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Time to get your hands dirty

Written by  Nikki van Coller
| in Tuin
| March 3, 2016

Autumn is here and while in some parts of the country it is still pretty hot, March is the ideal month to get to work preparing your garden for the upcoming winter.

It’s time to make way for those deliciously nourishing winter veggies and plant colourful winter bulbs that will brighten even the dreariest winter’s day. The autumn equinox is on the 21st of March - traditionally the day set aside for winter planting. It’s an exciting time in the garden, when you get to visit the nursery, choose new plants, herbs and vegetables, and get your hands dirty fertilising, harvesting, preparing and planting. We’ve put together this great guide for getting your garden ready for winter and your vegetable garden planted with all your favourite winter veggies.

“We’ve put together this great guide for getting your garden ready for winter and your vegetable garden planted with all your favourite winter veggies.”

PREPARATION

In the veggie garden

Soil preparation is extremely important and should never be overlooked. The soil preparation should be done about two weeks before you plant new seeds or seedlings. Start by harvesting the last of your summer crops. Remove old plants (e.g. tomato), as soon as they stop producing, and remove any weeds or unwanted plants.

Cut beans and other legumes down and work the stems and leaves into the soil, as this adds nitrogen and makes for great compost. Next, work plenty of organic material into the soil. Use salad leaves that have gone to seed as a nice green covering. Add comfrey leaves to your compost – this speeds up the composting process naturally. Once prepared, let the soil rest for two weeks; this settles the compost, which if too strong, can burn your delicate young seedlings.

Cut mielies down and keep the stems to create an interesting and natural trellis for broad beans.

This makes them strong for the winter months that lie ahead.

Replace herb plants that have died from summer stress.

Blueberry and cranberry bushes will also be reaching the end of their summer yield - an application of 3.1.5 organic fertiliser in March will ensure a higher yield next year.

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DIY Idea: Rather than spend unnecessary money on bamboo or wooden trellises, use the mielie stems you’ve removed, and attach them to one another using string or wire, to make an inexpensive, creative trellis for your broad beans to creep up. You can also attach three to one another to make an interesting obelisk shaped trellis.

Tip: As summer comes to an end and autumn sets in, trees are bound to start losing their leaves – these make for great compost, so don’t just bag them all!

Flowering plants

It’s also time to get to work thinning out some of the bulbous plants. Agapanthus, arum lilies, day lilies, gazanias, salvia, shasta daisies, lamb’s ear and cannas, can now be divided into pieces and replanted into well-prepared soil. Lift the plant with a garden fork, taking care not to damage the roots, and simply divide the clump. Don’t thin them out too much though, or the individual plants will have to establish themselves all over again and you might miss out on summer flowering. Deadhead spent flowers on annuals, shrubs and roses to encourage more flowering. You can also prepare for the South Easter by staking more delicate plants like dahlias and hollyhocks.

Idea: Why not use autumn to sort out your tool shed and service your garden equipment in preparation for spring?  

Shrubs, creepers and ground cover

If you have creepers, you can prepare for winter by pruning dead branches and seed pods, and tidying up the plant. Bougainvillea should also be fertilised now.

Shrubs can also be cleaned up by pruning back dead branches. It’s important that you don’t simply start hacking! Be aware of main stems and prune with caution.

Ground cover that is doing very well and perhaps becoming a bit overgrown, can be carefully thinned out now. You can use cuttings to replant in other areas of your garden that need ground cover.

The lawn

This is a good time to raise the height of your mower blades - as winter approaches, grass growth will slow down. Be sure to remove fallen leaves from the grass to prevent fungal diseases. Use a rubber lawn rake or, better yet, a leaf blower to avoid damaging the lawn. Sow seeds for new lawn grass and feed your lawn with a balanced garden fertiliser like 2:3:2. This will help to encourage root growth before winter.

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WHAT ARE WE HARVESTING?

While you can continue watering and caring for the last of the summer vegetables, it is harvest time for most! It’s the end of the growing season for peppers and chillies, so pick what’s left of your crop and make chilli chutney, hot sauces, salsa and whatever else your tummy desires. You can also harvest what’s left of your green beans, pumpkins, squashes, aubergines and tomatoes.

Summer herbs like basil and coriander will start to go off around this time. Harvest the crops and make your own delicious pestos to enjoy during winter.

“If you are looking to maximise your budget, you may want to consider planting from seeds.”

WHAT ARE WE PLANTING?

In the Veggie Garden

If you are looking to maximise your budget, you may want to consider planting from seeds. While this is the cheapest way to plant, it is a little riskier, as some seeds don’t germinate and very small seedlings can die very quickly in the hot sun. Alternatively, buy healthy, organic seedlings and save yourself time and hassle. It is vital to implement crop rotation. In other words, don’t plant the same crops in the same place again.


Tip: For leafy vegetables, fill old toilet roll tubes with potting soil and plant a seed into each one, ensuring that you keep the soil moist.  When the seedlings have grown to 10-15cm in height, simply plant the toilet roll tube into the soil in your veggie garden; the tube will eventually decompose.

For tomato lovers, unfortunately, this time of year marks the end of the fruit crops (tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, pumpkins, etc.) Now is however the perfect time to plant cabbage crops, including Brussels sprouts, baby cabbage, broccoli and red cabbage. Broad beans are ideal for winter, and a must for those hearty winter soups. Rocket and coriander do very well in the cooler months, as does spinach. Beets can be planted now too. Look out for new varieties with some interesting colours - the same applies for radishes.

Tip: Plant the taller plants towards the south, so they don’t block the smaller plants from getting sun.

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Companion planting

These go (and grow) well together:
• Cabbage - Green beans, beetroot, Swiss chard, lettuce, radish
• Peas - Onions, carrots, radish, spinach
• Broad beans - Chives, leeks, radish
• Rocket/coriander - Spinach, dill
• Potatoes - Mint

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To keep insects at bay, plant: Celery, marigolds, calendula, larkspur, leeks and garlic

Other veggies that can be planted in March: Carrots; cauliflower; celery; leeks; salad leaves ;leafy herbs; onions; parsley; parsnips; peas; swiss chard; turnips
 
Recommended Reading: Grow to Live  by Soil for Life and Jane’s Delicious Garden by Jane Griffiths.

“Winter and spring flowering bulbs are usually available from March, so be sure to visit your nursery soon so that you don’t miss out on your favourites.”

GENERAL

Winter and spring flowering bulbs are usually available from March, so be sure to visit your nursery soon so that you don’t miss out on your favourites. Winter flow-ering annuals can be planted in the next few weeks to ensure you have lots of vibrant colour in your winter garden.

In some areas, temperatures can still be quite high in March, with soil temperatures too high for bulbs. If your garden is still experiencing intense heat, you can choose and buy your winter bulbs now, and store them in a cool, dark and dry place until it cools down in April.

Did you know?  Almost half the bulbs grown around the world originated in South Africa.

You can however, prepare the beds now, as bulbs need well-drained soil. While you are preparing your veggie beds, you might as well put in the work and prepare beds for your bulbs too. Remove any weeds or unwanted plants, and turn the soil thoroughly, working in plenty of good organic compost, and adding a generous amount of organic fertiliser and bone meal. You can then let the soil rest until you are ready to plant your bulbs.

Tip: Place a white pebble or other natural marker on top of each planted bulb, as this will prevent you from damaging the bulbs when over-planting.

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Indigenous bulbs that can be planted soon include babiana, gladioli, freesias, ixias, hyacinths, Cape cowslip, chincherinchee, daffodils and tulips, although the latter might only be available at the end of March or early April.

“Your bulbs will need plenty of sunlight to ensure healthy growth, so remember to choose a sunny area of the garden with well-draining soil.”

Your bulbs will need plenty of sunlight to ensure healthy growth, so remember to choose a sunny area of the garden with well-draining soil. It’s also important to plant your flowering bulbs at the correct depth. If planted too deep, they simply won’t come up, and if they are planted too shallow, the roots will be unable to support the growing plant. Ensure that you read the instructions for each bulb type. Also, consider planting your bulbs in groups, rather than in neat rows, as this tends to have far more impact.

March is also the perfect time to plant fynbos; the plants will have enough time to establish themselves by the time summer comes around again.

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“You can now start looking forward to glorious, colourful winter flowers and delicious winter vegetables.”

In conclusion, remember that every plant needs three things in order to thrive: good soil; water and sunshine. Prepare your soil well. Ensure that you plant where there is a good amount of sunshine, and water well. You can now start looking forward to glorious, colourful winter flowers and delicious winter vegetables. Happy Gardening!