April in the Garden
Let us nurture our planet Earth by using sustainable practices and nourishing our soils so that they can continue to produce healthy food for us all. Besides the fact that there is no planet B, we have good reason this month to pamper our planet because Tuesday 7 April is World Health Day and on Wednesday 22nd it is Earth Day, as well as International Mother Earth Day. How about celebrating these days by eating healthily and planting any plant that will make you happy, and the Earth a better place to live in.
Time to sow
Namaqualand daisies or African daisies, (Dimorphotheca sinuata), are just so easy to sow, easy to grow and WOW, what a show they make in late winter and through spring. This indigenous plant needs full sun for the flowers to open. The seed is mostly available in shades of orange, yellow, and salmon mixed or white. They are conveniently available in larger packets which will cover more of your garden. Don’t forget to buy and plant the seed now because this is one of those plants that has gardeners rushing to their nearest garden centre when they see them in full, glorious bloom, only to be told that they should have been planted in April. Sow in-situ i.e. directly into the beds.
Another indigenous plant the Livingstone daisy or Bokbaaivygie, (Mesembryanthemum criniflorum orDorotheanthus belliidiformis), is also a winner and a firm favourite of many gardeners. (Some seed suppliers label these seeds as Vygie mixed). Their satin-textured daisy-like blooms, require a sunny position for them to open’ They are available as mixed colours of white, yellow, orange. cream, pink and crimson. The iridescent colours are jolly and uplifting. Plant as an edging, tumbling over walls or the edges of containers. Seeds can be sown in-situ. Like Namaqualand daisies, Livingstone daisies are often available in larger packets and are also easily scattered, or directly sown.
Tip: Water lightly, preferably every day, until the seeds germinate. The light watering will ensure that you do not wash the scattered seeds away.
It is also time to sow the ever-popular fairy primulas, (Primula malacoides), and wildly popular pansies, (Viola wittrockiana). Primulas planted en masse in shady areas produce a stunning meadow-like feel, they attract butterflies and are available in colours mostly ranging from white through pink, lavender and even dark pink or “red”. As with pansies, they have multiple uses in the garden, in potted containers or hanging baskets. Primulas, and especially pansies are best sown in trays and transplanted into the garden later. Pansies are cheerful and irresistible when it comes to filling sunny areas for Winter and Spring colour.
Time to plant
It is good time to plant roses since they will establish themselves before Winter and be ready to “take off” in Spring.
A whole range of amazing Winter and Spring flowering bulbs are available to snap up right now at your GCA Garden Centre, with tulips, daffodils and hyacinths normally only arriving in May. Indigenous Freesias are scented and are therefore best placed near a door, window or entertainment area where their fragrance can be appreciated. Choose Ranunculus for a stunning show of bright colours. Soak Ranunculus “claws” in room temperature water overnight for best results and plant them with their “claws” facing downwards.
Tip: On the highveld, it is best to wait until the night temperatures have started to fall, i.e. later in the month or into May before planting most of the bulbs.
What to Spray
Protect your conifers from cypress aphid by visiting your local GCA Garden Centre to purchase the best solution for preventative treatment. The aphids are active on the conifers between April and August. The Autumn and winter damage they do to the plants only shows on the plant from September onwards when the aphids have already moved away.
What to Feed
Continue feeding your cool season lawns since they are evergreen and will need the nutrients to ensure a healthy green lawn for Winter. This is also the best time to sow cool season grasses for an evergreen lawn or as an over-seeding of lawns like Kikuyu that brown off in the cold regions during winter.
If you do not have Bacopa, (Sutera cordata), in your garden, perhaps now is the time to try a really rewarding plant that is one that will quickly creep into your heart. Unless planted in a hanging basket, the plants are normally quite small in the nursery and together with their tiny white, pink lavender or blue flowers they may not look like much, but once established they are a visual treat with their long stems dripping in a dainty profusion of blooms for months on end. They are a great groundcover often recommended for sun but seem best in semi-shade in our climate and look superb when cascading over the rim of a container or over a wall. Bacopa need regular, consistent watering to maintain their health especially when flowering. Adding a water-holding agent to the soil will benefit the plant since the soil will hold water for much longer and hold fertilizer in the soil too. Ask for advice at your local GCA Garden Centre. Several different water-holding agents are available to be used when planting trees or containers and especially hanging baskets that tend to dry out quickly.
Edibles – Look out for Easter Bunny in your veggie patch!
April and May are a good time to plant celery, (Apium graveolens), which is a cool-season plant and does not do as well in the very hot parts of the country, (don’t plant it out if the weather is still very hot). Celery is a rich source of antioxidants and vitamins which have incredible health benefits. It’s a great snack for low calorie diets. Celery enjoys organically rich soils. It likes to be kept moist and is a heavy feeder, so prepare the soil well and water and feed regularly. Plant in the sun, (from seedling trays), in the hotter regions try to shade it during the hottest part of the day. Planting celery could be a good way to encourage Easter Bunny visiting your garden this year. Remember to look out for Easter Bunny on Easter Sunday 12 April.
Tip: The darker celery stems have the most intense, delicious flavour.
Did you know? Celery has been grown for hundreds of years and is favoured in cuisines around the world. A rudimentary variety of species of celery was even found in King Tut’s tomb.
There are a whole range of Winter/Spring veggies and flower seedlings available to plant now in your local GCA Garden Centres. Schizanthus or poor man’s orchid, (Schizanthus x wisetonensis), is a particularly pretty, cool season annual that is not used nearly enough in our gardens. It prefers semi-shade in our climate, has delicate, fern-like leaves with masses of multi-coloured blotched and speckled orchid-like flowers. They like well-drained soil and the tall blooming stems are ideal as cut-flowers. Look out for them in seedling tray or colour bags/pots in your local GCA Garden Centre.
Blooming right now
- Roses: Are repeat bloomers that we can always rely on.
- Salvias: Many new varieties have entered the market over the recent years and have already become firm garden favourites mostly due to their ability to survive dry conditions. They have also not disappointed gardeners in the length of time that they flower. Their often, unique coloured flowers range from white, pink, salmon and red to bi-colours with exquisite combinations of deep blue and black. Go into your local GCA and ask to see the different varieties on offer – you won’t be disappointed.
- Pentas: Pentas, (Pentas lanceolata), has large clusters of dainty star-like flowers that bloom almost all summer long and attract bees, butterflies and Sun birds. The flowers range in colour from lavender to red, pink or white. This shrub prefers to be planted in full sun and in moist, well-drained soil.
- Frangipani; Very few plants add as exotic and tropical feel to the garden as the frangipani. It is best suited to coastal and warmer regions but has found a place in many protected pockets and micro-climates on the highveld. The frangipani’s unique form and fragrant flowers is not easily substituted by any other plant.
Cut often for the vase, if not remove the dead flowers regularly and look out for fungal infections such as Black Spot and Powdery Mildew. Adding a balanced fertilizer like 5:1:5, overcomes the natural start of dormancy and ensures flowering n Winter. Keep on spraying to avoid defoliation due to Black Spot infection.
Tips for your garden in April:
- Its Autumn planting season so if you have not prepared your soil with oodles of compost, (or similar additives and even fertilisers), then do so now. Remember, if you look after the health of your soil, it will reward you with healthy plants.
- Feed both Azaleas and Camellias which have set buds for their late Winter or Spring flowering. Be sure to be giving them regular watering from now until flowering time.
- Mulch to conserve water, reduce weed growth and keep the soil warmer.
- If you are sowing Winter vegetable seeds you will need to do so before the end of May.
- Many succulents will start to flower in late Autumn and Winter so it is a great time to choose your flowering favourites in the Garden Centres.
You can sow the following veggie seed this month; beetroot, broad bean, cabbage, carrot, celery, garlic (cloves), kohlrabi, leek lettuce, onion, parsley, parsnip. Peas, radish, swiss chard and turnip. In coastal KZN and the lowveld you will exclude onions and can add the following to the above list; brussels sprouts, capsicum, cucumber, brinjal, bush beans, pumpkin, runner bean, tomato and marrows. Tip: Prepare the soil well with plenty of compost and be a champion of stainable gardening practices.