A Winter Wonderland

Contrary to what one might think, winter really is a wonderful time for gardening. Compared to those busy summer days when weeding, watering and feeding seems to dominate our activities, the less frenetic pace of winter allows us to slow down a little and redirect our focus.

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While giving adequate attention to the winter-flowering annuals and tackling the seasonal pruning of your shrubs and trees, some careful planning will result in a colourful garden as we enthusiastically head toward spring. Separating your winter activities into two distinct projects will help you manage the process easily, ensuring that you have an attractive and well managed winter garden that flows naturally into the exciting first few weeks of spring.

Don’t be shy to consult your local garden centre if you need some advice that is specific to your region and remember when it comes to Garden Centres; the accredited ones are the best! A list can be found on our website for easy reference.

Colour your garden and plan for an early spring

There’s nothing quite like being embraced by a colourful garden. Rather than delaying planting until spring, give your garden a head start with some instant colour.  Plant some of the winter seedlings that are available from your local garden centre. Select strong seedlings, consider calendula, alyssum, pansies and violas, these will enable you to create some colourful areas during what can otherwise be quite a drab period.

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Remember to remove the older flowers regularly, this will ensure you enjoy a bounty of blooms well into summer. Some other lovelies you’ll find in your local Garden Centre at this time of year are cyclamen, arctotis, bokbaaivygie and vygies.

Osteospermums are available in abundance in garden centres all over the country so go grab some if you’d like a spring-like effect in your garden throughout winter and into spring.

July is an ideal month to plant lilies, just remember to plant them as soon as you get them because they don’t much like being out of the ground. The St Joseph’s lily (Lilium longiflorum), standing tall with its ice-white, trumpet shaped flower, is often called the snow queen. This simply has to be one of the most beautiful of the lilium family. Elegant and glamorous, these beautiful flowers have a lovely fragrance. Plant these in clusters and your efforts will be rewarded with colourful displays of flowers from spring though to late summer. The hardy and aptly named tiger lily has an unusual orange flower that is adorned with delicate black spots and arches gracefully from the flowering stems.

You can’t go wrong with the hardy Asiatic lilies, with around one hundred varieties, these have fast become favorites due to their vigorous growth, the wonderful array of colours on offer and their durability. One can select from the different varieties according to colour, flowering time and style. Asiatic lilies can reach a height of 1,5 meters.

Lilies make wonderful island displays! Loosen the soil to an ideal depth of around 50-60cm and plant most bulbs twice as deep as their length. Bulbs need to be kept moist by watering twice a week and feeding them every two weeks with one of the specifically formulated bulb foods. Mulching is important with lilies because the bulb likes to remain cool while the flower enjoys the sun.

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Caring for your winter garden

Your winter-flowering annuals will also need liquid fertiliser, while you’re at the garden centre, stock up on some compost and manure. Improve the soil structure during winter and counter the effects of the dry months by preparing some mulch. For those of you who don’t have any (or enough) mulch readily available you can pick up some organic winter mulch that will enrich the soil while protecting plants from the weeds and cold at the same time.

Mix compost with some autumn leaves, if these have been shredded or chopped, perhaps after using a garden shredder, this would be ideal. Add some wood shavings, bark chips or sawdust. Mix this together to make mulch and spread generously at a recommended depth of four to eight centimetres around the base of large shrubs and trees. This will keep the roots warmer, reduce water loss and minimise weed growth. In addition to the soil benefits, mulch around the base of your trees will help give your garden a tidy and professional appearance all year round.

One of the best ways to introduce children to the natural wonder of a garden is in the vegetable patch. Suitable vegetable seedlings are available from your garden centres. You can safely plant cabbage; leeks; onions and lettuce throughout winter. Winter is an ideal time to make those warm soups, stews and casseroles, there’s nothing quite like adding your own home-grown herbs and vegetables.

Herbs are good for you

Our South African climate is suitable for growing herbs during most of the year. All you need is a small sunny area, ideally close to the kitchen. Prepare the soil well and add plenty of compost to ensure good drainage; you will soon have a ready supply of thyme, oregano and parsley to add to the winter pot. Herbs are generally quite hardy plants but do require regular watering and an organic fertiliser to encourage leaf growth.

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July is also junk month

Before sitting down to plan your spring garden, get into that shed or garage and clean it up. July is junk month, be harsh, dump all the bits and pieces that you’ve kept for years on a just-in-case basis. Gardening tools don’t last forever and need replacing from time to time. It can be quite fun strolling around your local garden centre and browsing through the new implements, add a shiny pair of new pruning shears to your arsenal and you’ll soon be keen to get back into your garden.

Winter can be an enjoyable season in the garden, it does perhaps take a little more effort and a positive attitude to get going but the rewards are well worth it. In South Africa we are fortunate to enjoy a moderate climate when compared to other zones, very few of our indigenous plants and trees are ever completely dormant. The winter sun is usually gentle and it’s an opportune time to reflect on the general design of your garden and your annual plan.

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