February in the Garden
February is great for outdoor living and entertaining on our patios, around the pool or braaing and picnicking in our gardens. The end of the month will be a great time to sow Sweet William seed to provide splashes of colour in your happy place. Part of the carnation family, Sweet William, (Dianthus barbatus), bear masses of single flowers that are mostly striped and have pretty, serrated edges, available in pinks, whites, purples, violet and more. Scatter the seeds onto the soil in a sunny spot and water lightly every few days. These biennials have a sweet, peppery perfume and are prized as a cut flower. Their nectar attracts bees, butterflies and birds and they tend to self-seed.
Tip: Start preparing your soil in strips or ridges for the sowing of Sweet Peas in March and April. Don’t forget the trellis or other support framework for them to climb up.
What to Plant
It is a good time to start planning your plantings of winter flowering annuals. Across most of our country cold winter days warm up sufficiently by midday to enjoy a winter braai to compliment the rugby or simply enjoy with friends. Winter and spring flowering annuals provide the colourful WOW factor in your happy place. The nights will start to cool down soon and by March and April you will be able to buy your favourites.
Hold onto your heart, while you get introduced to royalty, the new Petunia “Queen of Hearts” and “King of Hearts”. These two regal gems are set to smitten you with their large flowers bordered by perfectly formed red hearts set in a yellow background, for the Queen, and white background for the King of Hearts. In favourable conditions the flowers often smother the plant…. with their hearts ….. or should we say kisses? Grow them in full sun or partial shade in the garden, pots or hanging baskets.
What to Spray – to protect your happy place
Intense Summer heat combined with the under-watering of certain plants, (like roses), are ideal conditions for Red Spider Mites and Two Spotted Mites to cause damage to your plants. To identify them you will need to look out for white/yellowish spots/patches on their upper leaf surface. These spots multiply and the leaf becomes more yellow with the outer edges of the leaf staying greener. This is an indication of the increase in mites sucking on the underside of the leaves. Later leaves may drop off, and in severe cases, tiny web-like strands can be seen on the plant. Turn the leaf over and by using a magnifying glass you will notice a few, (or many), very tiny adult mites moving around. If in doubt, take a few sample leaves into your local GCA Garden Centre to identify the pest. Make sure that the sample is carefully sealed in a zip-lock bag. Certain recommended oils are best used to spray on the underside of the leaves in order to suffocate the pest and these can be bought at your garden centre. Tip: Do not apply oil sprays in the heat of the day.
Powdery Mildew is a fungal disease that loves hot, wet and windy weather. Affected leaves, stems and even fruit look like they have been powdered. The pathogens may have overwintered in the plant or spread by wind. Tentacles enter the plant to take out nutrients and moisture, but the powdery spreading takes place outside the plant. The disease stresses and weakens the plant and if it covers large areas of the leaves it may also reduce the sugars produced in the plant and thus the flavour of the fruit or vegetable. Here are some of the most common plants that are more susceptible to Powdery Mildew: roses, begonias, dahlias, zinnias, melons, zucchini, squash, grapes, potato plants, peppers and lettuce. Visit your local GCA Garden Centre for a recommended solution.
What to Feed
Give your happy place plants a boost to get them through the Summer. This can be done in several ways, firstly there are the traditional granular/pelleted fertilisers. At this time of year any flowering or fruiting plants will benefit from a balanced fertiliser. Your favourite GCA Garden Centre will have a range on offer for you. Like roses and lots of other flowers they need to keep growing and require nitrogen as well as some phosphates.
Liquid fertilisers are said to be like Red Bull for plants! Yes, like other fertilisers, they can be used to boost the health and nutrition of both indoor and outdoor plants. They are easy to apply either as a soil drench, with some being great as a foliar feed too.
What to Pick – from your happy place
It is almost autumn and that means harvesting season. Growing berries has become quite the thing to do. So, let’s look at some popular berries you can expect to harvest now and in the coming months:
- Blackberries: Pick when plump and shiny. Rinse the berries just before eating since doing this at the time of picking will encourage them to become soggy.
- Blueberries: Most varieties have a matt, dull look to them when ripe.
- Cape Gooseberries (Physalis edulis): (The “Cape” is not a geographical indication but rather the Cape or husk covering the fruit). Plump, fresh-looking gooseberries can be picked as they are starting to change colour. These early berries will be quite hard and very tart but are great for making pies, crumbles and tarts. Once they change colour to an orangey-yellow and you can feel some “give” when gently pressed between your fingers, this indicates that they are fully ripe, much sweeter and ready to eat fresh. If you haven’t started picking and berries start falling off the bushes, then this is your que.
Tip: Removing berries early on thins the berries out and allows the remaining ones to grow larger.
- Raspberries: They ripen over about a two-week period which means picking every few days. When ripe the berry will leave the vine willingly. If you need to tug on them this means that they are not yet ripe. Try to harvest on sunny days when they are dry and only rinse them just before eating.
- Gogi berries: You may have to wait a bit longer for these to ripen. Only the ripe berries, (i.e. when fully changed to a red colour and easily removed from the tree), are edible. The berries are easily bruised and turn black if injured during picking. It is best to place a sheet of some kind below the tree while you shake the fruit loose.
Let’s bring a little love into our happy place with “pomme d’amour” the old French word for a tomato (which literally translates to love apple). It is time to harvest tomatoes. Don’t despair if you did not find time to plant any this season because there is an “instant fix” in the form of “patio veg”. This is a range of often smaller growing veg that are ideal for planting in pots on a sunny patio or elsewhere. These include amongst others, tomatoes conveniently on offer almost fully grown in pots and hanging baskets…. just about ready to harvest and enjoy! Some amazing patio veg tomato varieties to look out for are “Sweetie”, “Little Sicily”, Orange Zinger and the weeping “Tumbler”.
Tip: Refrigerating fresh tomatoes spoils the texture and flavour that make up that garden tomato taste, so rather place them in a fruit bowl.
It’s time to tackle algae in the pond on paving or pathways. Go into your GCA Garden Centre and ask for the correct products for ponds – remember to state whether you have fish or plants in the water since some products are harmful to them. When using algaecides on patios, driveways or pathways in the garden, be careful when using them near plants.
Vertical gardening adds another dimension to gardens, placing an arch to divide garden rooms or to accentuate an entrance or path can be a stunning new addition to the garden. Arches are natural “frames” or windows to a view or focal point in the garden. There are also an abundance of exquisite climbing plants that can further enhance an arch like: Climbing Roses, Yellow Jessamine (Gelsemium sempervirens), Star jasmine (Trachelospermum jasminoides), Chinese or Winter jasmine (Jasmine polyanthemum) and Mandevillas, to name a few.
Landscaping on the coast
Successful gardening along the coast is enhanced by improving the soil quality by incorporating humus from a compost heap, worm farm and or Bokashi system. Walls and retaining walls can barrier plants that are not salt-resistant from the salty winds. Halophytes are plants that are adapted to withstand these conditions with their normally thick, succulent-like leaves. Here are some recommendations: Beach bean (Canavalia rosea), Beach pumpkin (Arctotheca populifolia), Cyperus crassipes, Dune spinach (Tetragonia decumbens), Natal sour fig (Carpobrotus dimidiatus), Phylohydrax carnosa, Pig's ears (Cotyledon orbiculata), Trailing gazania (Gazania rigens).