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Winter Gardens


petunias-pink-purple-23441281530312VUJzGauteng’s Highveld winter has settled in for the next few months, as is evident by the conscientious effort of gardeners and nurseries all over Johannesburg in keeping plants in their gardens safe from the cold. Often falling to below zero, winter temperatures in Jo’burg and southern areas into the Free State and Eastern Cape, can mean challenges for home gardens. However, this does not mean that winter is a time to forget about gardening or garden maintenance, or to suffer with colourless landscapes and empty vistas. Winter gardens require just as much work as summer gardens, and can be as rewarding and beautiful.


Winter annuals

Brightly coloured winter annuals are a creative way to fill empty winter flower-beds. A variety of winter-flowering bedding plants can be found at any nursery or garden centre and should be planted in April or May to ensure a glowing winter garden. Examples of winter plants suitable for sunny positions in the garden include Lobelias, Petunias, vygies, Calendulas, sweet-peas and Violas.

Indigenous aloes

Aloe_aristataA wonderful, water wise way to brighten up any Highveld winter garden is to plant a variety of indigenous aloes. Aloes are low-water use, succulent plants that reveal their fiery orange, yellow and red flowers in the months of winter and range from the 6 m Aloe arborescens to the tiny, low-growing Aloe aristata. Aloes require very little maintenance and make ideal focal points for any garden rockery.


Indigenous Highveld trees and shrubs

Another solution to bleak winter gardens is to design a garden that accommodates indigenous plants that are native to the Highveld. Plants such as Buddleja salvifolia, Ziziphus mucronata and Celtis africana are highly adapted to icy Highveld winters and will survive the cold by exhibiting frost-tolerant characteristics such as smaller leaves and slow-growing tendencies.

Indigenous Western Cape and coastal gardens

Natural and beautiful coastal gardens, including indigenous Western Cape gardens, can be established with an understanding of the soil type and plant species best adapted to the region. Coastal gardens are characterised by deep sandy soils, commonly with higher pH and influenced by strong salt-laden sea winds, while the Cape’s fynbos species are adapted to acidic soils. Take hints and tips from nature when designing your garden. Be especially aware of soil, wind, aspect and sun/shade conditions when designing your garden and selecting your plants. (

Surviving the frost

If, however, you have either exotic or indigenous plants in your garden that are vulnerable to the cold, it is important to ensure that these plants are protected from the dropping temperatures. Understand which parts of your garden are less tolerant of the cold and protect them by covering them with hessian or frost netting during the coldest times of the year. Prevent cold-damage to vulnerable plants by only watering during the warmer parts of the morning and not at night. Apply a thick layer of mulch over your beds to retain heat in the soil and plant less hardy plants under frost-resistant shrubs and trees for protection against the cold.

Hints and tips for winter gardening:

  • Reduce watering on lawns to once every two or three weeks in winter.
  • If you have not already done so, apply a thicker layer of mulch to your flower beds to retain heat and prevent cold damage during the winter months.
  • Low water-use indigenous plants only need to be watered in winter if they are showing signs of water-stress.  Water only once every 8 weeks if necessary.
  • Moderate water-use plants only need to be watered once a month in winter.
  • High water-use plants should be watered 2-3 times every two weeks during winter months.
  • Remember that the evaporation rate on the Highveld is almost zero in winter. This means that less watering and irrigation is required in the garden.

News Snippets:

The 2012 SALI Water Wise Award winner

biodiversitygarden09SALI, the South African Landscapers Institute was formed in 1984 and acts as a national body, serving landscape contractors and suppliers. SALI annually hosts their Awards of Excellence where the country’s best landscapers and outstanding work is recognised among the green industry in various categories, one of which being Water Wise. This year, the Water Wise trophy was awarded at the 2012 SAGIC convention from 5-8 June to Eric Cherry from Urban Landscape Solutions for their Cape Town Biodiversity Gardens. The Gardens form part of the 12.5 ha Green Point Park in Cape Town and are divided into three areas separated by a lake. The areas include a wetlands garden, which has a seasonal wetland with winter runoff and dry-out in summer, the fynbos showcase, which depicts endemic fynbos, and the food and medicinal garden, which displays natural food and medicinal plants and acts as an educational garden. The design philosophy of the gardens was to use endemic indigenous plants with a drip irrigation system, and to utilize a diverted natural stream, which while previously emptying into the ocean, now irrigates the entire Green Point Common. Water Wise would like to congratulate Urban Landscape Solutions on their wonderful accolade! This garden also provides a prime example of a winter garden.

Please visit for more information and images of the winning Gardens. For visitors to Cape Town, this garden is a must-see!

Enjoy the beauty of a winter’s day and use the
opportunity to be creative and imaginative in your garden!