Around the country the cooler mornings and evenings herald the beginning of autumn, and an indication that it's time for some maintenance in the garden to prepare for winter.
The sun is still hot and sitting high in the sky with no great hurry to set at the end of the day, and we should make the most of this beautiful weather by nurturing the garden. This is the time of year when we prepare the garden for winter and spring flowering bulbs.
Here are tips on preparing your garden for winter and spring:
1. Gardening in March
The weather is still relatively warm in March, but as growth starts to slow down and temperatures start to drop, it’s time to consider planting the first cooler weather plants and flowers. Now is the beginning of the all-important autumn planting season.
If you are starting a new garden or revamping an existing garden, when choosing lawn and plants, be water-wise and choose plants that need minimum water.
Grab your wheelbarrow and start preparing the soil for planting winter and spring annuals by digging in compost and superphosphate - or bone meal - at the recommended application rates.
Spring flowering bulbs are now on sale at your local garden centre or nursery, so it's best to buy them early and store in the vegetable compartment of the refrigerator and plant when the weather cools down - in about four to six weeks’ time.
As for garden maintenance, lift and divide perennials, raise the height of mower blades as winter approaches and growth slows down, rake fallen leaves from the grass with a soft plastic or rubber rake to prevent fungal diseases.
2. Add colour to your autumn garden
Available in an amazing array of colour combinations, gazanias are brightly coloured to attract a host of insects to aid with pollination. The flowers open and close depending on the intensity of the light, which is why planting them in full sun is where they’ll be happiest. On a sunny day your garden will be bursting with colour and teaming with nature's very own aerobics if you’ve chosen to plant gazanias, and best of all, these plants will flower for most of the year. You can’t ask for better value for money.
You can use gazanias as ground cover because of their water-wise nature and being able to grow practically anywhere, as long as there is sun, of course. Their trailing nature also makes them wonderful for hanging baskets, and can add a bold splash of colour to a small townhouse garden.
Whether you’ve got a flowerbed that needs some bold colour or a sunny patio needing a bright container, gazanias are just the thing and you can plant during March for beds or pots of glorious colour.
3. What to plant?
This month it's time to plant winter and spring flowers. Prepare beds for winter annuals by working in generous amounts of compost and superphosphate. Sweet peas, African daisies, Bokbaaivygies and Virginian stocks are some of the more significant. Poppies, primula, foxgloves, hollyhock and larkspur can also be sown. In colder areas, plant out early seedlings of stocks, calendulas and snapdragons. Use a good seedling mix when sowing your seeds.
A variety of vegetable seeds can also be planted now, including peas, broad beans, carrots, parsnips, turnips and radishes. These vegetables grow exceptionally well during the cooler season. Sow nasturtium seeds between veggies to attract aphids away from them. Plant out seedlings of cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, lettuce and spinach. Stagger plantings at three- to four-week intervals to ensure continuity of supply. If you have a herb garden, you can sow seeds of parsley, mustard and rocket.
If you are growing a new lawn, sow seeds for grass, especially in colder areas where shade over and all seasons evergreen grow well. For established lawns, feed with a balanced garden fertiliser like 2:3:2 to encourage root growth before winter.