July in the Garden

In bygone days, gardeners would spend mid-winter poring over seed catalogues and planting bare-rooted roses and fruit trees sent to them by snail-mail or rail. Nowadays, we go to well-stocked GCA nurseries in winter to buy what’s flowering and looking good!  

Trend planting

Filling your house and patio with lacy ferns which are once again very fashionable, is definitely on trend! It is also said that ferns of all kinds clean the air and being surrounded by them, leaves one with a sense of well-being and calm. Stock up on your fern collection by adding the following easy-to-grow species: Maidenhair, (Adiantum) Rabbit’s Foot (Davallia), Holly Fern (Cyrtomium), Boston Fern (Nephrolepsis) and all the dainty varieties of Pteris.

Display them in bright light, away from cold drafts, keep their roots just moist, and feed regularly with a water soluble fertiliser.   

Lovely lavender

Winter is lavender planting time and here’s a selection of the best lavenders for your garden:

  • Lavandula angustifolia – compact and bushy with small, grey-green leaves and long flower spikes in deep purple.
  • Lavandula dentata (toothed lavender) – spreading, bushy shrubs with scalloped foliage which are either dark green or grey depending on the variety. Fragrant, purple-blue flowers.
  • Lavandula x intermedia (English lavender) – vigorous hybrid with a spreading growth habit and aromatic grey-green leaves. Tall flower spikes covered in small mauve flowers.
  • Lavandula stoechas (french lavender) – numerous hybrids available of this compact bushy shrub with slender green leaves. Short spikes of purple or pink flowers topped with two colourful bracts looking like rabbit ears.

Bedding besties – Calendula

If you did not get around to planting Calendulas in March or April you can still get flowering plants from your GCA. In winter, Calendula officinalis rubs shoulders with other popular winter annuals on the seedling tables in garden centres. Calendula is frost-hardy, growing about 45cm high and 30cm wide. It produces brightly coloured yellow and orange daisies. Plant calendulas with dianthus, pansies and violas, or mix them in with giant red mustard, tatsoi, Swiss chard and lettuce. Use the petals to garnish salads, sandwiches and desserts.

Colourful fillers

Every garden has ‘gaps’ – bits of bare soil between plants which can be filled in with pretty little winter-hardy plants like sea thrift (Armeria maritima), candytuft (Iberis sempervirens) and wild carnation (Dianthus caryophyllus).  

Plant pelargonium power

Hybridizers all over the world have a great time playing around with our pelargonium species (also known as ‘geraniums’), and the results are showy and prolific varieties for containers or the garden. Start your collection now to ensure bright spring colour. Although they are easy to grow, water wise and quite tough, some gardeners experience problems. Here are some hints and tips to help you along:

  • Full sun is best;
  • Pelargoniums hate wet feet and heavy, slow draining soil – in the garden or in pots. Use a good quality commercial potting mix for pots and condition garden soil with lots of compost;
  • They are gross feeders and need feeding in the garden every six weeks with a slow releasing general fertiliser. Plants in pots should be fed monthly throughout the year with a water soluble fertiliser – work into the soil lightly.
  • Wet leaves are easily subjected to disease infection and it is best to water at soil level.

Indoor plants

It’s cold outside, so brighten indoor spaces with vibrant, colourful indoor plants – bringing your gardening therapy inside. Winter-flowering house plants include cyclamens, gerberas (Barberton daisies), Begonia ‘Rieger’ hybrids, calandivas and pretty azaleas add an instantly warmer and welcoming touch to living and reception areas. They are also an excellent long lasting and value-for-money alternative to cut flowers.

Rose care for July

In most areas, rose pruning is done in the second half of July, until the end of August in very cold regions. Gardeners who approach this task with trepidation can relax, as rose pruning is basically the removal of dead wood and weak and old twiggy stems, in order to attain a neat and pleasing shape, to open up space for new stems to grow, and to cut back to a desired height. After you have completed the pruning process, dig in the old mulch layer and freshly added compost into the soil around the bushes, feed with a rose fertiliser, renew the layer of mulch afterwards and water deeply at soil level. When watering in colder areas like the Free State, water in the early mornings.

Window box farming  

To enable you to mix a mean Pimms cocktail, you need some homegrown fruit and greenery. Combine the following plants in wintry window box:

  • Mint – there are different mint varieties available and you can use whichever you fancy. What you have to know about mint plants though, is that they can be quite robust and will try to overtake the container. Keep them in the small pots as grown in a nursery, and when you plant up your window box, simply sink them pot-and-all between the other stuff you’re going to plant out. This will stop them from overpowering the other plants.
  • Kumquat – add a little kumquat tree. The small fruits formed in winter are colourful and tart, and will sit on the plant for ages.  

Must-have tree

Wild Pear or Bushveld Bride (Dombeya rotundifolia) is a neat, well–shaped tree. The trunk is often straight and the bark is dark brown, almost black and very rough. The leaves are round and olive green in colour and turn yellow, orange and brown in autumn and fall off the tree in winter. In spring this tree becomes spectacularly covered in white blossoms reminding of pear blossoms. The Wild Pear is a tree that reaches approximately 6m x 4m in size. The crown is not very spreading and quite open and thin. This tree is truly frost hardy, as well as water wise and suitable for cold, windy gardens.

Pest watch

Cold winters result in rodents squatting indoors under the roof, in garden sheds, cupboards, under the fridge and behind bookcases. There are products available to dispatch them promptly, that are friendly to both humans and other animals. Visit your local GCA garden centre for some options. Ants and termites can also cause problems around the house as food and water becomes scarce. Enquire about the latest products in bait or systemic form to eradicate both ant and termite nests.  

Rescuing remedy

If a tender shrub is in a frost pocket, move it into a pot and place in a more protected spot, or protect with frost cloth. You can now also transplant deciduous trees or evergreen shrubs which are in the wrong place, with relative safety. If a hardy shrub does not look all that healthy, check if your protective mulch is not piled high around the shrub’s trunk. A high blanket of mulch holds moisture and prevents the water from getting down to the roots, which can attract fungi and other problems.

Inland gardening

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

  • Keep on picking sweet peas, Iceland poppies and stocks to encourage the plants to continue flowering.
  • Remove faded flowers from other winter-flowering annuals.
  • Feed all winter-flowering annuals every two weeks with a foliar fertiliser.
  • When pruning hydrangeas, cut back the stems which have flowered by about half, ensuring to cut above a thick round green bud. Remove all diseased, dead, or damaged growth.
  • July is a great time to cut out all dead wood, diseased branches and leaves, cut back trees that are getting too big and perhaps shading out the lawn or obstructing your view. Remember that after pruning, plants need to be fed. Fertilise roses and fruit trees with a slow release fertiliser or bonemeal at soil level. Roses and fruit trees will both love a dressing of kraal manure, worked into the soil around the plants.
  • Feed citrus with 3:1:5 SR (slow release) and water well. Remember that all fertilisers need to be dug into the soil to be effective.
  • Don’t neglect the veggie garden! Water deeply weekly.
  • Continue harvesting winter crops and sow late plantings of green peas.
  • Protect cold-sensitive vegetables like lettuce, celery and parsley from winter frosts with frost cloth.

Coastal gardening

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

  • Winter care for compost heaps includes adding activators for compost, to break it down quicker – these are available at your local GCA garden centre. An interesting thing to note is that many of these activators for compost can also be used to break down contents of French drains to liquids. You can add chicken or rabbit manure for heat-generating nitrogen. Ashes from your fireplace will enhance the calcium, phosphorus and potassium content of finished compost.
  • Re-pot and rejuvenate the water-loving plants in your water feature. An addition of kraal manure to the clay soil that your plants are growing in, will do them wonders. Remember to add a thick 0.5 to 1cm thick layer of river sand on top of the kraal manure in the pot before carefully replacing it back in the water. Note that a clean or reputable kraal manure should be used.
  • This is the best time to access the “bones” or structure of your garden in terms of pathways and accesses. Widen pathways that are being taken back by the encroaching garden by adding more pavers. Add a “secret” pathway into very deep beds – this also assists tremendously with maintenance of the garden. Add pavers and a bench as a special feature. Tip: when laying any pavers, make sure you use weed barrier cloth and river sand under the pavers.
  • Paint your garden gates a new colour.
  • It’s prime time to for some winter-flowering aloes or succulents. Add them in.
  • Lavish a new coat of paint on your trusty old wheelbarrow to prevent rust. It is an expensive piece of garden equipment to replace.
  • Have your lawnmower and edge cutters serviced.

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