What are your plants trying to tell you?

What are your plants trying to tell you?

Although healthy plants are easy to maintain in suitable soil and climate, they occasionally need protection against pests.  Like people, if feeling poorly, a plant has a way of letting you know what is wrong.  Leaves may droop, holes may appear, or growth may stop. A quick, accurate diagnosis is half the battle in controlling the problem before it gets out of hand.

Please continue to read to discover the most common pest in our gardens and easy remedies for beautiful plants.

Mealy Bugs

White woolly spots appear on stems, at junctions of stems and leaves, generally in any area hidden from bright light. Mealy bugs are insects covered with white powdery wax and suck plant juices from the plants. They excrete honeydew on which a sooty black fungus may form.

Easy remedy: when there are only a few, dip a cotton wool earbud in alcohol or methylated spirits and rub them off. For heavier infestation, spray the plants with soapy (Sunlight Liquid) water.

Red Spider Mite and your plants

Leaves show pale yellow speckles, then slowly turning yellow, and in time the plants become stunted and die. These eight-legged pests are a particular nuisance during dry, hot periods. They are small and red, hardly visible, and live under the leaves spinning delicate white webs. They feed by sucking the sap from the plants.

Control by a direct spray with water from a garden hose pipe.


These tiny plant lice are about 3 mm long and can be green, brown or black, and assemble on soft young tips or leaves’ underside. They are usually wingless and suck the plant’s sap. They cause leaves and buds to wither and stunt the growth of the plants. Leaves and stems become shiny and sticky to the touch. Aphids are generally active when days are hot and nights are cool. 

Control aphids by picking them off or knocking them off with a strong water stream of a garden hose pipe.


When your plant becomes stunted and stems and leaves are often sticky to the touch, look on leaves’ underside and plant stems. Your plants are probably infested with scale. Their yellowish (when young) or brown colour makes them hard to see until the infestation is severe. They look like small oval shells and assemble in dense colonies where they sap the plant’s strength by sucking its juices. Scale also excretes a mould forming honeydew.

Control by gently scrub the scale off the leaves and stems using a cotton wool earbud dipped in alcohol or methylated spirits.


Caterpillars are the larvae of butterflies and moths and often show up in our gardens in late summer and early autumn. They can ravage plant leaves but they’ll usually stick to one kind of plant. They are a very hungry and mostly unwelcome guest in the garden, especially on plants like arum lilies, Clivias and Agapanthus. They will eat holes in your leaves, typically overnight. They do have plenty of natural predators like wasps and birds.

Control caterpillars by picking them off your plants and looking for their eggs on the leaves’ underside, and removing them with a strong flush of water.

If all else fails

If flushing with water or swapping pest with a cotton wool earbud does not help, contact your nursery for an organic spray. Heavy infestations sometimes need harsher intervention but always avoid insecticides that might kill beneficial insects and pollinators like bees. We need them for a healthy earth.

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Coleonema album – The Cape’s Confetti Bush

Coleonema album – The Cape’s Confetti Bush

Common names: Confetti bush, Aasbossie, Cape May, or Klip buchu

When you hike up Table Mountain in winter or early spring, you will see lots of Coleonema album flowering, and you will smell the sweet-smelling leaves on a hot day. Occurring naturally all over the Cape Peninsula mountains and also in the rest of the Western Cape and Eastern Cape mountains, this shrub is one of the must-have shrubs for your fynbos garden.

Coleonema album forms a dense, much-branched, compact shrub with fine needle-like foliage on slender branches. The leaves are very aromatic. Being from the evergreen Rutaceae family that includes citrus and buchu, essential oils are also extracted.

A hardy plant this confetti bush

Winter rainfall areas are where you will find Coleonema album flourishing. They can also withstand the dry and hot summers. They require full sun for best flowering and need well-drained soil that is well composted.  Mulch roots regularly to retain moisture and to keep roots cool in summer. Although established plants are water-wise and can withstand drought periods, the plant will perform at their best if watered moderately during dry spells.

Small star-shaped white flowers appear in the winter and spring in clusters at the branch tips. Prune lightly in summer after flowering to keep bushes neat. This will also ensure masses of flowers the following flowering season.

The Coleonema album is a beautiful addition to the fynbos garden and a good filler plant for mixed shrub planting. It is also a must-have plant for attracting butterflies and birds to your garden. The shrubs can be pruned into tiny hedges and can be used as a windbreak or a screening plant. It is also a good coastal plant and can withstand strong salty winds. Commercially, the flowers and branches can be used for flower arrangements and as a filler for mixed fynbos flower bunches.

Confetti Bush

The colours of the rainbow

Coleonema pulcellum is the pink flowering confetti bush, and Coleonema Sunset Gold is the compact yellow-leaved with pink flowers that also feature prominently in South African gardens. (Note: Coleonema Sunset Gold yellow leaves burn easily in the Cape’s fierce summer sun, so position them when planting where it will get afternoon shade.)

Coleonema is one of our prettiest indigenous shrubs and really puts up a stunning display at our winters’ end.

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September Bells  – Super Purple for Spring!

September Bells – Super Purple for Spring!

Polygala myrtifolia –  Common names: September bells, Bloukappie or September bush

The first day of spring is the first of September. No other plant shouts out “spring is in the air” as the September bush. They are covered in mauve sweet pea-shaped flowers in abundance on the first day of spring.

This fast-growing, indigenous shrub grows naturally round, making it a good choice for any fynbos garden. The myrtle-like leaves are a pale green and oval-shaped on slender branches. Polygala is endemic to the West Coast all along the coastal region through to Kwazulu Natal. It occurs naturally in the coastal mountains, forest, streams and open grasslands. It needs watering when newly-planted but drought-hardy once established.

The flowers are attractive sweet pea-like, pink to purple in clusters on the tips of the branches throughout the year. But, most prolific in September (hence its common name September bush). Nectar-rich flowers are where you will find the birds and insects. The seeds are also rich in protein and are a good food source for birds. Polygala plants also serve as the larval host plant to the Lucerne Blue butterfly.  Polygala prefers sun, although it will grow in semi-shade but will flower less. The flowers are also long-lasting in a vase indoors.

September bells

Being fast-growing, they need a well-drained loamy soil. In springtime, a good mulch of organic compost will improve flowering the next year. A good prune after flowering in spring will encourage more leaf growth. Polygala will do well planted into containers, as a hedge, and as screening plants. They can be pruned into formal hedges and is a good (and beautiful!) plant for planting as a wind barrier.

Polygala fruticosa “Petite” is a dwarf variety that grows up to half a metre. Polygala virgata is a slender shrub with needle-like foliage.

This colourful evergreen shrub is a perfect plant for small and large gardens as its roots are non-invasive. Charming and tough, Polygala is a must-have shrub for your spring garden.

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Make the most of Succulents, Slugs and Snails

Make the most of Succulents, Slugs and Snails

Slugs and snails are a common annoyance for any gardener. They are sneaky eaters, and you almost never see them before they have eaten away your precious plants. They are the slimiest pest a succulent gardener might encounter – literally and figuratively! During winter, when it is wet and cold in the Western Cape, they have a ball of a time chomping away on your plants.

Both slugs and snails thrive in cool, moist conditions and are mainly active during the nighttime. They like to lay their eggs in the darkest of corners in the soil under plants. And, they can lay up to 100 eggs each time – not only once a year but several times a year. After the eggs are laid, they develop and hatch. And, in perfect conditions, snails can live for a few years in your garden. 

Spotting slugs and snails infestations on your plants are relatively easy because they usually are the first pests active in early spring. Because they prefer the cooler months, they get active as early as the end of winter before other pests are active. Of course, the unmistakable snail trail is an immediate giveaway. Together with the scalloped edges on plants and leaves where they have recently been eating. On succulents like your Cotyledon orbiculate, they like to eat the leaves from the upper side. This leaves big holes in the fleshy leaves. And, all this happens overnight …

Spotting Slugs and Snails

But how do you get rid of this slimy pest? Being a prolific pest, you probably won’t be able to clear your garden from slugs and snails completely. But you can try a few methods to help prevent them from damaging your succulents.


This is the most environmentally-friendly way to keep slugs and snails at bay. Crushing up eggshells into small pieces and scattering them around the base of your plants or even on the plant itself, acts as a deterrent. Slugs and snails have delicate skin and the sharp and piercing edges of the eggshells are unpleasant for them, meaning they will keep clear of the succulents with eggshells around. This method is poison-free and safe to use around pets and kids. Eggshells are also entirely biodegradable, and a source of calcium for soil.

Beer traps

Beer traps are easy and straightforward to maintain. Simply take a small bowl or cup and bury it to the rim in an infested area and fill it to about halfway with fresh beer. Slugs and snails are both attracted by the smell of the yeast in the beer and will venture in, drowning when they reach the beer. Keep on topping up the beer every few days and remove dead slugs and snails.

Poison bait

If you want to wipe out the slugs and snails and a deterrent is not enough, there are several options available in several different forms – pellets, meal, and in liquid. Pellets and meal bait can be scattered around plants or placed in piles in a particular infested area, like against walls and under thick plant growth. This poisonous bait needs to be consumed by the slugs and snails to be effective.

Slugs and Snails don’t love poison, neither do kids and pets

Use with caution if you have small children or pets as this is poisonous!!!! And, is also deadly for wildlife. If you have to go this way, please avoid buying bait, meal or liquid bait with metaldehyde as an active ingredient, but go for the safer, iron phosphate bait instead.

Alternative methods

Handpicking is also an option but not for the squeamish among us. Using rubber gloves or tongs to pluck and dispose of the pests at night gets them out of your garden.

Inviting natural predators of slugs and snails to your garden, such as frogs and toads, is also an option. Frogs and toads are able to eat a significant number of slugs and snails and may help keep the numbers of other problem insects, like mosquitos, down. Having a water feature in your garden will attract frogs and toads. Slugs and snails look harmless, but to your plants, they are not, and hopefully, you’ll find one of these methods an effective way to keep slugs and snails away from your beautiful succulents.

Slugs and snails

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Aloiampelos tenuior

Aloiampelos tenuior

Aloiampelos tenuior – Common names:  Fence aloe, Slender aloe or ‘Heuningaalwyn’.

Aloiampelos tenuior is a bushy, multi-branched, climbing succulent that occurs naturally in the Eastern Cape, Western Cape, Kwazulu Natal and Mpumalanga. It was formerly known as Aloe tenuior, but Aloiampelos means ‘climbing plant’, and it was changed to name a group of climbing or rambling Aloes. 

If you are looking for a succulent with a long flowering season, free-flowering and showy plant, then this Aloe is the one for you. Aloiampelos tenuior is suited for rockeries, retaining walls, terraces, mixed garden beds and borders and en masse planting. It needs full sun but can tolerate semi-shade although it will flower less.

It is also a good container plant and with a little help can be encouraged to climb up a fence or a trellis. Although in nature it can grow in poor soil, it is best to plant Aloiampelos tenuior in compost enrich, well-drained soil, and to give it a good mulch of compost in springtime. Whilst they can withstand dry conditions, it will perform better with regular watering – especially in the dry spells in summer. It can withstand light frost, and it is also wind-resistant, making it a popular coastal plant.

The Aloiampelos tenuior is a small to medium evergreen, with sprawling shrub stems which are slender and grow upright, but tends to need support from surrounding shrubs to remain upright. The leaves are thin and slightly fleshy without any spots. It is crowned in a lax rosette at the ends of the branches, and the leaf margins have small teeth. Being a fast-growing shrub, this Aloe can become untidy and needs regular pruning to keep tidy and encourage more flowers.

Aloiampelos tenuior

Delicate yellow flowers (red and orange-red) are borne in a slender rosette nearly year-round but mainly from late winter into late summer and are visited by bees for pollen and nectar.

The root and leaves are used in traditional medicine as purgative and tapeworm remedy.

This easy to grow, undemanding and free flowering Aloe will transform any garden in a riot of colour when in full bloom.

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