Here come the frosts
Last year’s mild winter may have lulled us into a false sense of security – but take a few precautions now, and you can start planning for Christmas…
Check greenhouse heaters are working, and open the doors occasionally to allow some fresh air in. This prevents any build up of fumes. Drain water features that won’t flow until next spring to prevent frost damage.
Have fleece at the ready to cover tender plants such as hebes, and cut back your herbaceous perennial stems to near ground level, leaving a few inches on your phlox, lupins, delphiniums to give a little protection against extremes of weather. Long roses can suffer in strong winds, so clip their stems. After you give your garden a sweep, pop any diseased leaves into the bin – not onto the compost heap. Spend a fine morning cleaning up your borders and mulching it with well-rotted compost so you’re good to go in spring.
Winter planting – outside and in
You can still plant any bare-root hedging or fruit trees, while shrubs such as witch hazel, skimmias or leucothoe will give you a pop of winter colour; winter bedding too – pansies, violas and winter flowering heathers will all bloom in mild conditions. Winter pansies may droop at very low temperatures, but they’ll soon perk up again when they thaw out.
Make your home a haven of living colour this season – selecting the right houseplants can transform your space. The poinsettia is always the star of the show – just don’t place it in a draught and don’t over-water – but cyclamens are your best friends in a cool, light room. Again, don’t drown them – only water when they’re practically wilting.
Other plants that deliver on colour are the Christmas cherry with its shiny red-orange berries, Christmas cacti producing beautiful red, pink, orange, white or lavender flowers, and azaleas.
Gifts for the green-fingered… or not…
Garden centre vouchers are always a big hit with gardeners – they can use them when they need them. Planted arrangements last so much longer than cut flowers, and tubs and hanging baskets can be bought ready-planted.
For that person you know who kills every houseplant they try and nurture, why not look at a cactus or succulent display – or you could even try an ‘air plant’ or tillandsia, which needs very little care and grows with no roots or soil.
Choosing your tree
Trees are available from the end of November – make sure you have a good look at the shape and spread of your chosen tree before it’s wrapped up. The most popular tree in the UK is the Nordmann fir, because it holds its needles relatively well – keep your tree away from radiators and put in a pot that makes it easy for you to water it occasionally and this will help it keep its needles and stay looking fresh for longer. If well looked after, cut trees should last about three weeks.
Potted trees are a wonderful option for a smaller space, or when you suspect you’ll have a big pile of presents – you can repot them after the season and use them as your festive centerpiece for a couple of years, or plant them out in the garden. Plant away from the house as some conifers can grow up to 25 metres tall; they slightly prefer moist, acid soil. Choose trees that have been grown in their container rather than taken out of the ground and potted up – they have a much better root system and will be healthier.
Once the bad weather arrives – if it does! – don’t forget bags of rock salt, outdoor tap covers and snow shovels – and make sure you purchase that all-important sledge before the shops sell out.
If we get some snow and ice and you have a pond, try putting a ball onto the surface so that you can keep an area free of ice allowing the air to circulate. Pool heaters are a good idea for cold winters and the fish will congregate by the warmth!