Awash in a floral treasure
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I am in Namaqualand in the Northern Cape enjoying the magical time of spring which produces a spectacle of colour not repeated anywhere in the world. To see such a variety of annuals and bulbs in flower at any one time is one of the true wonders of nature. With more than 3 800 species of plants that flower during this spring period, Namaqualand must rate as one of the most important ecological treasures which South Africa must preserve for future generations.
As we move into spring, we need to look at what needs to be done to our gardens before the onset of summer.
Many of us have indoor plants which bring nature back into the house especially if you live in a flat or a small townhouse.
What are ideal conditions for an indoor plant?
Light: Make sure you give your plants enough light that they produce a healthy colour to the leaves. If you see burn marks on the leaves and they turn yellow, then you need to move them into more shade. Generally, plants should receive some direct light for part of the day but not direct sunlight all day. If plants are growing in too low a light, the leaves will also turn yellow, become soft and elongated and begin to die off. The best way to give the plants the right amount of light is to move them around every week during the summer months.
Air movement: Plants that grow in nurseries have lots of air movement around the leaves which prevents fungal and insect damage. Place your plants in an area that gets some air movement such as near your front door or an open window. Leave gaps between your plants to allow some form of air movement around the leaves. Plants that are planted too close will show signs of leaf damage through insect infestation or fungal problems. Air movement allows leaves to dry after watering. If leaves remain wet for too long, they tend to rot.
If you live in a flat and have watered your plants and there is little natural air movement, buy a fan to create artificial air movement around the plants. Air movement is probably the most important aspect of growing healthy plants inside.
Watering: This is where most of us go wrong; either too much or too little. Place a drip tray under the pot. This prevents the water damaging your floors or tables and is an indicator if you have given too much water to your plants.
The best way to water your plants is to take the plants outside and give them a good soaking with a watering can or hose pipe. Any dust or dirt on the leaves will be removed plus the soil will receive a good watering. Leave the plants in a semi shady spot that gets some form of air movement before you move the plants back inside.
Never allow the soil medium to completely dry out because it is very hard to get the soil to absorb water when completely dry. Another way to water is to take a spray bottle and gently spray the leaves every few days. This creates a cool environment around the leaves and protects them from drying out.
Orchids and bromeliads require a daily spraying of the leaves and roots to keep the plants alive.
Fertilising: Indoor plants in a restricted pot will need to be fed at least once every two weeks. Probably the best form of feeding is to use a slow-release fertiliser which feeds the plant and roots every time you water. Osmocote is best known and is available at most nurseries. It is a granule that you sprinkle on the top of your soil and each time you water, a small amount of fertiliser will feed your plant.
Other ways to feed would be to buy a water soluble or liquid fertiliser that you dilute in a watering can and feed your plants. Chemicult would be a good example of a water-soluble fertilise.
Feeding is very important because, being restricted by the pot, the plants require artificial forms of food to keep them alive.
Potting medium: Most plants will grow in a potting medium that has been specially formulated for indoor plants. It contains bark, river sand and some compost. It generally does not contain many nutrients so artificial feeding will be required to keep the plant healthy.
Once a year you should remove the old soil around the roots and repot the plant either back in the same pot or, if the plant has grown, into a bigger pot. Remove the plant from its pot, slowly tease the soil away from the roots, wash the roots by placing water in a bucket and dipping the whole plant into the water.
Buy new potting medium and gently repot the plant back in its pot without damaging the roots. Water well and leave in a shady spot for a few days. Remove any yellow, dying, or damaged leaves.
Pests: Indoor plants are susceptible to insect infestation because they are growing in an ideal climate for insects to breed and multiply.
Keep a close eye on any new growth because these are the parts of the plant first attacked. Aphids, mealy bug and scale are the three most common insects that attack indoor plants.
If you monitor your plants, you should catch the problem early: a few insects are easier to control rather than the entire plant being infested. If you see some mealy bug on your plants, take some dish-washing liquid and mix with some warm water. With a cloth or an ear bud remove these insects.
You can take the plants outside and once you have removed these insects wash the leaves with a hosepipe.
Insects always attack plants that are under some form of stress. Ants are an indicator that you have pest problems because ants transport these insects from plant to plant. Control the ants and you prevent any further infestation of your plants.
Things to do this month
Mulch all the shrub beds with either leaf mould or mushroom compost. This allows the roots to remain warm and also keeps moisture in.
Fertilise all your flower beds. In spring you need to encourage a healthy, strong root system. Superphosphate is needed, so in September sprinkle a handful per square metre into the root area of all shrubs. Remove all the thin and weak, dead or insect infested branches. If left on, it can lead to the decline of that plant and even its death. Pruning also stimulates new growth and encourages better flowering the next season.
Fertilise your lawns with 5:1:5 (36). These numbers indicate the amount of nitrogen (5), phosphorus (1) and potassium (5) it contains. The (36) indicates the percentage of these three elements in the mix. Apply 60g/m2 during the growing season every few months.
- This article is sponsored by Chris Dalzell Landscapes, specialising in landscaping, consultation, plant broking and Botanical tours. If you have questions, email [email protected]
The Independent on Saturday