October in the Garden

We are excitedly marching off to our nearest GCA garden centre to buy flower and vegetable seedlings, seasonal perennials, groundcovers, ornamental grasses, flowering shrubs, fruit trees, and all the other stalwarts of mid-spring to plant now. AND, it’s “rose month”! We also know that October is a fine time to feed all plants and to protect mid-spring treasures against pests and weeds. But most of all, enjoy your spring garden!

Seedling newsflash!

Ready-to-plant annuals in seedling trays are the fastest and cheapest way to turn any garden into a garden of Eden and at this time of year, and you are spoiled for choice. Flower seedlings to plant include: petunias, lobularias (alyssum), gazanias, dianthus, penstemons, summer chrysanthemums, Sunpatiens, salvias and celosias – all perfect for sunny spots.

Remember that seedling success relies on: Compost enriched soil and regular feeding with a water soluble fertiliser. So, make sure that you stock up on these products as well.

Bountiful flowers and food

Summer-flowering annuals like cosmos, marigolds, lobelias, Portulacea, zinnias and sunflowers, and most summer vegetables and herbs can be sown, now that night temperatures are higher. Here are some handy tips when sowing:

  • Large seeds – place a piece of chicken wire over the seed tray to make a template for sowing evenly. Use one seed per hole.
  • Small seeds – fine seeds such as lobelia can stick to your fingers and are difficult to spread out. Mix them with dry sand or bread flour in an old flour shaker and shake the mix lightly over the moistened soil.

Some easy-to-grow veggies to sow now:

Cucumbers – sow seeds directly. The plants will need sturdy stakes to keep the fruit off the ground.

Green beans – plant seeds of bush types which are easier to manage.

Squashes and baby marrows – sow seeds directly. As soon as they emerge, they need to be thinned out. Trail them up teepees made of poles, or over wire fences.

Giving trees with sexy fruits

If you have decided to plant a fig tree (Ficus carica) this spring, you are totally in. All the well-known hybrids like ‘Adam’, ‘Black Velvet’, ‘Cape Brown’ or ‘White Genoa’ are easy to grow. Fig trees are deciduous, as well as cold and frost hardy. They can also be planted in large pots.

Smart planting

Perennials for all regions include: agapanthus, gauras, fuchsias, nemesias, osteospermums and geraniums of all kinds. Also go for abutilons, lavenders, gypsophila and masses of pretty, but tough angelonias.

Stalwart of the October garden must be star jasmine (Trachelospermum jasminoides). This versatile creeper with its glossy, dark green foliage and aromatic, pure white flowers, can be used to trail over pergolas and fences and if planted en masse, as a groundcover under trees. It grows well in pots too.

Pot up amaryllis bulbs: Use good quality potting soil that drains well and pots that are just a little bigger than the bulb’s own width. Beware the planting depth: The bulb’s ‘shoulder’ must protrude above the soil surface and the ‘nose’ should reach just above the pot’s rim. Keep the pots in a warm, well-lit position and the soil always moist.

Pincushions (Leucospermum), which are members of the protea family, will be in magnificent flower now. Due to hybridization, we are lucky to be able to choose from a wide array of colourful hybrids (although we are not forgetting the species either!). The blooms are outstanding cut flowers that last for weeks in the vase, while in the garden, they are showy shrubs smothered in nectar-rich blooms that attract birds. Growth needs in a nutshell:

* Full sun

* Well-drained acidic soil

* Regular watering for the first 1 – 2 years, until established

* A natural mulch low in phosphorus

* No fertiliser

* Daily watering if grown in pots

* Picking of the flowers to maintain the plant’s shape

Begonias for all places…

Gardening in shady areas can be tricky. Bedding begonias available in seedling trays, fill that gap beautifully, as each plant produces masses of waxy flowers to brighten the darkest of corners. It is also planting time for gaudy tuberous begonias, which are perfect for patio pots and hanging baskets in dappled shade. Buy some tubers today and start planting! Some begonias, however, enjoy adding grace indoors, and amongst the many hybrids of Begonia elatior you will find the right colour to slot in with your interior decor.

Rosecare for October

Roses are in full flower force in October! You can plan a new rose garden or fill up an existing one by visiting your GCA nursery to check out new releases, as well as old favourites. Although roses dislike disturbance around their roots while growing actively again, they do not mind the presence of a living mulch like a few dainty groundcovers and perennials to add more colour and romance to the rose garden. Bright colours and flowers to add now include creeping Jenny, cranesbill (Geranium incanum), snow in summer, chives, brachycomes (different hybrids and colours), bindweed (Convolvulus), candytuft (Iberis sempervirens), lobularia, scabiosa (corn flower) and sweet violet (Viola odorata).

Fertilise your roses again with a fertiliser formulated for roses, and follow up every 4 weeks. Treat preventatively and correctively against fungi and insects with a combination rose spray. Water three times per week.

5 tips for a beautiful summer lawn

  • Mow regularly, making sure that you never cut off more than one third of the length of a leaf blade.
  • Water and fertilise regularly.
  • Keep the lawn level and free of depressions where water and debris can accumulate.
  • Rake up grass clippings and leaves to allow the lawn blades to photosynthesise efficiently.
  • Get rid of broadleaf weeds in existing lawns by spraying with a selective weedkiller. Before spraying, fertilise your lawn, water well, wait two weeks and then spray for weeds. Repeat if necessary.

Spring pruning to do

  • In the orchard, remove any growth sprouting from below the graft or bud union of the rootstock, on which a variety was either grafted or budded (oculated) onto a rootstock. Roses should be planted with the bud union below soil level to encourage sprouting of basal shoots, which will rejuvenate the bush. It is seldom that sucker growth occurs, due to the rootstock being used by all propagators. Gardeners tend to cut or break off the valuable basal shoots instead. Regular cutting off the dead or spend flowers on rose bushes – best halfway down the stem – encourages re-sprouting of quality flowering.
  • Cut off the dead flower stems of winter-flowering aloes and check around the base of your plants for small pups (plantlets) which can be planted out in pots or in other areas of the garden.
  • Prune flowering peaches, almonds and ornamental quinces as soon as they have finished flowering.

Water gardening

Bog gardening (ever-drenched soil) or actually planting in water, can be interesting and GCA nurseries sometimes have the most fascinating plants in stock for this purpose.

Water lilies are simply exquisite and there are indigenous and exotic species and hybrids to choose from. They are deepwater aquatics normally grown in large ponds and dams, but can also be planted in a portable water feature such as a ceramic pot or a waterproof wooden barrel on a sunny balcony or stoep in about 30 – 60cm deep water.

Water iris (Iris louisiana) has evergreen stap-like foliage which creates a perfect foil for large, showy flowers which appear in profusion in spring – wide colour range available.

Marsh lily (Crinum campanulatum) is an indigenous aquatic bulb with white to rose pink bell-shaped flowers which mature to deep rose or red – moist soil or 20cm deep water.

Cyparis papyrus ‘Little Giant’ is a new release and compact form of the old Egyptian papyrus with sturdy stems topped with large, tufted ‘mop heads’.

Colocasia esculenta ‘Tea Cups’ is an elephant’s ear with dark green, up-turned leaves forming a perfect cup.

Inland gardening

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

  • Put out snail bait amongst strawberry plants and provide a mulch of straw, coarse clippings, or weed matting to prevent the fruit from touching the soil. Pick the fruit frequently to encourage new ones.
  • Thin out peaches, nectarines, apricots and plums when they are about pea-size. They need a second application of a general fertiliser suitable for fruiting plants. Continue
  • spraying and baiting against fruit fly and codling moth.
  • Sow more parsley, chives, basil and coriander seeds.
  • Look out for insects such as aphids, mealy bugs and whitefly on soft new growth and control with the correct insecticide.
  • Freshen up garden containers, containing specimen plants like lollipop standards, by pruning them neatly to maintain a round shape. Plant some bright red bedding begonias around the stems this month and you will have a great festive look in December.
  • Remove spent flowers from spring bulbs and annuals and stake perennials as their stems become longer.
  • Remember to put out cutworm bait after planting young seedlings.
  • After the first spring rain, apply mulches around all shrubs and trees to conserve moisture in the soil around them.
  • Remove Cat’s claw creeper (Dolichandra ungis-cati) and yellow trumpet bush (Tecoma stans) from your garden. These invaders are causing unbelievable problems, especially in the Lowveld. Use a non-selective, broad-spectrum systemic herbicide, like Glyphosate, to do so.

Coastal gardening

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

  • Repot ferns into fresh potting soil and start feeding them every two weeks with a liquid fertiliser mixed at half-strength. Place houseplants like orchids or ferns that love humidity, on pot trays filled with gravel and a little water. Do not let the base of the pot stand in water, or the plants will rot.
  • Clean up succulents like Echeverias and Kalanchoe thyrsiflora which will have stopped flowering.
  • Prune honey marguerites (Euryops virgineus) and all the Buddleja species as soon as they have finished flowering.
  • Top dress containers with rooibos tea mulch, crushed peach or apricot pips or pebbles to keep the soil moist between watering.
  • Inspect all members of the lily family such as agapanthus, crinum, clivia, nerine, amaryllis and haemanthus for lily borer (a caterpillar which has transverse yellow and black bands around its body). Larvae tunnel into the leaves. Young feed in groups, adults move towards the base of leaves and may even feed on bulbs. They are most active at night and can be treated with a contact and stomach insecticide. Control from September to April.
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