Friday, November 16

Carpet the winter garden

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From laying down mulch to pruning trees, there are number of green tasks that should be carried out this month

With the first week of July behind us, we are well into the freeze. While some parts of the country are gripped with cold, the rain has finally come to many parts of the Western Cape, and dam levels are on the rise. What should you be doing in the garden this month?

Begin by covering exposed soil with an 8cm to 10cm blanket of mulch. This will prevent topsoil from being blown away. It also retains moisture, discourages germination of weeds and insulates soil from temperature extremes.

Organic mulches in the form of coarse compost, shredded bark, bark chips or nuggets, peanut shells or pine needles will break down in time and return nutrients to the soil. Cocoa husks are not suitable where there are dogs.

Gravel and pebbles perform some of the same functions of reducing soil erosion and discouraging weeds, but retain heat.

Carpet the garden

Living groundcovers can take the form of creeping carpets and mats that spread by means of surface runners or underground roots, or plants that form clumps and mounds. An advantage of using plants as groundcovers is that they return oxygen to the atmosphere through photosynthesis.

What should you plant? Waterwise arctotis, gazania, daisies (osteospermums and mesembs) are low-growing sun-lovers and carpet daisy (dymondia) works well among pavers.

Bark chips can be used as mulch in flower beds and between stepping stones along pathways. Picture: Lukas Otto

Groundcovering succulents in various textures, shapes and coloured foliage prevent erosion, are drought tolerant and fire-wise. Blue chalk sticks (Senecio mandraliscae) have finger-like silver-blue fleshy leaves. Baby sun rose (Aptenia cordifolia) has succulent leaves and pink flowers and is useful on slopes. Klipvygie (Delosperma cooperi) is a creeping succulent with purple flowers in summer. Sour fig (Carpobrotus edulis) has juicy leaves and edible fruits. Ornamental grasses and grass-like plants such as carex, blue fescue (Festuca glauca), a clump-forming blue-green grass, and dwarf mondo grass (Ophiopogon japonicus “Kyoto”) with narrow dark green leaves are low maintenance once established. Hen-and-chickens (Chlorophytum comosum) have green and cream strap-like leaves.

Groundcovers suitable for shady places include bugle herb (Ajuga reptans), dead nettle (Lamium maculatum cultivars), creeping lilyturf (Liriope spicata), trailing phlox (Chaenostoma cordatum) and creeping foxglove (Asystasia gangetica). Fairy crassula (Crassula multicava) has succulent leaves and tiny white-pink flowers. The carpet daisy (Dymondia margaretae) has blue-green leaves and yellow flowers, is drought-tolerant and will grow in sun or semi-shade.

Groundcovers do not have to be ground huggers, but they should be low-growing, uniform in height and densely planted, such as spring-flowering Kurume azaleas for light shade, and burn jelly plant (Bulbine frutescens) with thin, succulent leaves and orange/yellow flowers, and dwarf agapanthus for sun.

Plants with tenacious roots, such as agapanthus, will retain soil on banks. Others that help prevent soil erosion include ground morning glory (Convolvulus sabatius), drought-tolerant osteospermum species and cultivars, and bobbejaankool or little pickles (Othonna capensis) that will grow in poor soil and have small yellow flowers. Thyme grows well in a sunny position between stepping stones.

Tasks for the winter garden

Garden centres have trays and bags of bulbs, annuals and perennials in flower for filling gaps in borders and containers. When buying plants, think of where they are to be planted, and whether they will suit the aspect, soil and colour scheme.

Clematis are pruned in mid-July according to their group. Group I requires little or no pruning and includes the deciduous C montana and evergreen C armandii. Group II flowers on old wood and it is only necessary to remove weak growth and old leaves. Plants include “Nelly Moser”, “Miss Bateman”, “Lasurstern”, “The President” and “Marie Boisselot”. Group III flowers on new growth and should be cut back almost to ground level. Such plants include “Jackmanii”, “Perle d’Azur”, “Rouge Cardinal” and “Ville de Lyon”.

Plant pansies to add colour to the winter garden. Pictured is the Pansy “Clear Sky Rose”.
Picture: Ron Wright

In winter, deciduous trees and shrubs are bare, revealing parts of your garden that are hidden in summer. If the view is not pleasing, or you have lost privacy, plant evergreen shrubs behind deciduous shrubs as a screen.

With less garden maintenance, this is a good time to build a rockery. This should look as natural as possible, with two-thirds of each rock firmly embedded in the soil and tilted slightly backwards. Plant as you do containers, with thrillers (vertical plants), fillers (cushions) and spillers (to soften edges).

July 18 is Nelson Mandela International Day. One of Mandela’s favourite plants, the aloe, is in bloom in the veld and at specialist garden centres. Modern aloe cultivars bred for an extended flowering season and better cold tolerance come in many unusual colour combinations and heights.

Prune from mid-July. Use secateurs for small cuts, pruning saws on larger branches, and long-handled loppers for out-of-reach or awkward spots. Destroy all prunings.

Do not cut back spring-flowering shrubs or you will cut off buds. Do not prune rambling roses or heritage roses.

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