Winter is a Time for Our Plants to Rest

Highveld Winter
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Oh the Jo'burg winter. When it's 26 degrees in the sun and 10 degrees, one meter away, in the shade. It's a time to chill. A time to sleep. And let our summer loving plants take a break.

Long nights. Short days. Time to hibernate. If only. Unfortunately down here in South Africa our time doesn’t change and works still starts at 8.00am. But oh, how nice it would be to snuggle under that duvet for a little longer; just an extra 5 or 10 (15 minutes would be perfect).

Yes it’s that time again. Time to be lazy. But in a good way.

We can never understand the gardeners who don’t understand that Winter is a time to let things rest. Yes. Collect those leaves. Trim those trees. Maybe tidy up a bit.

But stop mowing and watering that lawn!

Jo’burg winter’s are dry. Our landscape reflects that. Gone are the great green views. Quickly replaced by brown.

But isn’t this the pleasure of winter. Of seasons. Everything has a time to rest. Our plants included. This is part of the natural cycle. Where, like frogs, our perennials should be left to sleep.

If you’re not a conifer then you shouldn’t be green.

Many summer visitors to our home comment on the green lushness of our grass. They look for tips as if we have some hidden secret. Well we do, sort of. We never water our lawn. Ever. And in Winter we let it go dormant. So that it can awake with renewed vigour when the Spring rains come.

So why is dormancy important for plants. First off, this prevents plants from seeding when the likelihood of germination is reduced. No seed is going to survive our 0ºC nights and 26ºC days. So smart. Why spend energy when the investment made is likely not to give a decent return (a bit like Bitcoin at the moment)? Plants should also struggle a bit. Like the marathon runner preparing for Comrades by running up hills. Who does that? Of course mad people. But also the clever who realise the pain in training will lead to pleasure and success in the race. Let those roots struggle for nutrients and water. They’ll be stronger and more successful when these resources are not as scarce. Hardening athletes and plants is never a bad thing.

Germination and growth requires energy. So putting out green vulnerable shoots in the middle of Winter is a waste of time. Those shoots will be black before the midday sun is up.
So we shouldn’t be tricking our plants out of dormancy by watering or fertilising. Not good for us - oh, the gardeners disappointment after a hard frost - or our plants.

What can we do though? Mulch mulch and mulch. Use those dropped leaves and rake them into your beds. This will keep the soil a bit warmer and so keep our bacterial and earthworm friends in good health. And over the winter that layer of mulch will become top soil. Food for Spring.

Our winter dormant plant? Let them lie. Let them sleep. Let their roots curl up and dream of Spring.


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