In general, the climate starts cooling down and in particular night temperatures go down. So this is the time of the year when you still practice summer maintenance but at the same time start planting and preparing for cooler climate gardening.
This is a great time of the year to divide rhizomatic and other perennial plants. This can be done because plants are mature and losing vigour or you simply just want to create more plants for your garden. It is only advisable to divide plants when they are more mature, for example, evergreen agapanthus is only divided once every four years. This is done by digging the plant out of the ground by making a large hole and removing the plant and root ball. Try and do this in a manner where roots are not too disturbed and therefore damaged. Divide the roots with either a small or large garden fork or spade depending on the size of the plant. Garden secateurs can be used to assist you with this if roots are stubborn. Divide plants into clumps, being mindful of the fact that the larger the clump the quicker it will recuperate and also the quicker it will bloom again. It is wise to cut back 2/3 of the leaves of certain plants, for example, Dietes. Remember plants can sometimes skip a flowering season after being divided. Some examples of plants that can be divided are Agapanthus, Dietes, Summer flowering red hot pokers (Kniphofia), daylilies (Hemerocallis), hen and chickens (Chlorophytum commosum), Inca lilies (Alstroemaria’s), Arums (Zantedeschia’s) and evergreen Watsonias.
FERTILIZING YOUR GARDEN
Roses should be given good feeding to strengthen the stems and prepare them for winter. If you are in cold frost-prone areas this will be the last feeding before winter. In general feed all your plants to give them that boost that they need to survive winter and do well. A fertiliser like 3:1:5 will work well here as it has low nitrogen but high potash or potassium, or a general fertiliser like 2:3:2 can also be used.
Trim hedges, shape and trim summer flowering shrubs that have finished flowering, and remove dead branches from trees and shrubs. Extend the lives of annuals and perennials by removing dead flowers so that they do not go to seed. Spread acid mulches like pine bark and needles, oak leaves, used tea bags, or a retail store-bought mix around acid-loving plants like your Azaleas and Camelia’s, and make sure to keep them well watered unless good rains are experienced or expected.
If a thick thatch has formed in your lawn, gently rake to remove and lighten it. Gently spike your lawn with a garden fork and fertilise with a food high in potassium like 3:1:5 to strengthen going into winter. A general fertiliser like 2:3:2 can also be used. In winter rainfall when the rains start, lower the blades on your lawnmower. Poa annua (Winter grass) is particularly troublesome in damp areas in winter (N.B Western Cape). If you know you struggle with this problem then visit your local retail nursery and ask them for a seed inhibiting herbicide that is appropriate for controlling this problematic grass.
MARCH GARDEN WOES
An Italian cypress aphid problem can rear its ugly head at this time of the year and must be dealt with adequately to prevent general browning and eventual fatality of conifers. If you notice dead-looking foliage on your conifers, investigate by pulling back this foliage and checking the main stem and the branches. If you find an aphid problem make sure to treat it with an adequate contact insecticide registered for aphid control. You may need to spray for the next three to four months to treat the problem, once monthly depending on the product. Insecticide granules that are sprinkled around the base of the plants is a systemic poison that only needs to be applied every couple of months (3-4 months). A systemic liquid insecticide can also be used and will also only be watered every three months. Some conifers are more susceptible to Italian cypress aphids than others, for example, the ‘Gold Crest’ conifer.
Other problems which you may experience in March in your garden are whitefly and rust. Whitefly is a small white flying insect that can be quite difficult to deal with, as they fly away when disturbed and may return to the plant. Use an insecticide listed for this pest but remember that these bugs become resistant to certain insecticides, so the product may need to be changed up once in a while. Rust is a fungus that forms on many plants, but in particular, is a bad rose problem. Rust looks like the name and is treated with a fungicide listed for this fungus. Also, spray plants with a milk solution to strengthen the immune system as well as treat the plant.
GET A GOOD START ON YOUR BULB PLANTING
Start preparing your garden beds with compost and bonemeal, or other fertilisers in anticipation of planting your winter and spring bulbs.
Start also buying your winter and spring bulbs which you are planning on adding to your garden this year. The early bird catching the worm is the situation here, as bulbs sell out quickly and the variety is more diverse at the beginning of the selling season. Do not plant these bulbs though until the temperatures have dropped substantially. Some great indigenous examples are Ixia’s, Freesias. Watsonia’s, Chasmanthe, Dierema, Ornithogalum (Chincherinchee), Sparaxis and Lachenalia’s (Best grown in pots as they need good drainage). Daylilies and Leucojum’s (Snowdrops) are good examples of hardy exotic bulbs.
What to do and plant in your veggie & Food garden in March:
- Sow and plant green manures like mustard, buckwheat, comfrey, borage, Lucerne etc in beds that you are not planting in during winter. When flowering they can then be dug into the soil. This green manure helps improve soil structure and prepare the soil for next season’s summer crops by adding fertility. These crops must be dug into the ground after winter. Bean plants must not be removed when they are finished fruiting, but rather be dug in the garden as they are natural nitrogen suppliers.
- Prepare your strawberry planting area with compost and manure (Chicken etc) by preparing the top 30cm of the soil, adding some bonemeal into the ground as well.
- Make sure to collect the seeds of your herbs that have completed flowering and are seeding, in order to have a good supply for the next season. Remember to always collect seeds when they are dry, so not just after a rain or being irrigated.
Examples of vegetables that can be planted at this time of the year by seed are Broad beans, beetroot (cooler), celery, leeks, lettuce, onions, spring onions, chives & garlic chives, peas, radishes (cooler), spinach, turnips and Asian greens (Mustard lettuce, mizuna, pak choi). March is usually the last month to sow seeds of broccoli and Brussel sprouts, but plantlets will still be available at retailers. Continue planting cabbages and cauliflower in your garden.
Plant herbs that flourish in cooler weather like coriander, rocket, chervil and winter savoury.
WHAT TO PLANT IN YOUR GARDEN NOW
Examples of plants that can be added to your garden now to add perennial colour in shady areas are Plectranthus for example ‘Mona Lavender’ and Hypoestes aristata – Ribbon bush which will also attract butterflies and butterfly larvae.
Examples of plants that can be added to your garden now for perennial colour in the sun are Selago ‘Purple Turtle’, Phygelius ‘Candy drops cream and cerise pink’ and Salvia Black and bloom. Fynbos and Resto’s are best planted now (March and April) as the weather starts cooling down, and when winter rainfall starts. Examples of some of the fynbos are Erica’s, Protea’s, pincushions, cone bushes and buchus.
Annuals that can be planted now are sweet peas (best planted in March and April), Bellis perennis (Good addition for edible flowers), Dianthus, Lobelia, Lobularia (great for attracting beneficial predatory insects), Calendulas, bokbaaivygies, Namaqualand daisies, nemesia’ and snapdragons. Also, visit your local retailer to see what is available. Seedlings on the shelves will be appropriate for this time of the year. A great biannual and sometimes perennial groundcover is Cineraria saxifrage, displaying masses of small sunshine yellow flowers. Indigenous, hardy and water-wise, this is a great addition to the garden.
TIPS FOR PLANTING YOUR SWEET PEAS
Prepare deep trenches for them by digging in well-rotted kraal manure or pelletized chicken manure, compost and a good quantity of bonemeal. Soak the seeds overnight in tepid water before sowing directly into the ground.
In conclusion, we hope all these hints, tips and suggestions will inspire you to experience a magical March in your garden.