It is hard to believe we are half way through August with spring peeping through earlier than planned. I have been doing a lot of travel in the past month to interesting places such as Graaff-Reinet and a number of trips to Cape Town. To experience the different climatic zones in South Africa is always fun as you get to see how different plants grow in different parts of the country. Natal is sub-tropical; Eastern Cape has a mix of summer and winter rainfall and Cape Town a winter rainfall region. Graaff-Reinet has not had rain for 13 months which is hard to believe when you come from a rainfall region such as KZN.
Spring is well on its way in Durban. You will see many of the trees pushing new copper leaves such as Bridelia micrantha, the Mitzeeri and the Broom Cluster Fig, Ficus sur. I am up in the Northern Cape with 14 avid gardeners looking at what spring has to offer in Namaqualand which is totally reliant on winter rain to ensure the seeds germinate. Sadly no rain, no flowers and we all know how little rain the Cape has had this past year. I visited one of the largest tree nurseries in South Africa this past week in Somerset West and he tells me they have no water to keep their big trees alive. Let’s just hope they have late rains to fill the dams. It is a wakeup call for all of us to ensure we watch how much water we use and waste every day.
Spring is also the time for one of my favorite trees to flower. The African Dog Rose, Xylotheca kraussiana, is found growing along the Eastern parts of Southern Africa, from the Transkei to Mozambique, in coastal bush and forests, flowering in early spring. It is a multi-stemmed shrub to small tree between one and seven metres tall, occasionally reaching ten metres. It has a smooth grey bark, sweetly scented flowers that can reach 70mm in diameter, with brilliant white petals and a mass of bright yellow anthers in the centre thus giving it the English common name of African Dog Rose.
The fruit is a woody capsule, ovoid in shape, often with longitudinal ridges. It is initially green but ripens to yellow before spitting into 8 rather thick sections, revealing the reddish lack seeds, each covered by a thick red, hairy, edible aril.
Xylotheca gets its name from the woody fruit capsule. Xyl meaning woody, and theca meaning case. The specific name kraussiana in named in honour of Dr C.F.F.Kruass(1812-1890), a well known German naturalist, who later became the Director of the Stuttgart Natural History Museum. He came to South Africa in 1838 and did lots of collecting in Natal in 1839 and 1840. Xylotheca kraussiana is the only species in South Africa with one other species, Xylotheca tettensis found in Zimbabwe and Mozambique.
If you are looking for a plant to bring birds and butterflies to your garden this is the plant. 3 different species of barbets, speckled mousebirds, starlings, louries and bulbuls feed on the fruit. It is also the larval food for the red Acraea butterfly, Acraea petraea and Acraea oncaea. I have a large tree in my garden and every year its leaves get eaten by the larva and within a few weeks I have a garden full of butterflies. This tree is available in some nurseries but if you can’t find it give me a call and I will tell you which nurseries stock this tree. It likes to grow in a frost-free area, requires filtered light and does well in a pot. I highly recommend this tree not just for a small garden but all size gardens. It is easily grown from seed.
As we move out of winter into early spring we need to take note of the changes in the growth habits of our plants and what we need to do in preparation for summer. It has not been that cold this year so many plants continued to grow throughout the winter months. Indicator plants always tell you that springs is on its way such as the flowering of the Blood Lily, Scadoxus puniceus which tells the people living in the rural areas to start planting there summer crops. The new leaves on many of the deciduous trees as mentioned earlier in my article which appear once the days get longer and the days warmer. We did have quite a burst of rain a few weeks ago which gave those dormant buds a nudge to say hey wake up, time to produce new leaves. Most plants will flower first before pushing new leaves. Rothmania globosa has the common name of September bells as it produces white bell shaped flowers in September. I visited Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden a week ago in Cape Town and it is incredible to see many plants such as the Proteacea family all pushing flower buds. Birds and bees dance around intoxicated with all the choice for nectar and it is just fun to sit and watch so many plants coming into flower or in flower. But all plants need water and I cannot emphasize enough the importance of preserving water and not just wasting it. Unless we have a water source that is free such as a river that runs through our garden or access to a natural spring, gardening as we know it will have to change. More water wise plants like Aloes and succulents that survive under the most difficult of conditions. I am guilty of watering my garden as I have too many delicate plants that require water. My wife Pamela gives me a hard time about watering too much and she is right. I have sections in my garden that over the next season will be converted into a water wise garden. Let’s all hope we have a good rainy season in Kwazulu Natal and other parts of South Africa this coming summer that are suffering from this crippling drought.
Things to do this month:
- Many of you have large lawns that will need rejuvenation in spring as lawns go semi dormant in Durban during the winter months. Cut your lawns as short as possible. Take an iron rake and rake hard so that you remove all the old grass from last year, known as thatch. If not removed this old grass can cause fungal problems, prevent water and fertilizer reaching the roots and possible lead to the death of the lawns. Rake the runners of the grass which will break and which will initiate new growth from where it is broken. Spike the soil to improve aeration and reduce compaction then sprinkle a handful of Superphosphate per square meter over the entire area. Top dress with lawn dressing which you can buy at any nursery and rake evenly with a rubber rake. Water well till the rains arrive.
- Mulch all the shrub beds with either leaf mould or mushroom compost. This allows the roots to remain warm and it also keeps moisture in preventing water loss. It is also a time to fertilize all your flower beds. In spring you need to encourage a healthy, strong root system. Superphosphate it needed to improve such a root system so in September sprinkle a handful per square meter into the root area of all shrubs. Water well.
- If you need to plant trees or shrubs now is a good time to do it. It will allow the roots time to establish before spring and the first rains. Try and get plants that are of a decent size and that have an established root system. Healthy roots mean healthy plants. When you do plant use lots of compost and add Superphosphate to the mix to strengthen the root system. Also make sure the tree or shrub is planted straight. If not it will try and grow straight thus causing a kink in the stem. Not good for future growth.
- If you need to plant do so now. Add shrubs, groundcovers and annuals which give color, form and texture to your garden. Plants in particular that are in flower include the Cape Honey Suckle, Tecoma capensis. Plumbago auriculata, the shade loving Mackaya bell and Bulbine natalensis. Add indigenous grasses to your garden in particular Aristida junciformis.
- Watch for insects that may infest your plants over spring as they enjoy the new soft growth that appears in spring.
- Try and select plants that flower well and that attract butterflies and birds. There is nothing better than having a garden full of life. Prevent planting too many exotics and select those indigenous plants that will fit into your garden and which are manageable. Selection of plants is very important as you may plant a tree that get too big for your garden or has roots that will damage your pipes or paving. Clivia miniata will be in flower soon.
- Visit gardens that have been established over many years and learn from what does well and what plants grow best together. The right selection of plants will determine how beautiful your garden is and you need to do it right from the beginning or it could be expensive.
- Try and select plants that do well in dry conditions as the recent drought has wreaked havoc on many a beautiful garden. Plant more water tolerant plants in particular succulents as they have adapted over thousands of years to grow in dry conditions. Aloes in particular are one of our most spectacular plants that need very little care to give maximum beauty.
If you need any info or help with any gardening queries please contact me on: firstname.lastname@example.org
This article is sponsored by Chris Dalzell Landscapes, specializing in landscaping, consultation and Botanical expeditions