Looking for the perfect excuse to visit your favourite garden centre or plant nursery this weekend? Here you go: it’s Mother’s Day on Sunday (10 May) - and mothers (like all of us) need plenty of plants to help them stay sane.
But - even given that the growing season is quickly, er, growing to a close - the fact is that May’s as busy a month as any in the garden. More so, perhaps, if you want to get through winter successfully.
Yes, it is a bit early for frost in the Highveld and similar, colder parts of the country, but it’s best to be prepared.
Now’s the time to protect the soil - and thus the roots of your more tender plants - with a thick layer of organic mulch, and to begin covering the plants themselves at night with frost bags or frost cloth.
Also, don’t be in too much of a hurry to remove frosted foliage from affected plants: it may look unsightly for a few months, but it does provide an extra layer of insulation for the tender shoots lying dormant below.
And finally on the question of frost: it’s best to water in the late morning at this time of year, so remember to reset your irrigation system to day-time operation.
As far as planting goes on the Highveld: May’s the time to plant the last of your winter-flowering bulbs - daffodils, Dutch irises, freesias, ixia, Leucojum, narcissus, ranunculus and tulips - which you might want to pair with low-growing pansies and violas for a superb display. And in your veggie garden, it’s time to put in broad beans, lettuces, peas, radishes, and turnips.
The crisp, clear air of autumn is definitely one of the major compensations of living in the Cape Floristic Region (the coastal strip from Grahamstown to Cape Town and up the West Coast) - but residents will have noticed that the damp of winter is starting to creep in to the garden, too.
So, since this is the only winter-rainfall region of the country - and because the weaker heat from the sun at this time of year doesn’t dry things out very quickly - you might want to consider turning off your irrigation system altogether.
The list of veggies you can plant at this time of year in the Cape is satisfyingly long: beetroot, broad beans, cabbage, carrots, dwarf spinach, endives, garlic, horseradish, kohlrabi, leeks, lettuce, onions, parsley, parsnip, peas, radishes, swede turnips, turnips... and don’t forget to plant a few origanums into your herb garden, too - you’re going to need them when for those hearty soups come June and July.
It’s probably true to say that many of us who live in the colder parts of South Africa can’t help feeling a little envy for you lucky, warm-bloods from the Lowveld and the KwaZulu-Natal coast at this time of the year. Still, we can always console ourselves with the thought that you have a LOT of work to do in May.
Your vegetable garden’s planting plan will include beetroot, broad beans, cabbage, carrots, celery, cucumbers, dwarf beans, dwarf spinach, eggplant, endives, kohlrabi, lettuce, parsley, parsnips, peas, pumpkin, radishes, runner beans, Swiss chard, tomatoes, turnips, and vegetable marrow - while your flower garden is going to want anemones, aristeas, Dutch irises, hyacinths, ixias, snowflakes (Leucojums), spider lilies, narcissus, chincherinchees, ranunculus, Sparaxis and tritonias.