Did you know that some plants prefer acidic or “sour “soil and other love ‘’sweet” or alkaline soils? In this article we will be focusing on acid loving plants and explain the difference between acid and alkaline soils.
First let me explain what acidic or alkaline means and how it is measured.
The measure pH (power of hydrogen) is used on a scale from 0-14 to indicate how sweet or acidic soil is. Before we get to scientific, just remember that a pH7 is neutral, anything above is alkaline (pH8) and anything below is acidic (pH6). If the pH goes too high or too low certain elements in the soil becomes unavailable to our plants and will cause nutrient deficiencies. Although most plants grow very happily in soil with a pH7 – pH8 there are some exceptions that need acidic soil with a pH6 or even lower. These are plants like Azalea, Rhododendron, Camellia, Zantedeschia, Brunfelsia, Gardenia and Hydrangeas of which the latter’s colors can be manipulated by raising or lowering the pH of the soil. Blueberries and roses also appreciate acidic soil.
It is much more difficult to lower the pH of soil than it is to raise it. A few natural ways are to use your discarded coffee grounds, Oak leaves, or Pine needles. Layer these on top of the soil and do not dig them in as it will rob the soil of nitrogen once it starts decomposing. This must be applied to the soil on a regular basis as soil tends to revert back to pH7 or neutral. Should you not have these items readily available or save yourself the hassle of collecting it, you can always go to your local garden center and purchase a couple of bags of Acid Compost. The pH of Acid Compost can vary from pH5 to just slightly acidic pH6.5 or more depending on the materials used for the manufacturing thereof.
For new flower beds you can just add the Acid Compost on top of the soil and dig it in. For existing beds, put a layer of Acid Compost between the plants as a mulch. When you water the plants the acidity of the Acid Compost will move into the lower layers of the soil with the water. Remember to add Acid Compost to your beds regularly, at least once a year to maintain a low pH level. If you are going to pot up one of the above-mentioned plants, you may use the Acid Compost as a potting soil straight from the bag. Remember to mix in the appropriate organic fertilizers to the Acid Compost before planting.
Do not use “bluing agents” like Aluminium Sulphate, the effects are very sudden, and an overdose can lead to toxic levels of aluminium in the soil. Ferrous Sulphate or Iron Sulphate can interfere with the phosphorus levels in the soil. Synthetic fertilizers contain ammonium nitrate or ammonium sulfate and have an acidifying effect on soil, but the manufacturing of these products contributes greatly to CO2 emissions and should be avoided if possible. Sphagnum Peat may also be used to lower the pH of soil but bear in mind that it is not a renewable resource.
It is always better if we can let nature take it own way and if we really must amend the pH of soil, rather consider planting your acid loving plants in raised beds or containers. It will be much easier controlling the pH. There are no “quick fixes” for pH and doing it organically is a slow process and may take a long time to achieve the desired results, worth the wait.
When it comes to gardening and growing, “down to earth” is not just a compliment - it’s a necessity! We all know that healthy gardens start with healthy soil, but different plants also have different requirements. Do you know which bag of soil to select when faced with the wide range available at your local garden centre? Don’t worry - we have a few simple tips to help you get your “soil’s worth” next time you invest time and money in your garden!
Use Professional Germination Mix.
This lightly blended, soilless mix is carefully formulated for optimal seed germination. Fill your trays with this delicate mix, sow your seed and watch the space!
Use Seedling Mix.
Transplant seedlings from Germination Mix directly into Seedling Mix for cavity trays, flower boxes or window boxes. This will ensure that you grow healthy and resilient transplants with strong root systems.
Use Compost. Dig compost into your existing garden to enrich the earth before laying down instant lawn or sowing your choice of grass seed.
Use Lawndressing. Usually done in spring, scarify your lawn and apply a layer of organic lawndressing to transform your dull grass into a lush meadow of green!
Use Topsoil. A good quality topsoil is best for filling holes in your lawn or adding height to flower beds. It can also be used in large raised beds, mixed with compost, to create better growing conditions.
Use Professional Potting Mix
This is the “just right” soil of the gardening world. It’s suitable for most plants so fill your pots and plant directly. Potting soil has added fertilizer and the correct amount of raw material to maintain the ideal water retention/ drainage balance and retain enough water to keep your plants healthy.
Use Compost or Landscapers Mix. Use either compost mixed with existing garden soil, or landscapers mix - a ready-to-use topsoil/ compost blend. Both contain organic materials and add beneficial microbes, micronutrients and macronutrients to your soil.
Use Acid Compost. Before planting out acid-loving plants be sure to mix acid compost into your garden soil. Use this combination for acid-loving pot plants as well. For seasonal feeding simply mix acid compost into the top layer of soil around the plants and water well.
Vegetables require large amounts of nutrient-dense soil to produce healthy edibles. Mix a generous amount of compost into your vegetable patch each year. Consider adding a little Kraal Manure and Vermicompost to produce an award-winning crop!
Use Orchid Mix. This is usually done every one to two years, after flowering. Remove the plant, knock out any of the old mix and cut away dead roots. Then replant directly into Orchid Mix which contains organic fertilizer to nourish the annual bloom, as well as charcoal to maintain a moist but healthy root environment.
Use Succulent Mix
Succulents require a well-drained medium to thrive. Plant your aloes, crassulas and other succulents directly into this mix for the best results. Remember to provide plenty of sunlight and do not over-water.
Use Herb Mix. Whether you’re planting herbs into pots, containers or boxes, this is your top choice. Plant seedlings directly into filled containers. The extra fertilizer in Herb Mix will enable your herbs to flourish for at least three months before you’ll need to supplement with liquid fertilizer.
Use Bonsai Mix. Due to a lack of space and nutrients, bonsais need repotting fairly regularly. Do this before the growing season and use Bonsai Mix to resupply your tree with essential nutrients, while still ensuring sufficient drainage. After three months start to liquid fertilize or top with a slow release fertilizer.
Bring your gardening passion to the kitchen with hydroponic growing, indoor composting, fruit trees, and air-purifying plants. Harvest yummy rewards and add a refreshing splash of greenery to space you spend so much time in.
*Lighten up your kitchen by installing LED grow lights to revive dark areas and get all your greens flourishing beautifully.
Experiment going soil-free and dare to be different with an intriguing water-based, edible garden. Hydroponic planting gives you complete control of the environment, minimises pests, boosts plant growth, and enables multiple veg varieties in one space.
Try planting lettuce, spinach, strawberries, blueberries, bell peppers, tomatoes, and cucumber (remember to grow according to season).
*Consult your garden centre advisor for different installation options, DIY hydroponic beginner kits, and nutrient formulas.
There are also self-watering vertical gardens for elegant and eye-catching living décor.
You don’t need a backyard to be a compost-pro. Turn your kitchen waste into eco-gold by setting up a bucket or bin system with tight-fitting lids. Compost buckets fit neatly in a cupboard and provide easy, quick solutions to organic waste disposal. Worm farming kits are also handy kitchen helpers and can be purchased from your local garden centre.
Growing from scraps and soil-free try these:
A lemon tree in the kitchen is a happy reminder to always make lemonade from life. These trees like high-light spaces (also substitutable with LED grow lights) and perform best in porous clay pots, which allow natural water evaporation and prevent water-logging issues (unlike plastic pots). The Eureka Lemon (Citrus Lemon ‘Eureka’) and the Lemon Meyer (Citrus x Meyeri) are perfect for the kitchen or patio and will bear fruit all year round, hooray!
Tree tip: Feed citrus trees with a general fertiliser and a handful of Epsom salt per tree.
*Maintain your indoor pot plants by replacing one-third of the topsoil with new, nutritious potting soil.
There’s even space in the kitchen garden for gogga-inspired greenery. Try planting these now:
Gone are the days when shady means barren! This month, Life is a Garden is shedding light on darker spaces with a little shade-spiration to bring all areas of the garden to life. There are many flower varieties, shrubs, creepers, and even veggies that will flourish in every type of shade. Let’s begin by understanding the different degrees of shade and how these conditions affect the surrounding soil and plants that can grow there.
An area that receives no direct sunlight at all is called full shade, known also as deep shade. Underneath a canopy of large evergreen trees or next to tall buildings or high walls is where you’ll typically find full shade and often barren spaces. The soil in such areas can be classified into these two groups below:
In these deep shade areas, moisture drainage is poor and the soil appears constantly soggy, boggy, and swampy. Try adding coarse compost mixed with gritty river sand to improve the drainage and quality of the soil in these areas.
Plant picks: Hen and chickens (Chlorophytum comosum), holly fern (Cyrtomium falcatum), and forest bell bush(Mackaya bella).
Some areas with full shade have dry soil owing to the growth of the trees that once allowed some sunlight in, but have now grown to completely block out direct sunlight. Enrich these areas by loosening the soil, adding nutritious compost, and covering with mulch to assist in retaining moisture.
Plant picks: Bush lily (Clivia miniata), agapanthus, and wild iris (Dietes grandiflora).
Also known as filtered shade, this happens as sunlight filters through openings in tree branches throughout the day, shifting the pattern of sunlight trickling in. In these areas, it’s best to plant in accordance with the trees natural growth and shedding phases. In other words, choose plants that flower during the leafless stages of surrounding trees.
Plant picks: Spring flowering bulbs like daffodils (Narcissus), Lachenalia bulbifera, and freesias.
*Seasonal tip: Visit your local GCA Garden Centre to discover gorgeous shady babies for cool-season planting and sowing. Checkout what seed trays are available to jumpstart your growing adventure. Keep some new arrivals in their pots to assess how they fair in your chosen area before transplanting.
This refers to an area that receives some sun and some shade throughout the day, as shadows are cast on different parts of the garden. Semi-shade plants tend to do better with morning sun, rather than harsh midday or afternoon sun that may scorch leaves. Keep these areas healthy with good compost and generous mulching to retain soil moisture.
Plant picks: Fuchsia, evergreen azalea (Rhododendron indicum), rhubarb, chives, celery, and even carrots.
There is a plant for every shady part of the garden and even some veggies and herbs that can tolerate semi-shade. Remember to visit your GCA Garden Centre to inquire about different shrubs, ferns, and flowers to best suit the area you would like to see flourish. Garden Centre experts are also able to advise which edibles will work well in your desired space. Life is a Garden, even in the shade, so let’s get every bed and pot shining in the absence of sunlight. A gardener maak ‘n plan, or something like that!
Like the calm before the cool, winter preparations are smooth sailing this month with Life is a Garden’s crisp April checklist. Gardening during the cooler months definitely has its own challenges, but also so many exciting flowers and veggies to look forward to. Did someone say spring bulbs already? Head over to your GCA Garden Centre and let’s plant right in!
Enjoy your time chilling out and ticking off your April checklist. Ride the wave of cool-season thrills and all that’s up for grabs in the garden. Whether you’re maintaining, sowing, planting, or pruning, there’s always something to do in the backyard. Life is a Garden – welcome the refreshing autumn breeze into yours.
As the last month of summer comes to an end, it’s time to start preparing the garden for autumn and winter growing. March presents ideal conditions for sowing seeds as the day temperatures are still warm enough, while night temperatures begin dropping gradually. This is also a great time for cool-season seed germination varieties, and let’s not forget that much-loved gardening maintenance.
The autumn climate is well-suited for planting as new roots get a chance to establish themselves before spring. Try sowing these lovelies now for a brilliant flush of colour and fragrance:
Before sowing sweet peas, prepare their new home by digging deep trenches and working in some nutritious compost from your local GCA Garden Centre. Bonemeal (if you don’t have dogs) and super-phosphate are excellent choices to assist in creating your sweet pea sanctuary. Remember to soak the seeds overnight in lukewarm water before sowing directly into the ground.
Roses are a simply spectacular sight in autumn! To ensure quality blooms into winter, continue with regular preventative treatments/spraying for black spot, beetles and bollworm. As the days get shorter, the roses start to go dormant and withdraw food from their leaves. To compensate for this and to provide enough food for new growth and flowers, fertilise with rose food – your GCA Garden Centre guy can advise you on the best option. Regular watering is very important if there is insufficient rainfall.
Tree tip: Plant new fruit trees from mid-March onwards in temperate regions to ensure a good spring and summer harvest. Your GCA Garden Centre has a tasty selection of fruits to grow, go check it out.
Winter veggies are ready to be planted for delicious soups and stews to enjoy during the chilly nights. Remember that your GCA Garden Centre supplies both vegetable seeds and seedlings to get you started. Sow/plant these cool-season sensations now for an autumn/winter harvest:
Bedding bestie tip: Do companion planting with wild garlic, yarrow, comfrey, and Marigolds to assist with soil nutrition and natural pest control.
For an on-demand homegrown supply of fresh herbs during winter, start harvesting and preserving your greens now. Chop mint, parsley, basil and lemon balm, place them in an ice tray, fill with water, and pop them in the freezer. Aromatic herbs such as oregano, marjoram, thyme, sage, bay leaf, and rosemary, are better air-dried. Continue to feed herbs monthly with a half-strength liquid fertiliser and water regularly.
March is a month of maintenance, for which you’ll be gloriously rewarded as we move into winter. Give the garden a little extra TLC in preparation of the changing season. A little goes a long way in terms of the overall appearance and fertility of your beds, plants, and harvest. Start these maintenance jobs now:
Although summer has loved and left us, autumn has come with its own wonderful variety of sowing opportunities. There’s always a flower, fruit, and veggie in need of a home, roses looking for a pruning, and a little maintenance to make all the difference. Enjoy March in the garden and tick off your to-do checklist with the help of tools, accessories, and seeds available at your GCA Garden Centre.
Welcome, novice farmers! We are delighted to see your green fingers in bloom, exploring the world of homegrown goodness. Experience for yourself what all the hype is about by starting your own little veggie garden or edible pot. There is something truly special about fresh greens from the Earth – their incredible flavour loaded with nutrients, the direct connection with Mother Nature, and the unbeatable sense of pride from harvesting the fruits of your labour. Find out how to start your own edible journey below.
For your first growing quest, we recommend starting small. Think about whether you would like to use containers, plant straight into the ground, or if you would like to make raised beds. Consider your space and available time to guide your growing style. Sowing a couple of seeds in an empty space in your flower bed is as good a beginning as any.
With the idea of starting small in mind, where you choose to grow is an equally important factor to consider. Veggies love the sun and will flourish in open areas that receive as much sunlight as possible with no big trees throwing shade on your new babies. Examine your space through eco-eyes: take note of the sun’s movement, surrounding foliage, and expansion space needed as your greens grow.
Your first go-to is Google where you can access all the LIAG articles on what to sow and when. Seasonal veggies (meaning the ones to plant for that season) are your best bets for success as these greens are naturally adapted to the climate of the given time. Also, consider how the plant grows – some grow like ground covers (pumpkin) and need plenty of space, while others like to climb (beans) requiring support structures, some veggies also need deeper soil (potatoes) and appear more bush-like on the top.
There’s always time and space, even for a single vegetable to be sown. Pick your favourite and plant it, it’s that simple, and the reward is marvellous! Gain a deeper appreciation for the food you eat by watching it grow and observing all the different phases of the life of a veggie – now that’s nature’s magic at its best!
Like us, plants require food to keep them healthy and strong. Get your plants off to a good start with decedent, nutrient-rich soil. For plants to grow well and produce lots of leafy growth, flowers, and fruit, they need to be well-fed. We are spoilt to live in a country with a generally mild climate and mostly good soil, which allows us to grow a wide range of beautiful plants. However, this tends to make us forget that they do require a little feeding. The key to a flourishing garden is hugely affected by your soil health and fertility.
Tip: Good soil = good roots = a good, healthy plant
Food for thought: According to the Gallup Gardening Survey, less than half of the world’s home gardeners use any kind of fertiliser or plant food on their lawns or gardens. What's unfortunate about this statistic is that it means gardeners aren't getting as many flowers or as much produce as they should. And they're probably struggling with disease and insect problems that could be avoided. Well-fed plants are healthier, more productive and more beautiful.
Soil, often called the living skin of the Earth, is arguably the most important and valuable resource we have. Soil is made from three main components, besides air and water – minerals from weathered rocks, organic matter, which is mainly decomposed plants, and living organisms like earthworms in the soil. There are many different types of soils depending on the composition of the above components. Here is s fun way to test the basic type of soil you have:
Loam soils are the most preferable since sandy soils dry out very quickly and clay soils can stay wet for too long. Luckily, both sandy and clay soils can become loam when you add compost to them.
Need to know: It generally takes about 200 to 400 years to form 1cm of soil and several thousand years to naturally make it fertile!
Fertilisers contain nutrients that plants need. They can mostly be split up into macro-nutrients such as nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, calcium, magnesium and sulphur, as well as micronutrients such as zinc, iron, manganese, copper, boron, molybdenum and chlorine. Macro-nutrients are needed in larger amounts than micro-nutrients, which are equally important if they are lacking in the soil. Most of the organic fertilisers contain a good mix of both and they also add organic matter to the soil, which makes it more workable and fertile.
Fertilisers are available as granules, pellets, liquid drenches and liquid foliar feeds. For information on what fertiliser to use, visit your local GCA Garden Centre.
Adding both fertiliser and compost is the best combination as fertiliser adds nutrients while the compost holds the fertiliser in the soil for longer.
Compost is made from decomposing plants and is the most important addition to your trolley when you buy plants. It can also be added to garden beds in bulk at least once a year. A famous horticulturist once said that the three most important elements in gardening are 1. compost, 2. compost and you can probably guess that number 3 was - also compost. This makes one realise how important compost is in successful gardening as a soil amendment.
To recap: Compost will loosen and add air into clay soils while also improving water andnutrient retention in sandy soil. Compost also attracts micro-organisms, beneficial fungi, earthworms and other beneficial soil-borne organisms that improve the health of your plants.
Bonemeal & superphosphate are organic and chemical (or inorganic) fertilisers respectively, which are essentially phosphates. Phosphorus is a macro-nutrient and responsible for many plant-growth functions, but it specifically initiates root growth. Because phosphates do not “travel” well in the soil, meaning they don’t move down in soil quickly, they are usually placed in the soil or planting hole.
Need to know: Be aware that some dogs may want to dig up the bonemeal fertiliser.
Mulch: Mulching material can be bark, compost, dump rock, wood chips, and a few others. Mulching is essentially spreading a layer on top of the soil to retain moisture underneath. Mulching keeps the soil cooler in summer and warmer in winter. It aso prevents weeds from growing and if organic, will decompose and improve the soil. Mulching will benefit the whole garden and especially cooler season plants like lilies and more thirsty plants like hydrangeas and roses.
Need to know: Mulching is great as you don’t need to water your garden as regularly.
Think of your soil as a bank account - the more you invest in it, the better the soil and the more gorgeous your plants and garden will be. Season after season the plants will be making “withdrawals” of nutrients from the soil and you will need to keep the soil bank topped up on a regular basis. Don’t forget to mulch much!
A healthy garden soil is essential for healthy plants. If your soil is rich and nutritious there will be little need for fertilisers, and even pesticides.
We have all heard that compost is beneficial for our gardens, although most of us don’t know just how truly remarkable it is. Compost is decomposed organic matter, such as leaves, twigs and grass clippings. When you mix all these items together in a compost heap, they break down into organic matter that can nourish your garden. Good organic garden soil is loose and fluffy and retains air, nutrients and moisture well. If your soil is heavily clayed or over sandy, work compost into your beds to improve the soil structure and neutralise the pH. This will also increase the variety of beneficial soil organisms in the soil such as earthworms.
Topsoil is the upper-most layer of soil and is usually between 5-15cm deep. If your topsoil is high quality, it will be dark in colour and rich in organic matter. Some topsoils are very poor quality and lack nutrients. Should this be the case in your garden you will need to purchase a good quality topsoil, either in bulk or bags and work it into your beds together with the compost. You are also able to buy premixed topsoil and compost from your local GCA Garden Centre. In addition, topsoil is extremely useful for building berms, raising beds and fixing poorly levelled lawns, as it does not break down the way compost does.
Soil pH is a measure of the acidity or alkalinity in soils. The correct soil pH is vital for plant growth as it influences the availability of essential nutrients and affects the activity of soil microorganisms (the bacteria that decomposes organic matter will decline in acidic soil). When planting your new garden, it is beneficial to check the soil pH to see whether it is suitable or needs to be adjusted. To measure your soil pH use a soil pH meter or ask your local Garden Centre GCA, if they can assist you. If the pH of your soil is less than 5.6, it may be too acidic for most plants to grow in. To raise the pH you can add compost and dolomitic lime. If your soil pH is higher than 6.4 you will need to acidify your soil. This may be done by adding ammonium sulphate or acid compost.
When getting down to the dirty work of planting, make sure you have mixed your compost and natural garden soil using a 50/50 ratio. The compost in your hole is going to attract microbes to the roots which is essential for releasing plant nutrients to this area. Superphosphate and bone meal are two external sources of phosphate which is essential for good root growth and ensures that new plants get off to a good start. Bone meal is also an extra source of calcium for plant growth, so don’t forget to add the recommended amount to your planting hole for optimal results.
Moving onto your vegetable garden. Here the soil preparation is extremely important for producing a healthy crop. Adding a generous amount of organic matter in the form of compost, manure and mulch to your good quality topsoil is the best way to prepare the soil. Dig this in deeply (800mm) for best results. For raised vegetable beds a good quality potting mix can be used although a 1-part compost to 1-part topsoil ratio will work better for larger beds. For your herb garden and containers, a premixed herb or potting mix is ideal. Should you wish to improve your soil structure and water holding capacity even further you can add coco peat or sphagnum peat to your mix. These are natural, organic soil conditioners that save water, aerate heavy clay soil, bind sandy soils and reduce leaching (loss of nutrients).
So, if you suspect your current garden soil is not doing the best it can for your plants, bring in some new soil or start composting your own and reap the benefits of a ‘grass roots’ approach!