May in the Garden

Tie a knot somewhere to remind you that it is Mother’s Day on Sunday 12 May. Take Mom to a GCA garden centre to spoil her with graceful Phalaenopsis and stunning Cyclamens – both in flower now!

Top of the pops

Here are some recommended top sellers for autumn:

Obsession – Get totally obsessed with the glorious Nandina domestica‘Obsession’, an intensely coloured upright growing nandina with fiery red young foliage which is retained all year while the plant is actively growing. Mature foliage is deep green. Nandinas are known for their striking autumn colours, hardiness, and many uses in a garden. Use ‘Obsession’ as a low hedge, in pots, or as a filler shrub in a border and remember that they are very giving and forgiving plants. Mature size is approximately 60 x 70cm.

Trending: Grow your own coffee tree indoors! The coffee plant (or rather tree!) botanically known as Coffea arabica, can earn you kudos from coffee snobs if you can manage to grow it successfully in your sitting room as an indoor plant.

  • Why should you try it?

It is a very ornamental novelty plant with dark, shiny leaves and fragrant white flowers. If all goes well, it can soon become a large plant, but it can luckily be pruned into a manageable level which commercial coffee growers often do. If you want to try your hand at this pretty plant simply for bragging purposes, (you will only get a harvest of beans after a number of years), plant it in a good-sized pot in slightly acidic soil, which drains very well. Water well and spritz it regularly in hot weather, as it loves high humidity. Keep it in good light but not in hot spots, as it likes cool growing conditions. If you are still unsure about the right growing conditions, just remember that the coffee tree naturally grows in the shade of other trees in tropical East Africa.

Anybody can plant smart aloes!

Aloes are all-round winners, with their gorgeous blooms and wonderful hardiness to drought. If you choose superior hybrids with a dwarf growth habit, and attractive and healthy foliage (which most have!) you can plant a whole collection of repeat flowering and very delightful bird and butterfly attracting aloes in your small garden or in pots. Some are very cold and frost tolerant; others not quite as much, but there’s a way to protect them – simply use frost covering to keep them safe. Both the aloes and the frost cloth will be in stock at your favourite GCA Garden Centre. The only thing you need to do is to plant them in full sun and remember not to over-water them.

Here are some suggestions and dimensions:

‘Bountiful Bronny’– pink to creamy white flowers on long stems in late winter with sporadic re-blooming. Grows to around 30 – 40cm.

‘Peri-Peri’– long-flowering and very dramatic when planted in numbers. This small suckering aloe, which is highly resistant to aloe cancer, produces sizzling hot orange-red flowers. Reaches a full size of 20 x 40cm.

‘Sea Urchin’– vibrant orange flowers on long stems in winter. Grows to 50 x 30cm.

‘Porcupine’– unique dwarf sculptural aloe with bi-coloured red and creamy white flowers that repeat blooms. This one is known to be cold and frost hardy. Reaches a full size of 25 x 25cm.

Please note: The mature size of plants will vary according to growing conditions and the climate.

Bedding besties – Cineraria

Cineraria (or the common ragwort) is typical cool weather flowering annual for supplying rich colour in the shady winter garden, on balconies, patios and even as instant colour indoors in a spot with indirect sunlight.

This plant (which is available as seedlings in punnets, or as potted colour in bud and bloom at your favourite GCA Garden Centre) truly beats the winter blues! Between its large, dark green, luscious leaves sprout a gazillion slender stalks, supporting very pretty single or bi-colour daisy flowers in shades of burgundy, pink, blue, dark purple and even white. It requires morning sun and afternoon shade and ever moist, compost-enriched soil. Cinerarias are easy to grow and not bothered by pests, except snails and aphids. 

Top tip: To deter snails, oven dry and crush some egg shells and place them around the base of your plants.

Gaudy winter colour on the balcony or patio

The dry winter climate in summer rainfall regions is a perfect time to get the best value out of petunias, as they don’t like too much rain on their beautiful blooms. So, take advantage of this by filling up window boxes and hanging baskets with these rewarding annuals, which will flower for you all winter long. All you have to do is to protect them from snails, water them when the topsoil layer feels dry, remove spent blooms to encourage more flowers and feed them regularly with a water-soluble fertiliser.

Try these perennial winners today:

  • Petunia ‘Queen Of Hearts’ has a semi-trailing growth habit and large, gaudy flowers decorated with contrasting stripes. Perfect for eye-catching hanging baskets.
  • Petunia ‘Night Sky’ boldly goes where no other petunia has gone before. The flowers are a dark purple with blue tones and are splotched with white markings, giving the impression that the plants have been sprinkled by stardust.

Rose care

To avoid powdery mildew and black spot, spray foliage every two weeks with a fungicide, until June. The longer you can manage to keep foliage on plants, the better chance the woody stems will have to ripen, resulting in better blooms in spring again. Only feed rose bushes in warmer areas. Carry out some dead-heading and water the plants, at least once a week.

  • Pest patrol:
    • Scale insects on indoor plants

    Tan or brown oval insects with a hard shell can sometimes infect the stems and undersides of the leaves of indoor plants. They are sap-sucking and can eventually ruin a plant. The secretions of heavy infestations can lead to sooty mold – a black fungus. The best way to curb scale attacks is to keep your plants clean from dust in a humid atmosphere, and in optimal health. If you notice the presence of these pests, wipe them off, or in the case of heavily infested plants, throw them in the bin. Visit your local GCA Garden Centre for advice on a registered insecticide, which can be used indoors.

    • Ants

    Look out for ants and treat nests with ant bait or spray. It’s recommendable to use products that eradicate the whole nest, including the queen.

    • Conifer aphids

    These critters are active from May to September and conifers need to be treated every two weeks. Use a systemic foliar spray for smaller specimens, and a soil drench for trees.

    • Rats and mice

    These pests are very active in the cooler season, control them with a single feed or multiple feed bait.

    • Snails

    They will be looking for places to overwinter. Clean up under containers and clumps of perennials where they will huddle together, and put out fresh bait amongst young veggie and flower seedlings. Snails thrive in moist areas so ensure you don’t overwater plants.

Inland gardening
(Gauteng, Free State, Northern Cape, North West, Mpumalanga and Limpopo)

  • A wide variety of winter annuals are now available as healthy seedlings! These include Pansies, Violas, Calendula, and snapdragons. Plant them in great swathes around spring-flowering bulbs like Daffodils, Anemones and Ranunculi.
  • Feel like a plant is in the wrong place? You can move established shrubs and trees to a different spot now.
  • Interplant leafy winter veggies and root crops with herbs like lavender, thyme, Oregano, parsley, Yarrow and comfrey.
  • Neaten up stalwart perennials like Michaelmas daisies, obedience plants, Penstemons, Yarrow (Achillea), Gaillardia (blanket flower) and Chrysanthemums, by cutting them back. Add a layer of compost around their root areas. They will then flower nicely in spring again.
  • Prune back Plectranthus after it has flowered.
  • Add eye candy with rows of ornamental, flowering kale between winter vegetables. Good winter companion plants for kale, in general, are beets, onions, Nasturtiums and spinach.
  • Water winter crops like salad and cabbages regularly, mulch warmly with straw and fallen leaves, and feed every two weeks with liquid fertiliser.
  • Be prepared to protect frost-tender plants with frost cloth.
  • Cut off the dried leaves of any summer bulbs. Mark the spot where they are planted so as not to dig them up accidentally.

Coastal gardening
(Western Cape, Eastern Cape, and KwaZulu-Natal)

  • For very sunny spots sow some mixed bumper seed packs. Winners include Namaqualand Daisies, Winter Mix and Virginian stocks. These can be sown directly into the soil.
  • Consider any Hibiscus rosa-sinensis variety like ‘Brilliant’ (with red flowers) for a large flowery hedge – they love a subtropical climate and should be at their best now
  • Feed avocado trees with 3:1:5 and mulch. Plant litchis and citrus, and keep mango trees dry before their flowering starts.
  • Pull up old sweet basil plants, chop them up and use them as an insect repellent mulch around cabbages.
  • Spectacular autumn colours in hues of yellow, orange, red and maroon will be seen everywhere. If your garden does not have such an element yet, consider planting a liquidambar tree or two.
  • Fill up window boxes and hanging baskets for patio colour. Use trusted perennials like Gazanias, Geraniums, Diascias and Osteospermums.
  • Plant a few Hyacinth bulbs for indoor aroma and colour. Plant the bulbs in moist, quality potting soil in a shallow bowl and place in a dark cupboard until the flower spikes break ground.
  • Bougainvilleas thrive now; feed them with 3:1:5 and water well afterwards.
  • Sow some wild grass seed somewhere in your garden to encourage birds in winter. Find packets of these seed mixes at your nearest GCA Garden Centre.
  • Rake fallen leaves off the lawn to prevent them from blocking out sunlight, and place them on the compost heap. At the coast, you can still apply one more dose of lawn fertiliser before winter sets in.

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