December in the Garden
It’s time for some last-minute tweaking to get your garden ready for festivities. Gardeners all over are also in a romantic mood, telling us to plant up ‘moonlight gardens’ with white flowers. Others are leaving their beloved paradises behind, but thinking of ways to protect it while they are loafing on a sunny beach.
No summer garden is complete without scented plants, so add more roses, gardenias, heliotropes and lavenders.
- Clean out your garden pond and plant new water lilies while they are in flower.
- Stake tall perennials, gladiolus, alstroemerias and dahlias. Lanky plants fall over and expose roots, which is fatal.
- Prune back spring-flowering shrubs such as azaleas, Cape mayflowers and deutzias. Pruning them later will affect next season’s flowering.
Veggie garden: Control caterpillars with biological caterpillar insecticide. Control fruit fly with the new organic fruit fly baits available in nurseries across the country.
Think of summer just taking a hold. Plant all its favourites like celosias, cleomes, bedding dahlias, impatiens, lobelias, marigolds and vincas. Also fill dull corners with long-lasting summer colour – use gauras, day lilies, shasta daisies, salvias, cannas and alstroemerias.
Hot tips: Border your flowers beds with Stachys byzantina (lamb’s ears) with velvety silver-grey leaves so cooling in a summer garden and so soft to the touch.
Hydrangeas will be at their best now. Pick the mature flowers (all the small blooms in the centre of the flower head must be open) for the vase. Remove the bark from the bottom of the stems and immerse overnight in a bucket of cold water to their necks before arranging them.
Going on holiday?
- Get a friend or neighbour to mow the sidewalk. An unkempt lawn is a sign of an empty house.
- Add water-retention granules to the soil of container plants. This will increase their water-holding capacity, so a good solid watering will last a long time.
The lawn is the first thing that guests will notice when visiting you. The Free State was blessed with ample rains in November, which is the perfect start for a lush green lawn so fertilise in earnest. Never top dress with red soil, as it tends to harden and then your lawn will struggle to spring to life next year. Add plenty of organic fertiliser such as Accelerator to get the root system going and to green your kikuyu.
If you are struggling with patchy lawn in shady areas, determine if you really want lawn there. Maybe a patio with built-in seating and a fire pit might be an option, or perhaps a garden bed filled with shade-loving plants such as aspidistras and plectranthus. If you want the area to remain lawn, quickly overseed the bare spots with wonder lawn, Evergreen or Shade Master.
Hot tip: There might be a colour difference between your shade lawn and kikuyu, thus sow a bit of the seed into the surrounding lawn as well – this will prevent harsh lines on your lawn.
Some enchanted evenings:
- Invest in solar garden lights.
- Plant white flowers close to the entertainment area. Also add fragrant plants like white roses, star jasmine and orange jasmine.
To add vertical dimension to garden beds, add large containers filled with red and white impatiens, to stand out between the surrounding plants. Also put up trellises on bare walls and place containers planted with flowery creepers like star jasmine at their bases.
Plant up shady spots with Plectranthus ‘Mona Lavender’, fuchsias, acoruses and violets. For sunny spots needing colour, add Salvia ‘Heatwave’ and colourful dwarf Inca lilies.
Plant white flowers to cool the garden down and to enjoy at night, like white-flowering agapanthus, Erigeron karvinskianus (fleabane), white chrysanthemums, white begonias and the most divine white New Guinea impatiens.
Stick to a regular program for healthy roses by feeding with 8:1:5, spraying with Rose Care or Complete, and watering regularly.
In the veggie garden: Protect vegetables like cucumbers, marrows, pumpkins and fruit like melons and mangoes from fruit fly. Sow sweetcorn and Swiss chard and plant small batches of dwarf beans once a month.
If you are going away over the festive season, get someone to mow your lawn. If unchecked, it may prove hard to get it back into shape again. If you are staying at home, feed with a high-nitrogen fertiliser and water well.
Pests are jolling here now. Watch out for, and take firm control of,:
- Tip-wilters on the soft tips of roses, dahlias and abelias.
- Fruit fly on pumpkins, squashes and fruit trees.
- Codling moth on apples and pears (wrap sticky tape around the base of the tree).
- Amaryllis caterpillar on crinums and other bulbous plants.
- Mildew on roses, dahlias and cleomes.
- Whitefly on beans and fuchsias.
- Pear slug on peaches, cherries, plums and ornamentals.
- Outbreaks of red spider mite during hot, dry weather.
Veggie garden: To avoid blight on tomatoes and mildew on cucumbers, squashes and pumpkins, water them early n the morning to allow the leaves time to dry off before nightfall. Give citrus trees their mid-season feed of 6:1:5 granular fertiliser or an organic equivalent spread evenly over the drip line 20-30cm away from the stem. Mulch and water well.
Christmas is a time for a lot of whites and reds. Plant these: Iceberg roses – a constant bloomer and vigorous grower. Icebergs are ideal for mass plantings or containers. Gardenias – known as one of the most fragrant shade-loving plants. They have attractive evergreen glossy foliage that grows into a neat round bush. These beautiful plants love growing in well-drained, acid soil.
Add bright colour with: Petunias, dianthus, cupheas, salvias and penstemons.
Veggie garden: Continue with small plantings of beans and a last batch of tomatoes. Make further plantings of baby marrows, patty pans, corn, baby gem squashes, beetroot and carrots. Also plant chillies, more parsley and rocket to add spice to salads.
Hot tip: Mulch everything – especially if you are going away for the holidays.