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Feel free to go wild this autumn

Published Apr 22, 2015

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Johannesburg – More than 23 000 plants are indigenous to South Africa.

Help to protect and save our environment by planting indigenous species to celebrate Earth Day today (April 22).

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Appreciate the importance of including indigenous plants as they encourage beneficial pollinators, butterflies, bees, insects and birds.

Bulbs: Plant indigenous spring-flowering bulbs in your garden, such as chinkerinchee, Freesia and ixia. Sun-loving Ixias look good when planted with Sparaxis, Tritonia and Watsonias. They flower for about a month in late winter and early spring.

Lachenalia, also known as the Cape cowslip, is a favourite in rockeries and pots on the patio. Plant in full sun or light shade from mid-April. They make a good combination with Namaqualand daisies.

The harlequin flower (Sparaxis) grows from a corm, which should be covered with 5cm of soil.

Like European flowering spring bulbs, indigenous bulbs are best planted in large groups for the best effect rather than individually.

Autumn is also a good time to become aware of where plants grow naturally. Use this information to advantage in your garden. Note which plants grow on hillsides, in open grassland, on rocky outcrops or in damp depressions.

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Plants for slopes: The challenging question in gardening on a hillside is whether to create terraces or leave the slope natural. Steep slopes are more controlled by terracing, with level areas for planting. Terraces allow easy access and let rain soak into the soil.

Agapanthus has succulent-type roots that bind the soil. Low-growing, spreading plants can be threaded through taller plantings to carpet the ground and slow water run-off. Drought-tolerant plants can be graded, with those that need the least water at the top of the slope and less-drought tolerant plants at the lower end.

A grassland garden: A sunny, open area can become a mini grassland where indigenous grasses assume an important role of stabilising the soil and maintaining an ecosystem that attracts wildlife.

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Indigenous grasses include love grass (Eragrostis curvula), red top grass (Melinis nerviglumis) and gongoni grass (Aristida junciformis) with honey-coloured seed heads.

Clump-forming grasses are more controllable than runners. Grassland plants need six to eight hours of sunshine a day and well-drained, weed-free soil.

If space allows, introduce wandering paths and foundation plantings of shrubs, such as lion’s ear (Leonotis leonorus), wild pomegranate (Burchellia bubalina), mallow (Anisodontea scabrosa), wild rosemary (Eriocephalus africanus), Euryops daisy (Euryops pectinatus) and blue African sage (Salvia africana-caerulea).

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Grasslands have annuals, perennials and bulbs that flower in different seasons. In autumn the pineapple plant (Eucomis) and March lily show up among the browning grasses. There are orange aloes and Watsonias to light up the grassland in winter. In the summer rainfall region, winter is the season for fires that burn off top growth, but this is not always practical or possible in a grassland garden. Grasses are mown and the chaff raked and removed to allow light to reach seedlings and emerging bulbs.

A grassland garden is beautiful in spring and summer with the flowers of Agapanthus, Albuca, Berg lily (Galtonia), the indigenous foxglove (Ceratotheca triloba), Crinum, Dierama, Gladioli species, African star grass (Hypoxis hemerocallidea), large blue Scilla natalensis, mauve pincushion (Scabiosa africana) and giant bellflower (Wahlenbergia undulata).

Rocky outcrops, slopes and depressions: A rocky outcrop is the perfect place for aloes. They are seen to best advantage when grown on their own or with succulents among large weathered rocks on a sunny slope. While most Aloes flower in winter, species such as Aloe boylei, A aristata and A cooperi flower in summer.

Waterlogged spots: Slopes cleared of vegetation create problems with erosion if not planted. Slopes are often low in fertility, making them an ideal site for flowers that need sun and excellent drainage, but do not need rich soil, conditions that suit fynbos plants, Agapanthus, Arctotis, Felicia, Gazania, Nemesia, Mesembryanthemum or vygies, and Pelargonium.

Water runs down slopes and collects in depressions, creating conditions that suit tree ferns, arums (Zantedeschia aethiopica), Aristea, Cape reed (Chondropetalum tectorum), reeds (Cyperus papyrus), Elegia capensis, Crinum, Dietes, Moraea, red hot pokers and Schizostylis.

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