* This article appears in our Holiday edition of the Home Improver digital magazine
As we gravitate towards the outdoors, these handy gardening techniques will ensure your garden is ready for festive fun. Begin by creating a favourable first impression with a mown lawn and neatened edges. Remove flowers which have faded and obvious weeds. Lay mulch around plants, which means less need to water.
Where time is limited, focus on the entrance to your home and place a front door wreath. Reinforce that welcome with symmetrical oversized pots on either side of the front door, planted with evergreen shrubs or colourful flowers. If the entrance is sunny, fill pots with water-wise marigold, salvia, petunia and vinca.
Tubs of flowering hydrangeas with a compact growth habit and smaller pots of fuchsias or bedding begonia will give instant colour. Try Beacon impatiens for a pretty welcome at shady entrances and on patios. Visit your garden centre and buy colourful bags and pots in flower and plant them in the gaps in the borders. Water them regularly in dry weather.
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Summer is the time of year when we spend lots of time outdoors. Create a holiday mood on the patio in traditional red and green with gerberas, poinsettias, begonias, amaryllis, anthuriums and potted greenery. Or consider breaking with tradition and plant local fynbos. Light the evening patio with solar products, low-energy bulbs and candles.
Pots of scented dwarf gardenia, liliums and nicotiana will add to the enjoyment. Hydrangea blooms, called Christmas roses, can be cut and placed in a vase for soft colour on the patio table.
Place pots of herbs, such as basil, sage, thyme and mint near the braai. Pools are in the spotlight during the holidays. Plant the burn jelly plant (Bulbine frutescens) with yellow and orange flowers and succulent leaves around the pool. They give long-lasting colour and the juice of the leaves gives relief from insect bites.
Mulch, mulch, mulch
Conserve moisture, prevent wind blowing away topsoil and suppress weeds by spreading a thick (8 to 10cm) layer of mulch around plants. Before applying, make sure soil is damp. Organic mulches such as coarse compost, shredded bark, peach pips or pine needles will break down and return nutrients to the soil. Bark chips or nuggets are decorative and long lasting.
Time-saving tips for midsummer
Consider a new year’s resolution to reduce large areas of labour-intensive, thirsty lawn by planting ground covers, or replace the lawn with permeable gravel or a water harvesting wetland.
• Reduce time spent on fertilising the garden by using slow-release fertilisers that release nutrients throughout the season.
• Instead of spending valuable time looking for a missing spade or trowel, paint tool handles in bright colours so they are easily seen when left lying in the garden. Invest in a storage shed so that all your tools are instantly available.
• Group potted plants with similar water and shade requirements. Choose large containers rather than small ones. They hold more soil than small pots and dry out more slowly, with less watering required.