So far, we have had a lick and a promise of spring, with tight buds and delicate blossoms on bare branches. But in October Mother Nature goes into overdrive and turns this promise into colourful reality when gardens and veld alike burst into full bloom. Have a ball in your garden and enjoy the beauty around you, while feeding, pruning, watering, keeping a watchful eye on pests, and planting in earnest for summer.
Those plants that have rested up all winter will show their full splendour, like Viburnum opulus ‘Roseum’ (snowball bush), with its pom-pom flowerheads resembling large snowballs – a stunning and very frost-hardy deciduous shrub. Another old favourite, which is impossible to kill, is Spiraea cantoniensis (mayflower). From a tatty winter look, long, rambling side branches have emerged, covered in bunches of small, white blossoms. Rosa banksiae ‘Alba Plena’, a thornless climber with bright green leaves, will be smothered in trusses of snow-white, petit ‘roses’ from top to bottom.
To make your lawn dense and soft, mow it regularly, water deeply and feed every 4-6 weeks.
Hot tip: Spray against lawn weeds only after you have fertilised – a well-fed lawn will grow fast and smother annual weeds, making it unnecessary to use a weed killer too often.
Compost grass clippings with chipped prunings, old leaves, torn up newspaper and vegetable waste from the kitchen. The secret to successful composting is thin layers of all the materials – grass clippings, in particular, can turn into a wet sludge if added too thickly.
If gardenias, brunfelsias, star jasmines and lemon trees appear yellow and tired, feed them with a microelement mix – ask your nurserymen for the right product.
If your lettuces have disappeared overnight or your newly planted petunias (now that it is dryer) have been chewed into slimy sticks, chances are that you have been invaded by snails – prevalent after a wet winter. Place shallow saucers of beer strategically in areas with high slug and snail activity. Gastropods (like some humans!) love beer and will often drown in it if given the chance, helping to rid your garden of part of the plague. A cabbage leaf placed over the saucer of beer apparently attracts even more of a crowd – and with cabbages you don’t have to worry about brand, either!
Hot tip: Commercial snail pellets are always very effective if used correctly. Do not scatter the snail pellets over the whole area. Instead, place it in small heaps around susceptible young seedlings or under leaves in the early evening, on wet soil.
In the veggie garden, sow herbs like sweet basil, coriander, dill, nasturtiums, Italian parsley and chives. You can also sow cabbage, spinach, rocket, carrots, beets, beans, eggplants, sweet peppers and tomatoes.
Hot tip: Do not sow a whole packet of seeds in one go. You might end up with (for example) 273 cabbages, all ripe and ready to harvest at the same time. Rather do small succession sowings every four 4-6 weeks.
Hot tip: When sowing seeds, you must add Super Phosphate for root development, at a rate of 90g per square metre, into full depth of loose soil (100 – 200 mm deep). Water well after each application.
Flower-laden climbers like jasmines and wisterias will fill the air with their heady scent, but you also have to think about summer colour. Pick from the many hybrids of Argyranthemum (daisy bush) in pretty colours, and remember about the indigenous kingfisher daisy (Felicia amelloides), with its small blue flowers. Colour for shady gardens include fuchsias, impatiens, begonias, coleus, and lovely white arums for boggy areas.
Fill sunny beds, window boxes and pots with lavenders, petunias, phlox, marigolds, and definitely lots of geraniums (Pelargonium).
Hot tip: The secret to healthy geraniums that will stay in flower for ages is constant deadheading of spent blooms, no overwatering, and feeding every two weeks with a water-soluble fertiliser.
In the veggie garden, prepare the soil well with lots of compost and kraal manure, and add general fertiliser before planting young seedlings or sowing seed.
As spring is planting season, everything will thrive if planted now, including trees, fruit trees, shrubs, perennials and lawns. Give existing plants a boost by fertilising the whole garden, and supply an organic mulch after a deep watering.
Hot tip: If you live in the temperate parts of KZN, how about having some fun decorating the branches of your trees with epiphytes like staghorn ferns (Platycerium), which are readily available from nurseries. They need no soil, only a perch to sit on, and a little bit of help from you – you can tie them in place with nylon stockings.
Keep on top of weeds, which will grow as fast as everything else at this time of year, and never allow them to flower and set seed.
Flowers to sow for summer colour include sunflowers, cosmos, zinnias, marigolds and portulacas.
In the veggie garden it is time to sow all the pumpkins, cucumbers, sweetcorn, melons, and bush and climbing beans. It is also time to divide and replant overgrown clumps of rhubarb.
If you enjoy heady perfume in the garden, plant a patch of tuber roses (Polianthes tuberosa) close to your bedroom window or patio. These old-fashioned, summer-flowering bulbs enjoy full sun, but will also grow successfully in light shade. They start flowering from mid-summer, when tightly packed cylinders of waxy, very sweetly scented flowers tip the tall and sturdy flower stalks (up to 1 m high).
Tough cookies for brackish water. The following plants can be planted with confidence to add sizzling summer colour: Limonium perezii (perennial statice), with bright purple flowers in summer. It is ideal for picking for the vase and can cope with drought conditions. Hemerocallis species (daylilies) provide masses of brightly coloured flowers throughout summer. Acanthus mollis (wild rhubarb) has large, glossy and serrated leaves. Tall mauve-white flower spikes tower above the foliage in summer and autumn. It does best in a semi-shaded position. Agapanthus is a reliable perennial with large flower heads ranging from white and light blue to deep, velvet-blue shades. It can be very eye-catching when planted in bold groups.
Use pruned branches: Instead of dumping or chipping long branches after pruning, use them to build a row of tepee-shaped trellises in the veggie garden. They will not only form lovely focal points and add vertical interest, but can be used to support annual vines and trailing crops while also creating cool shade for lettuces planted beneath them.
It is blissful to sit in the shade now that summer is on its way. But is there lots of peaceful greenery covering the feet of your trees, for you to enjoy? If not, it is time to look at planting some ferns. Because most do not have large root systems, they are quite happy to grow in a layer of leaf mould and in shallow ground amongst the roots of large shade trees. Amongst them are Asparagus densiflorus ‘Meyersii’ (foxtail fern or cat’s tail fern), Blechnum punctulatum (pink-leaved blechnum), Asplenium nidus (bird’s nest fern) and Cyrtomium falcatum (holly fern) for really deep shade. Also try Rumohra adiantiformis (Knysna fern) if you love flower arranging. The leaves are wide and triangular and last for ages in the vase, and the plants will grow from light to deep shade.
Hot tip: Install mist sprayers in your fern garden – it is the best way to supply humidity and keep the soil moist and cool.
Patchy lawn in the shade? Dig it out and replace it with a layer of river sand, onto which stepping stones are laid. Fill the cracks between the pavers with gravel or Mondo grass.
October is rose month all over the country, but Limpopo gardeners are claiming the rose as their plant of the month, as well as recommending that everyone should plant one now – October is renowned for the first blooms of these plant queens! Remember that roses need lots of sun, regular watering and monthly feeding to keep them in top shape.
Pruning at the moment includes the trimming back of geraniums, osteospermums and other flowering perennials to encourage new growth and another flush of colour.
In the veggie garden, sow melons, including watermelons, now if you want to munch on juicy slices of fruit around the pool in summer. Also try your hand at sowing all the new and different types of basil available, like lemon basil and red basil.