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In the hot blazing summer

May 04, 2014

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Pink Day Lily
Pink Day Lily
Sunflowers can get very tall
Sunflowers can get very tall
Zinnia
Zinnia
Rudbekia
Rudbekia

Protection is the name of the gardening game this month and, especially if your garden is wide open, providing shelter from hot, drying winds should be given top priority if you want — as you do — your plants to both survive and thrive.

The quickest solutions are not durable in the long term but will, if correctly erected and strongly ‘anchored’, survive until permanent solutions — growing protective boundary hedges for example — come into play. The drying winds which play havoc with many species of plants — including some varieties of trees with Fan Palms being a prime example — can be reduced, but not totally stopped, by erecting dense, green shade netting securely attached to fixed wooden posts or metal supports. They can even be stretched over strong lengths of rope, firmly tied to large hooks embedded in walls and then kept in place by a line of bricks or heavy stones laid on a fold of netting where it touches the ground, balcony or rooftop.

The netting can also be pegged — tent pegs are ideal — into the ground when used in the garden proper. Other materials to use for temporary windbreaks include the following: Heavy canvas sheeting, split-cane chiks as long as they can be firmly secured, interwoven bamboo canes, etc. Pliable willow branches can also be interwoven and attached to embedded frames and will, as long as they are not attacked by termites, last quite well.

Your plant leaves can, of course, be prevented from ‘burning’ by planting thick hedges of suitable shrubs such as Lawsonia alba, Clerodendron, Lantana, Bougainvillea, Fiddlewood, Aralia, Jatropha, Panix, Jasminium, Rosa rugosa, some species of Ficus, Brunfelsia, Ravenia and a variety of Cypress and Acacia species. Prior to planting a hedge of any of the aforementioned, it is important to check out an individual species’ soil, sun and climatic requirements, as well as the recommended planting distances between each plant so that a thick, healthy hedge can be achieved. Hedges, unlike walls, break and filter wind. Walls do keep wind out but, if you have a large garden, it is wise to remember that the wind ‘runs’ up the wall, ‘bounces’ over the top and will come down to earth, sometimes with increased velocity, somewhere in the garden; so do please keep an eye on where it ‘lands’ and avoid planting any species prone to wind damage in this particular location.

Plant pots of wind sensitive species, and those which prefer to be well out of the summer sun, should be moved into a sheltered, shady location now if you haven’t moved them already. Ferns especially need to be kept in shade and when drying winds sap the atmosphere of even a trace of moisture, treating them to gentle, warm water sprays each evening is essential if they are to remain happy, healthy and thriving.

Other plants that enjoy some degree of dappled shade at this time of the year are the glorious, glowing, often extremely artistic Coleus with their many hued leaves. Remember to keep nipping out their flower buds as soon as they form, otherwise the leaf development, this is their main attraction, will slow down and, ultimately, stop. Colourful Caladiums need shade and moisture; Acalphyla, Aralia and Panix will also enjoy these conditions as will many varieties of pot or container grown culinary and medicinal herbs — oregano, thyme, borage and rosemary for instance — most of which originate in cooler, northern climes.

In the flower garden you can sow seeds or transplant the seedlings if you have already started them off in seed tray/pots. These include lots of the glorious sunflowers for birds, bees, butterflies and humans to enjoy; Cosmos with blazing orange and sulphur yellow ones added to the more common white, pink and red mix. Then you can have Tithonia, sometimes referred to as ‘Mexican sunflowers’, in dazzling orange are an excellent, tall growing, splash of vibrant colour.

Even more of those brilliant zinnias, in all the colours of the rainbow and a variety of heights, can go in now and will blaze away throughout the hot months of summer and, if you treat them well, right on into the autumn too. Then there are marigolds and Tagetes, Gaillardia, Rudbekia, cockscomb and Portulaca which all relish full sun, with Gerberas, Coleus, Carnations and perennial Chrysanthemums all enjoying some shade.

Look out for the very attractive copper flowered Stately Canna Lilies with deep purple leaves, Amaryllis and daylilies should be at their best this month. These are equally at home whether cultivated directly in the garden or in suitably large clay pots and other assorted containers as long as the drainage is good. Day lilies are perfectly happy in the sun but flower for a longer period when grown in partial shade in the simmering heat of the plains and coastal regions. Repeat flowering day lilies, these can flower on and off for months, are a good investment on the perennial plant front and these days are fairly easy to find.

In the all important vegetable and herb garden you can continue sowing cucumbers — try the indigenous white ones if you can find a seed source; plenty of different kinds of chillies and capsicums, and as many varieties of aubergines as you can lay your green fingers on.

You can also go for plenty of crunchy Swiss chard/leaf beet for salads or cooking with, as many different colours and sizes of tomatoes as possible; lettuce in partial shade, French radish for salads and garnishes and whatever other salad ingredients you have seeds for. Despite the heat, most will flourish in full or partial shade. Sweet melons and watermelons can be sown until the end of this month and, for herbs, coriander, dill, rocket and basil are high on the list of essentials.

Please continue to send your gardening queries to zahrahnasir@hotmail.com. Remember to include your location. The writer will not respond directly by e-mail. E-mails with attachments will not be opened.