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Prepare your garden for spring

As we move into August, there's no better time to get out into the garden and start preparing beds for spring planting. Even if you have an established garden, there are going to be tasks and projects that need to be done before the days start hotting up.

 

I might not be a gardening expert but I do have a garden and have been flexing my green fingers and thumbs for many years. This time of the year is one of my favourites, as it allows me to walk around a blank slate and decide where I want annual colour and foliage. And a bed or border full of beautiful colour does so much for a garden!

Pruning trees and shrubs

If you haven't yet pruned trees and shrubs, or cut back straggly growth, you need to do this before it warms up. Cold weather reduces the risk of infection by giving cuts time to heal. It is always better to prune in the colder months of the year.

You don't need to be a landscape designer to cut back a few branches, think about how you want the shrub to be shaped, or where excess growth needs to be removed and then use a pair of sharp secateurs or trimmers to cut.

Always cut about half to one centimetre away from a leaf node. This leaf node will eventually sprout new growth, so it's important to pick a leaf node that faces in the right direction. A leaf node pointing up will obviously sprout up, whereas a leaf node pointing down will grow down. If you are shaping a tree or shrub prune at the right spot.

I have included a video for anyone new to pruning, just to show that pruning and shaping is not that difficult and if tackled once a year you can easily keep a garden manageable. If you are unsure about how to prune a particular shrub or tree, ask your local garden centre or nursery for professional advice.

Annual pruning is essential for removing dead wood, cutting back overgrowth and giving trees and shrubs a healthy start for the flowering season. Pruning shrubs not only beautifies them, but in some cases helps in increasing their flowering and stimulating the production of new flower buds or a second round of colour.

Don't throw away larger branches, you will find plenty of recycling and DIY projects for putting cut branches to good use!

Weed-free garden

Although it's not possible to have a completely wee-free garden, by taking the time to remove weeds as and when they appear you can control the amount of weeds that pop up here and there. If you don't give weeds time to seed or spread they can be contained and controlled. During the winter months, when most bedding plants have died down or are resting you have a better chance of spotting and pulling out persistent weeds.

Use a trowel or garden fork to loosen the soil around weeds so that you can pull out the weeds and their roots. If you leave the roots behind the weeds will just grow again.

Enrich the soil

I have mentioned previously that I like to incorporate leaf-fall into my garden beds. It not only cuts down on the amount of work that I have to do, but also enriches the soil with nutrients. I suppose you can say this is my way of going organic without having a compost heap.

If you have been clever enough to establish a compost heap, now is the time to check if it's ready to be added to borders and beds. During the summer months your plants absorb all the nutrients they need from the soil and it is essential to put back those missing nutrients if you want a good show of flowers for the following summer. Adding your own homemade compost is an easy and affordable way to ensure that your garden soil is rich and healthy without using chemical fertilizers.

And don't forget the worms - great for flower beds. As they tunnel through the earth, worms are a great aid in keeping the soil light and soft and allow water to reach down through the top layer into the root system below.

If you are based in KZN, Worms4Africa is a supplier of Eisenia Foetida (Red Wriggler) worms, earthworm systems (home and agricultural). They run worming demonstrations to the public over weekends and provide support and advice for worm enthusiasts.

If you feel that now is the time to think about establishing a compost here, you will find instructions here for a quick and easy compost bin.

Divide and multiply

Last weekend I decided it was time to divide up my Agapanthus. There are many plants that benefit from being divided up when a clump grows too big and August is the best time for this.

Use a garden fork to loosen the soil around the plant, making sure that you dig deep enough to loosen around the root system as well. Some clumping plants can be pulled away from the parent plant without pulling out the entire clump, but some, like Agapanthus, need to be removed whole and then divided up.

A serrated knife or sharp pair of cutters are used to break apart the clump by splitting the roots apart. From one clump of Agapanthus you could end up with 4 to 6 new, smaller plants that can be added to the garden.

When planting the new plants, dig in some organic compost to replenish the soil and give them a good watering.

Lawn maintenance

I am happy to say that I don't have to worry about lawn maintenance, lawn caterpillars, mole crickets or the like. It's been about 5 years since I put down artificial turf in my small garden, and it still continues to amaze me how good it looks. Through the winter months when most gardens are dry and brown, mine is still fresh and green looking.

For those who still have to worry about lawn maintenance, it's time to rake the lawn to remove dead growth and winter debris. Scarifying or raking the grass helps bring light and air to the soil level, and encourages lush, green growth. Any bare patches in the lawn can be re-seeded by loosening the soil surface with you rake and sprinkling the seeds over this. Keep well-watered until seeds germinate and the new grass establishes.

Now you're almost ready to pop into your local garden centre or nursery to fill up your beds and borders with glorious summer colour seedlings and plants. Wait until all chances of frost have passed before planting and be sure to keep well-watered until the rains arrive.