With holidays coming to an end, it’s time to get back in the garden and start exercising those green fingers. Most importantly, we need to make sure that our gardens are well-equipped to deal with our severe lack of water during these hot summer months.
One of the better, longer-term solutions is to start planning and planting indigenous. Native plants are built to cope much more efficiently with the dry conditions of Western Cape summer. They work wonders when it comes to attracting birds and wildlife to the garden, and they aren’t too shabby to look at either (in fact, many of them are utterly gorgeous!)
SPOTLIGHT ON: ERICAS
Ericas are some of the prettiest Cape fynbos plants. You’ll recognize them from hiking trails and National Parks, and they make a wonderful indigenous addition to Western Cape gardens. They come in a wide variety of colours, and their beautiful bell-shaped flowers work fantastically as fillers in flower arrangements.
Conveniently, these beauties thrive with very little fuss. Here are some tips for growing them successfully:
- Ericas love free-draining soil, so it’s best to grow them in rockeries or in soil mixed with a layer of gravel (or building rubble!)
- They need a sunny area to really thrive and, once planted, they should not be moved as their fibrous roots are easily damaged.
- These natural beauties like slightly acidic soil, so a helpful tip is to mulch the soil around them with pine needles or used coffee grounds. Wood chip or stone mulch can also be used to conserve moisture.
- Prune your ericas once they have finished flowering to encourage bushy, compact growth.
- Ericas grow best if closely surrounded by other fynbos plants that form ground cover.
ON YOUR TO-DO LIST FOR JANUARY
Plant and sow:
- Sow the following herbs in containers: basil, chives, dill, nasturtiums, parsley and watercress. Keep the soil moist until the first shoots appear, and pinch out new growth on the seedlings to encourage them to become compact and bushy.
- Plant heat-tolerant annuals like alyssum, celosia, sunflowers, marigolds, petunias, portulaca, red salvias and zinnias.
- Sow these veggies: artichokes, beans, beetroot, broccoli, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, leeks, lettuce, potatoes, pumpkin, spinach, squash and turnips.
- Plant irises in rich soil that has been nourished with superphosphate. The rhizomes should be half-exposed to the sun and the soil should be kept moist.
- Feed your lemon trees with 3:1:5 or 8:1:5 (organic feeding) and water them well (you’ll be surprised how much water one can collect by keeping a bucket next to you in the shower). Surround the trees with a thick layer of organic mulch.
- Use grass and plant clippings (from pruning) as mulch in your garden beds.
- Fertilise Fuschias with a high potassium fertiliser like 3:1:5 (organic).
- Lightly prune your roses to encourage new flowers to develop. Pull up any sucker shoots (light green, thornless shoots) growing from the base of the bushes.
- Remove some of the smaller flower-heads on dahlias plants to encourage the development of bigger blooms (we’re talking dinner-plate size!)
- Stake tall-growing perennials and trees to protect them against the infamous Cape Doctor winds.
Tackle those weeds:
- Remember to pull up any weeds before they go to seed and cause more problems for the future. Weeds rob your plants of valuable water and nutrients, so right now couldn’t be a better time to get rid of them.
- Spray driveways and paving with a non-selective weed killer like Clear Pave. Or if you’d prefer to go organic, try pouring boiling hot water onto the weeds on a hot day.
OTHER FRESH IDEAS
Cabbage is a vegetable patch staple which can be grown at different times of year, depending on the variety. It’s easy to grow, with a harvesting time of 11-15 weeks, and is a go-to addition for plenty of summer meals: salads, slaws, stir fries – you name it.
- Herb of the month: Chives
Chives can add that wonderfully subtle onion flavour to any dish, and the bonus is that they have beautiful flowers! They are hardy, drought-tolerant, and all-round one of the easiest herbs to grow. An easy starter to get the 2017 green fingers back in training.
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