February in the Garden

It’s the month of love! Valentine’s day falls in February and while lovers across the land will spend just one day to romance each other, gardeners will take full advantage of summer’s flowering favourites that GCA nurseries will have on offer, to romance their gardens – not only for a day or a month, but well beyond!

Romancing the patio and balcony

Why settle for one short-lived, long-stemmed red rose when you can rather go for intense gardening pleasure in a small space filled with ravishing potted roses? Miniature rose varieties collectively known as ‘patio roses’ are freely available in warm seasons. They flower profusely if kept in a sunny spot for a few hours and are protected at root level with a layer of organic mulch to keep their roots cool and moist. There are also top selling garden roses like ‘Little Red Hedge’ which one can plant in large containers to add a splash of bright colour on a patio. Rose grower Ludwig Taschner describes ‘Little Red Hedge’ as follows: “Imagine a deep red delphinium spike and you have the best description of this rose. The small, pointed buds of clear carmine-red are produced on rigid little side-stems and open into firm, double blooms which seem to last forever. The bush continues to produce basal flower spikes in the shortest time and will form a dense ‘little red hedge’.”

Double up on patio or balcony romance by adding pots and tubs filled with dreamy hibiscus with flower colours so bright, it will feel like you have been carried off to a far-away tropical island paradise! The latest ranges of hibiscus sold includes compact and very floriferous plants especially bred for container growing (although they will do well in the garden too!) They like full sun, do well in semi-shade too and can even be kept indoors as flowering house plants for short periods.

Love annual colour

Remove annuals if they are looking a bit sad, and deadhead others which are still willing to be around to give you further flushes of colour. Annuals that can be planted for late summer and autumn colour include petunias, begonias, marigolds, vincas, verbenas, portulacas and especially celosias, which will brighten up any area with their flame-like, feathery flowers in shades of red, orange, pink and yellow. With them in the ground, your flowerbeds will look fresh again!

Love your lawn

Follow these water wise tips to keep your lawn healthy under the hot sun:

  • Raise the height of your mower blades to about 5cm. Longer grass shades the soil and encourages root development.
  • Water early in the mornings and you won’t lose precious drops to evaporation or wind.
  • Water deeply (about 30 minutes per sprinkler setting) twice a week, rather than watering for shorter periods more frequently. Deep watering encourages the development of deep, healthy roots.
  • Make sure that your hosepipe as well as its fittings and nozzles are all in good shape, so that you don’t lose water through leakages.

Loving embrace

Protect delicate plants from the prevalent summer and winter winds (especially at the coast) and soil from drying out fast, by planting a barrier of tough plants around the perimeter of your garden. Once established, these plants will help to keep your garden sheltered.

You need leathery and glossy leaves on fast-growing plants. Try coastal silver oak (Brachylaena discolor), camphor bush (Tarchonathus camphoratus), water berry (Syzygium cordatum), wild olive, milk wood and dune crow-berry (Searsia crenata).

Layer on much more love

With February being the hottest month of the year, remember to keep your garden mulched. Mulch can be anything from bark chips, macadamia, peanut and crushed apricot shells, or pebbles. The advantage of mulch is that it keeps the water in the soil cool and thereby decreases evaporation.

Remember: A 5cm layer of organic mulch is adequate. Any thicker and it can become a matted layer where rain cannot easily penetrate and the soil beneath it becomes bone dry.

Love grows in the air!

If your pergola, trellis, garden arch or wire fence is still bare because you cannot decide which flowering creeper to plant, pause here, because you cannot go wrong with the magnificent mandevilla (dipladenia). Once planted, it will treat you to beautiful clouds of bright pink, soft pink or white trumpet-shaped flowers, depending on the variety you choose.

Mandevillas can tolerate light frost in the temperate summer rainfall regions and in the Highveld, but it would be safer to plant them in sheltered areas or in pots and to protect them with frost cover in winter. They flourish in subtropical gardens, but can suffer from wind damage if planted in gardens too close to the coast. In drier regions with cold winters they will need water more regularly during summer. In winter rainfall regions they can sometimes be semi-deciduous in winter, but they will always deliver a breathtaking performance in summer and deep into autumn.

A point to remember: Mandevillas do not like stifling-hot places, walls that reflect heat, or poor air circulation. They are happiest on sturdy, freestanding structures such as trelliswork, arches, fences and gazebos, and they need supporting wires or a framework to grow along.  

Rose care in February

5 ways to keep your roses cool and thriving:

  • Roses don’t mind wet leaves and one of the best ways to cool them down is to use overhead sprinklers or a hose pipe in the late afternoon. Their leaves will dry off fast during warm nights, reducing the danger of fungal diseases.  
  • If there is a lot of rain around inland areas, spray your roses, to keep them pest and disease free.
  • A 2 to 5cm layer of mulch is ample enough to allow water through, and most importantly keep this water cool in the soil.
  • The sun exposed-side on roses in plastic pots must kept be shaded, as it heats the soil on that side and roots could burn.
  • If a rose has lost its leaves in February it is due to too much rain, spray when the new leaves are sprouting to keep them healthy.

Water is garden life!

Incorporating moving water has a dramatic influence on the experience of being ‘there’. The most relaxing fountains make the sort of burbling sound of a brook or stream. They also change the temperature and humidity of the nearby air, creating a tactile experience.

What makes a water feature even more intriguing is when it is heard before it is seen. The sound of water acts like a beacon, compelling the garden visitor to find the source. Water features should be in a location where they can be heard before they are seen.

To make an existing fountain more water wise, adjust the spray. If your garden is already outfitted with a fountain that sprays, consider adjusting it so that the water sprays no more than 10cm into the air. A smaller fountain also exposes less water to the air, meaning less evaporation.

Remove leaves and algae from ponds regularly and refill with fresh water. For ponds with fish in them, it’s best to leave water in a bucket for a day to allow the chlorine levels to reduce, or better still, use harvested rainwater. Getting the ratio of water plants to surface area correct is crucial for healthy ponds and the fish that inhabit them (keep at least 40% of the water surface free for the sunlight to shine on).

Distract attention from tall, imposing fences along the boundary with an upright water feature that will fit easily into a narrow space. Well-stocked GCA garden centres will have many options for you to choose from.

Smart planting for low maintenance and intense pleasure

If you choose modern hybrids and tough favourites, you will be rewarded with greater blooming beauty for less hassle in a pretty autumn border:

Agapanthus ‘White Ice’ – masses of blooms on short, sturdy stems.

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.  

Evolvulus ‘Blue my Mind’ – Born to flower, and as blue as the African sky.

Leucanthemum ‘Daisy Mae’ – huge white single daisies on short, sturdy stems.

It is prime time planting for bougainvilleas and variegated foliage plants, like all the pretty abelias, too!

You have to keep track of every drop!

Technology has given us gadgets which are attachable to ordinary taps and garden hoses to recycle and monitor water use, and these gadgets are in stock all over:

  • 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 overdoing it.
  • Drill pump: Transfers grey water from tubs or water buts to the garden by merely attaching it to an electric drill to operate.

Remember to always save water, regardless!

Feed your garden lovingly with healthy tidbits

You should now use slow releasing soil and plant conditioners 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 early spring-flowering shrubs and climbers like spirea, banksia roses and jasmines; this encourages flower bud development. Feed dahlias with bulb food and remove faded flowers. 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 mite

Look out for red spider mites which are problematic in periods of drought and very hot weather – use the correct acaricide, like an horticultural oil, to control this pest on plants like fruit trees, roses and shrubs, and which destroy annuals like tomatoes, if too heavily infested.

 Natural protection with herbs

Bunches of 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 good as a flea repellent.


Inland gardening

(Gauteng, Free State, North West, Mpumalanga and Limpopo)

  • In cold climes you can start sowing those winter- and spring-flowering jewels, which need a bit of time to grow up in seedling trays. These include cinerarias, gazanias, Iceland poppies, primulas, violas, pansies, larkspurs, Canterbury bells, columbines, Sweet Williams and aquilegias.
  • Prune summer-flowering plants like pelargoniums, lavender, abelia, weigela, hydrangeas, and salvias for neatness.
  • Plant lachenalia, veltheimia and belladonna bulbs.
  • Neaten hail-damaged plants lightly and spray pro-actively with a fungicide.
  • Feed and water hellebores, camellias and azaleas (to prevent bud drop). Mulch afterwards with pine needles.
  • Sow sweet peas at the end of the month in well-dug trenches prepared with manure, compost and bone meal. Soak the sweet pea seeds in water overnight before sowing, for better germination.

Coastal gardening

(Western Cape, Northern Cape, Eastern Cape, and KwaZulu-Natal)

  • Check pumpkins, marrows and cucumbers for mildew – raising them off the ground also prevents rotting. Also 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.
  • Feed deciduous fruit trees like apple, apricot, cherry, nectarine, peach, pear, plum and quince with a general fertiliser and water well.
  • Feed your palms with a nitrogen-rich fertiliser, and anthuriums with a slow-release fertiliser.
  • 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.


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