July in the Garden
Let’s celebrate Nelson Mandela Day on 18 July in style by showcasing – the gorgeous, golden-yellowStrelitzia, appropriately named after Madiba as ‘Mandela’s Gold’. It flowers beautifully this time of year and is an amazing feature plant. Also, Aloes are out with striking spears of yellow, orange and red, adding some much-needed warmth to our gardens and patios during these cool July days.
The global lockdown was indeed a rather scary experience, but it also presented a golden lining with some much needed time for humanity to reflect on our impact on the natural world. How chilling it was to observe the rapid decrease in air pollution, the abundant return of many animals to urban areas, and the increase in sea-life activity around the world. Hopefully, this will help us all to deepen our appreciation of Mother Nature and whole-heartedly celebrate the International Day of the Conservation of Mangrove Ecosystems on 26 July, and World Nature Conservation Day on 28 July.
Trending – Life is a garden with water-wise Aloes
Gone are the days that Aloes were only seen on road trips as large shrubs growing on mountain slopes. We have a huge variety of spectacular Aloes bred for our patio pots and gardens. Breathe warmth into your winter garden and attract sunbirds and bees at the same time. Aloes range from dwarf forms like ‘Peri Peri’ and ‘Hedgehog’ to the multi-coloured ‘Charles’ and ‘Ballerina’, the rich colours of ‘Fireball’, ‘Andy’s Yellow’, ‘Gold Sparkle’ and many more. These sculptural plants have interesting leaf shapes and colours such as ‘Freckles’,which has grey tones and speckles, and Aloe striata, which has stunning pink-lined flat, grey leaves. Treat yourself by visiting your local GCA Garden Centre and choosing one that blows your hair back.
Best veggies to grow in the winter
It may be a bit late to make a start on some of these veggies right now, but you can always plan for next winter too:
- Baby spinach, which is all the rage in cooking and in salads, is available to sow from seed and plant from seedlings almost throughout the year. There are a few small-leafed varieties to choose from. Young leaves of larger varieties of Swiss chard, (spinach) are also used as tender baby spinach.
TIP: Add some vibrant colour to the veggie garden by using Swiss chard Bright Lights which has brightly coloured stems.
- Be the envy of your friends by growing some trendy Microgreens to garnish any dish – it is easy-peasy and oh, so very quick! Microgreens are a variety of young vegetable and herb greens that are picked at the first true leaf stage. They often have an intense aromatic flavour that varies with the mixture of plant greens used. Sow the mixture of your favourite seeds in pots or troughs/trays on a sun-receiving windowsill, on the patio or in veggie garden beds. In most cases, within a week or two of germinating, the young leaves are ready to start harvesting.
TIP: Remember that by sowing a little extra seed when doing your regular veggie seed sowing you can also keep a little patch aside for Microgreens.
- Spring onions are always welcome in the kitchen and their unique flavour is sometimes just what is needed. They require very little space and are fun to add into mixed containers on the patio or balcony. The seedlings are available for planting in between other plants and besides being easy to harvest, they create wonderful textural contrast.
- Cauliflower loves the winter temperatures and if you are gardening on the cold highveld and have not yet planted any, you still have the chance if you do it now. Because July and August can heat up quickly, choose the seedlings of either the Romanesque, (a trending green cone-looking variety), or one of the small head varieties like Mini Me which will mature faster.
TIP: It’s time for thyme – yes, this herb likes the cool winter months and is a wonderful pairing with most of the winter veg. Again, grow in a pot or add to a mixed container if you are short of garden space.
If your Aloes have small grey ridges or bumps forming on the leaves it probably indicates an infestation of scale insects. Take a picture or a sample into your local GCA Garden Centre and allow them to recommend a spray that will not burn the tender, succulent Aloe leaves. For scale insects on other plants spray with a recommended organic spray dilution.
TIP: Avoid spraying the soft, new leaves of ferns and tree ferns with as some sprays can damage them.
Life is a garden – so let’s get on with life and prune our roses now in July before their buds start swelling. Buds swell in early to mid-July in the Lowveld and at the coast, and during August in the Highveld. Pruning is a labour of love from you to your roses and will give them the vooma they need for strong, healthy new growth and reduce the number of flowering stems, resulting in an increase in flower size for the coming season.
Shopping list: For best results, here is the equipment required:
- Pruning shear: With sharp, clean blades – a great new sharpening device is available at most GCA Garden Centres.
- Long-handles loppers: Or a small saw – folding bow saws are space-savers and inexpensive.
- When you visit your local GCA Garden Centre also ask their advice on the necessity of sealing and spraying the plants after pruning – the advice on products may vary especially from frosty to frost-free regions.
- Improve the soil fertility after pruning so that the roses can perform at their best – feed with bonemeal and compost. Other specialist rose fertilizers can be recommended by your local GCA Garden Centre for use thereafter.
- Pruning has some basic steps that can easily be learned by either attending a pruning demonstration in your area or by simply watching videos on our YouTube Channel: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8yLT23aLiRs
Ode to the edible pansy: Pansy flowers can freeze completely at this time of year due to the frost and then as the sun thaws them out in the morning, they defrost and smile up at you, hence the Afrikaans name “gesiggies”.
Both pansies and the smaller Viola, from which the pansies originate, produce adorable flowers that are hard to resist. They produce masses of charming flowers over a long period, making them the most popular choice for sunny spots in the winter garden, in pots, or even hanging baskets on the patio. If planted late in winter it is advisable to plant them in semi-shade to protect them from the harsher spring sun. Both pansies (Viola x wittrockiana), Violas (Viola cornuta) and Viola tricolour “heartsease” make for the prettiest edible flowers for decorating pastries, garnishing cocktails, soups, and even lemonade. Violas are a more delicate garnish while the pansy flowers crystallise very well and can also be eaten as sweets or used to decorate ice-cream.
Pansy’s claim to fame: Their name in French, “Pensee”, means loving thought, and if a lover was near (and a bouquet of pansies was as well) the lovers could communicate without talking.
Edible Calendulas: Calendulas flowers can be eaten whole, however, the petals are the tastiest part of the flower, with the white section that joins to the flower base removed. Their colourful petals lift the colour and mood of a salad, while their spicy flavour is used to garnish and season curries and soups.
Edible flowers are great fun to use as garnish and you may already have plants in the garden that you did not know have edible flowers.
Blooming right now
Winter/Spring flower power
The power of colourful flowers is undeniable. Primulas, poppies, Calendulas, pansies, Violas, Dianthus, Alyssum and Petunias love the warm, dry Highveld winter weather. They should be in full flower in your garden right now, that is, if you planted them in Autumn. If not, they are all still available in seedling trays and possibly colour bags/pots to be planted in a sunny part of the garden, patio pots or hanging baskets. You’ve got the flower power waiting at your local GCA Garden Centre.
TIP: Keep up the watering and regular fertilizing of your flowering and veggie annuals.
Winter/Spring flowering shrubs
Camellias and azaleas, sometimes labelled with their botanical name Rhododendrons, are both spring flowering, acid-loving plants. They will benefit from mulching with acid-compost and most importantly, be sure to water them consistently, as opposed to constantly, until and through flowering. If you do, you will prevent bud drop in the Camellias and the buds browning off and not opening in Azaleas.
Tip: Special acid-loving food is available for both the Camellias and azaleas but should not be used during flowering.
How is your garden’s bone structure?
Prune, projects, plan and take the plunge (the 4P’s).
July is a great time in the garden to be doing projects that you don’t get time to do during the rest of the year. It is also a good time to assess the garden’s “bone” structure. The natural architecture is pronounced in the colder regions where frost-sensitive plants are covered, roses pruned and deciduous trees and shrubs lay bare in the garden. The revealed cone structure of your garden allows you to assess the projects necessary to fix shortcomings and make exciting new changes to the garden. This can include pruning back tree branches to open the view or because they are shading over other plants. It also could include a variety of hard landscaping projects, for example, creating a new stepping-stone pathway to a secluded seating area.
Put on those gumboots, take the plunge and spend some precious time with your cute goldfish doing pond maintenance. Clean the pond, the filter, re-pot water plants and make sure to skim any potential leaves from blocking the filter and pump manually or with a surface skimmer.
TIP: July is an ideal time to plan your spring planting and summer garden.
Be water-wise and use the fallen autumn leaves to mulch your beds. This not only saves on dustbin space but is great for conserving moisture and warmth in the soil.
What’s in a name anyway?
The Cypress Aphid, Conifer Aphid or the Italian Aphid all describe the same aphid that has done considerable damage to conifers in South Africa over the last 30 years. They infest and actively attack certain conifer varieties in the autumn and winter months.
Identify: To check your conifers, open the foliage with both hands and look closely at the young stems. The aphid is larger than others but camouflaged since it looks just like the bark and will not move unless disturbed.
Treat: If your plants are infested, ask your local GCA Garden Centre for the recommended spray or drench and continue applying until the end of August.
Lowveld and in warm frost-free coastal regions
Short back and sides: Prune back and tidy up many of the garden shrubs and climbers before they put on new spring growth.
Sow: Asparagus, peppers, beetroot, carrots, cucumber, brinjal, globe artichoke, melons, Swiss chard, tomato, marrows.
Indoor living decor: Make sure that the indoor plant leaves are dust-free and open the windows and doors in the warmth of the day – stale air encourages pests and diseases.
Bird buddies: Clean birdbaths and fill with fresh water. Clean and fill bird feeders. Put nesting logs up for the new breeding season.
Western Cape, winter rainfall regions
Sow: Asparagus, beetroot, broad beans, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, leek, lettuce, onion, parsley, parsnip, radish, spinach and turnip.