All set for summer –


Chris Dalzell

I recently spent a very special time in the Kruger National Park, enjoying the birds and animals that make this one of South Africa’s and the world’s prime ecosystems for the protection of our natural world.

Driving through Northern KZN and into Mpumalanga I experienced one of my very best plant sightings, on top of a large rocky formation. Xerophyta retinervis, or the black stick lily or bobbejaanstert family is a fibrous perennial whose stems are protected by non-inflammable leaf bases. The mix of white and deep mauve flowers makes this plant, which flowers best after a fire, stand out in the landscape. The rains have not quite started but you can see many places have been burnt which encourages new grass growth and wildflowers to appear once the rains start.

October is the start of summer with longer, warmer days that welcome new leaves on most of the deciduous trees. It won’t be long before the arrival of the first rains in KwaZulu-Natal. Many plants remain dormant during the cool drier season which changes dramatically once we get the first rains. No matter how much you water, one good rain changes the face of the landscape.

This is the best time to prune your garden and add the necessary nutrients which are taken up quickly by the plants. Pruning is important as you remove old, dying growth and stimulate the dormant buds to push healthy new growth. You need to work quickly to ensure your garden is ready for the summer and it’s the time to fertilise, plant and prune.

Compost and fertiliser are the two most important ingredients to improve your garden. If you have a soil that is deficient in the three macro elements of nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium, you will see clear indicators in plant growth: poor root systems, yellow leaves and weak branches mean your soil is deficient and you need a feeding and mulching regime in your garden. What is lacking in your soil will result in plants growing slowly and not achieving their true potential. You can do a soil analysis which will tell you what is missing and what you need to add to rectify the imbalance.

Lawns respond best to a high nitrogen fertiliser such as 5.1.5 and flower beds 2.3.2 which allows sufficient nitrogen but also phosphorous for roots growth and potassium for flowering. Fertilising means the plants will respond and grow much quicker. If you prefer natural fertiliser, then use Neutrog which does smell for some time but is a much more environmental way to go.

Healthy plants will ensure pests are kept at bay and, if pruned correctly, will keep fungal infestation to a minimum. Keep an eye on the new growth: most times pests feed on this new soft tissue so can be seen easily. Watch for ants because they are indicators that you have pests ‒ ants are used as carriers for insects they can benefit from such as aphids, which give off a sweet secretion called honeydew. Prune and remove the worst infected parts of your plant as a first option, but if badly infested or diseased then it’s best to remove the plant entirely.

The African dogrose or xylotheca kraussiana’s white fragrant flowers attract bees and birds to feed on the insects and flowers.

Many of our indigenous trees are now flowering. When planting trees, see when they flower so you collect and plant trees that flower throughout the year. Three trees in flower in my garden include the forest gardenia or gardenia thunbergia with its fragrant flowers that open at night and are pollinated by the hawk moth. The other specie of gardenia that grows in the Mpumalanga area is the bushveld gardenia or gardenia volkensii which is in full flower throughout the north-eastern regions of South Africa. The other two trees are the flatcrown or albizia adianthifolia with its white fragrant flowers and flat crown shape and the African dogrose or xylotheca kraussiana with white fragrant flowers that attract bees and birds to feed on the insects and flowers. Luckily Durban has not reached its true summer humid temperatures which we get early in the new year. Let’s just enjoy the weather we are experiencing now with rain predicted for the weekend.

Things to do this month

Lawns go semi dormant in winter and come to life with the first rains. Using a hard iron rake, collect all the old grass that has accumulated by raking the lawn hard and breaking all the runners. This dead dry grass is called thatch which can destroy your lawns if not removed. Take a fork and spike the soil. This aerates the soil and allows air movement into the root system. Sprinkle a handful of Superphosphate per square meter over the entire lawn area. Then take a mixture of topsoil, compost and river sand and spread a thin layer over the entire lawn surface area. Water the lawn area well every 2-3 days. You should then feed your lawns every four weeks with a high nitrogen fertiliser. 3.2.1, LAN and 5.1.5 are a few examples of high nitrogen fertiliser.

Cut back all dead and dying plant parts by using a sharp pair of secateurs or pruning saw. It is imperative that you remove these Infected parts because they can spread this infection to other plants which could have a disastrous impact on your healthy plants. If you have well grown healthy plants, they generally won’t be attacked by pests or disease.

The blood lily, scadoxus puniceus, has all but finished for the season and will now be going to seed. Seed-eating birds feed on the fruits and carry the seeds to other parts of your garden and other gardens.

Many bulbs and underground rhizomes will be emerging from their winter dormancy and will require encouragement to grow to maturity. The blood lily, scadoxus puniceus, has all but finished for the season and will now be going to seed. This plant invites all the seed eating birds to feed on the fruits who then act as carriers for this seed to other parts of your garden and other gardens. Protect these bulbs and any other underground growing point by mulching, composting, fertilising, and watering.

The eragrostis curvula (weeping lovegrass), just one of our amazing wild grasses.

Plant lots of indigenous grasses and do cuttings of many of the plants in your garden. Aristida junciformis (gongoni grass), themeda triandra (red grass), eragrostis curvula (weeping lovegrass), digitaria eriantha (digit grass) and melinis repens (Natal redtop) grasses are easy to grow and need very little water or maintenance. Each of these grasses has their own character and if planted correctly will complement each other. You can mix and match them to get the different textures of each grass.

Easy-to-grow aristida junciformis (gongoni grass).

Repot all indoor plants. Remove the plants and wash the old soil off the roots with clean running water. If there are any old, dead or dying leaves, remove them as this can cause fungal problems and finally death of your prized plant. Replant in new potting soil, add some compost and fertiliser and ensure they are not planted too deep. Use right size pot and always plant in the centre. Add slow release fertiliser to the potting medium such as osmocote which will release small amounts of nutrients every time you water the plant. Take indoor plants outside every two weeks and give them a good soak of water to rejuvenate them. Do not over-water the plant because too much water will rot the roots.

Happy gardening.

  • This article is sponsored by Chris Dalzell Landscapes, specialising in landscaping, consultation, plant broking and Botanical tours. If you have any questions, please [email protected]

The Independent on Saturday



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