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Sutera "Bermuda Sky" Picture courtesy www.newplant.co.za Sutera, Bacopa
– Chaenostoma cordatum (= Sutera cordata)

Sutera remain firm favourites with gardeners around the world for their ease of growth and profusion of flowers throughout spring and summer. They are hardy, vigorous, low-growing plants which can spread +-50 to 60cm, while only reaching a height of +-15 to 20cm. Plant breeders have developed many new and improved strains of Sutera which not only flower even more profusely, but also have larger blooms, with some varieties even sporting lovely yellow foliage. They are available in beautifully delicate shades of blue and pink to lavender and white. Some of the new cultivars include: Sutera ”Snowstorm”; Sutera “Blue Showers” and  Sutera “Lavender Showers”

These charming but hardy little South African plants are found growing wild from George in the southern Western Cape to East London in the Eastern Cape, with the possible exception of the Algoa area. It ranges in altitude from sea level to about 1000m and can be found along the coast and also inland in scrubland and forested kloofs, from the Outeniqua Mountains around George to Grahamstown.

Sutera cordata "Blizzard" picture courtesy www.newplant.co.zaThe plant has undergone several Latin name changes over the years, but because most gardeners still refer to it as Sutera or Bacopa, for this article we will call it by its common name Sutera.

In the Garden:

Sutera are perfect to plant in hanging baskets, window boxes and pots of all sizes. Try mixing them with other summer annuals for a colourful summer display. Planted in mass, they make a wonderful groundcover and will stabilise the soil on slopes. They also make lovely rockery and edging plants for the garden, and because their colours are so delicate, Sutera blends beautifully with other garden plants.

Abunda Pink Bacopa. Picture courtesy Ball Horticultural CompanyCultivation:

Sutera is a short lived perennial plant that is tender to frost and is most often grown as a summer annual. It can be grown both inland and at the coast, and can survive temperatures as low as -1° C, but in cold regions will die down completely in winter – if you mulch the roots to keep them warm, the plant should shoot again in spring. It is very hardy, heat tolerant, and a low-maintenance annual which thrives in semi-shade to full sun. In cooler regions it can take lots of sun, but in extremely hot regions it does better in semi-shade or morning sun.

Although exceptionally heat tolerant, it is vital to water your plants regularly during hot summer weather, and especially those growing in pots. Sutera likes regular watering, but does not like being overwatered either, so water thoroughly and then allow the soil to almost dry out completely before watering again. Never allow the plants to dry out completely.

Sutera requires rich well- drained soil for good results, and regular applications of a flowering plant food will keep your plants blooming repeatedly all summer and into autumn. Feeding is most important for potted specimens.

Although these plants are self-cleaning and do not require deadheading, a light pruning during the growing season will help to keep them bushy and looking good for longer.

Abunda Colossal Sky Blue Bacopa. Picture courtesy Ball Horticultural CompanyPropagation:

Sutera is easily propagated by cuttings if they are placed in a mist-unit, where rooting will occur in 2 to 3 weeks. (Use a plastic bag to make a mini-greenhouse if you have no mist unit.) Seed can be sown in spring in a 1:1 mixture of fine bark and coarse river sand.

Problems, Pests & Diseases:

If the plant becomes drought stressed it will drop both its flowers and buds before it wilts, and it can take up to two weeks for it to fully recover and start flowering again. To avoid this, monitor your plants regularly and water before the soil dries out totally.

Watch out for aphids, thrips, whitefly and fungus gnats.

Gardening in South Africa

Durban – Spring is well upon us. Lovely warm-to-hot days, interspersed with a cold snap or two, and a bit of rain – a typical KwaZulu-Natal spring.

The days are getting longer by up to 20 minutes each week. Plants are bursting into bloom and trees are budding everywhere.

I am always fascinated by Mother Nature and how she works her magic. Each tree will come into bud simultaneously and all over the tree – the buds at the bottom open at the same time as the ones on top, the ones on the shady side open at the same time as those in the sun. How do they know?

In some years they open in the middle of September, some years later, but always simultaneously – it is as if someone threw a switch.

Most plants are already in full leaf, although my Flatcrown tree (Albizzia adianthifolia) has only just started, even though others on my street are in full leaf. Most Frangipanis are still fast asleep.

A few spectacular trees put out flowers just before their leaves, and are a glorious sight in spring. Beautiful examples are the indigenous (and world famous) Erythrina or “Coral trees”.

The Magnolia soulangiana, or “Tulip magnolias”, have large tulip-like white, pink or purple flowers on bare stems which are spectacular and grow well in Westville and further inland.

The “Yellow Trumpet trees” or Tabebuia have also been spectacular.

September was Arbor Month – but if you did not plant a tree do not worry – it is never too late.

 

* Are you an “urban farmer”?

If you grow your own fruit and vegetables then you are automatically a member of this fast growing community. Everyone should find a space to “grow their own”. A few lettuce plants, some parsley, chives, basil and a tomato or two and you will never be short of a salad. Add beans, carrots, beetroot and chard and you’re close to self-sufficient.

All these are dead easy to grow and do not take up too much space – they can even be grown in pots and troughs. Remember to use a decent potting mix, and to give them as much sun as possible.

 

* Every plant in your garden is growing rapidly now and the demand for adequate nutrition is at a maximum – be sure to apply a generous helping of fertiliser, compost or manure to all your plants.

Water well after application, and repeat the dose in six-to-eight weeks.

 

* Mow your lawn as required. I am a great advocate of mowing “long”. If you mow too short, you expose the grass to sunburn, you cut off all the leaves which manufacture the food the grass needs and you leave ugly brown patches.

A “long” lawn always looks green, it shades its own roots, it grows vigorously due to optimum food production, discourages weeds and is nice and soft to walk on.

A healthy lawn will be full of life in the soil – if you have lots of hadedas feeding on your lawn it is normally a good sign, but it could indicate that you also have crickets, which can cause damage.

Your nurseryman will recommend an easy spray to get rid of them.

My lawn is looking really good – I have got rid of the weeds with only one application of weedkiller and the hadedas are feeding regularly. I will be feeding my lawn this weekend with 2:3:2 which is a nice balanced fertiliser, which will not encourage too much leaf growth (ensuring I will not have to mow every week).

 

* There is so much to plant at this time – a visit to the nursery is a must as they are bursting with plants and colour. It is now time for summer seedlings or “bedding plants” such as begonia, dahlia, celosia, salvia, torenia, portulaca and zinnia. Begonias do best with some shade, but the others can withstand full sun at this time of year.

Prepare your soil well with a decent potting mix, or add compost and bonemeal to your existing beds.

It is important that your bedding plants lack nothing when growing, so that they can put all their efforts into blooming – you will be amazed at how many flowers and how much colour you can get from the modern hybrids that are available these days – so long as you look after them and feed, water and “dead head” them regularly.

 

* There are many “new” indigenous plants available that have been hybridised both locally and abroad. South African plants are favourites all over the world, and are grown by their millions in Australia, New Zealand, Europe and the Americas.

Where would Europe be without the trailing geraniums they all grow in their window boxes each summer?

 

Indigenous hybrids of Agapanthus, Geraniums (pelargoniums), Osteospermums (Cape daisies), Diascia, Nemesia and Bacopa are all worth growing. They often have “hybrid vigour” and outperform the older varieties, with bigger and brighter flowers and a wider range of colours.

Look out too for indigenous Clivia or “Bush Lily” plants, with their big bright orange flowers, which grow so well in tough, shady positions. There are yellow, peach and red colour forms as well, which make lovely tub plants. – The Mercury

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