Keep blooming in winter

The haemanthus albiflos is one of many plants that provide winter colour in gardens.

The haemanthus albiflos is one of many plants that provide winter colour in gardens.

Published Jun 17, 2023


Christopher Dalzell

Winter in Durban is one of the best times of the year for gardening and flowering plants. Not many places have a climate that provides sunny warm days and little rain for three months and a mix of indigenous and exotic flowers to enjoy during that period. That’s why it is so important when creating a new garden or changing a garden to select plants that flower throughout the year.

Here a few tips to help you select plants that will flower in winter and other times of the year. Soil type: Take soil samples from different parts of the garden to assess what type of soil you have. You will then know what you need to add to improve its quality and what type of plants you can plant.

Hard landscaping: Structural entities such as pools, pathways and plumbing determine what plants go where. Get this right from the beginning because you don’t want to establish a garden and have to dig it up to put in a fence or driveway.

Do a landscape plan: Call an expert if you have no idea what you want to do, because it will save you time and money. Assess the topography and hard landscaping and identify planting zones such as forest areas, selection of plants to hide ugly walls, enhance privacy, sunny and shade areas, colourful areas near the house, herb and veggie garden, installation of water tanks to capture the water off the roofs, irrigation points and retaining walls to stabilise steep banks.

A display of leonotis leonorus in winter.

Plant selection: I cannot emphasise how important it is to select the right plants for your garden. Avoid costly mistakes by knowing about the plants you choose. Does the plant grow in the shade or in full sun? Does it require water or dry conditions? How big does the plant grow and when does it flower? Try to select different plants that flower at different times of the year, so you have flowers throughout the year. Most aloes flower in winter although a few, such as Aloe cooperi and Aloe greenii, flower in summer. Select trees that flower at different times of the year, for instance erythrina lysistemon flowers in winter and gardenia thunbergia flowers in summer. For shrubs; orthosiphon labiatus flowers in summer and leonotis leonorus in winter.

Understand growing conditions, especially root systems. Too many trees and plants are planted close to houses, swimming pools and soak pits, causing damage to walls, pools and other structures. Figs are a prime example of an invasive root system that will eventually damage such structures.

Other considerations: Water-wise plants require little water or maintenance to survive; shade or sun loving plants; indigenous or exotic; plants to attracts birds and butterflies, flowering plants throughout the year; tree selection depending on the size of your garden; lawn area and which is the best lawn for your garden; selection of pots for placement around the house to create interest; indigenous only or add some exotic plants?

Plants have different water requirements, so it is important to group plants into water-use zones. This ensures that you don’t over- or under-water certain plants that are grouped incorrectly. Never put high water requirement plants with low water requirement plants as this will cause rot of those plants that need very little water and vice versa.

Lawn versus groundcovers: Large areas under lawn require lots of cutting, watering and fertiliser to keep the grass looking green and healthy. Check where the lawn is struggling, such as shady areas under a tree or in a high traffic area and consider paving or low maintenance groundcover.

Mulch: A thick layer of organic or inorganic matter which covers the soil and can reduce evaporation from the soil by at least 70%. It suppresses weed growth, prevents soil compaction, and reduces soil erosion. It also makes a wonderful landscape feature. Organic matter could be compost, bark, straw, wood chips, dried leaves and so on. Inorganic mulches would be pebbles, newspaper and black plastic sheeting. Always put down mulch between the plants straight after planting but don’t cover the stems.

Kniphofia praecox, the red hot poker, flowers best in wet areas.

Water correctly: Know your soil type. To determine if the plants need water, push your finger in the soil to see if it’s wet. The plants will show signs of wilting if they are not getting enough water. Water in the early mornings or late evening when there is less transpiration. Reduce watering in winter.

Maintenance: This is where most home gardeners fall short. It is the part of gardening we all hate because it requires manual labour to remove weeds, sometimes reaching a stage where you must remove nearly all the plants just to pull out weeds. That is why mulching is so important: it prevents the sun from reaching the dormant seeds and allowing them to germinate and grow. Remove weeds before the roots get too big and will be competition for nutrients and space of the plants you have planted. Mulch your flower beds as often as possible, remove weeds physically before they get too big, monitor the growth of your plants and ask for advice if stuck.

Top winter flowering trees, shrubs, groundcovers, and succulents

  • Most aloe species which flower from late May through July
  • Hypoestes aristata – ribbon bush with its purple flower
  • Leonotis leonoris – wild dagga with its variations of flower colour from orange to white
  • Strelitzia reginae – bird of paradise that flower for many months
  • Kniphofia praecox – red hot poker that flowers best in wet areas
  • Tecoma capensis – Cape honeysuckle, especially the orange variety.
  • Plumbago auriculata – Flowers in blue and white.
  • Erythrina species – coral tree with its red and orange flowers
  • Barleria obtusa – bush violet with its blue flowers
  • Becium obovatum – cat’s whiskers with creamy white flowers
  • Crassula multicarva – fairy crassula with its pinky red flowers
  • Bulbine natalensis – broad-leaved bulbine with its yellow flower
  • Plectranthus zuluensis – Zulu spur flower
  • Melinis nerviglumis – mountain red top
  • Cyrtanthus mackeni – ifafa lily
  • Haemanthus albiflos – white paint brush

Water wise plants


  • Aloe barberae
  • Acacia sieberiana var.woodii
  • Heteropyxis natalensis
  • Erythrina lysistemon
  • Albizia adianthifolia
  • Halleria lucida
  • Xylotheca kraussiana
  • Vepris lanceolata
  • Cussonia spicata


  • Carissa macrocarpa – num num
  • Tecoma capensis – Cape honeysuckle
  • Erythrina humeana – dwarf coral tree
  • Aloe (striata, ferox,thraskii, van balenii, maculata,arborescens)
  • Hibiscus pedunculatus
  • Mackaya bella
  • Crassula ovata – (kerky bush)
  • Hypoestes aristata – (ribbon bush)
  • Leonotus leonorus – (wild dagga)
  • Strelitzia reginae – (bird of paradise)
  • Euryops pectinatus – (daisy bush)
  • Tetradenia ripari – (iboza)
  • Dombaya burgesiae – (pink wild pear)


  • Dietes grandiflora – wild iris
  • Carissa green carpet – Num Num
  • Delosperma lineata – vygies
  • Agapanthus praecox – agapanthus
  • Tulbaghia violaceae – wild garlic
  • Crassula multicarva – fairy crassula
  • Crassula ovata
  • Asystasia gangetica – wild foxglove
  • Bulbine natalensis – bulbine
  • Clivia miniata – clivia
  • Cotyledon orbiculata – pigs ears
  • Kniphofia sp – red hot poker
  • Barleria obtusifolia – bush violet
  • Stapelia gigantea – giant stapelia

Happy gardening.

This is the final gardening column by Dalzell who is moving to Singapore as director of Gardens by the Bay. He invites readers to stay in touch by mailing him at [email protected]

A new gardening feature by Life is a Garden, the marketing branch of the South African Nursery Association (Sana) mother tree, starts next month. Sana is a member-driven, non-profit organisation that spreads the love and benefits of gardening to all South Africans.

The Independent on Saturday