By Morag Flight
Zimbabwe does not have severe winters like those experienced in other countries, even though we still get a fair share of our cold days (and frost in some areas). Now is the time that roses and indigenous shrubs are entering a dormant period so reduce watering and fertilizing on them and the lawn. If you keep feeding and watering during this rest period you can restrict the flowering and growth in the next year. It is advised to finish watering all plants by 3pm when it is cooler to reduce frost burn at night, which leads to fungal disease.
As it gets cooler, the bugs will start to disappear, so it is a good time to get some broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower into the ground. Also grow beetroot, lettuce, carrots, Swiss chard, radish, garlic, leeks, onions and strawberries during this cooler period. Make an effort to prepare beds and sow seeds for peas – you won’t regret it! The backyard garden should have a selection of vegetables you like. It is always a joy to eat home grown food.
Start planting your winter annuals – remember to plant petunias in a sunny spot and pinch out any leggy stems to encourage it to bush out more. Cineraria and primula are best planted in a shady spot in the garden; primula’s fairy-like flowers are very rewarding. If you are looking for color in your pots, Californian poppies will add a vibrant mix of orange and yellows. Collect the seeds of faded summer annuals like cosmos, cleome, hollyhock, marigolds etc. Once you have dried them, store in envelopes in a cool place. Do not forget to label them!!
As our hours of daylight shorten, lawn growth starts to slow down and so mowing is less frequent; remember not to mow too low. Watch out for snails with your newly planted annual and veggie seedlings. Sprinkle snail pellets around the seedlings but, remember to do it sooner than later as they will be chomped before you know it. If you do not want to use pellets, crush up eggshells and scatter them around the seedlings.
Ensure that newly planted trees and shrubs are well protected in all frosty areas. If any plants have got frosted damage, do not prune until the weather warms up. The frosted branches act as protection against further cold. When deciduous trees are bare, this is a good time to see where an evergreen tree or shrub could add interest to your garden or what needs pruning.
Pruning is a necessary evil and a skill. When you prune correctly, you encourage healthy growth and flowering, as well as well shaped plants. It helps to know when to prune too. Some shrubs are best pruned in winter; some right after flowering.
The principal reasons for pruning are:
- To produce more or better blooms and/or fruits.
- To develop or maintain a desired size or appearance. Most of us have small gardens and vigorous modern plants. Prune to save room for an interesting variety of plants and to keep plants from becoming leggy or scrubby.
- To re-establish a balance between root and branch systems after transplanting.
- To train a young plant. Pruning now to encourage balanced, open growth saves effort later.
- To rejuvenate, older, neglected shrubs. Removal of old, over crowded stems or limbs encourages the growth of vigorous young ones.
- To repair injury. Damaged wood, whatever the cause, is not unsightly, it is an open invitation to disease-causing organisms
Pruning is essential to maintain health of the plant. Regular removal of dead or diseased wood keeps plants healthy. Maintenance pruning includes removal of dense growth to let light and air reach the inner and lower stems. When selecting a pruning tool, the most important thing to consider, is it the right tool for the job. The right tool will assure that you are successful, get the job done confidently, is better for the plant or tree and save excess wear and tear on you. Tools are an investment so purchase the best tool you can afford. Quality tools, when properly cared for, will last many seasons and do a far better job than cheaply made ones. All backyard pruning can be done with just three or four single hand tools. If a job calls for power tools, it is probably not a pruning job and you should seek a certified professional.
A pair of hand pruners is a necessity. Choose them carefully and select the pruner that is comfortable in your hand and is best suited for the job you intend to do. Check the labels and ask your local nursery. Always use sharp, clean tools and wipe-down blades with a clean cloth when moving from plant to plant. Also get a good pair of loppers and a pruning saw.
- With cuts that involve cutting above a growth bud, angle it at about 45 degrees, with the lowest point of the cut opposite the bud and even with it, the highest point about 1/4 inch above the bud. This stops water running into the new cut and causing disease.
- Pinching – To stop a stem from growing longer, help shape a small-leafed shrub, and to encourage bushy growth, pinch the terminal bud (the new clusters of leaves at the tip of a stem with your thumb and forefinger. Do this with annual and perennial flowers.
- Heading – To encourage dense growth, shorten branches, redirect growth and help shape small shrubs and flowering perennials, cut further back on the shoot than with pinching. Use hand-pruners to remove a portion of the branch to just above a healthy bud or side branch.
- Thinning – To shorten limbs, improve light penetration into plants and to direct the growth of shoots or limbs, remove an entire limb or branch either back to its point of origin on the main stem or to the point where it joins another branch. Use hand-held pruners, loppers, or a pruning saw to make thinning cuts, depending on the thickness of the branch being cut.
- Shearing – To create a hedge or bush with a spherical or square form on small-leafed plants such as boxwoods, use hand-held or electric hedge shears to closely trim leaves until the desired shape is achieved. Shearing stimulates many buds to produce new growth.
- Prune without a good reason
- Remove any more than 25 percent of foliage during a growing season
- Prune a newly planted tree for the first year, unless you are removing dead or broken branches.
- Prune within 3 m of a zesa line – leave it to the experts.
- Try to tackle a pruning job that requires a chain saw and ladder work – leave it to the experts.
- Leave branch stubs, or cut off the branch collar (not make a flush cut).
Images by Morag Flight