Caring For Lithops: Living Stone Plants

Caring For Lithops: Living Stone Plants

On the list of plants that not only tolerate but actually prefer a little neglect, Lithops certainly feature in the top spot. These strange succulents are famous for their interesting shapes that awarded them the name Living Stone Plants. They also resemble hooves, or maybe tiny brains, depending on which variety you are dealing with.

Many gardeners find these plants confusing or difficult to care for, largely because their care is so different from other succulent plants. But once you understand their environment and needs, these little plants will become one of the lowest-maintenance (and strangest looking) plants in your succulent garden.

Light

In their natural environments – the open grasslands or rocky areas of southern Africa – lithops get plenty of direct sun throughout the day. Like other succulents, these conditions need to be replicated to ensure healthy growth. Under low light conditions, like those indoors, the compact leaves will stretch towards the nearest light source, known as etiolation. The leaves will also become dull and discoloured. To preserve the shape and colour, ensure your lithops gets at least 6 hours of direct sunlight per day.

Water

Lithops are one of the most drought-friendly plants you can buy. In their native habitats, they are used to receiving little to no water for several months due to lack of rainfall. They are able to survive this way because their impressive leaves store enough water to keep the plant alive.

To mimic these drought-like conditions, your lithops will need tiny amounts of water every couple of weeks, and only during the growing seasons of spring and autumn. In summer and winter, the plants go dormant and don’t need to be watered at all (unless the leaves start to wrinkle, indicating the leaf reservoir is running out of water). A teaspoon of water applied every two weeks is all you need to keep the leaves plump and happy.

Soil

Lithops live in sandy, rocky soil with little nutrients – what we gardeners would consider poor quality soil. The soil should be incredibly well-draining and gritty. The less water it holds, the better. Use a cactus potting mix or create your own soil mix using a combination of potting mix, pool sand, gravel, and perlite.

Temperature

Like true South Africans, lithops cannot stand the cold. When left outdoors in temperatures lower than 10 degrees for extended periods of time, the leaves will begin to die off. If they face any frost, the cell walls of the plant leaves rupture, causing any exposed sections to rot. It is incredibly difficult to save a lithops damaged by the cold, so it’s best to avoid this problem and bring them inside if cold weather is forecast.

Lithops Quick Facts:

  • Lithops will flower after 3 to 5 years, once per season. These flowers produce seed pods that explode outwards when exposed to moisture, spreading new seeds around the plant.
  • Don’t be alarmed if your leaves appear to be splitting – new leaf pairs emerge from the centre of the plant, drawing moisture from the previous leaf pair until they die off.
  • It is best not to fertilize your lithops, as it is very easy to overfertilize and cause damage to the plant. If the plant is not flowering, you can use a heavily diluted cactus fertilizer, but do so sparingly.
  • Lithops leaves are fused and directly connected to the roots. Most of the leaf is buried under the soil to protect it from predators and the sun, blending in with the surrounding rocks so well that they are often difficult to spot in the wild. The tops of the leaves are translucent to allow more light to reach the parts of the plant underground.
Houseplant Care: Best Practices for Watering Your Plants

Houseplant Care: Best Practices for Watering Your Plants

When it comes to the causes of houseplant problems (and demises), water is usually the number one culprit. For beginner gardeners, standard advice such as “water once a week but do not overwater” may be difficult to understand, leading to incorrect practices and unhappy plants. Understanding when to water and how to water is vital to plant care success – here’s how you can ensure you get it right.

When to Water

It may be convenient for humans to live on a schedule, but plants don’t. Their needs are not determined by the days of the week. How often you water your plant will depend on several factors: soil conditions, the amount of light the plant is getting, or the seasons for example. And ‘right time’ almost never coincides with a perfect schedule.

The first factor, soil conditions, relates to the amount of moisture the plant needs in the soil. All plants need water at some point, but they all prefer different amounts.

For example, succulents and cacti, holding most of the water they need in their leaves, prefer the soil to be completely dried out before they are watered again. The plant can only hold so much water in the leaves – any remaining water will stay in the soil and may cause the roots to rot.

Most indoor plants (usually tropical plants) need a good amount of water as their leaves do not store much. But they don’t like environments that are too moist either, so the top layer of soil should be dried out completely before watering. Other plants, like ferns with extremely thin leaves, like moist soil and a moist environment (although this does not mean soggy).

The soil will change conditions at different times depending on your environment, how much light the plant is getting, and the seasons (impacted by both changes in weather and increased growth rate in Spring).

Rather than watering your plants on a weekly basis (or whatever period is recommended) test the soil with your finger to determine if your plant needs water, based on the characteristics we interpreted before. If you like routine, you can always set a time once or twice a week to check all your plants and water as needed, instead of having to check them every day, or watering them anyway and facing the dreaded ‘overwatering’ scenario.

How to Water

There are three main methods of watering your indoor plants.

The first is to water gently with a watering can where the plant is placed. This is a handy method for a quick top-up but comes with some caveats. You’ll need to know exactly how much water the pot holds, so you water the soil enough to reach the bottom, but not so much that water runs out the drainage holes at the bottom (and hopefully onto the tray beneath it, not your shelf). If you do overwater, you will have to empty each tray to prevent the water from stagnating. Despite the caveats, this method is ideal for indoor gardeners with little time and a lot of plants.

The second method is watering over the sink, completely drenching the soil, and allowing the excess to run through. This may be tedious if you have a lot of plants, but it is a more reliable method.

If you forgot a watering cycle or two, soaking the soil over the sink may not be sufficient. Extremely dry soil will pull away from the sides of the pot and repel water (called hydrophobic soil). When the soil is extremely dry, the water will run off the top, down the sides of the pot, and out the drainage holes, without penetrating the soil. In these cases, you will need to use the third watering method – submerging.

Fill a sink or large container with a shallow layer of water and place the plants inside, allowing them to draw the water up from the bottom of the container. This way the plants can take up as much water as they need with even distribution. This process takes a couple of hours, but most plants should not be left in water for too long and can be removed as soon as the soil is soaked through.

No water? No worries! How to make your garden beautiful with drought tolerant plants

No water? No worries! How to make your garden beautiful with drought tolerant plants

All living things need water but some need less than others. Thank goodness for that. If you live in a low rainfall area, here is your answer to a beautiful garden. Playing with drought tolerant plants and succulents has never been more fun! The biggest part of this pot recipe is your soil preparation.

All you need is:

  • 1 bucket of potting soil (it can be a rusty bucket or a plastic one)
  • Block of palm peat, reconstituted in water (that means, add a block to 5l of water in a container and watch your palm peat grow!)
  • 2 cups vermiculite
  • A handful of organic pellets like Atlantic Bio Ocean
  • A handful of bonemeal
  • 5g of water retaining granules, EXLGel is a good one
  • Gravel for drainage
  • A sturdy pot of your liking
  • A selection of plants like Kalanchoe thyrsiflora, Sedum tetractinum, Gazanias (proudly from South Africa) and Euphorbia “Diamont Frost”
  • Or just play with a variety of Sedums and Echeverias, their contrasting colours and foliage will be a delight to your eyes.
draught tolerant plants

How to pot up:

  1. Make a soil mix by mixing the following together: half potting soil, palm peat (only used half of the reconstituted mass, the rest you can store safely as is), vermiculite, handful of organic fertiliser, handful of bonemeal and your water retaining granules. Mix together well.
  2. Make sure that your pot has good drainage holes, now cover these up with your gravel. This will stop your soil mix from clogging the drainage holes and retaining water in your pot. Drought hardy plants don’t like wet feet.
  3. Fill your pot ¾ with your soil mix.
  4. To get the best look from all angles after planting, start by placing your highest plant in the centre of the pot. Now you can play with the middle height and add some interest by placing your sedums on the edge of the pot, allowing them to trail over the side.
  5. Press the plants down firmly as you fill your soil around them, water well.
  6. Sit back, relax and enjoy your hard work.

Remember: Liquid fertilise every two weeks. Even drought tolerant plants need food.

An Introduction in how to harvest rainwater and why it makes sense

An Introduction in how to harvest rainwater and why it makes sense

On the Urban Rain Systems website, rainwater harvesting is defined as a process in which rainwater that falls onto a roof surface is collected and stored to be used at a later time. By harvesting and using rainwater we are not only reducing our monthly water bills, but also reducing our dependence on water treatment plants and dams. Let’s take a closer look at how rainwater is harvested, and explore some of its uses and benefits.

The basics

As you probably know, rainwater is harvested from the roof. Urban Rain Systems recommend that their clients select a large section of the roof for this purpose. The larger the surface, the more water will be harvested. When selecting your surface, try to avoid overhanging trees as far as possible – you don’t want twigs, leaves or bird poop in your harvested water! If you select a cleaner section of the roof it will also help reduce the on-going maintenance you would be required to do.

The next step to consider is how the water gets down from the roof into the Urban Rain Systems RainCell™ Tank. There is no way for the rainwater to channel down without gutters. But it’s not necessary to have gutters installed around the entire house – all that is needed is a single stretch of gutter with a downpipe that leads into the RainCell™ Tank. You will also need a firm base for the tank to stand on. You can use a smooth concrete base or place the RainCell™ Tank on level paving. The next consideration is whether you need a pump and the answer is usually yes. Although it’s possible to manage without a pump if you are using the rainwater for filling your pool by connecting a hose pipe to the tank, a pump is necessary for all other instances like irrigation systems and sprinklers. Once the space on the roof has been selected and the tank is in place on a flat surface, a downpipe is diverted into the top of the tank and the rainwater system is ready to start harvesting.

rainwater harvesting

How much rainwater can be harvested?

The size of your rainwater harvest will depend on the size of your roof and  how much rainfall there is. This is a basic formula for calculating your harvesting capacity:

1mm of rainfall x 1m² of roof surface = 1lt of rainwater

For example;

If you harvest from surface of 36m² with an annual rainfall of 700mm your calculation would look like this:

700mm x 36m² roof surface = 25,200lt of rainwater

How rainwater can be used

The most basic use for rainwater is in the garden. Watering the garden can be costly and using free rainwater to water flower beds and the lawn can be a massive money saver. Harvested rainwater can also be used in other ways:

Outside

  •        Supplying water to the irrigation system
  •        Filling up pools and ponds
  •        Washing cars, motorcycles, boats and outdoor furniture

Inside

Should a 4-stage filtration unit be installed, harvested rainwater can be filtered, purified and plumbed into the house for use in bathrooms, toilets and the kitchen. It could even be used as drinking water.

Rainwater Harvesting – The Benefits

There are a great variety of benefits to rainwater harvesting. Although some people find certain benefits more appealing than others, we can all agree that the money saving benefit is probably at the top of the list. The more rainwater you use the less municipal water you need. You would usually pay for municipal water and sewerage fees that are determined by how much water you use, so you end up saving all of that. Some people are concerned with the potential of water cuts. Imagine what would happen if our water was cut… basic daily tasks like showering, brushing our teeth and flushing the toilet would become impossible. With harvested rainwater on the premises, this concern is alleviated. Since water shedding and planned water cuts are already taking place in South Africa, more people should consider looking at water saving strategies like rainwater harvesting.

For more information, visit Urban Rainwater Systems.


  

A Step-By-Step Guide to Using EXLGel

A Step-By-Step Guide to Using EXLGel

Using EXLGel in flower beds, potted plants and  hanging baskets improves plant life while saving water – a win-win situation for your plants (and for you!) It can be used in two ways; wet and dry.

Dry Application

  1. Mix granules with potting soil or dig into existing pots and flower beds.
  2. Water well.
  3. The granules will absorb water and release as plant needs.

Wet Application

  1. Mix 5g with 1L of water
  2. Stir and wait for 10 minutes
  3. Once gel forms, mix into your potting soil and plant.
  4. The plants will draw from the gel as they get thirsty.
Beautiful and Useful Indigenous Plants For Your Garden

Beautiful and Useful Indigenous Plants For Your Garden

When we think of herbs several worthy plants spring to mind, but few of them are indigenous. Could it be possible that our indigenous plants also offer culinary delights and potential medicinal benefits? The latter topic is controversial. Most herbal remedies have not been thoroughly studied, and so-called ‘complementary medicines’ should not be considered as a replacement for well-researched, proven cures when one is seriously ill. Nevertheless, our unbelievably rich biodiversity has led to a great deal of interest in our indigenous herbs within the research community. After all, most medicines we use today have at least some relation to the plant-based medicines of yesteryear. Let’s begin by looking at some of the indigenous plants you can add to your culinary repertoire before taking a brief look at common home remedies using indigenous plants for minor ailments.

Cook It Up!
Mentioning all the indigenous plants that can be used to add zing to your cooking would be a tall order. To get started with indigenous cookery, grab these five commonly available indigenous plants and enjoy those aromas!

Wild Garlic
There are few people who can resist the flavour-enhancing properties of garlic, but growing regular garlic isn’t something everyone succeeds at. However, our common wild garlic (Tulbaghia violacea), with its pretty sprays of lilac blooms, is a great culinary herb that’s ridiculously easy to grow. Simply chop the leaves finely and add them to your cooking as a garlic substitute. Just remember that our garlic is a lot stronger than the conventional sort, so adding too much is all too easy. You can also use the flowers in salads or to top off elegant cocktail snacks. The flavour is sweetish with garlic overtones. If you have wild garlic plant in flower, pick one and taste it for yourself!

Wild Sage
Once again, we’re looking at an easy-going genus that just about anybody can grow, and you have so many options! Salvia africana, Salvia caerulea, and Salvia chamelaeagnea are all gorgeous garden plants that grow into vigorous shrubs. Pick a few leaves and use them in any dish that usually requires sage. Chicken dishes are an obvious choice, but you can also try baking finely chopped leaves into savoury biscuits to serve with cream cheese, topped with a wild garlic flower.

Num-num
If you’ve ever tasted the tart fruits of the num-num (Carissa spp.), you’ll know that they’re pretty moreish. But have you considered making delicious jams and jellies with them? They’re great as a topping for desserts like ice-cream and cheesecake. So, once those jasmine-like flowers have turned into yummy fruits, consider saving some to make jelly! Just spoon or squish out the pips through a sieve, add an equal volume of sugar to the fruit, and cook it up!

Scented Pelargoniums
The scented pelargoniums, also known as geraniums, are known for their delightful aromas, and there’s such a repertoire of flavours hiding in just this one genus! Rose-scented geraniums are fabulous in muffins, cakes, bakes and desserts, and other flavours include nutmeg, mint and even lemon. If you have time, consider candying a few flowers to use as stunning toppings for cakes baked with a few finely chopped leaves to flavour.

Buchus
Most of us are familiar with the mountain buchu (Agathosma betulina), but of all the buchus it is the most difficult to grow. Luckily for us there are many other buchu species that provide a feast of appetising aromas to inspire your inner chef. Look for garlic, lemon and aniseed aromas, to name but a few. You need only touch the foliage for those aromas to emerge, so use these herbs quite sparingly.

Folk Remedies
Just as a reminder: if it’s serious, see a doctor! Pregnant women should also check whether herbal medicines are safe for their baby. For minor ills, try planting these easy-to-grow indigenous pretties in your garden.

African Wormwood or Wildeals: This pretty plant, with its feathery silver foliage, helps with common colds, coughs and fevers. Just use a couple of leaves or a single sprig and add hot water. It tastes bitter, but it works. Many people report that it is also good for upset tummies and even for clearing intestinal parasites.

Aloes: We all know that Aloe ferox has given birth to a thriving aloe gel industry. But just about any species of aloe can help with skin healing. If you have a mild burn, for instance, kill the pain and promote healing by bandaging a peeled leaf to the spot. The cool feeling of relief is instant. Try it on any inflamed area and sigh with relief!

Bulbine Frutescens: Nature offers us a tube of soothing ointment in the form of bulbine leaves. Simply pick a leaf and squeeze it – a clear gel emerges, and it’s the perfect treatment for itchy bites. There are also reports saying that large amounts squeezed onto a cut will help to stop bleeding. As with aloes, it’s very soothing on minor burns.

And Those Culinary Herbs Too: Wild garlic and wild sage are said to have antiseptic properties, and both are believed to help to build the immune system. Num-num is rich in vitamin C, pelargoniums are great as a calming, sleep-promoting tea, and although the other buchu species may not be as powerful as the mountain buchu, they’re still good for coughs and colds.

Look Around, Read Up, and Enjoy!
There’s a lot of information on useful indigenous herbs out there, so you will find food for thought if you look more deeply into this topic. Meanwhile, be sure to have the plants mentioned here in your garden – they’re both beautiful and useful!

Click here for further reading

Savvy Plants

Savvy Plants

Folks say that one should go the local route, and although it is true that there is no region in this country that does not have its own endemic plants, the question arises whether they are easy to find in a local nursery.

Here is a selection of plants for a medium-to-low watering zone, which can be called upon to be your garden’s guardian angels due to their resilience against heat, wind, pests and disease. You can plant them for their looks too.

1. Artemisia Afra repels insects like mosquitoes, flies and worms, and keeps dogs away if planted as a protective border. When pruning back is needed, use the cut-offs as an excellent, organic and insect-repellent mulch.

2. Tulbaghia Violacea, the pungent-smelling wild garlic, repels various insects, moles (and apparently even snakes!), and has pretty purple flowers in summer that attract pollinators. It is perfect as a gap filler or for mass planting as a border.

3. Tecoma Capensis ‘Pink Blush’ has beautiful soft, pink flowers on tall, glossy-leaved shrubs. It’s an excellent choice for a hedge, or interplanted with plumbago, and is loved by birds.

4. Salvia Chamelaeagnea ‘White’ is a tall, striking shrub with pure white plumes of flowers. It’s good for coastal conditions in full sun, requires little attention and is quite drought tolerant, but will thrive with regular watering and feeding. Interplant with S. Chamelaeagnea ‘Blue’ and cut both back hard in winter. Both are loved by butterflies.

5. Leonotis Ocymifolia has striking orange flower spikes on compact plants. Fast growing and very tough in harsh coastal conditions, it needs to be pruned hard after flowering. It is irresistible to sunbirds.

6. Plumbago Auriculata ‘White’ is hardy to coastal conditions, with lovely pure white flowers. It grows up to 1.5m tall and is a perfect hedging subject, as it is very drought tolerant and responsive to pruning.

7. Lobelia Valida is a perfect short-lived perennial for sun or light shade, with intense blue flowers. Although drought hardy, it responds well to regular watering, feeding and trimming to encourage more flowers.

Garden well and still save water? You can do it!

Garden well and still save water? You can do it!

It’s tough out there folks. We have to save, save and save all the water we can! Harsh restrictions have been put in place by certain municipalities in South Africa. For me, this is an ideal opportunity to change our gardening ‘bad habits’ and, most importantly, to toughen up our plants!

Here are my top water wise gardening tips for surviving the water restrictions:

#1

If you have to choose what to keep alive, then let the lawn go but please don’t dig it up. It’s far better to have dead grass covering and protecting the soil than nothing at all. Grass is the least of your worries when it comes to your garden. When the restrictions are lifted, it’s a simple day project to replace a dead lawn with instant lawn sods.[ux_image id=”3747″]

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#2

Invest in the Gardena drill pump. It’s amazing and will take away all the hassle of distributing grey water to your garden beds. Remember – grey water (from your bath, for example) is a water wise must and your garden will love it.[ux_image id=”3843″]

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#3

Take a 2-litre plastic bottle and turn it into a slow-release drip irrigation system for trees and large shrubs:

  • Using a cordless drill with a maximum of a 5mm drill bit, drill about twenty holes around the perimeter of the plastic bottle.
  • Bury the bottle alongside the plant with its neck sticking out of the soil.
  • Simply open the plastic lid and fill the bottle with water. The water is then released slowly and gently as the plant needs it. Simple and easy!

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6 Top water-saving tips for the garden

6 Top water-saving tips for the garden

Time to become a water-saving warrior with a flourishing garden full of happy plants.

Hydro zone

  • Group plants together according to their water requirements into 1-drop, 2-drop, 3-drop and no-drop zones – the latter including hard surfaces such as permeable paving and gravel, and plants that can survive only on rainwater once established.
  • Plant a variety of endemic and hardy indigenous plants suitable to your climate as a lasting backbone taking up most of the available space. Plant those that need more water in smaller beds or in containers.
  • In large gardens, plant huge swathes of drought-hardy groundcovers and spreading succulents like crassulas, cotelydons, vygies, gazanias, arctotis and osteospermums. Include some groupings of grasses and restios like Elegia tectorum.
  • If you are partial to bright colour, plant annuals in pots and in the foreground of shrub beds. You can simply water them with a bucket instead of opening the sprinkler.
  • Create more interest with hard landscaping elements like pathways, water elements, focal points and lots of pots to take up ground space.

How to spot a water wise plant
Plants which are not water guzzlers normally have certain characteristics in common. Look out for the following: small needle-like foliage, grey foliage colour, hairy leaves, fleshy leaves, a waxy leaf surface, leaves that close up in dry spells, and leaves with a lighter shade underneath as in droughts they will flip it upwards reflecting the heat of the sun away.

Hot tip: Even plant camels will need regular watering at a young stage to become established before withstanding periods of drought well. If you have planted a young tree or shrub, create a basin around the stem and see that this basin is filled up when watering with a hosepipe or bucket.

Some more tips

  • Re-think your lawn area
    Reduce lawn surfaces; reduce the watering sessions for your lawn; and mow regularly.
  • Care for the soil
    Add copious amounts of organic material, which will change the soil structure into a cultivatable loam full of good soil organisms, and with better drainage and water holding capacity.
  • Mulch
    Mulches like bark nuggets, pine needles, peach pips and other organic material placed over the soil keeps plant roots cool and moist between watering.

This is how you should water

  • Irrigate in the early morning or late afternoon.
  • Never water in windy conditions.
  • Water less often, but deeper and for longer periods.
  • Use soaker hoses to water at ground level rather than overhead sprinklers.
  • Install a proper irrigation system controlled electronically, or fit a timing device to all taps to switch your hosepipe off in case you forget to do it.