouse. I have two plants at home and so far they're loving the mild winter, the tops are green and fresh. No buds yet tho.... we shall see..

  2. Hey, thanks for the comment! Glad to hear that there are more Melianthus major fans out there!

    No rat problems here. In fact this plant even seems resistant to the usual slug and snail attacks that my garden suffers.

    Hope yours flowers for you at some point!


  3. Another fan here, love melianthus, and also must confess to killing a couple, before being given a plant by a friend. Its still looking good even in January!

  4. Mark and Gaz, thanks for your comment. Yes, Melianthus is a great plant. Hope that yours makes it through the cold snap that has been forecast!

  5. I always find it funny when people talk about this plant being too common because I think I've seen it maybe twice in my life. I can't see how anyone could ever get tired of looking at it.

  6. I am just about to go into my garden and see how mine is doing (Cornwall). Going to get some rooted cuttings . They are wonderful! Great blog! : )

  7. Flowerpot, thanks for your kind comments!

    Hope your Melianthus major has survived the winter ok. I'm guessing that the Cornish climate is pretty kind on these?

  8. Hi
    I have just ordered this plant on Amazon could you help with the
    Soil required
    Fertilizer required

    Thank you
    South Yorkshire

  9. Hi Billy,

    Mine grows in s fairly fertile clay based soil, although it is far from the best are of soil in my garden. This is pretty water retentive without getting waterlogged - that might give you an idea of what to aim for. I don't tend to add fertilizer - it just gets on with it!