Durban - By the time you read this article I will be in the Northern Cape enjoying the flowers of Namaqualand.

The western part of South Africa has winter rains typical of a Mediterranean region. I am pleased to see that the Cape dams are more than 50% full after rain. Water is our most important commodity, so please do not waste it.

As we move into spring, we need to decide what needs to be done in the garden before the rains arrive. It is best to get all the hard landscaping completed before it rains because it is difficult trying to build when it is wet.

I am working on a new game lodge in Babanango in northern KwaZulu-Natal and if you want to see how plants survive with no water this is the place to go. Plants adapt and survive even with little rain by going into a state of dormancy where they lose their leaves and wait for the weather to provide for them to continue living.

In South Africa we have many plants that require little water which allow us to landscape a garden we know will survive even in dry conditions. These are called water-wise gardens which have become popular all over the world.

So let’s have a look at what we need to do in the month leading to spring.

Lawns: Deciding on which grass to use is important as it will determine the success of your garden. No matter how bad your garden looks if you have a beautiful lawn the rest of the garden looks good. It is important to consider where you live when selecting a grass. How much sunlight will the lawn receive, does it get lots of foot traffic and will it be easy to establish? If you live on the coast then Berea grass would be best. It will grow well in sun and shade, but will struggle if it gets lots of foot traffic. Kikuyu and cynodon do best in full sun and will take lots of traffic and are easy to establish plus will do well in the cooler regions of KwaZulu-Natal.

Watering: How much water you put on is important because it cools the soil temperature and washes fertiliser into the soil. Soil type is important. Sandy soils drain quickly so they will need more water than say a clay soil. Loamy soil is the best because it will hold the right amount of water and release enough moisture. Do not overwater - it is a waste and can be expensive. Your lawn will tell you when it needs water by either turning brown or showing signs of stress. About 25mm of water a week is best. One good soaking a week is best. This forces roots to grow down to a deeper level. Cooler season lawns have a much shallower root system thus will need frequent watering. It is best to water early in the morning because there is less evaporation. If you want to know if your lawn needs watering, walk on the grass. If it is soft, then it is okay. If hard and crunchy, it needs watering.

Mowing: Mowing is the best way to bring out the best in any lawn especially during summer when the grass grows rapidly. The biggest mistake is cutting grass too short. Never remove more than a third of the grass blade or it will damage the lawn. Ensure your blades are sharp. Blunt mower blades also damage your lawn. Broad leaf grasses should be at least 4-6cm above the ground and finer lawns such as cynodon should be a little shorter. This results in a deeper root system and the ability to survive a hot dry period.

Scarifying and aerating: These two practices result in removing dead root material from the lawn, helping aerate the root system during the growing season. Dead grass, known as thatch, can have a detrimental impact and may result in big patches of lawn dying. Aeration allows air to get to the roots, aids in drainage and also allows water, fertiliser and nutrients to get to the roots. Use a fork to aerate your soil by pushing the fork into the soil. Scarifying is a process where you use a mower with a special blade that slices the grass runner. Once sliced, rake the cut runners and remove, then apply a fertiliser. If you don’t have such machines try to borrow a verti-cutter.

Weeds, pests and diseases: Identifying the different weeds, pests and diseases that attack your lawn is difficult. It is sometimes best to get a lawn expert to help you treat the problem.

Top dressing: This is a mixture of a well-balanced organic matter and weed-free soil mixed with fertiliser and spread thinly over the lawn. This is best done during the growing season from August to February. It can be applied after a scarification or to level an uneven section of your lawn. It is best to apply 1m³ over 100m² of lawn.

Fertilisation of lawns: A good general fertiliser for most lawns would be 5:1:5 (36). These numbers indicate the amount of nitrogen (5), phosphorus (1) and potassium (5) it contains. The (36) indicates the percentage of these three elements in the mix. Apply 60g/m² during the growing season every few months. During the winter months you can apply a light application of 2:3:2 which contain less nitrogen and more phosphorus.

Dormancy: Most lawns go into dormancy during winter so no need to fertilise. Cut maybe once a month to keep the lawn looking tidy.

Happy gardening.

  • This article is sponsored by Chris Dalzell Landscapes. If you have any questions email me at [email protected] or check out my website: www.chrisdalzellinternational.com
The Independent on Saturday