Tuesday, May 25, 2010

How to Prepare Your Garden for Winter

Shorter days and cooler nights mean it’s time to start preparing your garden for winter – especially if you live in parts of South Africa where winters are dry, cold and frosty.

Cleaning and Feeding

Now is a good time to trim hedges and clean up your existing plants by cutting away any dead wood and old growth.

It’s wise, however, to wait until July to prune roses, because pruning earlier will lead to early sprouting, and this can result in the new buds being damaged by the intense cold of mid-winter.

This is also an excellent time to add compost and mulch to your garden beds.

Protect Seedlings

While many winter seedlings are quite hardy and frost-resistant, some – like Cineraria – do require frost protection when it gets really cold.

A sheet of hessian can be used, but a better option is Frost Guard, a horticultural fleece that allows water and light through, so you can leave it in place for weeks if necessary.

Divide Perennials

March and April is when you should divide and separate perennials such as Agapanthus, Day Lilies and Penstemons, as they tend to “clump up” during the summer months.

Soak the soil well and dig them up, making sure you keep the roots intact. Then, using a garden spade or two garden forks, split the clumps in two.

Replant them in well-composted soil between 20cm and 30cm apart.

Lawn Care

Heavy summer rains leach nutrients out of the soil, which can lead to uneven, patchy or underfed lawns.

This can be remedied by top-dressing with a light, sandy loam and feeding with a balanced fertiliser such as 2:3:2 (available at all good nurseries).

Before applying your top-dressing, it’s a good idea to scarify, or loosen, your lawn so that new growth can come through, especially if a lot of roots and dead grass are at the surface.

Use a garden fork or a lawn mower at a very low setting to scuff up the lawn, breaking up the networks of old roots and aerating the soil.

What to Plant

This is a good time to plant winter annuals like Primulas, Pansies and Violas; bulbs such as Daffodils, Ranunculus and Freesias; and leafy and bulb vegetables like Lettuce and Onions.

Where to get Advice

If you need more information or advice about preparing your garden for winter, talk to your garden estate maintenance people or contact brandon@4seasons-gardens.co.za.

(c) 2010

What You Need to Know about Harvester Termites

We’ve all seen clouds of flying-ants fluttering from the ground during the rainy summer season, whirling around lights before dropping to the ground and shedding their wings – often, to our irritation, in our homes.

But what are these creatures, where do they come from, and what damage can they really do?

What are they?

The flying-ants most often seen in our gardens and homes are members of the Harvester Termite family, which comprises the Southern Harvester Termite (Microhodotermes viator) and the Northern Harvester Termite (Hodotermes mossambicus).

These comparatively large, sighted, social insects form colonies consisting of very large ‘primary reproductives’ (queens and kings), ‘secondary reproductives’ (the flying-ants leaving to start a new colony) and sterile males and females (soldiers, workers or nymphs).

While Southern Harvester Termites prefer the open veld and build sharp conical soil mounds called heuweltjies, Northern Harvester Termites build subterranean nests up to 1m in diameter and 8m deep. In heavily infested areas, many nests become inter-connected, effectively forming one enormous colony, surrounded by a network of tunnels. The queens and kings remain in a central spherical hive, surrounded by numerous white nymphs (hence the Afrikaans name Rysmier or ‘rice-ant’) which care for the eggs. Nests can be identified by holes in the ground, surrounded by patchy areas of lawn and small soil mounds.

Why they infest an estate

As their name suggests, Harvester Termites ‘harvest’ dead and living plant matter and cause damage to grasses, leaves, herbaceous twigs and seedlings. Unlike Dry-wood Termites, however, they do not infest and destroy wood and furniture.

Harvester Termites are attracted to lawns and gardens and will readily invade an estate if sufficient forage is available. Although they do aerate soil and break down and release organic matter, the degree of harm they can do to lawns and flower beds far outweighs any positives – especially when you consider that a single queen can lay up to 25 000 eggs per day.

The damage they’re capable of doing

Harvester Termites are voracious foragers, with large colonies capable of removing 1-3 metric tons of forage per hectare.

If left untreated, they can do significant damage to lawns and gardens, even to the extent of complete destruction.

How to get rid of them

Many creatures prey on Harvester Termites, including spiders, crickets, frogs and birds. In the wild, an Aardwolf can consume up to 200 000 termites in a single night.

But if you haven’t got an Aardwolf handy, your best bet to get rid of Harvester Termites is any one of a range of commercially available pesticides. These include Efekto Zero Harvester Termite Bait, Efekto Kamikaze, Skatterkill for Insects (which is not harmful to birds or animals), Bayer Baythion Liquid, Bayer Baythroid Liquid, Bayer K-O Gard and Kombat Termites – all of which are available at leading nurseries and garden centres.

Where to get advice

If you need more information or advice about Harvester Termites, talk to your garden estate maintenance people or contact brandon@4seasons-gardens.co.za.

(c) 2010