Mother Nature holds her breath in April to allow gardeners a gentle month in which to plant flowers and food, and to prune, feed and mulch before she slaps us with winter. Let’s make the best of it!
With the onset of cooler weather, plants like shrubs, roses and trees have a much better chance to establish themselves than they do in the hot, windy months. For immediate gratification, go indigenous with plectranthus, barleria, Cape honeysuckle and euryops daisies – all in flower now!
Recommended for every garden is Freylinia tropica. It is an excellent screen and seldom not in flower, for which it is loved by sunbirds and butterflies.
Lawns: Lawn Caterpillars create bald patches in the lawn and are active at night. Control them with Efekto Garden Ripcord or Margaret Roberts Biological Caterpillar Insecticide
Food gardening: Sow root crops such as carrots, beetroots, radishes and turnips. Plant seeds of beans and peas where you can give them support to climb and shelter from strong winds. Cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli and kale can also be planted now. Establish fruit trees in the garden and also in containers. Self-fertile paw-paws are compact, taste great and bear while young. Use walls and boundary fences as supports for granadillas and berries such as blackberry and raspberry.
The best hedge is a dense hedge, so if you have not started the autumn pruning of formal boundary hedges yet, now is the time to get this job done. Only prune evergreens and those that have finished flowering in summer. They should be pruned to be narrower at the top than at the bottom, so that the sun can reach the whole plant. The result? Dense new growth, right down to ground level. Bougainvillea hedges growing in the summer rainfall regions should be pruned at the end of the month.
Suggestions for flowering hedges: Abelia, Callistemon (bottle brush), Solanum, Escallonia and Camellia sasanqua will all grow into lovely flowering hedges that do not need constant pruning.
How to add quick colour: Plant a mass of Hypoestes aristata (ribbon bush) in the shade of hardy wild olive trees to create a cloud of mauve, and light up shrub beds with lots of golden daisies like Euryops pectinatus. Plant seedlings for spring and winter – especially petunias, which will enjoy the dryer weather and supply bright colour in a winter garden.
Spend time in your garden to clean out the dead plants, sweep the leaves and add plant residue to your compost heap. Dress you garden beds with mulch and your plants will benefit from this as it keeps the soil temperature slightly warmer in the cold months ahead.
Repot all plants that have outgrown their containers into new pots two sizes bigger than the original, using fresh potting spoil. If repotting is not yet necessary, remove about one third of the soil from the top and add new soil to the pot. Water thoroughly afterwards and feed all containers with a liquid fertiliser.
What to plant: Seedlings like primulas, poppies, and pansies are our absolute favourites for autumn time. Bulbs like watsonias, freesias and tulips are also the perfect choice. Planting new roses will give them time to ‘settle-in’ during winter and get a head start in spring. Also sow the following flowering favourites: African Daisy, Winter Scatter Packs (check out the seed stands for different combinations) and bokbaai vygies.
If you want to move trees and shrubs in your garden, do it now. The heat is over and plants will be able to establish themselves in a new area. Water the hole before and after planting, and make sure to add fertiliser and compost.
Get your garden beds in shape for winter by adding liberal amounts of compost, feeding with 2:3:2 fertiliser and adding a final blanket of mulch. Make sure you irrigate in the early mornings, as this allows the surface water to dry up during the day, reducing the risk of frost damage at night. Purchase your frost cover for those sensitive plants that need to be protected against frost.
Lawns can be fertilised now with a mixture of 50% 2:3:2 and 50% LAN, which will keep it green and thick during winter.
Try planting a corner of ericas, restios, leucadendrons and proteas – they provide stunning autumn and winter colour, even far away from their normal distribution. Mulch around their roots with acidic compost.
Many flower seedlings will be available for planting during April including Iceland poppies, pansies, violas, primulas, petunias, dianthus, cinerarias and nemesias. Also continue to sow flower seeds like sweet peas, African daisies and bokbaai vygies in situ. Remember to plant those graceful flowering perennials like aquilegia, delphinium, echinacea, verbascum and lupin.
For a spectacular winter show, plant out ornamental kale seedlings. Pinch out early flower buds on young flower seedlings to encourage bushy growth first, even though you will forfeit the first blooms.
Food gardening: Cut back asparagus and mound the soil around the crowns. Plant out rhubarb plants and harvest the last peppers and chillies. It is time to plant out young strawberry plants and young fruit trees, especially deciduous types like peaches, plums, nectarines and apricots. Prune back old canes of raspberries and blackberries that have finished fruiting and enjoy your harvest of ripe avocados along with many citrus fruits.
Plant all the members of the fynbos family, like buchus, pincushions, proteas, restios and leucadendrons this month. Sow spring-flowering annuals like Virginian stocks and plant the full range of osteopermums and diasceas – they flower now and love the cooler, wet weather.
To stop bud-drop of gardenias, keep them well watered now. Although these plants flower mostly in summer, they still form new buds until autumn, which mature on the plant and will open as soon as temperatures rise again. If they experience a lack of water in this phase, the buds fail to open and fall off.
Camellias and azaleas also need regular watering now to avoid the buds from aborting.
Food gardening: Grow your own garlic – it is so easy to do and you can even buy garlic bulb sets from nurseries. Pick a sunny spot with well-draining soil and plant the cloves about 15cm apart in drills about 7cm deep. The clove’s noses should just be covered with a thin layer of soil. Water regularly.
Divide overgrown clumps of chives and garlic chives and replant into freshly composted soil. If you have enough to go around, pot up a few pots too. Keep them over winter on a sunny kitchen windowsill. The soil must be kept moist and your chive pots should be fed regularly with a liquid fertiliser.
Toss some bulbs of Aponogeton distachyos (waterblommetjies) into your pond – they will grow well in water between 10 – 60cm deep and will happily settle into the mud sediment at the bottom of the pond, giving you a fresh harvest of edible flowers each spring.