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Winter Gardening: A Time of Planning and Patience!

July is a great month for cleaning, planning, and then waiting in anticipation for the spring…

Here’s some good ideas of things you can try:
* Spend time in the garden shed cleaning out old pots and seedling trays. Most nurseries are only too happy to take them back for recycling or re use in their growing sections.
* Repack your fertilizers and chemicals as well, as you will be amazed at how much one accumulates  during a year. If you come across pesticides that are not in use, take them to your local nursery for safe discarding. It is important not to throw them down the drain or in the dustbin as this will contaminate our drinking water and landfill sites, where the chemicals will break down and seep into our ground water.
* Wash and sterilise all your tools. Take your secateurs to a knife and scissor sharpening company to get them ready for the pruning season.
* Buy new blades for your saws and make sure all equipment is ready for the spring.

Fertilise, Fertilise, Fertilise!
The seedlings that were planted last month need a lot of attention: feed them every six weeks with a high potassium organic fertilizer. Fertilizers can be a bit confusing with all those numbers on the packet, but it is actually quite simple. For example 3:1:5 SR (26) - The first number 3 is nitrogen which helps plants grow leaves, the second number 1 is phosphate which assists in root development, and the third number 5 is potassium which has all sorts of wonderful benefits for plants from flower and fruit development to stem growth, disease and cold resistance. So when we say a fertilizer with “high potassium”, the last number of the three must be a 5 or higher. The “SR” stands for slow release which means the nitrogen in the fertilizer has been chelated so as to only be released when there is water on the fertilizer, so you do not need to worry that the fertilizer is burning the plants. The bracketed number is the percentage of fertilizer in the bag the other 74% is a powder carrier. This is important to know as often fertilizer stands for a while and the powder carrier is lighter than the fertilizer, so the fertilizer often settles on the bottom of the bag. Always shake your fertilizer before use to mix the two together.

Seedlings benefit greatly from foliar feeding with liquid fertilizers, and there are various organic liquid feeds on the market. Fill your spray bottle with the correct ratio of water and fertilizer and spray the plants lightly every two weeks. Do not spray in the afternoons while it is so cold, but rather foliar feed them in the morning, which allows the water to be absorbed by the plant before the ice cold night air can freeze the water droplets on the leaves.

Caring for your Seedlings
Be sure to “dead head” seedlings such as pansies, poppies and petunias on a regular basis, i.e. just nip off the dried flowers to encourage new flower formation. A plants main mission in life is to reproduce so when one takes off the dead flower before the plant can fully form its seeds, the plant is forced to produce more flowers in its effort to be fertile.

Other than seedlings, one needs to feed camellias and azaleas now as they are starting to bud and flower at this time of year. They need a mulch of acid compost or pine needles to keep their roots warm and a dose of high potassium organic fertilizer. Both species benefit greatly from tea leaves around their root system too. Another group of plants that thrives on tea leaves are citrus who also need to be fed and well watered now as they are developing the new buds which will become the fruit. These need plenty of water to swell and grow.

The cold temperatures in winter aid in reducing the insect populations, but some critters are rather devious and bury themselves into the ground as larvae or pupate underground during winter. If one cultivates open ground now, especially under fruit trees and rose gardens, these insects will become exposed to hungry birds and the cold having the dual purpose of effective organic pest control and providing a delicious meal for the insect eating birds whose food is very scarce at the moment.

Conifers are in danger of getting attacked by Italian aphids at this time of year. The symptoms are blackening of the foliage and a sticky substance on and under the conifer. This is an interesting symbiosis of pests, the aphids excrete a sweet sticky substance called honeydew which is relished by ants, the ants milk the aphids for this sugary delight and carry it up and down the tree to their nest, the spillage from the ants creates a perfect environment for fungus and so the blackening of the conifer’s foliage. One must treat the root cause of the problem by eliminating the aphids. To do this organically is quite difficult, but there are organic insecticides on the market which do work, such as Pyrol. The entire foliage area of the conifer must be drenched every two weeks to be effective.

Other Winter Gardening Ideas
Winter is also a great time to transplant roses as well as other shrubs and plants as their sap is dormant waiting for the spring. Prepare a big square hole where you would like to move the  plant to with compost and bone meal and water the hole to soften the surrounding soil. Carefully dig out the plant from its existing spot (ensuring the plants has plenty of root ball and that you have marked the direction the plant was facing with a piece of ribbon). Place the plant in its new home making sure it faces the same direction and is planted at the same soil level as it was previously. Gently compact a mix of soil and compost around the root system, mulch over the top of the soil with compost or bark chips, making sure not to cover the stem. Lightly feed with 2:3:2 organic fertilizer and water generously. Prune back gently to avoid wilt and spray the remaining leaves with a soft rain of water. Now sit back and watch your plant settle into its new home.

Continue to mulch your garden with leaves that are falling from the deciduous trees, the plants need a warm blanket over their roots just like we need our warm blankets on us in this chilly winter.

Stay warm and happy gardening!

By Heather Mansour (Nat.Dipl. Hort)

To contact Heather, email styleview@absamail.co.za or call 0825487621

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