Durban - August is a time for fun in the garden, says Durban gardening expert Eric Burgess, who has now closed his Westville nursery but continues to offer advice from Pietermaritzburg’s Jesmond Dene Nursery and Garden Centre at 204 Murray Road, Hayfields.

Spring has almost sprung, birds are singing and the grass is growing – but, unfortunately, so are the weeds, he says.

“One of the factors that makes a plant a weed is that it is able to out-compete the plants around it.

“In a lawn, this means the weeds grow quicker than the grass at this time of the year – so your lawn will appreciate all the help it can get right now.”

Burgess suggests you start by watering regularly and deeply.

If the soil has become compacted and hard, spike it with a garden fork to loosen the soil, then apply a sprinkling of lawn dressing or compost.

Then water well, so the water washes the dressing down the spiked holes into the soil, says Burgess.

“If you have not applied agricultural lime to your lawn in a while, it is a good idea to do so at the same time as you spike the ground. That way, the watering washes the lime down to root level.”

Ask your favourite nurseryman for the application rates.

Burgess says lime “is basically chalk dust, so is insoluble in water and takes quite a while to do all the things it can in the soil”.

He says it “sweetens” the soil by raising the pH, adds texture to the soil by making the soil particles stick together and releases nutrients previously trapped in the soil chemistry.

“Do not apply lime too often – about once every two years is okay, but check with your local nurserymen, who will know your soil type.

“Clover leaf weeds prefer an acid soil to grow best. By ‘sweetening’ the soil, the lime makes it less acid and the clover will not grow quite as prolifically. So if you have clover leaf weed in your lawn, your soil may be too acid and you may need to apply lime.

“Do not weed the clover leaf out by hand – this only helps to spread the weed and compounds the problem. There are numerous chemical, liquid weedkillers your nurseryman can recommend that will do the job quickly, effortlessly and well,” says Burgess.

He says some weedkillers will kill all the weeds in the lawn with one application. They will not kill the weed seeds, so repeat applications might be required.

“Whether you have weeds or not, now is the time to feed your lawn. If your lawn is uneven and bumpy, use a lawn dressing or potting mix to level and smooth it out,” says Burgess.

“Be careful of using top-soil, as a good top-soil will have weeds in it (or else it did not come from the top soil).

“Do not use a top soil with a different texture or colour to your own soil, as this could cause other problems,” Burgess advises.

“Fertilise all lawns now as they are starting to grow quickly. If your lawn is really tired and patchy use a ‘wake-up’ fertiliser such as 2:3:2, which is a good establishing feed.

“If your lawn looks okay, then a feed with a regular lawn fertiliser is all that is required – and, again, your nurseryman will help,” he says.

“There are slow-release fertilisers available which will not ‘burn’ your lawn, and will not wash out of the soil with watering.”

Meanwhile, Burgess says many plants are bursting into bud now, among them azaleas which, available in a multitude of colours and types, will all be in flower this month.

They grow particularly well in shade and in tubs.

“A spring favourite is Chinese Jasmine, a gentle creeper with fern-like foliage and masses of gloriously perfumed, palest pinky-white clusters of flowers.

“It grows in sun or shade, in pots or in the ground. It can be used on fences and pergolas.”

Burgess says many nurseries and garden centres are now running a Pink Pot Promotion in aid of Meals on Wheels.

“They have a lively selection of plants in pink pots and a proportion of sales will be donated to the charity.

“Osteospermums, or Cape daisies, are indigenous and are colourful plants for tubs or rockeries. They are also in full flower now and are available in a wide range of colours.”

Burgess says gardeners should have also pruned roses by now – “if not, hurry up, as it is not too late”.

He adds: “Remember roses flower at their best when happy – so give them lots of sun, water and food.

“Spray them regularly against fungus diseases. It’s easy to get into a regular weekly rose routine of feeding and spraying that will bring heaps of flowers and much satisfaction.

“Inspect your clivias, agapanthus and cycads regularly for signs of caterpillar infestation. These insects can cause major damage in just a few days, so be vigilant. There are really good insecticides that will sort out the problem.”

Finally, he adds that spring is all about colour – and the brighter the better.

“Fill garden beds and pots with splashes of annuals – or bedding plants, as we now call them.

“They are easy to grow, quick to flower, offer value for money and can be used in a multitude of areas – pots, window boxes, hanging baskets, rockeries and beds.

“The secret of success is to feed regularly, water well and remove dead flower heads for long-lasting results.

“Varieties for planting now include alyssum, begonia, celosia, dianthus, lobelia, marigold, petunia, pansy, salvia, torenia, verbena and viola.”

Finally, says Burgess, while it is important to feed your garden at this time, do not forget about feeding yourself and your family.

“A vegetable or herb garden is great for a garden.

“Some vegetables, such as beans and carrots, are so easy to grow and always taste better if they are your own,” says Burgess.

“Also, herbs just about grow themselves. Parsley, thyme, rosemary, mint and basil are essential in any kitchen garden.” - Independent on Saturday