Growing your own plants

One of the plants that can be grown from seed: the beautiful bulb scadoxus multiflorus subsp. multiflorus or fire-ball lily that flowers in October in Northern KZN.

One of the plants that can be grown from seed: the beautiful bulb scadoxus multiflorus subsp. multiflorus or fire-ball lily that flowers in October in Northern KZN.

Published Dec 18, 2022


It is hard to believe we are only a week away from Christmas and two weeks away from 2023.

Luckily for us gardeners the rains have helped with watering our gardens and keeping our water bill to a minimum.

With the cost of travel, I am sure many of us will be staying at home and enjoying just being at home and hopefully working in the garden.

With my landscaping taking me to different parts of South Africa I constantly keep my eyes open for new and interesting plants that I may collect seed from and grow for my garden.

One is a beautiful bulb called Scadoxus multiflorus subsp. Multiflorus or fire-ball lily that flowers in October in Northern KZN.

Once in flower they are pollinated by bees which then turn to seed with between 1-3 seeds per seed pod.

Timing is everything: you cannot collect too early because the seeds will be immature and not germinate or leave them on the flower head too late because the birds then eat the seed.

This week I collected the seeds and planted them in seedling trays to hopefully produce new bulbs in the new year.

Growing your own plants is a lot of fun and easier than some may think.

Propagation of plants can be done in many ways, from seed sowing to soft and hard wood cuttings. Here are a few tips.

Decide which form of propagation you want to use.

Seed allows you to grow many more plants than tip cuttings and, in many ways, is probably the easiest.

Some seeds are difficult to grow and may require some form of manipulation to induce the seed to germinate.

Monitor a plant you would like to grow that is in flower. Once pollinated it will produce seed which, when mature, can be collected and sown into a seedling tray.

Popular groundcover agapanthus are in bloom now.

Always write the name of the plant on a label, when and where the seeds were collected and when they were sown.

Quite often plants go dormant and all you see is soil in the pot and no plant. Of course, the plant is in the pot but dormant. You can write all the information on the label which allows you to keep a record of the plant’s life cycle.

Use plastic instead of polystyrene trays to sow seed and do cuttings because these trays prevent the medium from becoming waterlogged and prevents the roots from damaging the trays. Once the seeds have germinated and the cuttings rooted, they need to be potted into plastic bags. Make sure the bag is not too big because this could result in the plant drowning. The bag must be big enough to allow the roots to fill that bag before being moved to a larger growing bag.

Seedling and potting mixes are the mediums used to germinate the seed and root cuttings. It must be free draining but hold some moisture to start the root and germination process. When I worked as a young student at Durban Parks, we made our own soil mixes which often differed depending on whether it was a seedling or potting mix. Our mixes included coconut fibre, black topsoil, coarse river sand and pine bark mixed with some fertiliser. Today’s commercial mediums generally consist of compressed milled pine bark: I suggest you use our “recipe” to create your own.

The magnificent blossoms of hydrangeas which flower now.

One of the biggest killers of newly germinated seedlings is damping off which is caused by a fungus.

Once you have sown your seed either apply a dose of Dythane and benlate which is mixed with water and watered into the soil or a long-acting fungicide such as Apron which can be bought from your local horticultural store.

Water quality is very important for germination and growth of seedlings and there is no better water than natural rainwater which you can collect from gutters and stored in tanks.

Often there are too many chemicals in municipal water, especially chlorine which can affect the growth of many plants. Fill a water tank with municipal water and allow it to sit for a few days before using it. This allows the chlorine to escape into the atmosphere. Never allow seedling trays to dry out as this is the quickest way to kill newly germinated seedlings.

The flamboyant delonix regia is adding scarlet showers in and around Durban.

When sowing seed, water the medium well before sowing. Wet medium holds the seed in place. Place the seed in the cusp of one hand. Tap gently on your hand, allowing the seed to be dispersed evenly over the soil medium. Sprinkle a fine layer of soil over the seed to keep it in place and for the seed to germinate. Water gently after sowing.

Place your seedling trays on a platform that is raised off the ground and where it will have good drainage, morning sun and ample air movement which must not dry out the medium. In these early days of sowing seed keep a daily check on the moisture levels of the medium. Watch the daily temperatures and amount of light the seedlings get daily. If too high, cover with some shade cloth.

Once your seedling outgrows the seedling trays, they must be planted into bigger individual 4-6 pack seedling trays. This allows the plants to be hardened off and allow new root growth to establish. Place these trays in full sun which hardens these plants for their next move which is into the ground. Protect from windy conditions as this dries the soil and increases the transpiration from the leaves. Keep a close eye on your seedlings as they will tell you when they are under stress. Wilting leaves will be one of the signs the plant is under stress.

Eucomis autumnalis is livening up areas of groundcover.

Add some slow-release fertiliser to the seedling mix. This gives off a constant release of small amounts of fertiliser each time you water the plants.

Another big killer of your plants are pests and diseases. When growing in a restricted area such as a glass house or inside your house, pests will always be a problem as the conditions are perfect for them to thrive and reproduce. Inspect your plants daily for dead, dying or diseased leaves which you must remove immediately to prevent a pathogen build-up. The following pests are the main culprits in most garden collections: aphids, mealy bug, red spider mite, scale, thrips, white fly, amaryllis caterpillar and numerous forms of fungi.

If you need any further help with how to propagate plants, you can contact me on my email at the end of the article. I will also be running a weekend workshop on basic gardening skills at the Buddhist retreat Centre in Ixopo from January 20-22. Contact the BRC on [email protected]

Things to do this month:

Prune back all overgrown shrubs and groundcovers. This opens the garden to new vistas and allows new growth on the pruned plants. Cut back dead and diseased parts to protect the plant from pathogens which can spread to other plants.

Add mulch from fallen leaves to your flower beds to protect the root ball, prevent water loss and prevent weed growth.

With all the rain much of the nutrients will leach from the soil. Add a natural fertiliser to all your flower beds.

Cut lawns at least once a week with the mower at its highest level to keep the grass lush and allow a deep root system to establish. Watch for weeds, which must be removed as soon as possible.

Enjoy many of the flower trees, shrubs, and groundcover that we enjoy in December.

Hydrangeas, agapanthus, tulbaghias, plumbago auriculata, plectranthus zuluensis, aloe tenuior, cyrtanthus obliquus, cyrtanthus sanguineus, bauhinia galpinii, crinum bulbispermum, pavetta lanceolata, gardenia thunbergia, delonix regia, calodendrum capense, eucomis autumnalis, melinis repens, erythrina humeana, hibiscus peduncularis, dais cotinifolia, clivia miniata.

Wishing you all a very happy Christmas and a very happy New Year.

Happy gardening.

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

The Independent on Saturday