Monday, 23 December 2013

In the mid-Summer garden . . . .

Mid-summer is upon us bringing with her a mixed bag of blessings. Sweltering hot days after an over-abundance of much prayed for rain has resulted in an over-abundance of plant growth, and fungus diseases. Lawns that have been fed and received some form of winter treatment should be growing very well now. Keep up with the cutting and only remove one third of the growth per cutting. If you mow too low you will scalp your lawn, resulting in white patches appearing immediately after mowing. You have exposed the stems of the lawn which will burn in the heat. These will later turn brown, making the lawn unsightly. Keep a look out for fungal infections in the lawn and treat them accordingly. Keep the blades on your mower sharp and avoid irrigating the lawn late in the evening: early morning is best. If weeds are a problem in the lawn, now is the time to eradicate them. It is best to spray herbicides to control broad-leafed weeds while they are actively growing, and the lawn still has time to catch up to cover over where the weeds once grew.

Keep up with rose maintenance to ensure your roses are in bloom right up to the time you prune. From now on, fertilise monthly with 80g 3:1:5 and 80g Superphosphates. Plants take up nutrients in solution from the soil, so water well to ensure the fertilisers are taken down to root level. Twenty litres of water per week is the rule of thumb. (That is a sprinkler left in position for about an hour.) The best time to water is in the early morning, however late in the evening will also do. Avoid at all costs watering at midday, especially if you are watering overhead. Keep a mulch around your roses to ensure the precious water you have put down stays down. People are always unsure what to use as a mulch. My preference is leaves or leaves mixed half/half with dried lawn clippings. You can also use bark chips, compost and nut shells, or whatever else is available. Keep a check that the mulch does not compact or otherwise inhibit water penetration. For that matter, mulch all shrubs, trees and other areas in the garden not already covered by plants to ensure your precious water does not evaporate and to keep your soil temperature down. This provides a far better growing environment for roots and positively affects plant growth on the whole. I have done this in my own garden and in a short while you could see the results.

Back to your rose care; your roses will also greatly reward you if you foliar feed them. For this you can use Maxi Marinure. This involves mixing up fertlilsers into a solution in a watering can and watering the solution over the leaves. Alternately, you can install an in-line-fertigator if you already have an irrigation system over your roses. This is easier than it sounds. In-line-fertigators are inexpensive little gadgets available from most of the larger garden centres or hardware shops. They are easy to install and can also be used with a garden hosepipe and sprinkler. Diseases may be found on your roses now, especially black spot or powdery mildew. If left unchecked, these diseases will affect the health and bloom production of your roses. Both of these can be controlled using Diathane M45 or Rosecare. Beetles may be causing a problem as well, making holes in the blooms. These can be controlled using Carbaspray. Aphids can be controlled using Malathion, Metasystox or Rosecare. With the current move abroad away from the use of pesticides and our own growing awareness of environmental issues, many are moving away from the use of pesticides. My opinion is to only spray when the pest cannot be controlled using other means, and when a lack of control will adversely affect the overall health and production of the plant. For example, aphids on young growth and blooms could be controlled by rubbing them off with thumb and forefinger rather than mixing up a whole bottle of pesticide and spraying wildly over the whole garden. I also encourage natural predators such as chameleon, ladybirds, preying mantis and the little white-eye bird.

For those people who have neglected their roses thus far, summer pruning should be carried out around about now. This involves removing all dead and damaged branches and old spent blooms, cutting back to healthy wood and a viable bud. It is not a heavy prune as carried out in winter, but a light prune to rejuvenate the bushes to ensure blooming carries on into winter. With the modern rose cultivars that are grown in our gardens today and with the ease of fertilising and irrigating as recommended, it is not too much to expect that the last vase of blooms picked for the home should be picked just before winter pruning in July. But even if you have neglected to keep up with the maintenance thus far into the season, or should you slip up in the future, roses are very forgiving and readily respond to a little bit of tender loving care.

The best part about mid-summer, with its sweltering hot days and regular rains, is the fact that the cooler months of autumn that are so glorious to garden in will soon be upon us. However, it is no time to put away your gardening gloves, even with it not being gardening weather now. Early mornings and evenings are ideal for getting those gardening chores done, while the days can be spent planning your winter and spring garden. Bulb order forms, and later bulbs, will be appearing in the major garden centres soon. You can also start sowing the first of your winter annual seed. To keep your garden full of colour right through to the next summer, stagger your seed sowing. You can also start planning future work to be done in the garden, which can be done as soon as the cooler weather comes. Perhaps you want to plant more trees to beat the summer heat, or you would like to revamp your entrance area , patio or pool surrounds. Do this planning now so that you can get stuck in as soon as the cooler, dry weather returns.

Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Christmas decorations from the garden

Every year it seems that Christmas becomes more and more commercialised. There is more pressure to decorate the home for the season and prices of decorations are ever on the increase. The look is abundant and festive and the style is as free as you choose it to be. With a little effort and a lot of imagination, you can easily produce the same effect as someone who spends a lot of money. There is a wealth of material in the garden that can be used for decorating the home.

Roses, alstroemeria, agapanthus, hydrangea, dahlia and Shasta daisy are all in flower now and can be used successfully in flower arranging throughout the home. Arrange into large glass vases, urns or porcelain jugs for an abundant festive look. Clean stems that will be underwater of all foliage as this will rot in the water, producing a foul smell and blocking the uptake of water by the flowers. Alternatively you can be more traditional and make formal arrangements for the mantelpiece in the lounge or the sideboard in the dining room. A silver candelabra can be fitted out with a candelabra cup (available from most florists) and this can be arranged into. One cup can be used in a multi stemmed candelabra and candles can be put into the spare spaces. The base of the candles can be decorated with a bow. Use tartan or red for a traditional look, or white with trimmings of silver or gold for a modern sophisticated look.

There is much in the garden that can be used for foliage in the home. There is the traditional holly in its plain green and variegated forms, Cypress and deodar sprigs give the look of Christmas in some far away snow-laden land and are long lasting. Knysna or leather-leaf fern can be used, as can the "holly fern". Camellia foliage can be used as it lasts well and imparts a lovely dark green to the arrangement. Camellia sasanqua has smaller leaves and droops attractively while Camellia reticulata leaves are fuller and more glabrous and stand erect in the arrangement. Berberis, euonymous, abelia in golden yellow and plum, westringia, photinia and pittosporum all will add colour to the arrangement. Flax (Phormium tenax) in yellow or bronze stands tall and erect in the arrangement or it can be twisted and folded to add movement and interest. So too can the foliage of the cast iron plant (Aspidistra) be folded over and pinned and used in the arrangement. Attractive foliage bows can be made in this way. Four or so leaves can be folded over, pinned and inserted into the arrangement close together. Two further leaves can be used to make the tails of the bow. Aspidistra and flax leaves should be cleaned with a damp cloth before being placed in the arrangement to get rid of the build up of dust and grime from the garden. After cleaning, spray the leaves lightly with Leaf Shine for a nice glossy effect.

Always clean your mechanics before starting to arrange. Vases, urns and jugs should be cleaned out using a mild solution of Jik and should be rinsed out thoroughly afterwards. A flower preservative can be added to the water to prolong the life of the arrangement. Alternatively, add a capful of Milton and a little sugar to the water. Pick the flowers in the cool of the day (early morning or late afternoon), and immerse the cuts into water as soon as possible. Allow the stems to stay immersed in the water for an hour or so to give them a good drink, particularly if you are arranging into oasis. Float soak your oasis. Never push it into the water as you will leave a large air bubble in the centre of the block and your flowers will wilt.

There are many new innovations available that can be used to create attractive Christmas decorations. Oasis cones can be decorated with short pieces of foliage and flowers to make attractive floral miniature Christmas trees. Compliment the flowers by adding bells and balls. Tie a short piece of florist wire to the bells or balls and insert the other end into the oasis. Stand the little Christmas tree on a stout terracotta pot. Add small birthday cake candles to the arrangement and light them while enjoying the Christmas meal. They are sure to enthral guests and children alike. Also available are oasis rings. These can be decorated with foliage and flowers  from the garden. They can be hung up vertically on the front door or under the fireplace mantelpiece. Alternatively, lay it flat on a table and put a large candle in the centre opening. Ideal for the Christmas table, mantelpiece or entrance hall. Choose long lasting foliage for these arrangements and replenish the flowers as they fade. Foliage such as leather-leaf fern, camellia, magnolia, holly, cypress and deodar are all suited. Bows, bells and balls can all be used to compliment or replace the flowers in these arrangements.

Remember to choose a colour scheme and stick to it to make your decorations most effective. Preferably choose a scheme that compliments your existing furniture. If you are having a Christmas meal out of doors and are wanting to decorate the table or patio for the occasion, choose colours that will pick up the flowers in the garden for a pleasing effect.

Monday, 2 December 2013

Preparing the garden for Christmas

Christmas is always such a busy time of the year. There is the winding up of work activities, social and work functions to attend and the arrival of family and friends to stay for the Christmas season and to welcome the new year in. It is important not to forget about your garden at this time of the year, but to keep up with the maintenance and to start planning for the winter months that will be upon us soon. It is important to look at the maintenance of the garden to keep it looking in shape should you wish to be entertaining in the garden, or if you are going away.

With temperatures high and regular rainfall, plant growth will be at its maximum level. Keep up with your regular lawn mowing to maintain a healthy green sward of lawn. Avoid scalping your lawn at all costs as this will reduce its health and vitality and result in unsightly brown patches. If your lawn gets too long, rather raise the height of your lawnmower than keeping it at its normal cutting height and cutting the grass too low. Keep up with regular watering of the lawn, especially where rain does not get to do this for you for example on the lee side of the house or under trees. This is especially important where you have cool season grasses for example 'All Seasons Evergreen' or 'Shade Over Lawn'. If you are going away, I would not advise fertilising your lawn until you return. This will encourage a spurt of growth and you will have to contend with knee deep grass when you get back. Trim all edges regularly to keep the garden looking neat and to prevent grasses like Kikuyu from invading your borders and beds.

Summer time is lovely for entertaining outdoors, and what easier way of spending Christmas with family and friends than out in the garden. Keep up feeding and watering roses, and spray for fungi and insects with Rosecare once a fortnight or as problems occur. Fruit beetles, Christmas beetles and blister beetles should be controlled with Carbaspray. One doesn't always see these pests until the damage has been done. They all feed on the petals and leaves of the roses, leaving huge holes where they have fed. Keep picking roses for the home as this is a form of pruning and will encourage the growth of more buds on the plants. Likewise, remove all faded blooms from the plants.

The plums are about to come into full fruit, while the first of the early peaches have nearly finished. Remove all fallen fruit from the ground and inspect the tree for branches that may have broken under the load of the fruit and remove as necessary. Thin out excessive fruit as this will reduce the chances of damaging the structure of the tree and will improve the quality of the remaining fruit. Keep up watering and feeding of citrus trees. They are currently forming their fruit for next winter. Scatter a balanced fertiliser such as 2:3:2 under the tree and water well. Spray the foliage and soil around the base of the trees with Maxi Marinure. Scatter Epsom salts around the tree to improve the sweetness of the fruit and again, water this in well.

Keep up feeding and watering summer bedding plants. Again you can use a balanced fertiliser such as 2:3:2. Keep on removing faded flowers from the plants to encourage them to keep on their show and to bush up more. Again you can use Maxi Marinure but avoid spraying plants with white flowers as it can discolour the flowers. Rather use a weaker solution and apply it more often. It is not too late to sow quick maturing summer bedding plant varieties such as nasturtiums, Celosia, marigold and zinnia. Nor is it too early to start thinking about next winter. Slow maturing bedding plants such as primula should be sown now. These always put on a good show with their pretty clusters of flowers. Should you be wanting more colour for this Christmas, one can always buy annuals flowering in bags and pop these in where you want instant colour around the entrance to the house, around the patio in the garden or in pots and near the reception room windows.

Neaten up perennials such as cannas, agapanthus, day lilies and alstroemeria by removing all spent flowers and dead leaves. Keep them well watered and foliar feed them with Maxi Marinure to encourage them to put on a second flush later on. It is not a good time to do any lifting and dividing of perennials. It is far too hot and the chances of losing plants by doing this is far too great. Stake tall growing perennials such as perennial phlox, Shasta daisy and alstroemeria to prevent them from falling over in the wind.

Continue to water summer bulbs. Stake your dahlias and remove side buds to improve the quality of flowers. Remove spent blooms promptly and keep a watch out for earwigs. These are small black and brown crawling insects that have a nasty looking pair of pincers on their rear. They are quite harmless to humans but damage the flowers of the dahlias. Spray with Carbaspray. Watch out for snails and slugs and bait accordingly. They especially like to aggregate under the strap like leaves of agapanthus, clivias and gladioli.

Top up the mulch around your plants. This helps to conserve precious water and keeps the soil cool.

Friday, 25 October 2013

Creating Low-Allergen Gardens

While the gardening industry enthusiastically extols the healthful benefits of gardening, spare a thought for the many sufferers from hayfever and asthma whose gardens may actually be a health hazard.

For this reason, overseas allergy specialists and organisations are urging landscapers and nurserymen to come up with low-allergen design concepts. These mainly involve the use of plants that do not produce pollen that sends asthma and hayfever sufferers reaching for their anti-histamines. In Australia and New Zealand approximately 19% of adults, 15% of teenagers and 20% of children have asthma, while 20% of the population of these two countries suffer from hayfever, which though less dangerous is still extremely distressing. Much of this can be attributed to pollen. The main offender is grass pollen, particularly from exotic species, and includes many lawn grasses. Other problem plants include common garden trees, shrubs, herbaceous species and weeds. Some plants on the list that follow are notorious offenders, but others may only be a problem to those who are particularly susceptible. Some people are highly susceptible to a wide range of plants. The list that follows contain only plants proven allergenic to a significant number of people. Of the trees and shrubs, certain species of Acacia, Albizia, alder, ash, birch, Callistemon, Casurina, Coprosma, Cupressus, pine, elm, Liquidamber, maple, Meluleuca, mulberry, plane, privet, oak, olive, poplar, willow and woodworm are common problems. Asters, chrysanthemums, marigold and chamomile are annuals and herbs that cause problems regularly. Other surprising offenders are spinach and sweetcorn.

Pollen related problems peak in spring when pollen released by wind-pollinating plants becomes airborne. It is these, rather than bird or insect pollinating plants, that are the main trouble makers. In warm, temperate areas there is usually a low level grass pollen count all year round. Although those allergic to pollen will of course be exposed to it in the environment, it is in the immediate environment - the home garden - which is usually the main source of everyday pollen allergies. It is therefore common sense to plant low-pollen producing plants and grasses. It is also advisable to have a "low maintenance" garden to minimise the time spent working in it: thus reducing the period of exposure.

Pollen is not the only cause in the garden of hayfever and asthma attacks. Other offenders include dust and mould spores, which means that composts, organic mulches and certain fertilisers must be avoided completely or handled with extreme care. For example, a mask could be worn over the mouth or nose. A low-allergen garden may also need to avoid those plants responsible for skin allergies. Regular possible causes of skin allergies are most Greyvilleas with pinnate leaves, Helichrysum, ivy, Philodendron, poinsettia, primula, polyanthus or primrose, Rhus succedanea (Poison oak) and most plants that have milky sap or are hairy. Sufferers should also create awareness at schools and the workplace so that offending plants can be removed or avoided.

The basic guidelines for a low-allergen garden can be summarised as follows:
  • Select low allergen plants. Avoid wind-pollinated plants. Insect and bird pollinated plants are usually those with the most attractive flowers.
  • Opt for hard surfaces (paving) or non-allergenic groundcovers instead of common lawn grasses. Our indigenous Kweek (Cynodon dactylon) and buffalo grass (Stenotaphrum secundatum) are grasses that produce a minimum amount of pollen.
  • Screening trees, hedges or walls will help trap pollen blowing from outside the garden.
  • Keeping the garden well watered during peak pollen periods will help to settle pollen. Thankfully our spring is quite moist and this helps to settle some of the pollen.
  • Mowing of the lawn stirs up pollen and should be avoided by those who are regular sufferers of pollen related asthma. To douse the lawn the day before or immediately after with water may also stop pollen from becoming airborne and affecting those who are susceptible.
There is a move abroad for nurseries and botanical gardens to create greater awareness of problem plants. Special labels are put on high risk plants warning buyers of potential problems. Some nurseries label their plants if they are particularly suitable for the low-allergy garden and a portion of the proceeds of the sale of those plants goes towards education and research programmes aimed at asthma control.

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

Why do people have their properties landscaped?

There are many reasons. Most often it is to increase the utility or aesthetic appeal to the owner. Under the careful guidance of an experienced landscaper and with a trusting client, much can be done to turn an otherwise awkward, untidy site into an aesthetically pleasing asset. For those who want to make economic sense of their investment in landscaping, money spent on landscaping will increase the value of their property by up to 15%. This is particularly true if the money is spent on correcting levels, screening for privacy, paving of the drive, improving the entrance area and improving or creating outdoor living areas. Creating extensively planted areas will improve the appeal of the property but will not always increase the value, while a high maintenance garden may reduce the marketability of a property. Be realistic about what you can achieve within your budget available, set yourself goals and stick to a plan of action. Make sure you spend your landscaping budget where it is needed and where you will get the best return when you need to sell.

TIP: A professionally produced and carefully considered landscape design plan can be installed over a period of time, as your budget allows, and will greatly enhance the value of your property.

Monday, 21 October 2013

How should I improve the condition of my soil and when?

This is a vitally important part of establishing a successful garden. The old adage of “Don’t put a R10.00 plant into a 10 cent hole” applies. Ideally one should spread out a 7cm layer of well rotted compost over the surface of the soil and dig this in. I prefer a coarse compost as this takes longer to break down in the soil so you get the benefit of it for a longer period. Manure is always a good addition provided it is good quality and well broken down. It has a high microbial activity which feeds the soil and sustains it for a long period. It is unfortunately not always readily available commercially. Too much manure that has not broken down well can burn plants, so take care how you use manures. Very clayey soils may be improved using agricultural lime or “clay buster”. Very sandy soils will benefit from an application of coarse compost, but due to the composition of these soils, regular reapplications are necessary. When planting trees and shrubs, preparation is essential. Dig a large, square planting pit, putting aside the good topsoil and throwing away any poor subsoil or rock. Backfill the hole with a good quality topsoil to which you have added one third by volume compost. Prior to planting is the best time to improve the soil, but for established gardens a side dressing of compost, dug into the soil will certainly help.

TIP : Gordon Stuart Landscaping stocks compost which can be sold by the bag or per cube to their clients.

I want to have my property professionally landscaped. What is the procedure?

We start off with a site visit and a comprehensive brief from the client. During the site visit, we look at the aspect, soil quality, style of existing architecture on site, views, proposed usage of the site and question the client regarding their preferences. Site plans and building plans help, as they usually hold a wealth of information. If clients can write out their brief it often helps to clarify their thoughts so that they can prioritise their needs and gives us a working document to refer back to during the design phase. Once on the drawing board, our creative juices are given free reign and we can then set about turning the client’s dreams into reality. Plans are drawn at a set hourly rate which covers site meetings, surveying on site, design fees and reviews and adjustments. Once the client is thoroughly satisfied with the design, it is inked and coloured and we then draw out a bill of quantities and quote against which we can proceed to installation if the client wants to do this. We can complete the installation in phases or in its entirety, depending on your needs.

TIP : If you don’t want to go the whole route of the commissioning a bespoken landscape design, we offer an hourly consultancy service where we can meet the client on site to give advice or ideas, which the client can then implement at their own pace.