Pansies, poppies, fairy primroses and sweet-smelling snapdragons
Gauteng has received an abundance of rain over the past month and gardens are looking wonderful this autumn. April is the right time to plant winter bedding plants to provide an array of colour in the winter and early spring garden.
Annuals are the garden’s seasonal stars, providing colour and interest quickly and cost-effectively. They need regular water and, despite the rain, Gauteng will soon be entering its dry season. If you’ve harvested rain water through the summer, you’ll have enough water for your annuals through winter. If not, consider a smaller bed or plant them in containers on or close to the patio.
Colour and design
It is important to first consider where in your garden you want to create pockets of interest with annuals. Annuals can be used to create impact on their own or they can be used to complement perennials and shrubs in the borders, or used as a filler.
Before placing annuals, consider the surrounding plants and their colours and flowering times. Use annuals in colours that will complement surrounds without creating a jarring effect. Avoid a fussy look with too many colours, especially in a small area. Create spaces for transition between different colour schemes. Neutrals like shades of green, silver, grey and woody shades can soften a striking contrast.
Choosing winter annuals
Before choosing the right annuals for your garden, check where you want to plant them and consider the correct planting location – full sun or partial shade. Always follow the recommendations set out on the seedling tray label.
What annuals can you expect to find in the garden centres now and what seeds can now be sown?
Pansies and violas
Stars of the winter and early spring garden, pansies are available in an abundance of colours, with intriguing colour combinations. Plant them in beds or in containers on the patio. They enjoy a sunny location. What violas lack in size they make up for in an abundance of blooms throughout the season.
Primula malacoides bloom from mid-winter into spring, providing a delightful contrast of pink, purple and white flowers. Growing to a height of about 30cm, with circular flower stems rising from dark foliage, they are best planted en masse for a wonderful meadow-like look. They do best in partial shade.
Allysum seeds can be sown throughout the year and flower in 60 days, or you can plant out seedlings for instant impact. They are especially useful under rose bushes. Seeds sown now will flower in July, when rose beds can look sparse after winter pruning. Plant in full sun or dappled shade.
For a brilliant orange, yellow or white display, sow Namaqualand daisy seeds now. Find a sunny location, remove stones and rake over the bed. Sow the seeds, then rake over to cover. Water with a fine spray. They look gorgeous in rockeries and borders.
Papaver nudicaule are popular winter bedding plants, available in short and tall varieties in single colours or mixed shades. Plant in full sun to partial shade, in any soil.
Antirrhinum, or “snaps”, in a myriad different colours and combinations reward with a pretty show throughout winter. Decide where you want to place them in the border, then choose your variety accordingly – tall or dwarf. They can also be used in containers or window boxes. Snaps thrive in a sunny aspect and soil must be kept moist. They are good bee plants.
The English daisy (Bellis perennis), in colours of pink, salmon, ruby and white, is treated as an annual in South Africa. Plant in filtered shade in moist, well-drained soil. They’re beautiful in pots or edging along a shaded pathway.
Guidelines for planting and caring for seedlings
Give your seedlings the best possible start by properly preparing the ground before planting.
Water the tray before planting.
Dig over the bed to a depth of at least 15cm (tine of a garden fork). Break up clods and remove all traces of grass shoots, weeds and stones.
Add compost and dig in. Add bone meal and seedling fertiliser and rake over.
Remove the seedling from the bottom of the seed tray by gently pushing it up through the drainage hole.
Dig a hole the same depth as the seed tray and place the seedling. Fill the hole with soil and press down firmly.
Consider the spacing between the plants – the guideline should be on the label.
Use a fine spray to water after planting.
Apply a layer of mulch to keep the soil moist, prevent weeds and to protect the roots from the winter cold. A layer of bark chips is suitable for annuals. Leave a space around the stems when placing.
To encourage flowering, feed fortnightly with liquid fertiliser, depending on the product, and deadhead spent flowers to encourage new blooms.
Keep the soil moist as the seedlings establish, but don’t over-water.