February in the Garden
Time to play around with heat-hardy plants and containers. Make your way to a GCA nursery today and stock up on commercial soil mixes, drainage chips, decorative pebbles, pots and start playing with lots of funky plants!
Trending: Bro’s in the air
Air plants have fascinating forms and they grow without soil, attached to virtually anything from pieces of wood to fishing line to suspend them from the air – you can even glue them onto different objects. Air plants are members of the genus Tillandsia which descends from the pineapple family. Many of them grow naturally on trees where they attach themselves on branches and can often be seen hanging from trees, like the mystical old man’s beard (Tillandsia usneoides). Contrary to popular belief, air plants actually do need moisture and nutrients to grow properly, and do not live on air alone. Buy some of these beautiful and collectable plants and care for them by using a mist sprayer. You can even soak the whole plant for a few minutes, but allow it to dry off well before displaying it again. Do this regularly in very hot weather as air plants like humidity in the atmosphere. Place them in a sheltered spot away from direct sunlight and ensure that there is good air circulation around them.
Get ready to plant the toughest!
One of the questions most often asked in a nursery is, “what can I plant in my pot?”. Well, GCA nurseries all over have all the answers (and the plants!) to back this up. If you want something really pretty, dramatic, long-lasting and hassle-free, go for the following suggestions:
‘Lipstick’ is a succulent hybrid Euphorbia with large, bright pink flowers, distinctive lime green foliage and soft thorns. It can be used as a pot plant or in the garden in warmer areas. Lipstick will flower freely in late winter, spring and summer. It thrives in hot, dry areas of the garden.
‘Black Prince’ (Echeveria shaviana x affinis) is a dark and dramatic echeveria which form a dense rosette of chocolate-brown leaves with sharp tips. Full sun deepens the colour of the leaves, light shade will have a fading effect. This pretty succulent produces blood-red flowers in late autumn.
Desert spoon (Dasylirion wheeleri) is an extremely handsome focal plant for a large and smart container. This plant has a thick, short trunk. The leaves are a cool, grey colour with spiky, dry, caramel-brown split ends. It is drought and wind resistant, with a tolerance for extreme heat and low temperatures. A real water saver, this one!
Pork bush (Portulacaria afra) is a succulent shrub with small rounded leaves and a contrasting red stem. It is an evergreen and performs best in hot, sunny spots. Late winter and spring bring a flash of tiny pink flowers to this plant. These flowers are a rich form of nectar for insects, which in turn ensures your garden will be filled with birds. Extremely drought tolerant, and easy to grow. The pork bush is also popular as a bonsai subject.
Add some old-fashioned grace
The highly decorative Fountain bush (Russelia equisetifolia), is a garden in itself, with its slender arching stems spilling out like a waterfall. It’s ablaze all year long with masses of bright coral-red tubular flowers, which attract butterflies. This plant can be used to spill over stairs and retaining walls, in mass planting, in containers and even in large hanging baskets. Mature size about 180 x 60cm and perfect for sun to light shade in fertile, well-draining soil. Heat and drought resistant once established.
Sedges for wet and dry
Ornamental grasses for the garden and in containers, and rush-like sedges that grow in ponds, will never go out of fashion. Try these…
Chinese water chestnut (Eleocharis dulcis) – if you like Asian cooking, grow your own water chestnuts. This aquatic vegetable forms tufts of bright green, drinking-straw-like leaves that spread rapidly to form large stands. Tuber formation takes place in late summer to autumn; as the days become shorter, the plants prepare for their winter hibernation. Harvest tubers in late autumn after the last of the leaves have changed to a straw colour, and died down. The tubers can be eaten raw or cooked, and are noted for their sweetness and distinct nut-like crunch. Chinese Water Chestnuts grow best in moist soil or shallow water up to 15cm deep, and prefer a sunny aspect.
‘Eversheen’ (Carex oshimensis ‘Eversheen’) – this pretty ornamental grass forms a low cascading clump of leathery, lime-yellow leaves with dark green margins, and is a perfect choice to brighten up shady areas. The foliage colours are more intense with less sun. It is easy to grow, low maintenance and forms a neat mound. ‘Eversheen’s other good use is to plant it as a single specimen in a pot, or to use it as bright foliar texture with other pot mates. Mature plant size ± 30 x 30cm.
Basil all year long
Columnar basil or Greek basil (Ocimum basilicum var.) is a perennial plant that is strongly aromatic. It has a stately columnar appearance with lush green leaves.
Columnar basil grows in the full sun to part shade in well-drained moist soil. It has average water needs and one should be aware of overwatering as this will cause it to rot. It is a culinary herb that can be used in the same way as sweet basil and therefore goes well in Italian, Mediterranean and Asian dishes. It is an excellent herb to make pesto. Basil can be used to repel aphids, flies and mites, and it is a good idea to plant outside the kitchen door for this reason.
Columnar basil does not seed and die as other basils do. Ensure you make regular use of the leaves as this will encourage new growth and keep the plant fresh and happy. In frost free areas, you can harvest leaves throughout the year as it does not die down.
Love annual colour
Remove annuals if they are looking a bit sad, and deadhead others which are still willing to give you a second flush of colour. Annuals that can be planted for late summer and autumn colour include Petunias, Begonias, Marigolds, Vincas, Verbenas, Portulacas and especially Cocksomb (Celosia argentea), 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!
Rose care in February
Roses don’t mind wet leaves and one of the best ways to cool them down is with a sprinkler in the late afternoon. Their leaves will dry off fast during warm nights, reducing the danger of fungal diseases. You need to mulch around them, but not too thickly; 2 to 5cm is ample enough to allow water through. Move roses in containers to a spot with morning sun and afternoon shade. Protect new plants or defoliated bushes with a “straw hat” or teepee fashioned from 80% shade cloth. This will prevent sunburn to bare stems and protect young roots of roses still to become established with the least amount of stress.
For the LOVE of roses
This “love month”, think of planting a specimen of the powerful bright red shrub Rosa x Sympa de Bellevue KORkropierr. It quickly grows into a formidable dense, rounded shrub of 2m high and wide, and it will keep on blooming right into winter. The large blooms are of a bright unfading red, fully petalled and of an exquisite shape. It requires no spraying or finicky care, which makes us love it even more!
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 insecticides to control this pest properly on plants like fruit trees, roses and shrubs, but can destroy annuals like tomatoes if too heavily infested.
Think of natural deterrents: 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.
- In cold climates, you can start sowing those winter- and spring-flowering jewels, which need a bit of time to grow up in seedling trays: Cinerarias, Treasure Flowers (Gazanias), Iceland poppies, Primulas, Violas, Pansies, Larkspurs (Delphiniums), Canterbury bells, Columbines (Aquilegias), and sweet Williams.
- Neaten hail-damaged plants lightly and spray pro-actively with a fungicide.
- Feed and water Helleborus, 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.
- Cut back Petunias to encourage a late-autumn flush and remove green growth on variegated plants like Coprosmas.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- On hot days mist-spray houseplants like ferns and orchids to provide extra humidity.
- Keep ponds and bird baths topped up.
- Big leaf and big flower to eat – find young globe artichoke plants in pots in the herbs section of nurseries to plant in mixed borders. This large, gourmet perennial vegetable should be used all over the garden – it’s an elegant feature plant with stunning silvery foliage, further enhanced with a very ornamental crop of edible flowers in its second and third year.
- Watch out for hawk moth caterpillars feeding at night on Impatiens, Arum lilies and Fuchsias – remove them by hand.
- Control lawn caterpillar infestations.
- Plant Lachenalia, Veltheimia and Belladonna bulbs.