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Let us nurture our planet Earth by using sustainable practices and nourishing our soils so that they can continue to produce healthy food for us all. Besides the fact that there is no planet B, we have good reason this month to pamper our planet because Tuesday 7 April is World Health Day and on Wednesday 22nd it is Earth Day, as well as International Mother Earth Day. How about celebrating these days by eating healthily and planting any plant that will make you happy, and the Earth a better place to live in.
Namaqualand daisies or African daisies, (Dimorphotheca sinuata), are just so easy to sow, easy to grow and WOW, what a show they make in late winter and through spring. This indigenous plant needs full sun for the flowers to open. The seed is mostly available in shades of orange, yellow, and salmon mixed or white. They are conveniently available in larger packets which will cover more of your garden. Don’t forget to buy and plant the seed now because this is one of those plants that has gardeners rushing to their nearest garden centre when they see them in full, glorious bloom, only to be told that they should have been planted in April. Sow in-situ i.e. directly into the beds.
Another indigenous plant the Livingstone daisy or Bokbaaivygie, (Mesembryanthemum criniflorum orDorotheanthus belliidiformis), is also a winner and a firm favourite of many gardeners. (Some seed suppliers label these seeds as Vygie mixed). Their satin-textured daisy-like blooms, require a sunny position for them to open’ They are available as mixed colours of white, yellow, orange. cream, pink and crimson. The iridescent colours are jolly and uplifting. Plant as an edging, tumbling over walls or the edges of containers. Seeds can be sown in-situ. Like Namaqualand daisies, Livingstone daisies are often available in larger packets and are also easily scattered, or directly sown.
Tip: Water lightly, preferably every day, until the seeds germinate. The light watering will ensure that you do not wash the scattered seeds away.
It is also time to sow the ever-popular fairy primulas, (Primula malacoides), and wildly popular pansies, (Viola wittrockiana). Primulas planted en masse in shady areas produce a stunning meadow-like feel, they attract butterflies and are available in colours mostly ranging from white through pink, lavender and even dark pink or “red”. As with pansies, they have multiple uses in the garden, in potted containers or hanging baskets. Primulas, and especially pansies are best sown in trays and transplanted into the garden later. Pansies are cheerful and irresistible when it comes to filling sunny areas for Winter and Spring colour.
It is good time to plant roses since they will establish themselves before Winter and be ready to “take off” in Spring.
A whole range of amazing Winter and Spring flowering bulbs are available to snap up right now at your GCA Garden Centre, with tulips, daffodils and hyacinths normally only arriving in May. Indigenous Freesias are scented and are therefore best placed near a door, window or entertainment area where their fragrance can be appreciated. Choose Ranunculus for a stunning show of bright colours. Soak Ranunculus “claws” in room temperature water overnight for best results and plant them with their “claws” facing downwards.
Tip: On the highveld, it is best to wait until the night temperatures have started to fall, i.e. later in the month or into May before planting most of the bulbs.
Protect your conifers from cypress aphid by visiting your local GCA Garden Centre to purchase the best solution for preventative treatment. The aphids are active on the conifers between April and August. The Autumn and winter damage they do to the plants only shows on the plant from September onwards when the aphids have already moved away.
Continue feeding your cool season lawns since they are evergreen and will need the nutrients to ensure a healthy green lawn for Winter. This is also the best time to sow cool season grasses for an evergreen lawn or as an over-seeding of lawns like Kikuyu that brown off in the cold regions during winter.
If you do not have Bacopa, (Sutera cordata), in your garden, perhaps now is the time to try a really rewarding plant that is one that will quickly creep into your heart. Unless planted in a hanging basket, the plants are normally quite small in the nursery and together with their tiny white, pink lavender or blue flowers they may not look like much, but once established they are a visual treat with their long stems dripping in a dainty profusion of blooms for months on end. They are a great groundcover often recommended for sun but seem best in semi-shade in our climate and look superb when cascading over the rim of a container or over a wall. Bacopa need regular, consistent watering to maintain their health especially when flowering. Adding a water-holding agent to the soil will benefit the plant since the soil will hold water for much longer and hold fertilizer in the soil too. Ask for advice at your local GCA Garden Centre. Several different water-holding agents are available to be used when planting trees or containers and especially hanging baskets that tend to dry out quickly.
April and May are a good time to plant celery, (Apium graveolens), which is a cool-season plant and does not do as well in the very hot parts of the country, (don’t plant it out if the weather is still very hot). Celery is a rich source of antioxidants and vitamins which have incredible health benefits. It’s a great snack for low calorie diets. Celery enjoys organically rich soils. It likes to be kept moist and is a heavy feeder, so prepare the soil well and water and feed regularly. Plant in the sun, (from seedling trays), in the hotter regions try to shade it during the hottest part of the day. Planting celery could be a good way to encourage Easter Bunny visiting your garden this year. Remember to look out for Easter Bunny on Easter Sunday 12 April.
Tip: The darker celery stems have the most intense, delicious flavour.
Did you know? Celery has been grown for hundreds of years and is favoured in cuisines around the world. A rudimentary variety of species of celery was even found in King Tut’s tomb.
There are a whole range of Winter/Spring veggies and flower seedlings available to plant now in your local GCA Garden Centres. Schizanthus or poor man’s orchid, (Schizanthus x wisetonensis), is a particularly pretty, cool season annual that is not used nearly enough in our gardens. It prefers semi-shade in our climate, has delicate, fern-like leaves with masses of multi-coloured blotched and speckled orchid-like flowers. They like well-drained soil and the tall blooming stems are ideal as cut-flowers. Look out for them in seedling tray or colour bags/pots in your local GCA Garden Centre.
Cut often for the vase, if not remove the dead flowers regularly and look out for fungal infections such as Black Spot and Powdery Mildew. Adding a balanced fertilizer like 5:1:5, overcomes the natural start of dormancy and ensures flowering n Winter. Keep on spraying to avoid defoliation due to Black Spot infection.
Tips for your garden in April:
You can sow the following veggie seed this month; beetroot, broad bean, cabbage, carrot, celery, garlic (cloves), kohlrabi, leek lettuce, onion, parsley, parsnip. Peas, radish, swiss chard and turnip. In coastal KZN and the lowveld you will exclude onions and can add the following to the above list; brussels sprouts, capsicum, cucumber, brinjal, bush beans, pumpkin, runner bean, tomato and marrows. Tip: Prepare the soil well with plenty of compost and be a champion of stainable gardening practices.
Happy autumn and a merry March, maintenance month! It’s time to prepare those beds for some annual autumn planting and sow them seeds for the new season. Get busy in the garden and give your seedlings a nutritious head start.
You should work in about 3 to 5cm of compost into the soil, as well as, a handful of bonemeal or superphosphate per square metre. This will ensure that plants have all the nutrition they require to get off to a great start. Give your soil nutrients so that the plants in your garden have the ability to become strong and healthy. Use a general fertilizer like a 2:3:2 or one that contains more potassium such as 8:1:5.
Autumn means it’s time to start sowing winter and spring flowering annual seeds. Some of our favourites to sow now are:
Sweet Peas: Their seductive fragrance in the garden or as cut-flowers in the home is like no other. The seed is generally available in mixed colours, which are a gorgeous mix of mostly pastel colours, for both dwarf and climbing varieties. The climbing Sweet Peas will need a sunny spot with supports to climb up – like a trellis, fence or an arch. Sweet peas will be happiest with their roots are in cool, moist soil, so it is a good idea to plant low-growing annuals in front of them to keep the roots shaded, mulching will also work well. The secret to fabulous Sweet peas starts with the soil preparation. Dig over a trench of soil, next to the supports, to the depth of a garden fork and add plenty of compost and preferably manure too. Add a handful of bonemeal or superphosphate per square metre, also sprinkle a handful of Dolomitic or Agricultural lime per running metre and dig it in. If possible, use a pencil to make holes and drop them in at the correct depth, then close them up to shut out the light. Keep the area well watered.
Tips: Soak the seeds in water overnight before planting to soften the seed covering. Sow at about 2 weekly intervals for a longer-lasting show of flowers. To encourage bushy growth, cut off the tips of plants only when they are about 15 to 20cm tall (and not sooner). Don’t forget to feed your plants regularly.
Pansies: Are a winter and spring flowering favourite for the sun. Their colourful blooms are available in a wide range of single and bi-colours. They can be used as massed flower borders, in pots and window boxes or as fillers between spring-flowering bulbs. Pansies typically have large and medium-sized blooms while their smaller flowering “cousins” Violas have dainty little flowers. The larger flowers are showy and suited close to entertainment areas or pathways. The medium-sized Pansies and Violas often have more flowers and are a hit when used as a massed display in the garden.
Primulas: Fairy Primroses, (Primula malacoides), are still a favourite for winter and spring flowering colour in the shade. They have dainty, tiered flowers and are available in white, lavender, rose, pink and a darker pink/purple. White primulas will brighten up shady patches the most and show up well in the evening.
Sow, sow & sow: Calendulas, (Calendula officinalis) have edible “petals” that look super sprinkled on winter soups. Iceland poppies are available in stunning mixed colours – choose cultivars with strong stems for windy gardens. A few others include; alyssum, Livingstone daisy, godetia, schizanthus, stocks and snapdragons for the sun and lobelia for semi-shade and foxglove ‘Foxy’ for semi-shade to shade. (Tip: Before sowing always check the sowing time on the back of the seed packets for your region’s best sowing months).
What to Plant
Garlic: There is nothing better than cooking with fresh produce from the garden and Garlic bulbs are available in garden centres at this time of year. Simply prepare a sunny bed with compost and a plant starter and plant the individual cloves about 10 to 15cm apart and about 3 to 5 cm deep, making sure that the pointy side faces upwards. If your soil has poor drainage then plant them in raised beds or even containers. Garlic wards off many pests with its pungent smell and is, therefore, a great addition to any veggie garden. (Garlic is not well suited to very humid, hot areas of the country).
Pelargoniums: Bush geraniums, (Pelargonium x hortorum), and ivy or cascading geraniums, (Pelargonium peltatum), are still some of the “jewels in the crown” of our indigenous plants even though they have been heavily hybridized. Geraniums are one of the most rewarding garden plants and are ideally planted in containers on your patio in a sunny to semi-shade position. Geraniums love to be moist but not wet. Give them a weak but regular, (preferably weekly), liquid feeding.
What to Spray – to protect your happy place
Amaryllis caterpillar/worm: Keep a lookout for wilting leaves or flowers on any of the lilies like arum lilies, amaryllis, agapanthus and clivias. Inspect the plants by pulling the leaves open to reveal the “middle” of the plant above the bulb - the Amaryllis worm is normally easily spotted in this area if they are the culprit. They may be between the epidermal layers of the leaves or openly chewing close to the base of the leaves and flower stalks. The base of the leaves will also become slimy, smelly and pulpy. Ask your local garden centre for a recommended spray.
White grubs: The adult chafer beetles lay their eggs in the lawn and the grubs that hatch feed on the lawn roots and underground stems. The lawn or leaf blades start to wither and die in patches. If you want to confirm your suspicions, you should be able to easily pull up pieces of lawn and see the large, fat white grubs curled up in a c-shape. Ask for advice at your garden centre and treat as recommended
Roses: Roses are prized cut flowers. Hybrid tea roses have the longest stems and are great for picking, especially when a long stalk is preferred. Fragrant roses add that extra sensory dimension too.
Inca lilies, (or Peruvian lily): Also known by their botanical name of Alstroemeria, Inca lily blooms are best harvested by firmly holding the flowering stem close to the base and twisting the stem as you pull it upwards. This will help the detach the flower from the underground stem and promote further growth and flowering.
Snapdragons: Most snapdragons, (Antirrhinum majus), are either slightly or moderately scented which is great if you like to cut flowers from the garden or one can place them close to the home. Snapdragons love the sun and varieties range from tall, (over 60cm tall which may require staking), or as short as 15cm for the dwarf ones, and come in a range of beautiful colours and colour mixes. They are long-lasting in the garden and will grow through our mild winters and flower into spring.
Calibrachoa: This is a trendy treasure that has yet to be discovered by many gardeners, calibrachoa, (Calibrachoa ‘Goodnight Kiss'). This is a trailing plant, that gets covered in hundreds of small bell-shaped flowers that are quite dazzling. They are the first choices for planting in containers and hanging baskets for gardeners that have had them before. Although sun-loving, in very hot areas they will do better in a semi-shade. They are available right now in shades of violet, blue, pink, red, magenta, yellow, bronze and white as instant colour plants in pots and hanging baskets. They can be pinched back for a time to time to encourage bushy growth and more flowers.
Tip: Feed calibrachoa with a liquid fertiliser regularly to encourage healthy growth and flowering.
Roses are simply spectacular in autumn! To ensure quality blooms into the 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 eaves. To compensate for this and to provide enough food for new growth and flowers, fertilize with rose food – your local GCA garden centre will advise you on the best option. Regular watering is very important if there is insufficient rainfall.
One of the best ways to save water in the garden is to hydro-zone the plants in your garden. Hydro-zoning means that you position plants in the garden, or in containers, according to their water requirements so that we do not use any more water in any hydro-zone than the plants positioned there require. We, therefore, group all plants that like the most water together and these are commonly known by your garden centre staff as 3 drop plants, those that require a medium amount of water 2 drop plants and the water-wise, low water requirement plants as 1 drop plants. Where possible keep the 3 drop zone to a minimum – perhaps around a swimming pool or entertainment area, and in the same way make the 1 drop zone the largest area of your planted garden, (since paved areas effectively constitute a 0 drop zone). There is no better time to start than today – have fun and save our precious water.
Compost: Compost is the equivalent organic gold to the garden! With all the autumn leaves combined with the vegetable kitchen waste, it is a great time to start your compost heap now. Lightweight and easy to use compost bins are readily available at your local GCA garden centre, to fit even the smallest of gardens. Ask for compost accelerator at your garden centre and add this to the various layers of compost being added.
Tips: Avoid adding any plants that are diseased or pest-ridden, as well as weeds with seeds or seed heads on them. Lawn clippings should be thinly layered between other layers of waste otherwise they will rot and form a slimy mess in the bin.
Its time to lift and divide summer flowering perennials. Here are some examples of the most common ones: agapanthus, wild iris, (Dietes bicolour and Dietes grandiflora), penstemon, campanulas and asters. Most perennials start to decline in vigour from being too close to one another after several seasons of pushing fresh outward growth and therefore require division, (normally only once in 3 to 5 years), to “refresh their vigour or growth. Simply cut the foliage back by about two thirds, lift them carefully form the soil and then divide them by hand or by using two garden forks, (back to back). Split up into fresh, healthy-looking clumps and plant them in well-prepared soil that has compost and a plant starter so that good root growth is initiated. Water well.
Cut back all summer flowering perennials that are looking tired. Pay attention to salvias, daisies, lavender and fuchsias.
Frangipani, (Plumeria rubra), grows well in full sun in the tropical and subtropical areas of the country. If you are looking for that tropical island feel in your garden, this small tree will certainly give “the look”. They withstand drought and bloom profusely from late spring through summer and into autumn. There is a wide range of beautifully coloured flowers that are richly fragrant. They are easy to grow and little attention, flourish in almost all soil types.
Hot tip: It may still be too hot to plant spring-flowering bulbs. Good advice would be to buy them while they are available and store them in the vegetable compartment of the refrigerator and plant out when the weather cools down in a month or two.