Maybe it was just a long, lonely COVID-19 winter or I am the eternal optimist, but I think Spring is in the air. Or if it is not, it is a good time to start thinking about it. And now I am talking on behalf of your garden. The year 2020 can perhaps be characterised as turbulent – a year of hardship and a continuous uphill battle not only facing the ‘now not so novel’ COVID-19 virus, but also in maintaining working relationships, building and rebuilding the economy.
Perhaps we can find some comfort in the constant of seasonal change. Maybe the Corona virus has sensitised us to the fact that we live in an environment that is in constant flux. Like the virus, the environment is also something that must be managed. In a way, it is intimidating, but it also releases creative energy.
As the days of winter wane to the beckoning days of spring, seasonal change is all around us. Together with this seasonal change, one can expect spectacular flower shows especially the Western and Northern Cape and purportedly the best flower show/season in 8 years…
More accessible to us are the masses of Clivias currently in flower in gardens all over the country. These plants are fairly hardy and requires little maintenance.
With interprovincial travel possible again, enjoy enroute the fresh green leaves budding on the silhouettes of trees in the morning sun.
To get back to the actual topic: tending to your garden is an activity associated with springtime.
Now is the time to ensure that your final pruning is done, your soil is enriched and you have a planting strategy in mind for the planting season ahead.
It is important not to start pruning too soon. One must be relatively sure that the risk of frost is minimal before commencing. (The frosted branches provide some protection for the ones that are still alive). The reason for pruning is two-fold:
- Remove all the damaged material
- Reshape the plant back into a “natural” state and acceptable size.
The latter can be a challenge but a good approach is to start slowly. Remove some branches that you feel needs removing, then step back and get a full picture of the plant before you proceed to remove more. Always keep in mind what you want the plant to look like in a few months.
It is now also a good time to have a hard look at the soil in your garden. A very important principle in sustainable gardening practices is to disturb the soil as little as possible. That will allow the soil to develop its own structure and soil creatures will flourish. For instance, I never pick up leaves in the garden and actually spread them evenly. Within three to four months, the earthworms and other subterranean creatures have digested this organic material and released the nutrients in a form that the plants can utilize. If you feel that the plants are not performing optimally, you can apply a light dressing of a natural fertilser.
It is a different matter if the soil composition or soil structure needs to change. For example, the soil may be too sandy or too clayey for the overall performance of the plants. In this instance, it is advisable to consult an expert.
Spring is also a good time to reconsider your planting strategy– in other words, what is your longer term vision of the garden? Do you view your garden as an aesthetic extension of the house or do you view it as a sustainable, functioning ecosystem? The latter can also take on many forms: a grassland garden, a bushveld garden or even a shade garden. Apart from the look and feel, two of the crucial considerations are maintenance and water requirements.
As already stressed earlier, it is becoming really important to use plants that do not rely on heavy watering, but that can survive on rainfall (most of the time). In many municipalities, water restrictions are commonplace, the latest being Polokwane. The best solution is to use plants that occur locally or plants that are adapted to the local temperature and rainfall regimes. This approach will also minimize maintenance requirements, but remember, no garden is maintenance free.
In many gardens, some plants are dormant at the moment. Now is a good time to look at plant densities and where overcrowding is an issue, to relocate some of them. It has also been a fairly harsh winter and only the hardy plants survived. You should consider removing the plants that suffered severely from frost damage or at least relocate them to a more protected spot, if possible. Even if a frost damaged plant resprouts, it is often misshaped and very difficult to make them attractive again. For instance, if the crown of a tree was hit by frost it will never regain its ”natural” look. Even in my own garden, I became a bit blasé over the last few years and used plants that I know might be prone to frost damage. During the last couple of years, we experienced very mild winters and these borderline cases thrived. But during this winter, my folly caught up with me. So, I now have some empty spots that require replanting, but certainly not with the same plants!
I trust that you find this information useful and please contact me at [email protected] if you need some clarity on issues in your particular garden. For garden design questions you can contact Charldon at [email protected].