The magic of mulching

2014-09-12 00:00

Soft soil and sufficient water are a gardener’s crucial ingredients

TWO things substantially reduce stress around gardening. One is easy access to water and the other is soft, workable soil. There is something about being able to push your gardening tool easily into the ground that inspires you to carry on.

Soil in the garden responds wonderfully to mulching. Within weeks, the ground has softened as the earthworms mix the mulch into the soil. Mulch keeps the soil moist and consistent so you don’t need to water as much, and it feeds the soil as it breaks down. To mulch, I chop all my garden refuse into small pieces that will break down easily, and scatter them over the roots of the plants.

Rotting leaf mould is a wonderful haunt for wildlife, including thrushes and robin-chats, who love to scratch around looking for juicy grubs. Mulched garden beds, or areas that are allowed to accumulate falling leaves and twigs, provide habitat for beneficial insects, spiders and invertebrates such as centipedes. Since these are the natural enemies of garden pests, they can reduce your reliance on pesticides. In turn, fewer pesticides allow beneficial invertebrates to build up in sufficient numbers to protect a gardens from pests.

What you will notice about the best of the gardens that are open to the public in the next couple of months is that, other than a well-kept lawn, all the ground is covered, either with plants or mulch. There is a purpose to covering the ground — it reduces immensely the weed growth.

My favourite two standard fillers are Crassula sarmentosa for sunny areas and Crassula multicava for shady spots. Both are very forgiving if you forget to water them. They have shallow roots, grow easily and spread from cuttings, and are easy to pull out when you need space for a new plant. — Alison Young.

TREES IN SEPTEMBER

September is the month for Arbour Day celebrations and this year the chosen trees are Vepris lanceolata and trees of the genus Heteropyxis.

Let’s start with the Vepris, commonly known as the white ironwood (Zulu: umzane). It is a member of the citrus family and the trifoliate leaves give off a delightful lemon scent when crushed. The flowers are insignificant and greenish-yellow, but all the frugivorous birds relish the small, black fruits. Swallowtail butterflies love the tree as a food plant. Vepris lanceolata can grow to over 20 metres, so it isn’t ideal for the smaller garden.

If you are looking to plant a tree for Arbour Day, then Heteropyxis natalensis , the lavender tree (Zulu: inkunzi), is a far better choice if you have limited space. It won’t grow too big and has an interesting, flaky bark.

Again, it has delicious-smelling foliage —much nicer than lavender in my humble opinion. — Sally Johnson.

SOUTH Africa is hosting the International Clivia Conference at the Garden and Leisure Show at the Pietermaritzburg showgrounds this year from September 19 to September 21. The BotSoc KZN Inland Branch will also be at the show, in the Happy Earth Hall, so go and visit its giant “Future Tree” — a baobab where you can post an environmental message.

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