February in the Garden
Let your love bloom in this Valentine’s month when you fill your garden (and heart) with stunning flowering plants in the most passionate colours, available at your favourite nursery.
Romancing the dwarf rose
Why settle for one short-lived long-stemmed red rose when you can rather have a patio filled with potted roses. Miniature rose varieties collectively known as “patio roses” are freely available in warm seasons. They flower profusely if kept in good light and are protected at root level with a layer of organic mulch to keep their roots cool and moist.
Give love with a “love palm”
The dwarf parlour palm (Chamaedorea elegans) hailing from tropical rainforests has such a sexy and lush appearance, that it has earned itself the more well-known common name of ‘Love palm’. It is the perfect ‘love token’ to grab a Valentine’s attention.
Green and bold-leafed plants in general, (which include huge palms) and botanical prints on upholstery, have become trendy decor items indoors. So, if you want to spend a little more, invest in the graceful Kentia palm (Howea belmoreana) as well.
Sweet and juicy
In yesteryear, strawberry planting time used to be in April when baby plantlets were removed from the mother plant to fill a newly, compost and manure enriched strawberry patch. Nowadays you will always find ready-to-plant strawberry plants in nurseries. Plant them up in window boxes or hanging bowls, feed and water often and enjoy their beauty, even when not in fruit anymore.
Replace tired bedding plants with seedlings of heat-loving Salvia splendens ‘Blaze of Fire’ or ‘Flare’ bright red. Complement the bright red upright flower spikes with silvery-grey Cineraria ‘Dusty miller’ – they like it hot and dry and will give you a flower and foliage-filled transition into late autumn.
Mulching is priority!
Advantage: Watering requirements can be cut down dramatically, and weeds are smothered and discouraged.
If you choose modern hybrids and tough favourites, you will be rewarded with greater flower power for less hassle in a flowery late summer border. Some of these include:
- Salvia greggii hybrids – constantly in bloom from summer into autumn.
- Hemerocallis hybrids – every day a new flower and edible too.
- Angelonia angustifolia hybrids – relish the summer heat.
- Echinacea ‘Cheyenne spirit’ – will smother you in flowers until autumn.
- Leucanthemum ‘Daisy May’ – huge white single daisies on short, sturdy stems.
- Pentas lanceolata ‘New Look’ – Dwarf perennial with ample flower heads made up of small star-shaped flowers. These are perfect gap fillers in white, soft pink and fuchsia-red.
Pop into your local GCA garden centre to pick up the latest fully grown dwarf veggies in containers, which will be ready to start harvesting from even while still sitting in a car’s boot. These are a modern trend to help small space gardeners to pot it up and grow it on. They include chillies, cherry tomatoes, and fresh loose-leaf lettuce varieties. Take advantage of these time-saving yummy goodies now, which will supply you with something to eat while waiting for other crops to mature.
Feed your garden
You should now use slow releasing soil and plant fertilisers which contain composted seaweed, fishmeal, humic acid and poultry manure – all natural minerals and growth stimulants to maximise and sustain summer growth, but which will also increase the water holding capacity of the soil. Feed and compost shrubs and climbers which will start flowering in late winter. Perennial salvias thrive in the heat and will soon make a spectacular autumn display. Make sure they are fed to give their best.
Bug watch – red spider
Look out for red spider mites which are problematic in periods of drought and very hot weather – use the correct insecticides to control this pest properly on plants like fruit trees, roses and shrubs, but destroy annuals like tomatoes, if too heavily infested.
Feed and water Helleborus, Camellias and azaleas to prevent bud drop. Mulch afterwards with pine needles. Feed roses at the end of the month with specialised rose fertiliser to get them ready for beautiful autumn blooms. Feed lawns with slow releasing/organic based or granular lawn fertiliser to maintain colour. Also remember to feed garden containers, young seedlings and indoor plants every two weeks with liquid fertiliser, and azaleas and Camellias with an acid fertiliser, to help them set buds.
Cut back petunias to encourage a late-autumn flush and remove green growth on variegated plants like Coprosmas. Feed with a potassium rich fertiliser (like 3:1:5, 8:1:5, or 5:1:5) to encourage a bloom of flowers.
Come rain, come shine, SunPatiens will flower all the time! SunPatiens have tough foliage and thick, very bright petals which are less prone to disease and can tolerate heat and high humidity. Plant lots of them and do not hide them away in the shade, they like sun!
Sweet peas can be sown at the end of the month. Prepare a trench for them with well-rotted kraal manure and add a lot of compost, bone meal and an organic fertiliser to the soil. Hot tip: Soak the seeds overnight in warm water to bulk them up a bit, to encourage germination, before sowing directly into the trench.
Heat and drought busters to add to your garden include Einadia hastata (salt bush) which are not only as tough as old gardening boots, but perfect to add cooling shades of silvery grey foliage. These plants grow extremely fast, respond very well to drastic pruning and can be formed into any topiary shape – perfect to use as a low and water wise hedge in formal gardens.
Another stalwart is Portulacaria afra (porkbush or elephant’s foot). You can allow it to grow naturally, or use it as a succulent hedge which virtually requires no water once established.
Hibiscus varieties available in various colour combinations will all be in full flower now. These shrubs are easy to grow and will produce an un-ending harvest of flowers which are edible too. Use them as screening plants, or as specimen plants in pots. If you need a flowering background for a mixed shrub bed, combine Hibiscus rosa-sinensis ‘Brilliant’ or any other hibiscus variety with another stalwart known as Solanum rantonnetii (potato bush) – the latter produces brilliant blue to purple flowers which are always welcome in the garden.
Fit for light shade: Plant mint – it is a refreshing, cooling herb for food flavouring, good digestion, relieving anxiety and fatigue, as well as acting as a natural insecticide. These plants like moist, rich soil and partial shade and there are many types to choose from.
Sow more to grow and eat: Veggie seeds which can be sown now, include beetroot, aubergine, tomatoes, carrots, cabbage, broccoli, lettuce, spring onions and radishes.
Hardy mint: Liquorice mint (Agastache or anise hyssop) produces spikes of powder blue flowers, irresistible to butterflies. It is a hardy and drought-tolerant feature plant that can hold its own in any mixed border.
- Remove old flower stalks and dead material around the base of spent perennials to curb mildew, rust and red spider mite.
- Spray roses against black spot, mildew and aphids.
- Watch out for hawk moth caterpillars feeding at night on impatiens, arum lilies and fuchsias.
- Control lawn caterpillar infestations.
Ask your local GCA garden centre for expert advice on the best remedies for your garden.
You can now start sowing those winter- and spring-flowering jewels, which need a bit of time to grow up in seedling trays. Try your sowing hands at cinerarias, Gazanias, Iceland poppies, primulas, Violas, pansies, larkspurs, Canterbury bells, columbines, sweet Williams and Aquilegias.
Prune deciduous climbers like wisterias, Boston ivy and ornamental vines that need thinning out. Also trim hedges and topiaries to keep their shape. Visit your local GCA Garden Centre for the correct tools, loppers and secateurs, as well as expert advice on the process of pruning.
Easy sowings – mix some quick germinating herb and vegetable seed like carrots, beetroot, radish, chives, and lettuce, together and sow in trays to keep in your window sill for snipping off to use as healthy micro greens for summer salads.
Annual herbs – basil, parsley, coriander and watercress must be sown again to replace tired crops.
It’s prime time for Bougainvilleas, Hemerocallis (daylilies), and variegated and green foliage plants. Plant these for a bold, bright and beautiful garden.
Purchase and plant beauties like fuchsias, Pelargoniums, heliotropes, hydrangeas, Felicias, diascia, Osteospermums, lavenders, rosemary, carnations, daisy bushes, Begonias and verbenas.
On hot days… Mist-spray houseplants like ferns and orchids to provide extra humidity. Keep ponds and bird baths topped up, for your feathered friends.
Watering wisdom – use a soaker hose rather than a sprinkler. Less water is required because the water is concentrated on the soil nearer the roots and there is less evaporation.
Take a leisurely drive out to your local GCA garden centre and find some late flowering perennials to colour your life and extend your summer garden. Some options are wild irises, red-hot pokers, hen and chickens, daylilies, Alstroemerias, asters and Watsonias.
Time to plant: Lachenalia, Veltheimia and belladonna bulbs.
Protect delicate plants from the prevalent summer and winter winds by planting a barrier of wind- resistant plants around the perimeter of your garden. Once established, these plants will help to keep your garden sheltered, while adding to your privacy as well. Some boundary plants you can try include coastal silver oak (Brachylaena discolor), bush tick berry (Chrysanthemoides monilifera), Water berry (Syzygium), Wild olive, milkwood or dune crow-berry (Searsia crenata).
Need a tough annual in the foreground which will spread out with succulent abundance and will lift your heart with eye-blinding colour? Plant Portulacas (also known as summer vygies). These gems will also save you water as they are drought and heat tolerant.
Prune & pinch – evergreen hedges and topiaries to keep their shape.
Feed – lawns with slow releasing/organic based or granular lawn fertiliser to maintain colour. Like in Gauteng above, remember to feed garden containers, young seedlings and indoor plants every two weeks with liquid fertiliser, and azaleas and Camellias with an acid fertiliser, to help them set buds.
* Water timer computer: Manually controls water usage over 24 hours.
* Water flow meter: Measures water usage, with memory capabilities, so you will soon see if you are over-doing it.
* Drill pump: Transfers grey water from tubs or water buts to the garden. These are simply attached to an electric drill to operate.
Designer plants: Plants with architectural features like some cacti and succulents are definitely ‘in’. The fact that they are heat-loving and like dry conditions is another advantage. Some of these beauties include:
- Agave attenuata (Swan’s neck) – perfect form and soft on the eye with thick, fleshy leaves in symmetrical rosettes.
- Agave geminifolia (Twin flower agave) – dwarf agave that forms a dense, symmetrical rosette with narrow, sharp-tipped, dark green leaves.
- Agave potatorum ‘Kichiokan’ – small and compact with rounded blue-grey leaves with conspicuous black teeth along the margins.
Time saving tips: Cover the compost-enriched soil with weed matting before planting these ‘camels’, through slits you have cut in it. Add a mulch of gravel or pretty pebbles over the weed matting after watering in the newly planted, and let them work their magic.
Remove annuals if they are looking a bit sad, and deadhead others to give you a second flush of colour. Annuals which can be planted for late summer and autumn colour include petunias, Begonias, alyssum and Lobelias.
Pot it, grow it, eat it: Nearly all vegetables can be grown in containers. This saves water and time, and allows those without much garden space to grow their own chow. Start seed germination with organic peat pellets, which requires minimal water to seedling stage. Pot up using organic, water-retaining coco-peat bricks mixed into potting soil. These fibres swell up to 15 times their size and hold 11 times their weight in water. Another option is to use water retaining hydro gel.
Start sowing now: Beetroot, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, celery, cabbages, Chinese cabbages, carrots, cauliflower, kohlrabi, leeks, onions, lettuce, parsnips, radishes, spinach, Swiss chard and turnips.
For long-lasting colour on your patio, plant Mandevillas (dipladenias) in pots.
Feed your palms with a nitrogen-rich fertiliser, and anthuriums with a slow-release fertiliser.
Grow your own tea: Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) on its own makes a delicious, soothing tea. However, try combining 1 cup of fresh lemon balm sprigs, a sprig or two of lavender, 2 teaspoons of dried, seedless, rosehips and 1 1/2 teaspoons of dried or fresh orange peel to 4 cups of boiled water and this will take it to the next level. Allow all to steep, strain and sweeten with honey.
Natural repellents: Many herbs can be used as insect repellents in your home. Mints deter insects, including ants. Basil, rosemary and lavender keep flies at bay. Lemon scented herbs such as lemon balm, lemon grass and scented geraniums, are great for keeping mosquitoes away. Tansy is as good as (if not better than) flea repellent.
Check pumpkins, marrows and cucumbers for mildew – raising them off the ground prevents rotting. Remove the remaining flowers on pumpkin types to enable the plants to put energy into maturing the fruit which has already been formed.
Protect young plants and leafy veggies from the sun with 40% shade cloth.
Prune summer-flowering plants like Pelargonium, lavender, abelia, Weigela, hydrangea, heliotrope and salvia.
Divide and replant overgrown Agapanthus, Watsonias and chasmanthes.
Feed dahlias with bulb food and remove any faded flowers. Mulch roses and feed with a rose fertiliser. Keep them well watered. Feed deciduous fruit trees like apple, apricot, cherry, nectarine, peach, pear, plum and quince with a general fertiliser and water well.
Start preparing strawberry beds by digging in well-rotted kraal manure or compost and a few handfuls of general fertiliser.
Sow in trays or seedbeds: Cauliflower, cabbage, celery, oriental veggies, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, kohlrabi, onions, leeks. Do succession sowings of bush beans, beetroot, carrots, lettuce, radishes, spinach (Swiss chard), turnips, sweet basil, flat-leaf parsley, rocket.
Water tomatoes consistently to prevent flowers from getting dark patches on their bottom ends. Many other vegetables will bolt if they dry out. Harvest excess veggies and start freezing and bottling them. Harvest and freeze fresh, chopped herbs in a little water in ice-cube trays.