Our Blog: Plants and other Stories
Easy autumn gardening ideas to light up your garden
May 4, 2022 | Written by Zoë Chapman Poulsen, Photos by Sönke Bonde, ‘nmoorhatch’, Sandra Falanga, Warren Lewis and Mike Bands.
Above: The red or yellow flowers of the candelabra aloe (Aloe arborescens) make it a popular choice for bringing architectural structure and colour to the garden in winter. Photo: Sönke Bonde/iNaturalist.
As the weather cools and autumn arrives, we start to look ahead towards the cold winter months – and keeping warm indoors rather than being outdoors in the garden.
But autumn is one of the busiest times of the year for those who love to grow plants, whether it be on a windowsill indoors, outside in the garden or in your community outdoor space. There is a plethora of exciting projects to dive into and enjoy in the sunshine on cool autumn days.
Above: Kniphofia uvaria makes a colourful addition to the garden, with its vivid blooms adding colour during the winter months. Photo: ‘nmoorhatch’/iNaturalist.
Time to get planting
With the arrival of cool weather, evaporation of moisture decreases, making the growing conditions better for any new plantings, so that they can become well established during autumn and winter, before the next hot summer arrives.
If you’re keen to add some new shrubs or smaller non-woody plants (known as herbaceous plants) to your outdoor space, now is the perfect time to plant them.
It is also worthwhile to think about how you can add some winter colour, so consider plants with warm colours for the cold weather. Aloes and red-hot pokers (Kniphofia) come in a range of bright colours from red to yellow, orange and green, and pollinators such as sunbirds love them too.
Above: The sweet-scented blooms of the white Freesia (Freesia leichtlinii subsp. alba) are a popular choice to grow in containers and in the garden. Photo: Sandra Falanga/iNaturalist.
Grow beautiful bulbs
Autumn is the season to plant winter flowering bulbs which will start to grow with the cooler autumn weather.
If you are in one of the warmer parts of the country, such as in KwaZulu-Natal, and the weather is still too hot to plant bulbs, then store them in the fridge in the vegetable compartment for 4–6 weeks. You can then remove and plant them as normal when the weather has cooled down enough.
Loved the world over for their sweet scent, Freesias can be grown in the garden and in containers. One of the easiest to grow is the white Freesia (Freesia leichtlinii subsp. Alba). Plant the bulbs 2–3 cm below the surface during autumn in a well-drained compost mix. Their springtime blooms make beautiful cut flowers.
Above: A Painted Lady butterfly (Vanessa cardui) visiting the rose-scented Pelargonium (Pelargonium capitatum), an easy growing small shrub that can be grown from cuttings at home. Photo: Warren Lewis/iNaturalist.
Grow your own plants from cuttings
Are you gardening on a budget but you want to fill some empty spaces in your garden? It is relatively cheap and easy to use the plants that you already have in your garden, by growing your own from cuttings.
If you end up with extra plants, you can always consider organising a plant swap with friends and neighbours.
Pelargoniums are a popular indigenous plant with attractive flowers and scented leaves. Some species have a range of culinary uses too. They can be grown easily from stem cuttings in small pots. Most old plastic containers can be repurposed as plant pots, such as old, washed yoghurt tubs. Simply add a few holes in the bottom so that excess water can drain out.
You can take stem cuttings from Pelargoniums that are around 5–7 cm long from the tips where the stem is still soft. The cuttings will root most successfully if you trim them at right angles to where the leaf was previously attached to the stem, known as the leaf node.
Poke a hole in the compost using a pen, pencil, or a dibber if you have one. Insert your cutting and gently backfill the soil around it. Pop your newly planted cuttings on a tray or yoghurt tub lid, anything that is flat with a narrow rim to protect excess water from spilling.
Keep your new cuttings in a warm spot with some light, and water them lightly, keeping them moist without too much water until they have rooted successfully.
Above: Agapanthus provide stunning blue and white flowers in the indigenous garden during the summer months. Autumn is the season to lift and divide them for maximum blooming beauty. Photo: Mike Bands/iNaturalist.
Lift and divide
Autumn is also the time to lift and divide bulbs such as Agapanthus. One you have planted one of these beautiful plants in your garden, they slowly grow to form a larger clump via offsets.
As Agapanthus bulbs grow and multiply, when they form larger clumps over time, they can become overcrowded and flower less prolifically. Lifting and dividing your Agapanthus every 3–4 years improves flowering, as well as producing more plants for you.
To divide your Agapanthus, either remove them from their container or lift them carefully from the flowerbed using a garden fork. The individual plants can then be gently pulled apart or split using a spade. When replanting, you can add an organic slow-release pelleted fertiliser to the soil for improved growth.
Know, grow, protect and enjoy South Africa’s indigenous plants.
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