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Hellebores or Lenten Roses

Hellebores are an absolute must in new or mature gardens and for new and ‘experienced’ gardeners. These versatile plants will grow in semi shade, under trees with other perennials and in containers. Add them to your garden as a water wise plant as they do not appreciate wet soggy soil, preferring a well-drained, deep, loamy soil.

Once well settled and growing the hellebores need little further care and maintenance.  A regular feed with an organic 3.1.5 fertilizer once every three months, and a regular deep soaking, will keep these plants in good condition and allow for a flowering show to take your breath away. 

The flowers can be pink, white, purple and shades of green, rose and mauves – even have stripes, speckles and spots. The diversity and variety is endless. Most of the new growth will emerge when the ambient temperatures begin to cool, with the blooms making their appearance through winter and early spring.  

The blooms are long lasting, remaining on the plant with vibrant colours for several months. Picking for the vase when the flower stalks have hardened will create a striking centre piece for a dining or coffee table.

There are few perennials that will rival the seasonal interest of the hellebores. Plant a few in your garden and you will create a spot that you look forward to every winter with anticipation. Add lots of Bark Unlimited compost to ensure good root development. 

Prune your Deciduous Fruit Trees  

The practice of pruning deciduous fruit trees such as peaches and nectarines, plums, apricots and apples, pears and cherries is essential to a well formed tree, strong fruit bearing growth and a bountiful harvest.

Let us look at why this task needs to be done in the first place. It is important that the tree should in its first three years develop a well- balanced framework with a strong supporting base trunk and branches. With this done the resulting top growth will be able to support many fruit bearing branches every season. 

The process is not too complicated and consists of simply removing old dead wood, weak and thin stems and unwanted branches, especially those growing into the middle of the tree. Create an open cup-shaped support base as this allows light and air to reach all other branches.

For peaches and nectarines, the fruits are borne on young new wood. Any branches that are two years old or more should be pruned out altogether. Cut back last year’s fruit bearing branches to create a succession of new growth each year. Keep removing internal, weak and dead wood to keep the tree well ventilated and to allow light to the center of the tree.

Apricots and plums will bear fruit on older branches, so pruning does not have to be so severe every year. Shorten back the leaders or new branches to only about a third of their growth each season. Once the tree has developed a good framework and balance, pruning is then a matter of removing old, unproductive branches, internal stems and any weak wood.   

Apples, pears and cherries are taller trees and also bear fruit on older wood. Once the framework is established remove about a third of the branches, seasonally concentrating on old, weak and internal branches. A third of the branches are cut back to half their length and the remaining third are left as the frame for the following season. 

With all pruning work, the equipment you use must be suited to the task at hand. Use secateurs for the thinner stems, loppers for the thicker wood and a saw for larger branches. Make sure all the blades are sharp for a good clean cut. A badly cut or torn stem is a place for disease and insects to take hold and causes damage to the tree. A sealing compound such as ‘Steriseal’ or ‘Prune Seal’ should be used on the larger cuts to prevent fungi and other diseases from entering.

Pruning is done in winter before the trees begin to develop their new flower buds. As the sap returns up the tree for spring and the buds begin to swell, keep the tree well watered. A good deep soaking is preferable so as to supply water to all the roots. Feed regularly with an organic 3.1.5 every six to eight weeks. 

The trees will need a lot of energy to produce first their flowers, then their leaves and finally the fruit. Keep up the watering and feeding until after the harvest. Do not be put off by the prospect of pruning your fruit trees. It is a necessary task and can only improve the longevity of your trees and their annual supply of fruit for your enjoyment.   

Winter Weeds

Although we are well into winter and many of the trees and shrubs are either dormant or in a very slow growing phase; there are some plants that are even now setting down seeds and strong roots, readying themselves for a spring invasion.

The dreaded weeds are in your flower beds, planters, herb and vegetable patch and especially in your lawns. This group of plants is exceedingly hardy; adaptable to all manner of soil conditions and climate changes; they grow extremely quickly; and to make matters even worse, they set and distribute a huge amount of seed that will, with the coming of the warmer spring temperatures and rains, germinate and smother a large part of your landscape.   

The winter temperatures, especially on the Highveld, are not extremely cold and with the added protection of the larger plants in the garden, the weeds keep growing through these cooler months while the other shrubs, perennials, ground covers and the lawns are not as active. The competition then, for water and fertilizer favours the weed varieties. Now is the time to tackle the weeds in your garden so that the problem is not compounded in the new season. 

The key to effective manual weed control is to do the job often and when the
weeds are still very young. Their root systems are then still small and easy to pull from the ground. Those with a creeping root system will have had no time to set a mat of roots, nigh on impossible to remove and the varieties with a large bulbous tap root will not need excavation to remove them from the garden. 

Another advantage of weeding when the plants are young is that these weeds have not matured enough to have flowered and produced seeds to further spread the problem over a larger area. When you have the upper hand in this cycle of seeds to plants and back to seeds again; you will be able to keep the weed population down to a few errant plants.

In the flower beds, planters and pots, mulching is an extremely effective way to limit the growth of weeds. Now through the winter months the layer of mulch will keep your soil warm, stop the soil from drying out too quickly and prevent light from reaching the weed seeds and thus preventing germination. 

Chemical control of weeds works very well and good long term results can be achieved by making sure that you have the correct product and you are spraying at the right time of day and with the correct dilution. 

Herbicides are split into two main groups – Selective and Non-selective solutions. The non-selective products, such as Glyphogan, Clear All, Wipe Out and Roundup, are used in paved areas and the spray must not come into contact with any other plants. Selective weed killers are used mainly on lawns, as they specifically destroy varieties that do not have narrow shaped leaves. Lawntyl, Superlawn Weeder, Banweed and Pure Lawn are a few products that are effective against weeds in the lawns. However, if used in flower beds these solutions will damage shallow rooted plants and annuals.
       
To make sure that the herbicide is properly absorbed and is as efficient as possible, spray on a sunny morning when the plants need to absorb moisture in the early heat of the day. This allows the poison to be drawn into the leaves and roots of the weed. Do not irrigate for at least four to five hours after spraying as the water will dilute the efficiency of the active ingredient.
 
After seven to ten days the treated weeds will have died. Remember that any water and fertilizer you now apply to get the lawn to re-grow will also be used up by any weed seed germinating in this patch. Watch these areas and remove or re-spray new weeds when they are still very young.

Weeds are an inevitable part of a garden and will find a space to set roots and seeds. Make weeding a part of the general garden maintenance and keep doing a little at a time, on a regular basis.  

Happy Gardening!
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