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Tending your garden in October

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Amarula Profusion. Picture courtesy www.ludwigsroses.co.zaAmarula Profusion. Picture courtesy www.ludwigsroses.co.zaAll Regions

October is undoubtedly rose month in South Africa and nothing compares with that first flush of perfect blooms which last so much longer because the sun is not too scorching hot yet. Many other spring flowering plants like yesterday, today and tomorrow, crab apples, and cherries are also in full bloom; not forgetting the beautiful bearded irises, foxgloves and delphiniums. Luckily we are all inspired to garden at this time of the year because there is no time to rest for gardeners in October. If you really want a good return on money spent in the garden this season you need to get cracking and plant this month. This will give you the whole season to reap the rewards of summer with her promise of bountiful blooms, fruits, vegetables and herbs. Although October is a busy month in the garden, set time aside to visit some of the gardens which are open to the public at this time of the year for inspiration and practical tips.

It is essential to water your roses thoroughly about two to three times a week and to start feeding for that beautiful October show, using a balanced fertiliser that is high in nitrogen and potassium like 8:1:6. Nitrogen and sufficient water are very important at this time of the year because you want to encourage not only beautiful blooms but also lots of healthy green leaves to support the roots of your plants, as well as to protect the delicate stems from sunburn during our hot summer days.  Mulching is also vital to conserve moisture and to keep the roots cool. Avoid wetting your rose leaves in the late afternoon as wet leaves at this time of the day will encourage black spot and powdery mildew. As a preventative measure, start spraying for fungal infections now with a good organic fungicide like Margaret Roberts Organic Fungicide, or Biogrow Copper Soap. If your roses are susceptible to red spider during hot, dry spells start spraying now with a good organic insecticide like Margaret Roberts Organic Insecticide, or Biogrow Bioneem, both of which will also control aphids and other insects.
Good leaf coverage is essential in summer so do not cut off too many leaves when cutting long stemmed roses for the vase. Cutting roses for the vase can be done at any time of the day as long as they are immediately plunged right up to their necks in a bucket of water. If you leave them overnight in the bucket before arranging, and then add 1 teaspoon of household bleach and 1 1/2 tablespoons of sugar to 1 litre of water for the arrangement, they will last for much longer.

Briar growth must be removed from your bushes. This grows out from the rootstock of Hybrid Tea Roses from just below the graft and is a light green colour, with smaller leaves. Do not cut them off or they will just grow again; rather tug them off gently at ground level when they reach about knee height. Briar growth should not be confused with new water shoots which have thick reddish stems and will become the new framework of the rose bush; when these reach about knee height, nip out the growing tip to encourage branching. Prune your banksia roses when they have finished flowering.

Plant ‘living’ mulch between your roses this summer to conserve water, and to keep their roots cool. Choose small plants and groundcovers with shallow root systems like: Marguerite Daisy (Argyranthemum); Garden Verbena (Verbena); Summer Snapdragon (Angelonia); Alyssum (Lobularia); River Daisy (Brachyscome); Carpet Geranium (Geranium incanum); Snow in Summer (Cerastium tomentosum);  Creeping Jenny (Lysimachia); False Heather (Cuphea); Seaside Daisy (Erigeron) and Candytuft (Iberis). Companion planting will help to keep your roses healthy and reduce the need to spray. Lavender and Thyme deter aphids, snails and ants; and any plant in the onion family like Chives protect against black spot, mildew and aphids. Sage promotes healthy plant growth and will attract bees.

Members can click on the highlighted links for more information.

Sparkler Blush Cleome. Picture courtesy Ball Horticultural CompanySparkler Blush Cleome. Picture courtesy Ball Horticultural CompanySparkler Blush Cleome. Picture courtesy Ball Horticultural CompanyYour winter and spring flowering annuals will start dying down as the weather warms up and it is time to start planting your summer beds. Try alyssum, aster, cleome, cosmos, dianthus, gaillardia, sunflower, lavatera, lobelia, marigold, zinnia, bedding begonia, celosia, New Guinea impatiens, petunia and vinca. Pinch out the young growth on newly planted seedlings to encourage bushy growth.

Save money this summer by sowing flower seeds directly into your garden beds. There are many easy to grow mixtures available for both sun and shade. Dig over the bed, adding lots of compost and a handful of bone meal per square meter before raking the bed nice and smooth. Mix the seeds with a generous helping of fine compost or cake flour (mix thoroughly). These will help you to spread the seeds evenly over the bed. Rake the bed very lightly after sowing and sprinkle extra compost over any exposed seeds. Never plant your seeds too deep and water the beds daily until they germinate; never allowing the soil to dry out totally.

Find out all you need to know about growing South Africa’s favourite summer bedding plants in my e-book "Growing Bedding Plants in South Africa"

Position annuals where they will be most appreciated and if you are planting several varieties together, always ensure that you group them according to their watering needs as well as their sun requirements. Water is becoming a very expensive commodity and it would be wise to reduce the beds you normally plant with annuals by planting more drought tolerant groundcovers and perennial plants.  (Read my water-wise articles)

Beautiful lawns need regular care throughout the year but especially in spring and summer; so if you want a gorgeous lawn this summer; or want to sow evergreen tuft lawns, read August’ article. Early summer is also a good time to sow both warm and cool season grasses and to lay instant lawn before it gets too hot, but do not take short cuts you will regret later. Firstly, the entire area must be dug over and all old roots, weeds and stones removed. Next, spread a good layer of compost and a generous dressing of bone meal or superphosphate over the area and rake it smooth. Then, using a fine sprinkler, irrigate the entire area thoroughly. Fill in any hollows where the water collects and rake once again. Allow the soil to dry out before starting to lay the sods. Lay the sods closely together, filling any cracks between them well with compost or lawn dressing.  Water thoroughly and continue watering regularly, never allowing the soil to dry out completely until it is reasonably established; also restrict foot traffic until completely established. Allow the blades to grow quite high at first and then cut often but set the blades on your lawnmower at their highest for the first couple of months. Kikuyu; Berea; Buffalo and Cynodon grasses are all available as Instant lawn.

KikuyuKikuyuKikuyuKikuyu Grass comes from tropical eastern Africa and is named after the Kikuyu people of Kenya. It was brought to South Africa as a lawn and pasture grass and has bright green leaves with a medium to coarse leaf texture. It is quite hardy to frost and grows quickly in full sun, but is not very shade tolerant. Although it will tolerate drought, it is actually quite a thirsty lawn and only looks at its best if watered regularly.

BuffaloBuffaloBuffaloBuffalo grass is indigenous to subtropical areas of the world and is only semi-hardy to cold. It takes time to establish but is drought hardy and excellent for coastal gardens.  It has bright green leaves with a coarse leaf texture and grows quite well in light shade.


BereaBereaBereaBerea (LM grass) is indigenous to South Africa and is found predominantly on the Natal coast, more towards the South coast and Transkei.  It grows well in the shade and has a coarse leaf texture which is dark green under ideal growing conditions. Berea grows moderately, is drought tolerant and semi-hardy to frost.

BayviewBayviewBayviewBayview is an indigenous Cynodon species, originating in the Cape region. It has a very fine leaf texture and is favoured by many turf managers for sports fields, especially cricket pitches, but tends to dominate all other Cynodon species if the turf is poorly managed. Bayview spreads extremely quickly and has highly fertile seeds, which have an ability to remain dormant in the soil for long periods of time.

CynodonCynodonCynodonCynodon grass grows quickly and tolerates drought well; and fairly salty conditions, but is tender to frost. It has a fine leaf texture and must be grown in full sun where it will establish fairly quickly.

If you have areas in your lawn that do not grow well in summer because they are too shady, over-sow those areas with a shade lawn mix. If your lawns new growth has a yellowish tinge, then it is lacking in nutrients; feed it with a balanced organic fertiliser for lawns, watering it in well. A well-fed lawn will smother out most weeds and the rest you can weed out manually. When your lawn starts to thicken, raise the blades for the first few cuts; this allows your grass to produce enough food to grow good strong roots and runners. Lower your blades once the lawn really looks healthy and vigorous, but never mow shorter than 5cm, especially in hot, dry weather; this also helps to conserve water.  To help prevent fungal diseases water your lawn in the morning so that it is totally dry by evening.

Echeveria elegansEcheveria elegansEcheveria elegansSpring and early summer or autumn are the best times to split and divide overcrowded perennials, ornamental grasses and succulents,  so if you have not done so yet, do so this month.  Remember to feed them regularly in summer.

Prune all your spring flowering plants as soon as they have finished blooming, mulch their roots and feed with a balanced feeder. Azaleas flower next spring on this summer’s growth and should only be pruned once a year, when they have finished flowering. Do not prune early summer flowering plants like Deutzia, Spiraea and Forsythia.

If you pinched out the growing tips of your fuchsias last month to encourage them to bush, you can allow them to grow freely now but don’t forget to water regularly and feed with 3:1:5. If you did not finger pinch them last month you can still do so now. Watch out for red spider and whitefly; alternate spraying with Oleum (white oil) and a natural insecticide will keep these troublesome insects at bay.

If you have not done so yet, fertilise your Camellias and Azaleas with an organic feeder that is high in nitrogen and mulch with acid compost. Continue feeding your Hydrangeas with a general purpose fertiliser, or a special colour enhancing feeder and water regularly.

Pineapple Plant Picture courtesy www.newplant.co.zaPineapple Plant Picture courtesy www.newplant.co.zaPineapple Plant Picture courtesy www.newplant.co.zaSummer bulbs include amaryllis, arum lily, tuberous begonia hybrids, caladium, canna cultivars, dahlia,  Pineapple Lily (Eucomis), Berg Lily (Galtonia), spider lily, Gay Feather (Liatris), lilium, tigridia and tuberose. Dahlia bulbs are also available now and will take about 10 weeks to flower if planted from a tuber; but if well-established plants are planted out this month they will be in full bloom by December. October is also the time to plant Gladioli corms for a brilliant Christmas show. Store Amaryllis bulbs in the fridge and plant them into pots about 6 weeks before Christmas and they will be in full bloom then; wrap them up in a pretty sleeve and you have a gorgeous and affordable gift. Irises are in bloom now, so visit a nursery to choose your favourites to plant out; divide established clumps at the end of the month when they have finished flowering.

Members can click on the highlighted plant links for more info

Continue watering and feeding your winter and spring bulbs until they die down naturally before lifting and storing them for next season. If you need to plant summer bulbs or annuals immediately and your bulbs are not totally dormant yet, you can dig up the whole clump, trying to leave as much soil around them as possible. Place them in a temporary hole in an unused part of the garden, not forgetting to water them. Once the leaves have totally died down, gently split them, shake off the excess soil and lay them out in a cool, shady place to dry.  Once dry, dust them with flowers of sulphur (available from chemists) and pack them in cardboard boxes, layered between vermiculite or sawdust, label and store in a dry, cool place until next season. Discard the bulbs of tulips, Dutch iris, anemones and ranunculas as they seldom flower well the following year. Find out more about growing bulbs in our bulb section.

Aphids. Picture courtesy Victoria BensleyAphids. Picture courtesy Victoria BensleyAphids. Picture courtesy Victoria BensleyAs the weather warms myriads of insects will suddenly turn up in your garden, so watch out for insects like aphids, mealybugs and whitefly as they love soft young growth; if you spray the insects off the leaves with a fairly strong jet of water every time you water, it should be enough to control them naturally, alternatively use an organic insecticide.

Add water retention granules and a good layer of fresh potting soil as well as a mulch like bark chips, rooibos tea, peach pips or even pebbles to your hanging baskets and potted plants and remember to water and feed regularly. Repot overcrowded potted ferns with fresh potting soil and start feeding with half strength liquid fertiliser every two weeks. October is also a good time to re-pot Cymbidium orchids when they have finished flowering.

It is time to take softwood cuttings of your favourite shrubs and perennials like: geranium (Pelargonium), fuchsia, lavender, chrysanthemum, rosemary and other herbs.

Chamomile and NasturtiumsChamomile and NasturtiumsChamomile and NasturtiumsJazz up your vegetable garden this summer with some edible plants which will also add colour and interest. Chamomile is considered a tonic for anything you grow in the garden and is used as a 'companion plant' to help keep neighbouring plants healthy and free of diseases and pests. It improves the flavour of cabbages, cucumbers and onions; and is invaluable in vegetable gardens because it is loved by bees and other pollinators. Chamile is also one of the safest and most versatile pet remedies around, with scientifically proven uses for both humans and pets. Violas like the tiny ‘Johnny jump-up’ and ‘Cuty’ love to grow in the shade between vegetables and are great in salads, ice creams and cake icings. The purple cone flower is a perfect companion for eggplants, sweet peppers and Chinese cabbage; and not forgetting Nasturtiums which are so cheerful in the vegetable patch and wonderful on cheese sandwiches, seeding themselves all over the vegetable garden.

Feed your young summer vegetables with a liquid organic fertiliser every two weeks and make sure the beds are mulched and weed free. Thin out seedlings to the correct spacing and use the thinning’s of carrots, spring onions and beetroot to add to salads. Tomatoes can be planted right up to their lowest leaves and the soil should be mounded up against the stems as they develop. This helps them develop strong roots that will require less watering and will also make the plant more stable. Once all danger of frost is over, start sowing or planting; asparagus, maize, sweet corn, bush beansclimbing beans, eggplant, broccoli, cucumber, cabbages, carrots, celery, lettuce, leekspeppers, pumpkins, potatoes and sweet potatoes, radish, turnips, tomatoes, squashes, baby marrows and melons.

Always harvest your vegetables when they are young and tender, because the more you pick the more they will produce. Spring is also a good time to divide large clumps of rhubarb.

Members can click on the highlighted links for more information.

Meditteranean Fruit Fly. Picture courtey Ronald BeerMeditteranean Fruit Fly. Picture courtey Ronald BeerMeditteranean Fruit Fly. Picture courtey Ronald BeerFruit:

Watch out for snails and slugs amongst your strawberries and pick them often. Water and feed regularly with organic 2:3:2 or 3:1:5.

If you have not already done so, feed your citrus trees with an organic 3:1:5 or 2:3:2 fertiliser and water very deeply every 7 to 10 days.

Early apricots and peaches should be ready to harvest at the end of October. Thin out the fruit on heavily laden deciduous fruit trees when it is the size of a pea; give a second application of 3:1:5 and continue to spray for fruit fly. Watch out for coddling moth on pears and apples and put out bait for them; attaching sticky bands round the lower trunks of the trees, or using Vaseline or axil grease to form a band around the trunks, also helps to reduce their numbers.

Continue to spray regularly with an organic spray for fruitfly. The adult flies initially pierce the skin of the fruit to deposit their eggs and gum secreting from these holes is an early sign of infestation. When the eggs hatch the maggots will work their way quickly towards the pip and discoloration and rotting of the fruit will ensue. Infestations can occur at any time of the year but fruitfly are especially active in January, February and March, so it is vital to spray late fruiting varieties regularly. Any organic insecticide containing garlic or natural pyrethrins will act as a strong repellent for fruit fly and must be applied every seven to fourteen days. Preventative spraying is the most effective control measure. Start spraying when 80% of the flower petals have dropped and the tree has sufficient baby fruits developing. Spraying does affect pollinating insects but unfortunately spraying while the trees are still flowering may be necessary as very young fruit is already susceptible. Try to avoid spraying early in the morning when pollinators are most active; or plant early varieties that are not so susceptible to infestation; and remove all fallen and infected fruit immediately.

Subtropical summer rainfall regions

Keep a watchful eye out for fungal diseases as consistently overcast days together with humidity are ideal conditions for their spread. Water early in the morning as this allows the leaves to dry out thoroughly before nightfall. Spray plants that are susceptible to fungal diseases regularly with an organic fungicide. Inspect all members of the lily family like clivias, agapanthus, crinum, nerine, amaryllis and haemanthus for lilly borer catterpillars. They are easy to identify with their bold yellow and black bands, and are most active at night. Pick them off by hand or use a contact insecticide like Margaret Roberts Biological Caterpillar Insecticide or another suitable eco-friendly insecticide. The warmer weather also brings out the snails and slugs; treat with organic snail bait. Continue feeding your entire garden, water regularly and mulch to conserve moisture. It is not yet too late to transplant shrubs that are growing in the wrong places but move them now before the weather becomes too hot. Clean mulch and fertilise your calatheas and heliconias.  Remove the spent flowering stems of heliconias as they only flower once. Take cuttings of shrubs and especially groundcovers now. Mulch your perennials and cut back dead Canna stems. Feed your paw-paws and bananas.

Harvest some herbs for summer use, freezing or drying them. Sow or plant; bedding dahlias, amaranthus, celosia, ageratum, dianthus, marigolds, portulaca, coleus, nasturtiums, zinnia and salvia. Busy Lizzie (Impatiens walleriana) is very susceptible to downy mildew and can be substituted with New Guinea Impatiens (Impatiens hawkeri).

Grow a last crop of coriander, lettuce, beetroot, radish, parsley and carrots. During the heat of summer it is too hot for all but tropical vegetables; try some sweet corn, New Zealand spinach, cabbage and peppers.

Summer rainfall (Temperate or Highveld Regions)

Late frosts can still occur, so wait until all danger of frost is over before pruning evergreen shrubs that were damaged. Prune all your spring flowering plants as soon as they have finished blooming, mulch their roots and feed with a balanced feeder.  Before renewing the spring mulch around your clematis, apply some agricultural lime to the soil to enhance the performance of plants growing in acid soils. For young plants 1 cup is sufficient but for plants older than 5 years use two cups per plant. Feed your clematis regularly throughout summer with a foliar feed which is high in potassium. Your garden should be shooting new growth, so it is essential to water deeply and regularly until the rains arrive. If you have not done so yet, feed your entire garden with an organic fertiliser and mulch to conserve moisture. It is most important to remove weeds as soon as they appear. The warmer weather also brings out the snails and slugs; treat them with organic snail bait or collect them by hand at night or after rain.

You can sow or plant the full range of summer flowering annuals like: alyssum, aster, ageratum, amaranthus, candytuft, cleome, cosmos, dianthus, foxglove, gazania, lavatera, lobelia, marigold, nasturtium, portulaca, sunflower, vinca, zinnias, bedding dahlias, celosia, begonias and coleus. Busy Lizzie (Impatiens walleriana) is very susceptible to downy mildew and can be substituted with New Guinea Impatiens (Impatiens hawkeri).
You can sow or plant the full range of summer vegetables; try planting potatoes and sweet potatoes if you have the space, or grow them in a barrel. Sow or plant parsley, cabbage, carrots, beetroot, beans, baby marrow, patty pans, eggplant, corn, cucumbers, gems, marrows, parsley, peppers, pumpkin, squash, radish, lettuce, spring onions, turnips, tomatoes, spanspek, melon, watermelon and Cape gooseberries.

Winter rainfall regions (Mediterranean)

It is vital that Cape gardeners mulch their soil before the hot, dry and windy summer days arrive. Planting groundcovers to cover the soil will provide ‘living mulch’; keeping the soil cool and protected. Make sure all your standard plants and trees are securely staked and continue feeding your entire garden with an organic fertiliser, watering regularly and deeply.

October is the best time to sow summer seeds. You can plant and sow summer annuals like antirrhinum, aster, alyssum, balsam, begonias, cineraria, dahlias, delphinium, nicotiana, dianthus, gaillardia, gazania, godetias, gypsophila, helichrysum, hollyhocks, larkspur, lavatera, lobelia, penstemon, petunia, phlox, impatiens, verbena and Queen Anne’s lace. Busy Lizzie (Impatiens walleriana) is very susceptible to downy mildew and can be substituted with New Guinea Impatiens (Impatiens hawkeri).

Sow or plant vegetables, fruit and herbs like Cape gooseberries, watermelon, spanspek, cabbage, carrot, celery, cucumber, beetroot, beans, eggplant, leek, lettuce, maize, onion, peppers, pumpkin, radish, spinach, squash, tomato, turnip, parsley  chives and basil.

Dry, semi-arid and continental regions

October really herald’s spring in these regions but late frosts can still occur, so wait until all danger of frost is over before pruning evergreen shrubs that were damaged. Do not prune any deciduous shrubs that will flower soon, like Weigelia, Spiraea, Deutzia and Forsythia. Prune flowering peaches, almonds and quinces as soon as they have finished flowering. Cut off the dead flower stems of winter flowering aloes and check at the base of your plants for small ‘pups’ which can be lifted and replanted into pots or other areas of the garden. Continue feeding your entire garden with a balanced fertiliser, water regularly and mulch to conserve moisture. Divide perennials that could not be done in autumn, because of the frost.  Choose only healthy, young growth to re-plant.  In very hot areas plant out Dahlia bulbs at the end of October.

In brak water areas, store rainwater to use in your garden and especially on your roses.  Plants like Wild Rhubarb (Acanthus mollis); Perennial Statice (Limonium perezii); Daylilies (Hemerocallis; (Agapanthus); Perennial Statice (Limonium perezii); Flax (Phormium) are tolerant of brakish (salty) water.

From the second week in October it is usually safe to sow easy-to-grow seeds directly into the soil. Choose flowering annuals that will withstand the long, hot summer and are water-wise like: celosia, gazania, marigold, portulaca, petunia, salvia, cosmos, vinca, and zinnia.

Plant a final crop of true spinach seedlings, and if you have enough space, plant potatoes and sweet potatoes; or grow them in a barrel. Sow or plant basil, coriander, parsley, oregano, beans, baby marrow, carrots, cabbage, cucumber, beetroot, radish, patty pans, tomatoes, lettuce, eggplants, Swiss chard, sweet and chilli peppers, pumpkin and sweet corn.


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