Autumn is considered by many to be KwaZulu-Natal’s second spring, with days being warmer and mild, and rains having come.
It also makes for an ideal time to get stuck into gardening, as plants need a warm soil to establish their root system, says Eric Burgess of Westville’s Burgess Nursery and Garden Centre, a third-generation and family-owned business that has been supplying plants to local gardeners since 1913.
Gardeners might not necessarily see much growth on top of plants now, but roots are busy establishing themselves, Burgess says.
Autumn’s mild days lead to flowers often being bigger and brighter at this time, compared with those in spring and summer.
“The blooms at the autumn rose shows are noticeably bigger and colours and fragrance are more intense.
“Consequently, autumn marks a busy time in the garden. It is a good time to plant, and a rewarding time for colour – crotons are at their best, as are roses, bougainvilleas, Barberton daisies and lots more.”
No garden should be without a hibiscus, says Burgess, who adds that modern hybrids have huge blooms in a wide variety of colours. Also, they are easy to grow, only needing regular feeding and watering.
Also of note now is one of the most spectacular and rewarding indigenous plants, the Cape honeysuckle, or Tecoma capensis (to give it its new name).
“These are available in red, orange-red, yellow, apricot, orange and salmon pink and give a mass of colour. They are rightly popular all over the world, and are much loved by birds, as well as humans.
“Autumn foliage with its golds, oranges and reds will soon be seen on many trees and shrubs.”
It will also soon be time to plant out winter and spring-flowering annuals, says Burgess, pointing out that a huge variety of seedlings can be grown at this time: “The biggest selection of the entire year – and what a choice there is!”
Firm favourites are pansies, violas, primulas, poppies, snapdragons, petunias, alyssum and lobelia.
“The selection is not limited to only these – everyone has their own favourites, so go for it.”
These seedlings can be used for mass planting in beds, or planted in rockeries, window boxes, hanging baskets or pots and tubs.
“Always use a good potting mix and remember to feed regularly for truly amazing results. There are excellent plant foods available for seedlings – ask your nurseryman for advice.”
Winter-flowering and spring-flowering bulbs are also on sale now. These are easy to grow, and nothing quite says “spring” like a flowering daffodil.
“Bulbs can also be planted in pots, as well as the garden. If you buy your bulbs now, put them in the vegetable tray in your fridge for a few weeks before planting them out – this will prime them to sprout and they will flower earlier.
“Remember they need cool soil, so do not plant them too early, or in a really hot position.
“Some spectacular shrubs are also at their best at this time. A special favourite of mine is ixora, which comes in a variety of colours and sizes.
“Ixoras prefer a bright, warm shade, and do especially well in pots. They will soon be in full flower and the huge heads of flowers in reds, yellow, orange or pink are a sight to behold.”
Burgess says ixoras respond well to regular feeding, so give your plants some slow-release flowering fertiliser, “for the best show this side of the equator”.
Bougainvilleas also do well in pots and tubs, and are trouble-free and disease-free. They require full sun, regular feeding (as do ixora) and should almost dry out between watering, Burgess says.
“Pinch them back regularly to maintain shape and bushiness, and to encourage compact flowering.”
As for pests in the gardens at this time of year, ants can be a problem.
“If you have ants on your plants, it means you also have some sort of sucking insect, such as aphid, mealybug or scale, on which the ants are feeding,” Burgess says.
“Your nurseryman can recommend a spray that will kill the sucking insects and the ants at the same time. The same spray can be used to kill ants in the lawn and outside, around the house.
“Moles and mole rats are also very active now, as they stock up their larders for winter. Most mole remedies are extremely poisonous and I do not like using them in the home garden. There are sonic mole repellents that seem to work if you persevere.
“The only sure remedy I know of to get rid of moles is to move house. Learn to live with your moles.”
It is also time to get your lawn ready for winter.
Says Burgess: “Mow your lawn long – set your mower to give a high cut. The more leaf your lawn has, the longer and stronger the roots will be.” - Independent on Saturday