March is typically a hectic gardening month, with lots of garden maintenance tasks required. It’s time to clear out the dead growth of summer and make room for the new garden you can imagine! Raking up leaves, cutting back shrubs, feeding certain plants, dividing, and garden planning will keep you busy all month! Let’s get to grips with why Autumn is for garden maintenance.
Assessing your tools is also a good idea before you get busy in Autumn and further into winter.
Autumn officially starts in March. The breath of cooler air and darker mornings are the precursors to the rainy season that we are so eagerly anticipating. It’s a beautiful month with less wind and big blue skies. And there is plenty of time to get your garden ready for the cooler dormant months of winter.
Many gardeners are calling our team at Cape Contours Landscape Solutions to come and assist with taking stock of their gardens. Moreover, we can also assist in planning big garden design changes for the wet winter months. March is for garden maintenance. Therefore, our teams are very busy cutting back and re-organising many of the gardens we maintain. Let’s learn from them and find out what we should be doing in this busy garden maintenance month of March.
It’s time to cut back many of your summer flowering indigenous shrubs if they are finished flowering. Tecoma, Leonotis, some indigenous Salvias, Hydrangeas, Hibiscus, Abelia, Bougainvilleas, Pelargoniums and Buddlejas. By doing it now, you give the plant a nice long time to recover. It will grow new shoots and leaves and be ready to flower again in spring and summer.
Don’t cut back your Hypoestes and Plectranthus yet. Some of them may be a little long and leggy, as some cultivars are still yet to flower this month. Trees and hedges can also be cut back now. To be able to see the tree shape and branches clearly, you need to wait until all the leaves have dropped. In other words, you might need to wait until the beginning of winter.
Remember to gently taper the sides of your hedges, smaller on top and bigger at the base. This will allow the base of the plants to get more sun, and as a result, it will even up in thickness.
LEAVES, LEAVES, LEAVES! RAKING UP LEAVES IN THE GARDEN MAINTENANCE TASK OF THE MONTH.
Leaves are most definitely starting to fall! Plain, Oak, Poplar, Gum, Dombeya, Jacaranda and trees everywhere are shedding up a storm. These trees carpet everything with their golden hues. Leaves that fall are the most wonderful, natural mulch and compost and should definitely not be carted to landfill. If you don’t like the look of the leaves in the beds, then rake them up and add them to the compost, or turn them gently into the soil, but don’t dig too much around your plant’s roots as that will disturb the natural balance that exists there.
Make a leaf-mould cage by creating a circular ‘bin’ or ‘cage’ from chicken wire. Fill it with leaves every week and keep it moist with a plastic covering. Most importantly, turn it regularly to make nutrient-rich leaf mould. It can then be used as mulch or as a natural soil fertiliser.
As part of garden maintenance, now is the time to take hardwood cuttings. These cuttings are used to multiply your garden plants. Shrubs like Viburnum, Abelias, Solanum, Hydrangeas, Tecoma and Coprosma work well.
Use well-matured wooded cuttings and keep them to the thickness of a pencil. Snip them at an angle with clean garden secateurs so that you can tell the top from the bottom. They should be about 15cm long. Cut the base just below a node and remove the leaves from the lower 2/3rd of the cutting. Remove any flowers or berries as well. Dip the bottom in rooting hormone and plant around the edges of pots or a seeding tray.
Importantly, make sure the cuttings don’t dry out by watering them every couple of days. Subsequently, the cuttings will be ready for potting after summer. This will be about nine months after starting the process.
For semi-hardwoods like Plectranthus, Salvias, and Hypoestes, the cuttings can be taken after they have finished flowering at the end of Autumn.
In conclusion, taking cuttings can be very easy. They can even be rooted in water.
Now is the time to start dividing your perennials. These include grass-like shrubs like Dietes, Agapanthus and Clivia, which have finished flowering for now. Take a clean, sharp spade and divide the plants you are willing to sacrifice. It’s best to replant the divided plants as soon as possible or pot them up to grow through the winter and spring.
GARDEN MAINTENANCE FOR ROSES
At the end of the month, it’s time to feed your roses with a high-potash fertiliser like 3:1:5 or 2:3:4. This feeding will sustain them through the winter months.
Look out for blackspot, a fungal disease that often starts this month. Most importantly, if your roses are prone to it, you need to spray them regularly. Certainly, this will keep it under control.
When deadheading, remove the finished flowers but keep as many leaves as possible to help build up their food reserves. Dreaded ‘Blackspot’ on rose leaves should be regularly treated to prevent plant loss.
VEGETABLE GARDEN MAINTENANCE
Now is the time to feed your citrus trees with Magnesium sulphate (Epsom salts) and 3:1:5 or 2:3:4 fertiliser. Sow seeds of roots crops like Onions, radishes, carrots, parsnips and beetroots are in situ now as the cooler weather improves their germination. Thin out young plants over the next six weeks so there is sufficient space for each one to develop. If you are going for dense coverage, the rule of thumb is to keep 3cm between them. Further, root vegetables might begin to show their ‘shoulders’. Consequently, you need to mound up more soil around them to keep them covered.
Prepare beds or pots for strawberries by digging in lots of compost and general fertiliser, then plant out the rooted runners. Garlic and strawberries are great companions in the vegetable garden. Cut back and remove any finished summer crops. These include any that have gone to seed that you don’t want again for now. For example, squash, spinach, lettuce, mustard, or greens. Many of them can now be replanted from seed for the winter round.
The simple pleasure of gardening in the vegetable garden is on the garden maintenance list this month.
It’s a great time to order the bi-annual truckload of compost for putting onto your whole garden. Certainly, it can be pricey, so team up with a neighbour and split the cost. Between the two of you, order six cubic metres of good quality compost, bark or wood chip.
Of course, there is a much cheaper alternative! We recommend that you consider making your own compost. Apart from saving money, there are numerous other benefits linked to making your own compost. Luckily for you, we have written a blog that explains how to make compost at home. Moreover, we mention all the benefits of making compost instead of buying it. Furthermore, we also provided a link to the Western Cape government’s website, where they explain how Capetonians can get a free compost bin!
Once you have the compost ready, put down a layer about 10-15cm thick. Preferably around all your plants, trees and in pots too. Water is still very scarce. Therefore, a thick covering around all your plants will help them to retain longer any first rains that fall.
Mulching in autumn is a natural process that happens with leaf litter. It adds a considerable nutrient and mineral boost to your soil as it slowly breaks down. This happens during the hot, cold, dry and wet cycles during the days and nights. So, if you don’t mind their look, keep the fallen leaves. In addition, add in more mulch as needed.
Mulching paths and garden beds at least twice yearly is a good garden maintenance practice.
TAKE STOCK WHILE DOING YOUR GARDEN MAINTENANCE.
March is an excellent month to take stock of your garden. Assess the bare areas that the summer drought got the better of. See what is still thriving that you could add more of into your garden. A good design tip is to add more of what you already have that is growing well. It creates cohesion and simplicity in the outlook of your garden space.
This, in turn, brings a sense of calm and peacefulness. Cut back groundcovers that have grown too bushy into bare areas. Assess if you need to add more in other places and use the cutback plants to make cuttings. Add in areas of interest with sculptural water-wise plants. For example, large Aloes or Strelitzia. Further, add textural interest with beautiful blocks of water-wise grasses.