Saturday Independent, September 2016

My apologies for the late delay in this month’s article which is now only coming out on the 1st day of October but I have been on a month trip to the USA visiting gardens both on the east and west coasts of the USA. What fun seeing all these gardens before the onset of autumn and winter. The falls colours have started in a number of the areas particularly up in Canada where the country side is turned into a kaleidoscope of colours.  Quite spectacular.

Lovely rains have fallen consistently this past month which is always welcome after the terrible drought we have experienced this past year. Everything is looking new and healthy and an exciting time for us gardeners. Days are longer and warmer which is conducive to good growth. I always like to select one plant that is in bloom for that particular month so people are aware of what flowers at that time of the year and to go out and find those plants and then grow them. Coming home yesterday to see the River Crinum (Crinum macowanii) is full flower is always a welcome sight. It belongs to the Amaryllidaceae family and is best known by its common names which can be the river crinum, river lily or vlei- lily as it is found growing in wet pans so best grown in wet areas of your garden.The name of the genus crinum is from the Greek word Krinon meaning lily. This species is named after Peter Mac Owan (1830-1909), a British teacher  who first studied chemistry and later botany. Crinum is a genus of between 60-100 species distributed in the tropics and temperate regions of Africa, Asia, Australia and America. There are 22 species recognized in Southern Africa, where they are widespread in the summer rainfall regions.

It is a spectacular, fragrant, pink-striper white lily which flowers in late spring and into summer. It is particularly fragrant at night which probably indicates that it is pollinated by a Hawk moth. Crinum macowanii is a deciduous, summer growing bulb. The bulbs are large, 60-250mm in diameter, with perennial fleshy roots. The leaves are large, green, variable in size up to 1 m long and between 20-200mm wide. They are fleshy and strap-like with undulating margins. The flowers are bell shaped, large, sweetly –scented, white with dark pink stripes, produced in umbels of 5 to 25 flowers on the tips of a long stalk up to 1 m tall. Flowering season is early summer (October to December). Once pollinated it produces fruit capsules which can be 3-6 in number, irregularly shaped with up to 20 small seeds in the capsules. Crinum macowanii is a wide spread species from the Eastern Cape, Kwazulu Natal, Free State and through the other provinces North and into countries from Angola to Mozambique and into East Africa. It grows in many habitats, such as vleis, mountain grasslands, flooded grasslands, deciduous forests and along the coast, and in various soils such as gravel, shale or sandy soils.

The seeds have a smooth, water repellent, greyish, corky surface that allows the seed to float for up to a month. This allows them to be dispersed by flowing water and not to sink. The seeds contain a lot of water, allowing them to germinate very quickly and without water. Often seeds start to germinate while still on the plant. This means they have to be sown as soon as they are ready as the seeds cannot be stored for more than a week. Crinum macowanii bulbs and leaves are used extensively in traditional medicine. Bulbs are used to treat kidney and bladder infections, tuberculosis, rashes, sores, boils and acne. Leaves are used as poultices and bandages. The bulbs are poisonous so be careful.

Best to grow Crinum macowanii in full sun, fertile soil and needs lots of water during the summer growing season but best grown around water. Dry the plants off during the winter months when the plant goes into dormancy but is it does get water then the soil must drain well. It is a heavy feeder so make sure you feed it during the summer months and supply lots of compost. It is fast growing and long lived. Propagation is by seed and removal of offsets. Crinums produce lots of seed that germinate very easily. Place seeds on the top of a seedling tray with a well –drained growing medium as soon as they fall from the ripe fruits. They will germinate within a few days. Once big enough remove them from the trays and plant them in a well-drained medium with lots of compost. They will flower within 3 years.

 

Things to do this month:

  • Spring is the time to sort out your lawns after the dry winter months. Cut your lawn as short as possible. Take a hard iron rake and collect all the old grass that has been accumulating over the past year. This is called thatch which can destroy your lawns if not removed. Thatch can prevent water from reaching into the soil and the roots of the grass. Once you have removed all the thatch then continue to rake the grass with the iron rake. This cuts the runners and encourages new shoot production. Take a fork and spike the soil. This aerates the soil and allows air movement into the root system. Sprinkle a handful of Superphoshate per square meter over the entire lawn area. Then take a mixture of topsoil, compost and river sand and spread a thin layer over the entire lawn surface area. You can buy this already mixed from Gromor. Water the lawn area well every 2-3 days. The new growth will appear very soon after. You should then feed your lawns every 3 weeks with a high nitrogen fertilizer.  2.1, LAN and 5.1.5 are a few examples of high nitrogen fertilizer.
  • Remove all dead and dying parts of the plants. Infected plants can spread this infection to other plants so best to remove these plants from your garden. If the plants are infested with insects then either remove that part of the plant infested with insects and dispose of or use a natural insecticide to spray these plants. If you have a well grown healthy plant then they generally won’t be attached by pests. It is only the weak and neglected plants that get attached by disease or insects.
  • Many bulbs and underground rhizomes will be emerging from there winter dormancy and will require encouragement to grow to maturity. The blood lily, Scadoxus puniceus has all but finished for the season and will now be going to seed. This plant invites all the seed eating birds to feed on the fruits who then act as carriers for this seed to other parts of your garden and other gardens. Protect these bulbs and any other underground growing point by mulching, composting, fertilizing and watering.
  • Plants lots of indigenous grasses which are the new in plant used in landscaping. They are easy to grow, look good, need very little attention and bring lots of birds to the garden. Aristida junciformis (Gongoni grass), Themeda triandra (Red Grass), Eragrostis curvula (weeping lovegrass), Digitaria eriantha ( Digit grass) and Melinis repens ( Natal Redtop). Each of these grasses has their own character and if planted correctly will complement each other. You can mix and match these grasses to get the different textures of each of the grasses.
  • Lift some of your groundcovers such as your Tulbaghias, Crassula multicarva, Chlorophytum bowkeri or and of the other species of Chlorophytums and your Bulbins. Compost the soil, add 3.2.1 fertilizer and replant. Water well and see how these plants respond. Cut back your Plectranthus ciliatus, add compost and fertilizer and water well. New growths will appear soon afterward
  • Remove all dead and dying parts of the plants. Infected plants can spread this infection to other plants so best to remove these plants from your garden. If the plants are infested with insects then either remove that part of the plant infested with insects and dispose of or use a natural insecticide to spray these plants. If you have a well grown healthy plant then they generally won’t be attached by pests. It is only the weak and neglected plants that get attached by disease or insects.
  • Encourage birds and butterflies by planting those plants that attract them. Grasses, milkweeds and some of the Citrus family trees like Vepris lanceolata or the African Dog Rose, Xylotheca kraussiana which is the food plant for the Red Acraea butterfly are good examples of plants that are readily available and will provide food plants and life for your garden.
  • Repot all indoor plants. Remove the plants from the pot, remove as much of the old soil from the roots and wash the roots with clean running water. If there are any old, dead or dying leaves remove them as this can cause fungal problems and finally death of your prized plant. Buy new potting soil, add some compost and fertilizer and replant these plants ensuring they are not planted too deep. Make sure you also put the plant in the right size pot and always plant in the centre of the pot. Add slow release fertilizer to the potting medium such as osmocote which will release small amounts of nutrients every time you water the plant. Make sure with indoor plants that you take it outside every 2 weeks and give it a good soak down with water. This rejuvenates the plant. Ensure you do not over water the plant as too much water will rot the roots.
  • Mackaya bella is in full flower. Enjoy this most attractive shrub which I wrote about a few months back and which grows best in shade.

Happy gardening

This article is sponsored by Chris Dalzell Landscapes, specializing in landscaping, consultation and Botanical expeditions. If you have any questions please contact me on the following email address: cgmdalzell@gmail.com