The following 12 month diary of gardening tips has been kindly prepared by Judith Procope
In JANUARY the Trinidad gardener can enjoy her garden to the fullest. It rains just frequently enough to keep the lawns green and foliage luxuriant and yet, with increasingly drier weather, many trees, shrubs and annuals seem to burst into colour. The days are still short and the temperature cool, dropping to the mid-sixties at night, it is the pleasantest time of the year. What gardener can resist walking out among his plants at daybreak, the atmosphere clean and cool to drink his fill of the beauty he has helped to create! However, every month brings its own bounty, not only in the form of flowers, fruit and vegetables, but also a wide variety of trees which inflame our hillsides and forests. With the change of weather and hours of sunlight come the various tasks which should be allotted to each month. Having made a big effort to bring your garden into full colour for Christmas, your plants will still be blooming in January.
Plants in flower - Marigolds, Balsam, Chrysanthemums, Zinnias, Kalanchoe.
Shrubs - Poinsettia, Chinese Hat, Quick Stick.
Trees - African Tulip tree (red variety), Pride of Burma, Chinaberry, Wild Cotton, Frangipani.
Vines - Pandorea.
Tasks - To extend the life of your annuals, remove dead flowers and fertilize lightly - they may last until Carnival. Water Balsam and Coleus on dry days, pinch back flowering ends of Coleus. Remove half of your Gerbera leaves to encourage them to bloom more frequently. Repot Amaryllis lillies which should have been ‘resting’, cut off leaves and begin to water. Give your Hibiscus shrubs some potash or ‘flowering salt’ if you plan to exhibit for the Flower Show in March. Fertilize your lawn. (See note on Bougainvillea) Vegetables — Plant Beans, Beetroot, Carrots, Patchoi, Lettuce.
Notes on Bougainvillea:- This is a very successful method of bringing potted Bougainvillea into flower. Many thanks go to Iris Bannochie of Andromeda Gardens, Barbados, who devised the method. Week I - Prune back and shape, top up pot with soil and fertilize with 12-12-17-2 (high potash) - I tablespoon per 12” pot. Water heavily twice a day. Week 2 — Water heavily once a day. Week 3 — Water every other day with weak solution of Foliar Fertilizer (Peters, Lush) Week 4 & 5 — Reduce watering further, just enough to prevent leaves from wilting. Foliar feed once per week. Spray with Benlate or Sevin to protect young foliage. The gradual drying out initiates bud formation and soon plants should be in full flower. Fertilize again and resume heavy watering to aid absorbtion for I week, resuming normal watering and foliar feeding weekly. After 6 weeks of luxurious flowering, you may start the cycle again by pruning back heavily. This method also works with Bougainvillea baskets .
FEBRUARY is a bountiful month — there are flowers in your garden and in the hills, and everywhere, a variety of citrus fruit, Watermelon, Balata, Cabbages, Tomatoes, Cauliflowers and Beans. If you are fortunate enough to own a Mamey Sepot tree try to pick the fruit before they fall and crack. Pick up all those pomeracs and share them with your neighbours — the crop is a short one.
Plants in flower - Foliage lovers can now enjoy their Crotons, Kalanchoe, Aralias and Acalyphas Your Kalanchoe may still be flowering, but remove dead flowers for a tidier look.
Shrubs - Musseandas , Bougainvillea, Eranthemums.
Trees - Mangoes, Long John, Immortelles, Pink Poui, Ginger tree, Jacarandas.
Vines - Allamanda.
Tasks - Tidy up Poinsettias and Mussaendas by removing dead bracts. Pull out dead annuals and overgrown Coleus (propagate a few of your favourites). Pot Caladiums and Gloxinias and plant out Gladioli. Spray with insecticide and fungicide, foliar-feed pot-plants, increase watering. Begin to scrub your pots and groom your plants. Place saucers under plants which should not dry out e.g. ferns. Vegetables - Plant Topi-Tambu, Swisss Chard, Swedes. Check your vines, if they are beginning to dry-out, the yams will be ready for digging.
Notes on Grooming your Plants:- A well- groomed plant will always catch the ‘Judges’ eyes at the Flower Show because it is free of weeds and dead leaves and disease and is growing in a clean pot - these conditions will often make the difference between a first and second prize. When you select the plants which you plan to take to the show, put them aside for extra attention. Turn the pots regularly to encourage even growth. For bushier plants, pinch off ends - with baskets make sure that fibre is neat and there are no holes underneath. Scrub your pots free of moss and soil. Remove dead and diseased leaves. (Diseased plants will not be accepted). With a small pair of scissors, neatly trim off brown edges of leaves keeping to the shape. Sift some fresh potting soil over the weeded surface to give an even appearance. If needed, plants can be discreetly staked. Make sure that all leaves are free of soil and dust, spray with water from a mister. Shine leaves with this solution - I part evaporated milk 3 parts water. Use a soft cloth or sponge. One hand goes under the leaf to support it, the other wipes the leaf gently with the dampened cloth. This is the only acceptable leaf-shine. Using oils or patented leaf-gloss will lead to disqualification. Plants with hairy leaves may benefit by having them cleaned off with a very soft brush. Remember these rules:- Only I plant per pot, if it naturally send out suckers then it will be accepted. No concrete pots. No clay pots over 12 inches across the top. • No baskets over 12 inches.
MARCH Water becomes an important topic in most gardeners’ conversations, (but remember things will get even worse in April!) Try not to miss watering your plants daily. Remember to check the newspapers for curfew times. If you have a large garden it is better to use your hose to water all delicate plants (and a few of the Crotons, Aralias etc in rotation) really well rather than giving a generalized sprinkle all around, (See notes on watering).
Plants in flower - Gerberas, Bougainvillea, Orchids. Shrubs, Dwarf Ixoras, Henna, Oleandas, Jatrophas, Pentas, Mickey-mouse plant and especially Hibiscus.
Bulbs - Lillies should begin to flower and should continue until Easter.
Trees - Shower-of-Gold, Golden African Tulip tree, Ylang- Ylang.
Vines - Jade, Congea.
Tasks - Foliar-feed your potted Bougainvillea. Cut back your Plumbago to about 1 ft to 18 ins. Weed and remove dead stalks, feed with manure or compost. Plumbagoes need this treatment every 6-8 weeks for low-growing, floriferous plants. Collect rainwater when possible for your potted plants and large-leaved foliage e.g. Diffenbachia, as tap water tends to leave a white sediment on the leaves which is impossible to remove. Cut hack Lantanas and fertilize with slow-release granules. Propagate 6 inch ends. Concentrate your watering on delicate plants and Flower-Show entries, but do not neglect Crotons and Acalyphas, Check under the leaves for mealy-bugs and hose them off before they take over. Check lawns for cinch bugs - dust with Sevin. If the weather is very dry, try cutting every other week and raise the cutting blades of the lawnmower for a longer cut. Begin to layer choice Crotons, Mussaendas etc. Mulch your plants, (See August notes on Mulching).
Vegetables - Radish.
Notes on Watering: Before the onset of the dry season take a few precautionary measures. Take cuttings of your favourite Balsam, Coleus and other moisture loving plants so that when they ‘pack-up’ in the dry season you will have replacements growing in a cool spot where you can nurture them. Check your hoses, watering cans and sprinkler system if you have one. Consider installing a small tank and pump; a few yards of P.V.C. pipe and some sprinklers may mean the difference between survival and devastation of your expensive and unusual potted plants, if the dry season is severe. You can make a soak-hose by using a sharpened ice- pick and puncturing an old garden hose at regular intervals. The holes must be very tiny and evenly spaced. Cap the end of the hose and lay it carefully among the plants. Remember that this system cannot be used when the use of hoses is banned. Attach a hose to the outflow of your washing machine. If you use cold water and bio-degradeable soap, this water can save your lawn if the hose is moved around on it from one wash to the next. Keep potted plants close together to conserve humidity and remember to water the leaves sometimes. Place saucers under the pots. Remember when watering plants in the dry season that a good soak twice a week e.g. one watering-can to one three foot high shrub will encourage roots to grow downwards to where the moisture percolates. Light sprinkling around the plant results in a debilitated specimen because roots, growing towards the surface in search of this water, become sun-scorched and dry up.
APRIL Just when you thought that the weather couldn’t be drier, along comes April! You will need all your ingenuity to keep your plants alive. As if to compensate for this, your Bougainvillea and Mussaendas are a riot of colour. This is the last month of the horticulturists’ year and the chores have to be tackled before the beginning of the rainy season.
Plants in flower — Most of the bulbs came into their own in April – Amaryllis, Lillies, Eucharist hues, Gloriosa Superba. Ixoras are now at the peak of their beauty.
Trees - Napoleons Button, Flowering Maple, Yellow Flambouyant.
Vines - Morning Glory and Cats Paw or “Examination Vine”.
Tasks - If you have set up a compost heap, this is a good time to rake it out as the material is dry and manageable. If possible, sterilize the compost because it may be full of weed-seeds etc. Most suppliers of cow manure complain of the difficulty experienced in obtaining it in the wet season. Try to buy a few bags now before the rains come and store it in a dry place.
Vegetables - Prepare a hole for your yam vine, make it fairly wide and deep, place the soil to one side and fill the hole with grass clippings and waste plant material which will rot quickly. Are leaves losing colour and falling off? Check backs of leaves for minute red spiders (red spider mite). Collect all fallen leaves and destroy. Spray with Malathion if necessary. While it’s still dry you can repair your greenhouse, clear gutters and greenhouse roof of dead leaves. Tackle any landscaping projects e.g. creating a new bed, laying gravel on a spot where grass refuses to grow, (See note on laying gravel) making rockeries, arbours etc.
Notes on Laying Gravel: Very often the solution to what to do about an area under a large tree or under the eaves of a house where grass will not grow well, is to lay down some gravel. This can also be used as a contrast of texture between your lawn and a colourful bed. Decide on the shape of the area to be gravelled. Decide on what colour you want the gravel to be: blue, stone or guanapo for example. One cubic yard will cover approximately 10-12 sq. yards 3 inches deep. Use a luchette or cutlass and dig around the edge making a clean cut. Remove soil in the area to be gravelled. Spray the ground with weed killer if you can spare it. Cover the entire area with sheet plastic or large opened-out garbage bags. Black will further discourage growth of weed-seeds. Make sure that the area is completely covered and, most importantly, puncture all over with small drainage holes so that you do not create a lake! Fill with gravel and spread evenly. You can edge the area with narrow concrete slip-blocks, rocks or plastic strips made for the purpose. If the area is fairly wide, put down a walk-way of pre-cast concrete slabs. The round ones are effective, and they come with a rough texture on top to prevent slipping. These should be placed at a comfortable stride apart. The gravel should cover the sides so that only the tops show. You should achieve an attractive, low maintenance area, free of weeds.
In MAY the horticulturist begins to anticipate the beginning of the rainy season. This is the month for pruning, purchasing plants and seedlings and many other tasks but looking around there is beauty to be seen. May seems to be the month for blue flowers, have you noticed this?
Plants in flower - Plumbago, Hydrangea, Buddleia, Brunfelsia, Heliconias, Anthuriums.
Trees - King of Flowers, Queen of Flowers, Petrea, Lignum vitae, Flambouyant, Yellow Poui, Jacaranda. Tasks - At the beginning of the month, check all your gardening equipment from clippers and cutlasses which may need to be sharpened, to spray cans and lawnmowers. Clear out your compost heap, check propagating bins or boxes, buy some rooting hormone, general fertilizer and high-phosphate fertilizer, (See August for information on fertilizers). After the first few showers of rain and the soil is softened, weed your beds thoroughly - fork them gently so as not to damage the roots of shrubs and dress them with manure or compost. Plan where you will plant out your hardy annuals (Zinnias, Marigolds) when the rains come in earnest. Petunias are too soft to survive heavy rains. Decide where you will plant trees and shrubs. Open the holes and fill with compost or manure. Begin to prune. Invite your gardening friends over when you prune and share around the cuttings. Save a few easy-to-grow plants for those plant stalls in the October bazaars. Propagate the choicest pieces and place the rest in your compost heap, do not burn them, cut up the thicker pieces. Some plants grow faster than others so don’t slice them all down to the same height, (See note on pruning). Lift out all the bulbs and corns of Lilies, Dahlias and Gladioli but keep watering and feeding potted Amaryllis (cut off flowers as soon as they fade, if you allow them to seed you won’t get flowers for two years).
Vegetables - Plant your yams remembering to provide a bamboo stake for all vines. Prepare beds for Corn, Peas and Sorrel.
Notes on Pruning: Some flowering perennials such as Lantanas and Plumbago, need to be trimmed every 6- 8 weeks to keep them neat, bushy and covered in flowers, but the other plants in the garden will benefit from an annual pruning. Wait until the rainy season has begun and decide which cuttings you need to propagate and which to put into your cleaned-out compost bin. Use sharp tools. When pruning a bed of mixed plants, trim the ones in front lower than those in the back. An Acalypha is going to grow much faster than a Croton, so prune it more heavily. Cut out green shoots of the Varigated Hibiscus. Some soft-stemmed shrubs such as Eranthemums respond well to having the ends of the stems snapped off by hand just above a growing shoot. For a higher bush, such as the Rose or hybrid Hibiscus trim the stem above an eye which is facing outside, flowers will then not be hidden on the inside of the plant. Make sure that large branches are treated by painting with a wound sealer to prevent rotting back. Always cut cleanly, at an angle away from the new bud. Save your Queen-of-Flowers stems, they are nice and straight and can be used as stakes.
JUNE If things go according to plan, the rains which began in late May should be really greening the hills by now. Everywhere there is the earthy smell which promises new growth. The Flambouyant is breathtakingly beauti ful, red, yellow and an occasional orange. Think about your environment, how important it is to plant for the future. Plant a tree on Corpus Christi with your children, dedicate it to a loved one and let them know so that it becomes a part of their heritage.
Plants in flower – Canna lillies
Trees: most of the Cassias, Flambouyant, Teak, Bauhinias, Rose of Venezuela..
Tasks - Divide plants such as Gerberas, Anthuriums etc., which grow in clumps. If the Anthuriums have become leggy, cut off the top with three or four fresh roots and replant, turning coconut shells down to prevent rainwater collecting in them. Plant a bed of Balsam in a shady place, also Periwinkles and Portulaca in a sunny spot. Take tip cuttings off your local Chrysanthemums (See note on propagation and cutting). Plant your trees and shrubs in the prepared holes and fertilize with high phosphate fertilizer. Fertilize lawn with urea or sulphate of ammonia, replant bad patches and mow weekly. Fertilize the entire garden with mixed fertilizer and potted plants with slow- release granular fertilizer for foliage and roots. Vegetables - Corpus Christi is the traditional day for planting. Plant Corn and Pigeon peas in the same hole, plant Sorrel for Christmas, plant Cush- Cush, Dasheen and Eddoes.
Notes on Propagating Cuttings:- Start with some easily-rooted plants such as Coleus (Jacobs’ Coat) or Balsam (Impatiens). You need a large flower pot with crocks (broken pots) at the bottom, about 4 inches of potting mixture, some rooting powder and a clear plastic bag. With the easy cuttings, you pinch off the tops, remove most of the leaves, plant in well moistened soil and cover tightly with the plastic bag. With Bougainvillea for example, choose semi-hard cuttings about 8 inches long, remove about 1/2 inch of bark at the end just under a spot where a large leaf was. Dip into rooting powder. Make a hole in the soil with a small stick and plant cutting in it pressing firmly. Place several cuttings in pot, water well. Cover tightly with clear plastic bag. Check after a day or so to make sure that the soil is not drying out. Remove dead cuttings. Remove plastic when several new leaves have appeared. Do not touch cuttings but keep watered out of direct sun. Give about 6 weeks before checking for roots. (Aralias, Pentas, Lantanas etc. root after about 1 month). Divide up and pot. Do not plant small plants (e.g. African violets, begonias) or cuttings in a big pot. Too much moisture will cause fine roots to rot.
.................side, repot your plants adding fresh potting soil, (See note on potting). Take your house plants out into the rain, under a tree and make sure that the sun can’t bleach the leaves. Fertilize and replace them. Check that your freshly potted plants such as Cacti, African violets and Peperomias etc., aren’t getting too much water. As a rule, hairy-leaved plants need less water. Remove saucers from under plants but make sure that your Bougainvilleas haven’t sent roots into the ground. Place the pots on an upturned saucer, and cut off all new shoots. Pinch back Coleus, Balsam, Crotons and any plant you want to grow bushy. Walk around the garden and pull out weeds every day, don’t allow them to flower. Don’t spray them with weed- killer just before the rain and don’t put nut-grass in your compost heap with other grass clippings. Throw some sulphate of ammonia or compost- maker on the heap to speed up the organic breakdown.
Vegetables - Plant Tomatoes, Cucumbers, Ochroes, Chick peas and Corn etc, fertilize and mould up the plants. Fertilize citrus.
Notes on Potting: You need to repot when roots begin to grow out of the bottom of the pot, or over the surface of the soil. If you are not prepared to spend money on pro-mixed potting soil, then use this mixture - 2 parts sifted top soil, I part peat moss or rotted compost, I part sand or perlite. You can replace the peat moss with sifted manure that has been well rotted. Sterilize it by pouring some boiling water over it, if it’s a small amount. Instead of manure, you can use rotted bagasse, sifted. Mix well. Use a clean pot which is about 2 inches wider (eg. from a 6” to an 8”). Tap the smaller pot gently to loosen root-ball. If it is a clay pot, insert a stick, or your thumb into the drainage hole and push the plant out. Remove broken crocks or stones from the root-ball and wash them. Place the flat stone or piece of crock over the hole(s) of the new pot. Place some crocks into the pot (about 1/4 high). Start putting in your potting mixture (about 2 ins). Stand old pot on this and press down, fill the space between the two pots, firming down. Remove old pot. After trimming dead roots from plant without disturbing the root-ball, place it into the ‘mold’ you have created in the new pot. Top-up with soil leaving at least an inch of pot at the top to prevent water and soil over- spill. Sprinkle a granular, slow-release fertilizer over the soil (read directions) and water thoroughly - place in a cool spot. This method was first demonstrated by Enid Lashley of H.S.T.T., M.S.T.T. at one of our meetings.
AUGUST We tend to take our garden for granted in August because the children are at home or we go away on holidays. Plan ahead if you think that this is going to happen. Fruit in season are Chennettes, Caimites, Sapodillas and Plums, not an Orange in sight! Many of the trees will have shed their seeds and you may find interesting seedlings under them. Why not dig up a few and bag them for future plant stalls? Most of your colour will be supplied by Crotons, Acalyphas, Dracaenas and other foliage plants. Even the trees seem to have spent themselves and the occasional large branch comes crashing down after a shower. Is it covered with native Orchids, Bromeliads and Cacti? Out in the pastures and undeveloped land there should be an abundance of wild flowers such as Heliconias, Black Eyed Susans, the bright little Coleus with its pleasant scent and Caladiums. If you are tempted to take some home, be discreet and leave 95% where it is for other people to enjoy. Remember that our native Orchids are protected bylaw.
Tasks - Whether you are planning to be away for August or not, start the month by weeding your beds and pots. Keep the weeds under control by mulching (See note on mulching). Check your hedges and fences for weed-vines and try to pull them out by the root or spray with a systemic weedkiller. Pinch back all of your shrubs and the rooted cuttings you have potted. Trim your hedges neatly and cut the lawn fairly low. Give your Poinsettias another pruning to within three eyes of your May cut. Tie pigeon peas on to the dry corn stalks and. stake up Pentas, Mussaendas and any other thin-stemmed plant that may be affected by heavy rain while you are away. Check for waterlogged areas in the garden — are the drains clear? Aerate your lawn by sticking it all over with a garden fork. Throw rotted fruit onto the compost heap and cover with grass cuttings to keep off flies and other pests. Check Bromeliads and saucers for stagnant water where mosquitoes may breed.
Notes on Mulching: Mulching a bed serves two purposes (1) it keeps down the weeds (2) it reduces the loss of moisture from the surface of the bed. If any organic material is used, make sure that it is well rotted - during the process of rotting it will produce heat which can burn’ tender plants. Examples of mulches - peat moss (very expensive), bagasse or manure (may contain grass seeds), coffee hulls, sawdust or wood shavings (very well rotted), wood chips (imported expensive), newspapers, (good for paths between beds in the backyard). Experiment with black plastic for vegetable beds during the dry season. Prepare a bed for a few tomato plants at first. Cover with an opened-out garbage bag. Seal all edges with soil. Cut out 3 in circles at suitably spaced intervals (7 to 8 ins). Put in a stake and plant your seedling in the hole. Water well with weak solution of fertilizer. When water is limited you will be applying it only into those spaces. There will be no weeding to do. Treat the plants as you would normally. Experiment with other vegetables.
SEPTEMBER Although everything looks a little untidy and overgrown if you didn’t plan well in August, this month you can resolve to make good your neglect and plan ahead for Christmas. While you were away you may have bought some interesting packets of seeds, if not, purchase some easy-to-grow seeds (Marigolds, Zinnias, Balsam, Coleus, Cocks Combs and Bachelors Buttons) but check the expiry dates to make sure they are viable.
Plants in flower - Most of your hardy annuals are at their end but Periwinkles are still flowering.
Shrubs -Plumbagoes, Antigua Heath and GarlicVine provide nectar for the hummingbirds.
Vines – Climbing Petrea.
Tasks - Think about your colour scheme for Christmas. If you have prepared your Poinsettias, you may try a bed of white Petunias or Periwinkles to the front of them. If you grow white Euphorbia, then plant some red Kalanechoe/Petunias or deep blue Petunias, for example. By December the direction of the sun may have changed. A bed which will then be in the shade can be planted with bright-leaved Dracaenas in the background, then Coleus, then Balsam. Pinch back your Chrysanthemums. Plan to plant Marigolds in front of them for a colourful effect and to keep away nematodes. Prepare your beds for the annuals you plan to put in for Christmas. Control potted Bougainvillea by cutting back fleshy shoots - fertilize all plants and keep your lawn weeded. (See note on garden ponds). Lift your Amaryllis Bulbs and store them in a dry place - if they are growing in pots, turn them on to their sides and withhold water, allow leaves to dry down naturally.
Vegetables - Plant Christophene, Chives, hot Peppers and Waterchestnuts.
Notes on Garden Ponds: Here are a few tips on growing water lillies. A healthy plant can easily grow to 6 feet across, so give it room to spread. It will not flower if it does not get full sun. A deep plastic laundry basket is ideal if the pond is deep enough to immerse it completely. Line the basket with coconut fibre and fill it with top soil and manure (you can leave it fairly lumpy). Plant the Lily, remove buds and damaged leaves. Cover the surface of the soil with a layer of gravel to prevent it from floating out. Immerse gently into the pond. If it is very deep, you can stand the basket on two bricks. After 2 weeks, it is time to fertilize the plant. Do not sprinkle fertilizer into the water - you will end up with a lush growth of green algae which then turns brown and unsightly. Mary Maraj of Fairways gave me this tip - find a glass jar with a metal screw-on cover. Pierce the cover with several small holes. Fill jar with slow-release granular fertilizer, fill with water and cover tightly. Push the upturned jar down into the lily basket so that only the bottom is showing. You can then retrieve it when it is time for a refill. In a week or so you will see the plant benefiting from this treatment. Always remove dead leaves and flowers or they may foul the water.
OCTOBER Plants in flower - For colour you will probably have to depend on hardy standbys such as Oleander, Hibiscus and coloured foliage. This is a good time to acquire new plants. Many horticulturists choose the month before Christmas to hold plant sales. They often offer for sale new varieties of plants which they have introduced, or well grown house plants and hanging baskets with which you can brighten-up a porch for Christmas. Browse around and keep a sharp look-out for bargains at the annual bazaars. Here you often find little gems being offered for sale in styrotex cups. Remember the Orchid Show takes place in October and Orchid plants are on sale.
Tasks - Attend to your Gerberas by digging up the plants and dividing them. Fork the bed well and apply fertilizer, raising it at least six inches to provide good drainage. Apply a systemic fungicide to prevent black spots on the leaves. Go out at night with your torchlight and try to catch the bachacs on the move then you will know where to set the bait. At the beginning of October, set your seeds for December (See note on seeds). At the end of October, trim Bougainvillea. Look critically at your houseplants, choosing the ones you plan to use for your home and the ones you think may be good flower show exhibits. Top them up with potting mixture and apply foliar fertilizer or slow-acting granules. Begin to groom them and turn the pots.
Vegetables - If you are planning to enter Onions, Leeks or Brussels Sprouts in the Flower Show, plant them this month.
Notes on Planting Seeds: You need fresh seeds, (check the packets for expiry date) potting mixture and some plastic cling-film. Use your imagination and you will find a seed-box. It should be fairly shallow, reasonably sized, with drainage, and it must be clean. Place the potting mixture in the seed box and water gently but thoroughly. Make several furrows’ on the surface about 1/4 deep. Tap the seeds into the furrows. If the seeds are very few then several types can be sown in one box, in separate furrows. Cover with a slight dusting of soil, smooth over gently. Water lightly again. Cover with plastic making sure that it is airtight. Place in an area where it gets morning sun. Tap the plastic every morning so that condensed water drops back onto the soil. When seedlings appear, turn the box daily so that they grow straight. After the first pair of leaves appear remove the plastic, but remember to water gently every day. When they are big enough to handle, plant out in a prepared bed and water with a weak solution of fertilizer. Protect from the afternoon sun by shading with palm leaves or its equivalent, and check for leaf-cutting insects.
In NOVEMBER some of your gardening strategies are beginning to show results. The new beds are becoming colourful, the ground cover spreading nicely. The new rock garden is beginning to lose its ‘raw’ look and the Poinsettias are just showing a promise of things to come. Of course this month is so wet that there is a constant battle with the weeds but on the other hand you can put your largest houseplants out under a tree for a couple of weeks to get them really lush for Christmas.
Plants in bloom - Poinsettias and Euphorbias are just beginning. Coleus and water-loving foliage look their best.
Trees - Frangipani and African Tulip tree.
Vines - Coralita.
Tasks - At the beginning of the month plant out annual seedlings into prepared beds. This is a good month to begin planting vegetable seeds. Remember to sow them at intervals so that you have a continuous supply over the dry season, this also applies to flower seeds. Collect a few dry palm flowers after the fruit have fallen, allow them to dry out and spray white, gold or silver. Collect wood-roses and treat similarly. Clean out planters in and around the house. Repair them and outdoor furniture. Check garden lights. If the Chrysanthemurns seem reluctant to open, shine an electric light over them at night to encourage them. Cut back Pentas plants (slightly) and Plumbago early in November. Trim hedges and variegated tealeaf ground covers. If Hibiscus leaves are turning yellow and dropping, the plants may be getting water-logged. Check your Avocado tree. Can you dig a narrow trench to direct rainwater away from the roots? Give your plants some fertilizer and check for insects and fungus infestation (See note on fertilizer). Cut back Queen of Flowers heavily and save the straight stems (lean them up in a dry place) for holding up plants such as Lantanas and Pentas.
Notes on the N.P.K. of Fertilizers: You can reduce the amount of money spent on fertilizers if you go to your supplier armed with a little know-how, instead of picking up an expensive box of general fertilizer which may not be exactly what you need. Check the little plastic bags that have been weighed out from large sacks and you may find the right formula at a fraction of the price. The formula contains the letters N.P.K. this stands for Nitrogen, Phosphate and Potassium. Remember this - Nitrogen for Leaves, Phosphate for Roots, Potassium for flowers and fruit. Therefore if the formula says 20-20-20, this fertilizer will benefit every component of the plant. if you wish to fertilize your lawn, then you don’t need much potassium! (Potash or “flowering salt”). When fertilizing a young seedling, you want it to produce strong roots, so you use a formula high in Phosphates, and for your foliage plants, nitrogen is the important element. A formula reading 12-12-17-2 is one which has a high potassium content (for flowers i.e. fruit). The 2 at the end means that it also contains trace elements eg. zinc, which promote healthy growth. Next time you shop for fertilizers check the formula and buy exactly what you need.
DECEMBER. The days are now so short and your schedule so busy that you may regard your gardening as a series of tasks to be quickly done. But take time out to enjoy your garden which should now be a mass of colour. No coloured lights or tinsel can compare with Natures’ handiwork! Plants are in flower everywhere - annuals which were sown in October, Poinsettias, Oleander, Hibiscus, Kalanchoe, even the boundary plants are rewarding you with pale blue flowers. Your potted Bougainvillea should be a mass of brilliant colour. They can be brought indoors for one or two days but must be returned to the sunlight after a good watering. Your Orchids should be producing some flowers and Roses should be in full flower.
Tasks - Before the weather begins to turn dry, bring in your houseplants after grooming, fertilizing and watering them. Your Chrysanthemums may need staking up. Remember to remove dead flowers from all your plants. Plan to mow your lawn and trim edges just before Christmas, do not treat with insecticide if you are planning to have children running around. Decorate your home with flowers this year. Use the palm ‘brooms’ with flowers and ribbons instead of an artificial wreath. Pick Hibiscus early in the morning and keep them (dry) in the fridge, they can decorate your table just before your guests arrive and will open out in half an hour. If you have bought a dwarf Poinsettia, keep it well watered and do not place it under a night-light (See note on the effect of light on plants). Remember to water your ferns and Flower Show potentials on those dry December days.
Notes on the Effect of Light on Plants: Even the smallest seedlings respond to light. You find that if their containers are not turned regularly they will grow to one side, and if the light is inadequate, they grow thin and long and will not thrive. This applies also to potted plants. For instance if you intend to heap your ferns or Dieffenhachia on a porch and you wish them to appear full then keep them in one spot so that the leaves will all grow in one direction giving the impression of fullness. These same plants would have to be turned regularly if they were to be entered as Flower Show exhibits where even growth is mandatory. Many plants will not flower at all unless they get a few hours of sunlight as opposed to filtered light. When planning your garden establish if the hours of sunlight decrease on certain beds during the year so that you will know where to plant sun-loving flowering plants. Sometimes you have to string a row of electric lights over Chrysanthemums etc., if they have been badly sited and you wish to bring them into flower for Christmas. On the other hand Poinsettias and the fine white Euphorbias only produce their showy bracts when the hours of sunlight decrease. A street lamp or security light shining on them at night will prevent this from occurring and they will remain green at Christmas-time. Place your potted Poinsettia in a very dark spot early every evening from the end of October to ensure a colourful plant at Christmas.