Looking after your Dahlias during winter

The weather here is still being kind and, although we have had two or three frosts, they have not been hard enough to kill frost tender plants. Indeed, I still have a number of annuals in flower, notably marigolds and nicotiana .

Although the Dahlias are still flowering very well, now is the time to lift them if you are going to do so. I must admit I don’t lift mine. AlthoughI live in the midlands, most seem to survive the frosts. I know that I risk losing them, aqnd some do die during the winter, but most survive. If I lose too many, I will buy some more Tubers next spring and take cuttings again. I don’t really have a good place to keep them and feel the risk is worthwhile. My Dahlias even survived outside last winter, which was exceptionally cold.If you are risking them outside, do make sure you cut the foliage off when it has been frosted. It goes black and slimy and if left will encourage pests and diseases into the tubers.

However, if you want to be sure, now is the time to lift them. Take all the foliage off the tubers – it shop break off reasonably easily. Then dig them out of the ground. Clean all the mud off of them and dust them with an anti-fungal powder. Make sure they are dry when you do this. Then put a layer of damp – not wet – sand in a container. The sand should be just damp. You don’t want the tubers to start growing again.

Next lay your tubers on the sand making sure they don’t touch eac h other. If there are any parts of the tuber which are showing disease or which are dried or thin, break these off and discard them. They won’t grow next year and you are just askimng for problems by keeping them. Make sure you label each tuber – you will have forgotten what they are next year.

Cover your tubers with barely damp soil and place the container in a dark, cold (frost free ) place. Make sure the mice can’t get to your container. Do not put a lid on the container. You want the air to circulate or the tubers might go musty and rot.

It really is that simple. Next spring, bring them out, dust them off and bury them, either in the garden or in seed trays in a warm place so that you can take cuttings or just to bring them into flower earlier.

Dahlias are simple plants to grow. They require very little in the way of maintenance and will reward you with an abundance of flowers for a long period of time, flowering until the frosts cut them back.

Common Bulbs for Spring Flowering

Now is the time to plant your spring bulbs (if you have not already done so. Although the optimum time for doing this is September and October. I have found that most bulbs will in fact flower in the spring even if they are planted as late as December, although the flowering may be a bit late. You just have to wait until the ground is not frozen.

The range of spring flowering bulbs is increasing year on year with new varieties of old favourites being introduced. I have covered a bank in my garden with daffodil bulbs and I do not lift them after they have flowered. I do cut the flower heads off and leave the foliage until six weeks after flowering before I cut it back. (If you can tolerate it you can just leave them – not really recommended but they will eventually disappear). Anyway, the daffodils reliably flower year on year, increasing in number. The display is quite spectacular and, because I have more than one variety, it lasts a long time. Eventually, they will become over-crowded and will need digging up and replanting. You know this because they produce loads of leaves and very few flowers. Of course, if you want to, you can lift them every year when the foliage has died back and replant in the autumn.

Some bulbs like to be lifted after flowering (tulips come into this catagory). This is because they are vulnerable to rotting in wet soils and to slugs and other creatures eating them. Leave them until the foliage has died down before lifting, then store in cool, dry conditions until the next autumn.  Having said that, you can, if you wish leave them in the ground and risk losing some of them. It is nice though, when they suddenly flower with no input from you. Remember where they are, though, so you don’t put a fork or trowel through the bulbs.

The reason for cutting back dead flowers on bulbs (dead-heading) if so that the plant does not put energy into making seeds but puts its energy into making the bulb larger (and creating more bulbs). You should not cut back (or tie up )the leaves because they will return the goodness into the bulbs once they have finished flowering thus creating a better display next year.If you want to use the ground the bulbs are in or cannot bear to se them scruffy, then you can dig them up and ‘heel them in’ elsewhere. This means pplanting them shallowly so that they are easy to put in and dig up whan finished.

Some bulbs do not tolerate being taken out of the ground for any length of time (notable among these is the snowdrop). So you do need to know what conditions the bulbs require before buying. (Like most plants really!)

Christmas Gifts from Thompson and Morgan

According to T & M. Christmas is on it’s way. (I have not yet given up on summer, but no matter). They have just issued their Christmas catalogue which is full of good ideas for Christmas gifts (or even gifts to yourself most of which are under £20.

Thompson and Morgan are renowned for their seeds, so as you would expect most of thir products are flower or plant related. Because of the financial situation, more then 40 items have been held or reduced in price,one by as much as £42.99. (and it only started at £59.98  so it has been reduced by more than 75%.

Although many of the items offered are tried and rested Christmas related plants (such as the Poinsettia) even some of these have slight twists. For instance, a cyclamen is offered – a very common Christmas plant. However this one is slightly different in that it has white flowers with red edges and centre. It is also presented in a 12 cm pot in a silk  pot cover. This particular variety ‘Victoria’ is arguably the longest flowering cyclamen. Don’t forget that once you have finished with it indoors, you can plant cyclamen outside and they will flourish and give you good displays year after year. In fact that is where all my cyclamen plants come from.

For the person who likes flowers but cannot maintain them, Thompson and Morgan are now offering a range of silk flowers. OI think one of the best of these are the Orchids. Their Pansy Orchid is even scented which makes them even more lifelike. You can buy the orchid scent separately so that it can be renewed periodically.

If you are a plant lover and want to give gifts which are connected to this love, I would recommend a look at the Thompson and Morgan gift range. It has a god range of very interesting plants at reasonable prices.

Extending the season

I was about to empty my hanging baskets with a view to planting for the winter when I realised how well they are looking. Although the Fuchsias have given up (they were never really good – probably due a shortage of water early in their lives) the geraniums (they are really Pelargoniums but everybody refers to the as Geraniums) have produced a great many new leaves and flower buds and I will keep them going until we get our first real frosts which will cut them down. If you like Pelargoniums indoors during the winter (I don’t), then now is the time to transfer them to pots and take them in, or you could take cuttings. These are very easy to strike and even if you don’t want them all, it is worth taking a few for next year’s display.  The

Having realised that the hanging baskets were in the process of rejuvenation, I started carefully looking around at my other flowers to see if they were the only plants which had decided this was the time to flower and found a number of oddities.

Some of my Roses have another flush of flower buds. These will be the third flowers they have borne this year and, as they have used so much energy to do so, I will need to feed them well next year.

The honeysuckle, which was supposed to be only three tall when I bought it, is now about seven feet tall and is still in full flower. I bought this as a ‘patio plant’ but I am glad I did not use it as such as it is very vigorous and I have already cut it back twice this year to keep it under control. Honeysuckle really does need pruning regularly or it will cover everything in its path and will not flower so well.

I also have a number of Gladioli which have just decided to flower. Gladioli corms should really be lifted during the winter as they are not particularly frost hard. Hoeever, I leave mine in the ground, taking the approach that if they do not survive, I will need to replace them. Even though the winter was very severe, some of them have still survived but as I said, they have only now started to flower. I don’t know whether this is because of the drought or because the bulbs are planted particularly deeply. I rather suspect the former.

Now is the time to really clean up your garden. The more debris and weeds you leave around, the more habitats you are keeping for pests and diseases. Clear up dead leaves and spend annuals and compost them uinless they show signs of disease when they shoukd be burned. You shoukd never put plants with large tap roots or plants (or other material) which is diseased on your compost heap as they may well not rot and  you will be spreading the problem around when you spread your compost. The same applies to plants like bindweed, ground elder and ivy. The compost heap will probably not kill the rots and you will have new problems in different places if you try to compost them. Burn them or otherwise dispose of them.

Plants for winter colour.

If you are looking for plants which will flower during winter. There are now a number to choose from. The plant everbody thinks of is the Christmas Rose (Helebores). These have been around for a long time but recent improvements mean that there is a great variety of colour and mixes. The plants spread eventually but take a long time to do so. They like deep, well drained soil, so choose their site carefully and leave them in all year. They will retain their leaves which are quite pretty.

Pansies are, perhaps, the most popular of winter flowers. There are now a number of varieties which flower during winter, giving you a great selection of colours. However, be careful that you choose the right variety, as many pansies flower during summer, not winter.

Perhaps the most trendy flower at the moment is Ballis Perennis. This is a small daisy-like flower which bloms very early in the spring, and will keep flowering. I have some which started flowering last February and is still producing flowers. There are two distinct types – one produces daisy like flowers and the other produces what I assume to be double flowers. They look a bit like domes and are pink with whits tips.

Winter aconites (Eranthus lyemalis) are a very old pplant which was always popular in cottage gardens. It looks a bit like a buttercup and, given the right conditions will spread all over the place becoming almost invasive. It thrives in heavy loam soils, but will also grow in other soils.

One of the lesser known flowers is Hepatica. This is a perennial and has a number of varieties in shades of whire, red and purple. Its flowers lok like Cosmos, although of course its foliage does not.

Apart from these plants, there are a number of bulbs which flower in winter or very early spring. Of course snowdrop (Galanthus nivalis) is among them. You should remember when buying these, that they do not grow well from bare bulbs. Always buy the bulbs ‘in the green’. That means with leaves attached to them. This can make them a bit expensive to buy at first (and the bulbs may not do anything for the first year!) but persevere. They should reward you with flowers the second year and, given reasonable conditions – no moving them- they will flourish and give larger and better displays year on year. If you do feel the need to move them, do so whilst they still have leaves, immediately after they have flowered.

Cyclamen will also give you a good display of flowers. They dislike exposed conditions (I have some under my Raspberries which works quite well as the raspberries are cut down in the late summer/early autumn so allow the cyclamen room to do their thing. If you do not do anything with them, cyclamenn will send out long curly shoots which will develop into new corms (a bit like strawberry runners but they are very curly). They come in a variety of pinks and reds and of course white. Many people have cyclamen in pots in their house over Christmas. When you have finished with them indoors leave them in a coler environment, then in spring plant them outside. They should grow well. The leaves on cyclamen often do not appear until after the flowers have blomed.he leaves in themselves are worth keeping the plant for, they have beautiful patterns and are roughly heart shaped.

There are a number of Heathers (Ericas) available which will give you winter colour. However, check your soil for acidity as most Ericas like lime free soil.

Above are a few of the flowers available for winter colour. I am sure I have missed a great number. If you have a particular favourite, I would be interested to hear about it. I’m always on the lookout for new plants.

Shrubs for Winter Interest.

It is important to me that my garden in winter should have something of interest at all times.To this aim, I am always looking for new plants and ideas for colour or shape.

Many of the most interesting plants are shrubs and as they take up a lot of room as well as looking good in winter, they must earn their keep the rest of the year. There are many which do just that. The first is Mahonia. This shrub gets to 6-10ft (1.8-3m) tall so is not a small plant. However, it is evergreen with very fragrant yellow flowers during winter. It looks a bit like a holly but not so prickly.

Next is Daphne (Mezereon) . This is a smaller shrub (height 5ft )(1.5m))with fragrant, pink, white or purple flowers. Skimmia is another shrub about the same size. It has red buds during the winter which develope into flowers and last a very long time. Although it is not scented, it earns its keep by being more compact with nice dark green leaves, so makes a good backdrop for other flowers during the rest opf the year.

If you have ropom. Willow loks god with its catkins during winter. However, I would not recommend it for small gardens, as the rots have a way of spreading a long way and can easily undermine the fottings of your house. You are better off plantimng either Chinese withch hazel ot Wintersweet. Both these shrubs can grow up to 10 ft tall, so they are not for the feint hearted but they both have sweet scented yellow flowers during winter. Wintersweet appreciates some shelter and performs better if it is planted against a shoulth or west facing w

Green Manures

Now that summer is coming to an end and you are harvesting your vegetables, it is time to consider what you are going to do with your vegetable patch during the months in which you are not growing anything productive.

There are in fact a number of things you can do. The first is nothing. You can leave it barren and let the weeds grow as they will. This is not a good idea. You are creating work for yourself in that you will have to remove the weeds in the spring. Whats more the weeds will take nutrients from the earth which will need top be replenished.

The second is to cover the plot with black plastic. This will stop weeds growing and in fact will keep the soil that little bit warmer. It also makes an ideal place for slugs and snails to overwinter. It will mean that you will not have to weed in the spring but you will need to feed your soil. This is not difficult to do, just add garden compost to it in the spring.

The third, and at the moment the most favoured thing to do by trendy gardeners is to grow plants which are known as ‘green manure’. This is not a new tecnique, it has been around for a number of years but recently it has developed somewhat of a cult status and there are a number of new varieties available.

What it means is that you grow certain plants during the time you are not using the soil and just before you want to sow your seeds (or Plant), then you cut down the crop and dig it in.

The green manure plants are sown like grass. The roots fix nitrogen in the soil and by digging it in, you are adding bulk vegetable matter to the soil. This will make your soil a great deal more fertile.

If you want to use your vegetable patch early in the year, you can dig in your green manure plants early and cover your soil with plastic (black is best, it absorbs heat and prevents weeds germinating. Then, when the soil is warm you can take it off and sow your seeds earlier than usual. Remember, though, that your soil will then rapidly lose its extra warmth and you should then either cover your seed beds with fleece or erect cold frames over them.

One other thing, when purchasing your green manure seeds, make sure that they are for the correct season in which you are going to be using them. Like all plants, diferent varieties grow at different times.

Less Common Bulbs for Spring

Now is the time to start planting bulbs for spring flowering. Most of us think of Daffodils (Narcissus) and Tulips first when we think of spring flowering bulbs and with all the new varieties now available you can get a very long lasting and colourful display using just these bulbs. However, if you look more deeply, there are a great many other types of bulbs available which will not cost a fortune and which will make your spring flower display much more interesting.

First there are winter aconites. These actually flower during the winter (so they are not in fact spiring bulbs at all). They are really great flowers. They look very like buttercups when in flower but they do flower all winter, even under snow. I find them really inspiring. If delicate flowers like these can survive in the really bad weather, so can I!. Thompson and Morgan are now offering these bulbs at 24 bulbs for £6.99. If you want larger quantities, they come at discounts. Like most bulbs, these will increase in number year on year – and you can leave these bulbs in the ground from one year to the next.

Now for some real spring flowering bulbs. Alliums have become very fashionable in the last few years – with good reason. They are really showy flowers and the different varieties really are different both in shape and colour. Although Allium are the same family as onions (that shows in some of them in the shape and colour of the flower), most do not in fact smell of onion.  T & M are offering a collection which they call ‘Allium Cotttage Garden Mixed which are 50 bulbs for £9.99. They flower from late sping to early summer and make great dried flowers. If you want named varietries, Thompson and Morgan are also offering 4 other types of Allium including the most popular, Purple Sensation.

For something different, why not try Brodiaea Laxa Royal Blue. This is also known as the Harvest Lily. This is the first time this variety has been offered in the U.K. so you will be sure to be asked what they are. They have sturdy stems which hold up to 25 brilliant lilac-blue flowers which look like miniature roses. Theie foliage is grass-like and it dies back when they flower so that they stand out more. They are relatively expensive (10 bulbs and £9.99) but because they have so many flower heads per plant this is more acceptable. The price also reflects the newness of the variety.

If you are looking for a larger number of bulbs for less expense, why not try one of Thompson and Morgan’s  collections. The first they call ‘Bumper Pack Bulbs’ . These are 125 bulbs for £9.99. They include 30 Allium Ostrowskanum; 30 Anemone De Caen; 30 Oxalis Iron Cross; 25 Crocus and 25 Daffodil Tet a Tete. This will give you flowers over a long period of time in a great many colours, shapes and heights.

The second Pack I am going to talk about is T & M’s ‘Nature Bulb Pack’ Basically this means that all the bulbs are native English flowers which will naturalise easily should you wish but will look equally good in flower beds., although to get the best effect they should be planted under trees (or Deciduous shrubs). This pack include 5 wood Anemones; 25 Snakeshead Fritillaria; 10 Lily of the Valley and 10 English Bluebells. Tis pack costs £9.99 for 50 bulbs.

I like to plant my bulbs ‘en masse’ in random patterns and to do this, I just throw the bulbs at the ground and plant them where they land. Be aware though that Lile of the Valleyt will flower much better (and will increase in number if they are planted and left to do their own thing. They even resent being weeded to much, so plant them in a corner and leave them alone. You will trewarded with a charming, scented display year after year.

Superior Timber Design Raised Bed Kits

Harrod’s Superior Riased Bed Kits look good and are pretty adaptable. They are made of FSC Scandinavion timer planks which are 8 inches (20cm) high and 1.4 inches thick. This makes them pretty robust. As well as the planking they sell  4 inch (10cm) corner posts and also capping seperately. The planks come in various lengths from 2 ft to 8 ft as does the capping.

Superior Timber Raised Beds

Harrod also sell what they call ‘Starter Kits’ which include all you need to make raised beds: the planks, corner posts, long lasting aluminium joining brackets and even zinc plated screws – with full instructions on how to assemble them. These kits come in various width and length sizes from 2 ft square and raising by 2 ft increments (seperately by width and length i.e. you could have 4 ft by 6 ft) to 8 ft square. There is also 4 height options. The capping is not included in the kit but can be bought seperately. On top of the rectangular kits, there is also a triangular kit available.

The wood has been high pressure treated with safe timberpreservative which was selected in consultation with ‘Garden Organic’ to ensure the best possible protection from attack from fungal attack and attack from wood boring insects. It has been planed to give you the best possible look.It is structually guaranteed for 8 years.

There are god reasons for putting capping on the top of your raised bed sides. Apart from loking really attractive, they are excellant for sitting on whilst hand weeding or planting in your beds.

These beds really are stylish and would make a god addition to any garden.

Raised Bed Kits for a very competitive price

Many allotment gardeners (and, indeed, those raising vegetables in their gardens) have found that keeping beds contained is a perennial problem. Most methods of containing beds with railway sleepers or other timber is too expensive and too much work, taking time you would rather devote to raising your plants.

Allotment Timber Raised Bed

Harrod Horticulture have come up with an answer. They call it their ‘Allotment Timer Design for Raised Beds‘. It is in fact suitable for any raised beds. Made from 6 inch (15cm) thick FSC Scandinavian timber planks and planed all round they are quality wood with 5 year structural guarantee.

The planks are treated with a safe timer preservative to ensure that they have the best possible resistance to fungal decay and wood boring insects. Harrod Horticulture consult withe Garden Organic to select the best possible preservative to do this job so it should work!

The kits come in a variety of square and rectangular designs with 3 height options and for narrow areas there are 2 ft wide mini-beds or triangular corner shapes.

The kits come complete with internal wooden fixing posts and zinc pplated scrrews. Even the planks are pre-drilled and full instructions are included so that minimum time and wood working ability is needed.

If you want a more elegant look, or have a side on which you can sit to work on your beds (really useful when planting), then you can also buy capping which has been desined to fit perfectly.

These raised bed kits are really good value and will last many years with the minimum of maintenance giving you beds which will never move or lose soil. They are excellant for raised beds (partcularly useful if you garden organically) but will be useful whatever your method of gardening.