Avid gardeners will tell you that their lifelong love of gardening and plants probably originated from the gift of a cool plant such as a cactus, bonsai tree, fly catcher, or a little love palm when still only a child.
The so-called ‘bleakness of midwinter garden’ is a total myth as lots of plants, whether indigenous or exotic, flower with abundance in the cooler months. Pretty foliage reigns supreme too as the colour spectrum of foliage plants like conifers, nandinas and leucadendrons intensify spectacularly in cool temperatures. Add the ‘wow’ factor to your garden with the following winter beauties…
Stalwart creeper: Allow Carolina Jasmine (Gelsemium sempervirens) to trail over a smart trellis – it can become a pretty focal point for many future winters with its golden yellow flower trumpets.
A cold garden’s backbone: Conifers live long and look good all year long, but really come into their own in winter. Plant Cupressus macrocarpa ‘Gold Crest’, with a neat conical shape and bright, yellow-green foliage in winter in the garden, and fill empty pots with the compact Platycladus ‘Aurea Nana Compacta’ which will turn to a rich bronze in winter. They grow best in full sun in an area where there is good air circulation. Other hardy evergreen shrubs which look good all year round are nandinas, viburnums, camellias, hollies and elaeagnus.
Halloo aloe!: Compact aloe hybrids bred by our own aloe experts, produce wonderful winter colour and fit into even the smallest garden. Look out for ‘Bushwhacker’, ‘Little Joker’, ‘Peri Peri’, ‘Porcupine’ and ‘Hedgehog’ at your local GCA nursery.
Rose care for June
If you are not happy with the performance of your roses over the past summer season, the problem might lie with compacted soil and not enough air or water reaching the root zone:
- If the soil is compacted, dig in organic material like peanut shells and quality compost to a depth of at least 30cm around the rose.
- If there is root competition from other plants, it might be better to transplant the rose into a container and sink it into the ground, or to move it to a better position where it receives better light, more water and less root competition.
Calibrachoa (mini petunia) is a close relative of the petunia with small, trumpet-shaped flowers in a stunning array of bright colours. These ‘new age’ hybrid’s main claim to fame is its uniform and dense growth habit and cheerful flowering performance. Allow them to cascade beautifully in hanging baskets in a sunny spot and remember to water regularly. Two top ranges available in June are Calibrachoa ‘Conga’ with dense, compact growth supporting gazillions of flowers, and Calibrachoa ‘Raves’ which can be seen from afar due to a pretty star-shaped pattern on each flower.
Pansies and violas love the cold and there is nothing better on a chilly winter morning than gazing at their happy faces. These annuals are perfect to plant as borders and edgings, in window boxes and in containers. Position the plants where they receive full sun in winter but partial shade in spring and early summer, to give them a longer lifespan. They like fertile, composted soil which drains well and must be watered regularly. Feed every two weeks with a general liquid fertiliser and remove spent flowers to encourage more.
To have a good supply of healthy winter greens for salads and sandwiches, sow peppery rocket, beetroot, radishes, lettuce and watercress in trays to keep on a windowsill which receives morning sun. Cut off the greens as you need them for sandwiches and salads. They will re-sprout.
Time for beautiful lilies
The bulbs of all kinds of lilium hybrids are for sale now and should be planted immediately after you have purchased them. Plant them in bold clumps between winter annuals or small shrubs and groundcovers to keep their ‘feet’ in the shade while allowing their ‘heads’ to grow into full sun. Hammer in some bamboo plant stakes next to the planting hole of each bulb to be able to stake them as they grow.
The False Olive (Buddleja saligna) is a small, slender tree or low branching dense bush if not pruned into a single stem specimen. The leaves are narrow, long and olive green on the top and silvery–white on the flipside. The greyish foliage is a great background for other plants. The flowers are tiny and creamy white but are born on the end of the branches in big bunches. In full flower, the tree is a wonderful sight. It is evergreen and grows very fast. This is a great tree for small gardens and also suitable to create a screen when a few trees are grouped together. A top characteristic is that it is very frost and wind hardy, will grow in most soils and can withstand dry periods. The false olive can also be pruned into topiary forms, so if you need some indigenous subjects to train into lollipops, use the false olive!
Pamper your pets
Herbs can be beneficial to the general well-being of pets whether used as flea repellents or to treat ailments like itchiness, or small scratches eg. Aloe Vera, bulbinella, wormwood, catmint and pennywort.
Think about the birds – top up bird baths regularly with fresh water and hang a few pine cones filled with a mix of peanut butter and bird seed amongst the branches of your trees. Also invest in a feeding table on which you can leave pieces of fruit for those feathered friends who love sweet stuff and might not find it from a natural source in the neighbourhood.
(Gauteng, Free State, North West, Mpumalanga and Limpopo)
- Plants that are dormant now, particularly deciduous plants, (which might just look like a bunch of sticks) love to be planted at this time of the year as it gives them time to settle in before re-awakening in spring. So, plant roses, vines and fruit trees and especially deciduous blossom trees like flowering peach, plum, cherry, quince and crab apple. The bees love their spring blossoms.
- Keep off the lawn if it is frosted as it encourages the growth of moss and algae. Water the lawn every two to three weeks and mow as needed.
- Remove any green growth from variegated plants like coprosma or the plants can revert to just being green again.
- Keep clivias fairly dry now as this will initiate flower spikes.
- Prune vines, plum and apricot trees at the end of June and spray with lime sulphur. Do not use last year’s supply as it will have lost its potency. Buy fresh stock and use only on plants that have become completely dormant.
- To keep your compost heap active and working well over winter, turn it from time to time. If very dry, remember to damp it down again after the turning process.
- If there has been a bout of cold, dry wind, give your garden a deep drink early in the morning to allow the plants to dry off during the day. Winter-flowering plants and especially camellias and emerging bulbs must be watered regularly to for a long-lasting flower display.
(Western Cape, Northern Cape, Eastern Cape, and KwaZulu-Natal)
- Focal plants like flax (Phormium) and cordyline are eye-catching in a winter landscape. Neaten them up by removing the old flower stalks and leaves from the flax. Park your ladder against the cordyline to pull off that petticoat of old leaves below the fresh ones, while also removing the stringy flower stems left over after summer.
- Palms will look much nicer too if you remove (where possible) their old leaves.
- Pick sweet pea flowers regularly to encourage the plants to produce many more flowers.
- In subtropical climes, you can feed paw-paw trees. Water them well before and afterwards.
- Lemon trees should also be given a feed (one should feed garden citrus trees four times a year in September, January, April and in June or July and those in pots more regularly with a foliar fertiliser). Correct yellowing leaves with a micro-element mixture.
- Feed broad beans, broccoli, cabbage, lettuce, peas and spinach with a high nitrogen and high phosphate granular fertiliser or foliar feed.
- Watch out for winter grass (Poa annua), an annual weed which germinates on lawns in winter. It is normally visible as small clumps of bright green grass with fine brown seed heads, overwintering in damp, shady areas. Apply a weed killer. If the problem is not too bad, leave some of these grass weeds with their seeds for the birds to feast on – they love it!