November snuck up on us fast, with the summer break only a month away.
We have had some lovely rain to waken the plants that now show signs of life with new leaves and flowers to tell us summer is here. Driving through Northern Zululand this past week and seeing all the flamboyants, delonix regia, from Madagascar, in flower always reminds me of summer no matter where you are in the world.
They flower a lot better in hotter, drier regions of KZN, especially in towns like Hluhluwe and Lake St Lucia. They were planted as street trees in Durban in the old days, which sadly where not replaced once they died.
As we head into summer, we need to plan what we are going to do with our gardens, whether we’re going away for an extended period, or staying at home. The only downside of summer is the heat and rain which are both necessary for life as we know it. Having spent some time this year working in the deserts of Qatar, I know just how important rain is for life in plants. I hope you have all installed water tanks to capture rainwater to use in your garden as water becomes scarcer and the world’s population exceeds the 8 billion mark. Scary indeed.
What to think about and do in summer
Prune overgrown vegetation: We will get lots of rain and very hot sunny days, which will initiate lots of new growth, especially on quick-growing shrubs and trees. All these require maintenance, including reducing their size to fit your garden or a particular space. Ensure you have a sharp pair of secateurs or pruning sheers. Blunt tools tear stems which can damage plants and lead to an untimely death.
Reduce fast-growing shrubs to at least half to a third of their size, removing dead, damaged, thin or weak parts. Once you have finished pruning, either add some leaf mulch or compost to the soil plus some organic fertiliser. Water well after you have pruned.
Pruning stimulates new growth. Get to know your plants, because you don’t want to prune a shrub that is about to flower. Don’t be shy when pruning: plants like a good prune a few times a year. It creates space in your garden for other plants to grow and keeps your garden neat and tidy.
Mulching: This is one of the most important aspects of good, healthy gardens. Mulch can be any form of organic matter, from fallen leaves to natural compost that has been formed over many years of decomposition of food waste or fallen leaves. Take this organic matter and spread it thickly over the soil surface which in time will decompose and add nutrients to the existing soil. Mulching:
- Prevents water loss from the soil
- Keeps the root system warm
- Prevents weed growth
- Adds nutrients to the soil
- Looks neat and tidy
- Provides a home for earthworms and other insects which in time improve the quality of the soil.
Lawns: Often a contentious issue with naturalists because lawns use so much water that many feel is a waste. I do love lawns as it makes a garden, especially if you have a well-manicured lawn. It does need lots of cutting, watering, feeding, and spraying which are all negatives when you think of the natural world. The only lawn I have is my verge which essentially belongs to the council. I have never added fertiliser or watered it in the 16 years I have lived in the house, but I can assure you won’t find a better patch of manicured lawn. It is all about managing it. Here are my rules to a good lawn:
Grow the right grass for your garden. I have Berea grass that grows thick and mats well with very few weeds.
Cut your grass high because tall grass allows for a deep root system. If you cut your lawn too short this encourages a shallow root system and exposes areas of soil to weed growth. You will then have to water and feed your lawns more often to keep it looking healthy.
Ensure the blades on your lawn mower are sharp and not damaged.
Try not to water in summer: allow the rains to provide the necessary water. In winter lawns go dormant so do not need water. If you top-dress your lawn, use a natural compost that is weed free. That is hard to find.
Deep roots can absorb enough water to keep your lawns looking green and healthy.
Don’t spray herbicides as this is bad for the environment. Remove weeds physically.
Indoor plants: These become problematic if you are going away for an extended period over Christmas.
If you live in a house and have lots of shady trees, put these plants outside in the shade. This allows the plants to get air movement and moisture from early morning dew or from natural water if it rains. Indoor plants burn and deteriorate very quickly if exposed to direct sunlight.
Place some leaf mulch on the soil surface in the pot to prevent water loss.
Place a dip tray under the pot as this will hold some water that will be absorbed by the soil to keep the roots moist.
If you have an automated irrigation system for your garden, this will be sufficient to keep the plants watered. Indoor plants deteriorate very quickly if allowed to dry out.
Flowering plants for November
Hibiscus pedunculatus (forest pink hibiscus); gardenia thunbergia (forest gardenia); plectranthus zuluensis (Zulu spur-flower); bulbine frutescens (spreading bulbine); calodendum capense (Cape chestnut); dias cotinifolia (pom pom tree); agapanthus praecox (agapanthus); tulbaghia violacea (wild garlic); gazania rigens (trailing gazania); xylotheca kraussiana (African dogrose); crinum bulbispermum (orange river lily); buddleja saligna (olive sagewood); chlorophytum bowkeri (hen and chicken); becium obovatum (cat’s whiskers); trachelospermum jasminoides (star jasmine); brunsfelsia pauciflora (yesterday today and tomorrow); mackaya bella (forest bell-bush); gladiolus dalenii (Natal lily); anthericum saundersiae (weeping anthericum).
- This article is sponsored by Chris Dalzell Landscapes, specialising in landscaping, consultation, plant broking and Botanical tours. Email questions to firstname.lastname@example.org
The Independent on Saturday