Signs of a budding spring, time to prep your garden

The weeping boer beans, schotia brachypetala, have been in full flower, with scarlet flowers that attract many of the nectar feeding birds.

The weeping boer beans, schotia brachypetala, have been in full flower, with scarlet flowers that attract many of the nectar feeding birds.

Published Aug 20, 2022


No matter how bad your garden looks, if you have a beautiful lawn the rest of the garden looks good.

Chris Dalzell

I am presently in a little town called Nieuwoudtville in the Northern Cape, better known as the bulb capital of the world, on a Namaqualand flower tour.

More than 1 350 species of bulbs and other endemic plants grow in this part of the world, and mostly flower in August and September. Many of the plants you buy at the nurseries and supermarkets for flower arrangements or as indoor flowering plants, originate from this little area of heaven.

Gladiolus, chincherinchees, nemesias, gazanias, arctotis and pelargoniums all come from this little area.

But in Durban, the feel of spring is now in the air. Winter is the time for plants to rejuvenate and many plants, in particular trees, lose their leaves to allow them to rest and prepare for the next growing season. It’s when most trees and shrubs should be pruned.

Some trees are still in their winter flowering season such as the Coral trees and some of the early flowering spring trees are in full bloom. I was in Northern Zululand two weeks ago and many of the weeping boer beans, schotia brachypetala, were in full flower, with scarlet flowers that attract many of the nectar feeding birds. A welcome sight when all around is very dry. It seems as soon as August arrives, new leaves appear on the deciduous trees and some produce flowers. Grasslands that have been burnt are now green with new growth and wildflowers are appearing from the bare soil. Let’s hope we have good rains this coming summer.

The bridelia micrantha or mitseeri is a medium to large deciduous tree up to 20m with a spreading crown. Leaves are bright golden orange in autumn and spring.

A few special trees will be in full leaf in the next week. One is a common tree throughout Durban and the Upper Highway area, called bridelia micrantha or mitseeri. This beauty has autumn and spring leaf colour. It is a medium to large deciduous tree up to 20m with a spreading crown. Leaves are bright golden orange in autumn and spring, and can be found along the coastal, swamp and riverine forests in KwaZulu-Natal. It prefers a moist, warm climate but can take a little frost.

The wild pear (dombeya rotundifolia) produces spring colour.

Several other trees that produce spring colour in the leaves include the broom cluster fig (ficus sur) and the rock fig (ficus ingens). We also have several trees that produce beautiful flowers in spring including September bells (rothmannia globosa), African dog rose (xylotheca kraussiana) and the wild pear (dombeya rotundifolia).

Spring is the time to take control of your garden in preparation for the rainy summer season: do cuttings and sow seed which will grow quickly as the days lengthen and the soil warms. Compost and fertilise your garden after winter has depleted nutrients in your soil.

Things to do in Spring

Key to the success of any garden is the lawn: a very untidy, unhealthy lawn will make the rest of your garden look unkempt. No matter how bad your garden looks, if you have a beautiful lawn the rest of the garden looks good.

Lawns: Selection of lawn: If you have an existing lawn or are looking at replacing your lawn you need to decide from the onset which is the best lawn for your garden. This will determine the success of your garden as a very untidy, unhealthy lawn will make the rest of your garden look unkempt. No matter how bad your garden looks, if you have a beautiful lawn the rest of the garden looks good. It is very important to consider where you live: how much sunlight will the lawn receive; does it get lots of foot traffic; will it be easy to establish? If you live on the coast, 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, are easy to establish and do well in the cooler regions of KwaZulu-Natal.

Watering: This is very important as use of water for lawns needs to be a big factor. As I have mentioned previously, I have a lawn on my verge that I have never watered or fertilised, and it grows beautifully. Check what soil you have because this will determine how much water your lawns will need. Sandy soils will drain more quickly so will require more water than, for example, a clay soil. Loamy soil is best as it will hold the right amount of water but also release enough moisture. Do not over water. Your lawn will tell you when it needs water by either turning brown or showing signs of stress. One good soaking a week is best. This encourages roots to grow deeper, creating a strong healthy root system. Best to water early in the morning as it is cooler thus less evaporation. Make sure if you have a sprinkler system that you install a rain indicator so your sprinklers do not come on when it is raining. It always amazes me when it is pouring with rain that sprinklers are running at the same time.

Flower beds and pruning: Shrubs should have been pruned soon after the winter flowering. Cut back winter flowering shrubs which include leonorus leonoris, hypoestes aristata, bauhinia galpinii and old flower spikes on aloes that have shed their seeds. Remove all the thin and weak, dead or insect-infested branches. If left on the shrubs they can lead to the decline or death of that plant. Pruning also stimulates new growth and encourages better flowering the next season. It is important to prune your shrubs every year as many shrubs become overgrown and untidy.

Repot all indoor plants: Remove the plants from the pot and wash the roots with clean running water. Remove any old, dead or dying leaves. Buy new potting soil, add some compost and fertiliser, and replant, ensuring they are not planted too deep. Make sure you also put the plant in the right size pot and always plant in the centre of the pot. Add slow-release fertiliser to the potting medium such as osmocote which will release small amounts of nutrients every time you water the plant. Take indoor plants outside every two weeks to rejuvenate them with a good soak. Ensure you do not overwater the plant because this will rot the roots.

Mulching: Mulch all the shrub beds with either leaf mould or mushroom compost to keep roots warm and moist. Fertilise all your flower beds to encourage a healthy, strong root system. Superphosphate is needed to improve such a root system so in September sprinkle a handful per square metre into the root area of all shrubs.

Compost and fertilise: These are the two essential items to maintain a good garden. Nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium are the three essential elements in soil that determine what you can and cannot grow. Lawns respond best to a high nitrogen fertiliser such as 5.1.5 and flower beds 2.3.2 which allows sufficient nitrogen but also phosphorous for root growth and potassium for flowering. Fertilising means the plants will respond and grow much quicker. If you prefer natural fertiliser, use Neutrog which does smell for some time but is a much more environmentally friendly way to go.

Pest and diseases: Most times pests feed on the soft tissue of new growth and can be seen easily. Watch for ants as they transport pests from one plant to another. Check for black sooty mould which is an indicator that you have a pest problem. The best initial treatment is to prune back the shrubs and remove most of the diseased parts of the plant. If plants are too badly diseased, it’s best to dig them out, throw them away and start with new plants. Identify the pests before treating. The worst pests are aphids, mealy bug and powdery mildew. Always try to use an organic pesticide which contain natural oils and pyrethroids which control the pest without causing problems for beneficial insects or the environment. If you have healthy plants that do have some pests on the more delicate parts, such as aphids, encourage beneficial insects to eat these insects. An example would be lady bird beetles that feed on aphids.

Replant areas: Dividing, splitting, and taking cuttings is a very easy way of adding new fresh plants to your garden. Whether it is dietes grandiflora, tulbaghia violaceae, agapanthus praecox or crassula multicarva, all can be lifted, split, divided, and replanted. Before you replant, prepare the soil well with compost and fertiliser.

What to plant at this time of the year

Now is the time to plant trees or shrubs, allowing the roots time to establish before spring and the first rains. Try to get decent-sized plants with an established root system. Healthy roots mean healthy plants. When you plant, use lots of compost and add Superphosphate to the mix to strengthen the root system. Make sure the tree or shrub is planted straight. If not, it will try to grow straight, causing a kink in the stem. Not good for future growth.

Sun loving shrubs: Bauhinia galpinii - pride de Kaap, Turraea obtusifolia - small honeysuckle-tree, Gardenia thunbergia - Forest Gardenia, Orthosiphon labiatus - small shell bush, Plectranthus ecklonii- large spur-flower bush, Tecoma capensis - Cape honeysuckle, Polygala myrtifolia - September bush, Leonotis leonoris - wild dagga, Tecoma capensis - Cape honey-suckle, Becium obovatum - cat’s whiskers, Hypoestes aristata - Ribbon bush, Gomphocarpus physocarpus - Milkweed)

Sun loving groundcovers: Agapanthus praecox, Tulbaghia violaceae, Aloe cooperii, Asparagus sprengerii, Asystasia gangetica, Anthericum saundersiae, Dietes grandiflora, Gazania sp. Crassula multicarva, Barleria obtusa, Bulbine natalensis, Bulbine latifolius, Aloe chaubaudii, Osteospermums, Delospermum sp., Carpobrotus dimidiatus, Scabiosa sp. Cotyledon orbiculata (Pigs ears), Kniphofia sp (Red Hot Poker), Eucomis autumnalis (Pineapple plant), Gladiolus dalenii.

Shade loving shrubs: Mackaya bell (Forest Bells), Plectranthus zuluensi (Zulu Spur Flower), Dracaena aletriformis (Dragon Tree), Plectranthus ecklonii (Spur Flower), Rothmannia globosa (September Bells), Plectranthus saccatus, Plectranthus fruticosus, Acocanthera oppositifolia (Bushmans Poison), Pavetta lanceolata (Brides Bush), Pavetta revoluta (Dune Brides Bush)

Shade loving groundcovers: Chlorophytum bowkeri, Clivia miniata, Haemanthus albiflos, Bulbine natalensis, Chlorophytum krookianum, Dietes grandiflora, Crocosmia aurea, Dietes iridiodes, Plectranthus ciliatus, Agapanthus praecox, Barleria obtusifolia (Bush violet), Scadoxus puniceus(Blood Lily), Setaria megaphylla (Giant setaria)

Happy gardening

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

The Independent on Saturday

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