Need some advice on what to do with your garden during Durban’s chillier months? Who better to ask than landscape gardener and owner of the popular Hingham Nursery in Durban North, Julie Scragg.
“Winter in Durban is a particularly good time of the year for gardening, says Julie. “The sun is less harsh and plants less likely to bolt (grow too quickly). Over the years aloes and succulents have become extremely popular as they are not only water wise, but they also flower in winter and present a glorious display of colour. However, keeping our gardens looking good this time of year is not without its problems.”
1. Water sustenance. Bear in mind that winter is our dry season and because it is cool plants do not show stress quickly as they do in the hotter months. By the end of winter the water table can be very low and plants may be battling to source water. The occasional deep watering during the winter months will save the lawn and the garden from that all-too-common “near-death experience” at the end of winter.
2. Sun and shade. The cool weather and low angle of the sun also creates excess shade in parts of the garden, for example the south side of the house that may never dry out if normal summer watering continues. Adjust your sprinklers accordingly. In some cases that zone should be turned off for winter, with only the occasional top up.
3. Growth slows down completely at this time of the year and one must be patient, allowing plants to sleep – ready for a burst of growth in spring.
4. Avoid smothering lawn with lawn dressing, especially in the shade.
5. Watch for weeds. It certainly helps to get your lawn strong and thick before winter to avoid becoming infested with weeds. If you feed and water regularly in summer you will have fewer problems. Having said that, keep some weed killer handy so that you can spot spray as soon as you see a patch developing. Avoid spraying more than necessary as it may damage your lawn.
6. Take time in winter to “lift” trees – prune the lower branches off to allow the sun to reach below. You can also shorten the higher side branches. Even shade loving plants benefit from more light. The more you can get on to your lawn the less problems you will have.
7. Don’t be afraid of mulching with your autumn leaves. This reduces weeds in the beds and maintains moisture in the soil while raking damages plants.
8. Beware the winter fungus. When the conditions are just right you will notice all the aloes around suddenly getting ugly patches on the leaves. If you are determined to miss it this year, then you would need to spray preventatively, ideally on a weekly basis with a general fungicide like Supremo. It will also help the aloes if you don’t allow them to become bone dry in winter. While they can cope, it does make them susceptible to disease.
9. In our hot rainy months, plants tend to “bolt” (grow quickly) tall rather than bushy. This makes winter a fantastic time to grow flowers and veggies. Plants stay short and compact which amounts to more flowers on a plant and plants like lettuce will not go to seed too quickly.
10. For spectacular colour, take the opportunity to plant primulas, cinerarias, pansies, violas, poppies, petunias (great in Durban in winter), dianthus, lobelia, snapdragons and the like. And don’t forget sweetpeas, they are such a treat at the end of winter when you can cut them for the vase. Feed to get the most benefit. Soluble fertiliser like Multifeed is good but pellets such as Bio Ocean are really good and easy to apply.
Julie’s list of winter flowering favourites:
- Aloe vanbalenii
- Aloe thraskii
- Aloe chabaudii
- Aloe ferox
- All the aloe hybrids that have been developed
- The Crassula family – ovata, multicava, sarmentosa X
- Leonotis leonurus
- Kleinia fulgens