Snowdrops – a great winter flower

I love snowdrops. They are the first flowers to show whilst winter has still got its grip on us and reminds us that spring is on its way.

snowdrops

Snowdrops are very easy to grow, although they can sometimes seem tricky at first. You must realise that snowdrois do not like being moved and will not grow from bulbs the way other flowers such as daffodils do. You must buy them ‘in the green’. This means that they must still have leaves on them.This means that they will be much more expensive to buy at first than other bulbs, but once you have planted them, they will multiply in much the same way. Remember, though, if you want to thin them out, or move them, you must do so whilst they are still green.

Plant snowdrops in much the same way you would any other bulb, at twice the depth of the size of the bulb. You will be able to tell how deep the snowdrop plants have been by the leaves, maintain that depth.

No bulb likes being in wet, heavy soil. Bulbs are soft and fleshy and if left in wet conditions, they will rot. So if your soil  is like this, prepare it well before planting. Dig a hole larger and deeper than the area of bulbs you want to plant. put grit in the bottom of the hole and place the bulbs on that, then cover with soil. Of course, if you have bought more than one snowdrop bulb in a pot, you can seperate them to plant them in the garden.

I have my snowdrops in an area of grass. The first year they were there, they only showed leaves (difficult to see since they look very like grass) but the next year they started flowering and have not looked back since. I leave cutting this area of grass until I am sure the leaves have died off (about six weeks after they have finished flowering). Like all bulbs, you need to leave the foliage on them until it is really dead so that all the goodness in the leaves goes back into the bulb to feed it for the following year. If you do not do this, the bulb will get weaker and will eventually just give up.

As snowdrops do not like to be moved, they are not really suitable to grow in pots (you can do so but you are likely to lose your bulbs by doing to). However, they look great in grass, or why not try them under deciduous shrubs. That way, when the snowdrops start to look scrufy, the shrubs start to shot and will hide them.

There is now a great range of hybrids available, including double snowdrops and a large range of large flowered varieties. If you want to see the range, you can check them out by visiting a garden  or nursery which specialises in them. Apart from giving you ideas about which varieties you like, its a good way to get gentle excercise on a clement winter day.

Some Less Conventional Hanging Basket Plants

Every year I have 6 or more hanging baskets which I plant up myself. I grow plants especially for them, although I will occasionally use an extra plant or two from those which I have grown for other purposes. Loking for plant seeds (and young plants) for hanging baskets is always fun. There are so many choices it boggles the mind.

Last year I had a few sweet pea plants left over after I planted some in my garden, so I tried them in a hanging basket. They were interesting, but didn’t quite give me the ‘wow’ effect I was looking for. They started off by trailing down 6 ins or so, then decided they needed more light and turned round and grew upwards. They were also a bit mean with the flowers (probably not enough soil). They were on a north facing wall, so that may have been a problem. I don’t think I’ll do it again though.

I also tried tomatoes one year (gardeners delight) just as something different. I put one or two among the other flowers. They did grow and produce tomatoies (very small ones) but I have enough room to produce my tomatoes conventionally, so I won’t bother doing that again.

Having talked of the failures, here’s a big success.

For the past two years I have grown Petunia Tidal Wave in my hanging baskets and they have been terrific. I have bought them as plug plants from Thompson and Morgan. (They are advertised on the internet as a climbing plant and sold as such). However, they are super hanging basket plants. Theyhang about 6ft to the ground and are also very bushy plants, flowering from June to the first frosts.What more could you ask!

Dahlias – Time To Come Back Into Fashion

Dahlias are not very fashionable at the moment, although I do not understand why this should be so. They are easy to grow, easy to propogate and give a great splash of colour late in the season when other plants are beginning to look tired.

Dahlias are prolific and long flowering tuberous plants. They have been bred to have a wide range of forms and colours (although there are still no blue coloured flowers).

The groups of dahlia single, anemone, collerette, water-lily, decorative, cactus, semi-cactus and miscellaneous (which includes orchid). Each flower head is referred to horticulturally as a flower although it is in fact a large number of individual flowers.

Single  dahlia flowers  have 8-10 broad petals surrounding an open central disc. It looks like a giant open daisy.

Anemone flowerd dahlias have fiully double flowers each of which have one or more rings of flattened ray petals surrounding a shorter dense group of tubular petals usually longer then the disc petals found in single dahla flowers.

Collerette dahlias have 8-10 broad outer flowers and an inner collar of smaller petals with an open, central disc.

Decorative flowered dahlias are the ones which produce the largest flowers (some as large as dinner plates). They are fully double flowers with broad flat petals which incurve slightly at their margins and usually reflex at the stem. You could compare these to the incurving Christanthemum.

Pompom flowers are fully double flattened to spherical flowers no more than 2ins across. Larger species of pom pom dahlias are sometimes called ball flowered.

Cactus flowers have narrow pointed flowers that can be straight or curved inwards and have recurved edges for more than two thirds of their length.

Semi-cactus flowered dahlias are similar to cactus flower but have broader based petals which are generally recurved towards their tips.

Water lily flowered are exactly what you would expect – they look like water lilies.

When buying dahlia tubers, you are usually given a picture of the flower – its worth keeping this somewhere, so you remember what it looks like.

Buying Tubers is expensive, but they are easy to propogate from cuttings, so you can get many plants from one tuber. I usually put my tuber in a seed tray of compost under cover early in the year (you could keep it on a window sill), then when they have shoots which are 2-3 ins high, I take cuttings, placing them in 3″ pots until they are large enough to plant out when all risk of frosts are over. Each of these plants will form a tuber, so you can end up with a large quantity of plants.

The books all tell you to lift and store tubers in a frost free place when they have finished flowering. However, I have found that usually, they will survive in the garden provided that they do not get to wet. Protecting them with a thick layer of mulch also helps. This is risky, so if you want to be sure that they survive the winter, you should lift them. Be sure that they are dry and free of any mould before storing. Do not plant any tuber which has gone soft – it will not grow.

Most Dahlias have green, broad oval leaves, but some (like Bishop of Llandaff) have bronze leaves which are attractive even when the plant has no flowers.

Most Dahlias are grown from tubers, but recent hybridisation is producing Dahlias which can be grown from seed, although you cannot guarantee what colour they are going to be. Notable among these are  ‘Children of Llandaf’ which have flowers very similar to ‘Bishop of Llandaf’ but the colours range from orange to deep red.

The main pest with Dahlias are blackfly and earwigs. Earwigs do not damage the plants, but they are a nuisance if you are using them for cut flowers, they nest in the flowers and drop off onto you – or your table.

Daffoldils

One of my favourite flowers are daffodils. Although I like most narcissi, I prefer the deep yellow daffodils. Unless I want a particular variety, I leave buying bulbs until December or January. The garden centres are then getting desperate to sell them and many really good bargains may be had. You can buy 5 kilo bags for a pound or two. Its O.K. to plant daffodil bulbs up until January, as long as your soil is not frozen. They will flower this year, although they may be a bit late. Then they will continue to flower at the normal time in following years.

When planting Daffodils, particularly for naturalising, you should remember that they are going to be staying there for some time. The method of planting will be slightly different depending upon your soil. If you have light, fertile soil, then all you need to do is make a hole, put your bulb in and cover it up.If your soil isvery heavy and tends  to be waterlogged, then you need to make a larger hole and put drainage in the bottom, either in the form of grit mixed with compost or just plain compost. Similarly if your soil tends to be poor in nutrients, then you should add organic matter first.

The golden rule for planting all bulbs is that they should have twice the depth of soil above them as the size of the bulb. Therefore, for daffodil bulbs which are, say, four inches in depth, then you make a hole which is 12 ins, put your bulb in and cover with 8 ins of soil.

I have planted about 100 daffodil bulbs on a bank in the front of  my garden. Because the soil is so good, I just cut a slit with a spade and put daffodil bulbs in each end. That way, they are close enough to make a good show but have enough room to expand in future years. Be sure that the bottom of the bulb always touches the soil, otherwise it will not grow.You can then leave the bulbs in the ground for up to 10 years or so, until they get too crowded. You know when this is happening because the daffodils will produce leaves but no flowers. That is the time to thin them out. At this point, it is worth digging all of them out and replanting as you wish. Give them extra organic matter if you are re-planting in the same place. You will find you have upwards of ten times as many bulbs as you planted in the first place.

You should always dead head daffodils, that way they do not put there energy into making seeds but will grow their bulbs instead. You can grow daffodils from seed, but it is a very long process (about three years or more). Leave the leaves on the plants for six weeks after they have finished flowering. There is a lot of nourishment in them which will go back into the bulb to help feed it for next years flowers. Do not tie up the leaves as this prevents the goodness going back down.

Roses-The Nations Favourite Flowers

Roses are the nations favourite flowers. This may, in part, be because there are so many different types that there is one to suit every situation.

Species Roses are the original ancesters of all our modern hybrid Roses. They tend to be large, only to flower once a year and have a restricted number of colours and flower types. However, they do not grow suckers. All other roses have been created by growers and are hybrids. They can be grown as bushes or standards and many varieties of climbing and rambling roses are available. Small, ground hugging roses can also be bought. There are known as Patio roses . Standard Roses are simply bush roses which have been grafted onto a small tree to give them a long stem.You can also buy ‘weeping standards’ which are rambler roses grafted onto a long stem. These look much less formal in a mixed border in a small garden than its more formal cousin, the standard rose.

It is sometimes difficult to choose roses, given the wide variety of colours and shapes of the flowers along with the variety of types. However, always consider where you are putting it, how large it will grow amd what it will eventually look like, before coming to a decision.

Unlike many other shrubs, roses should always be planted a little lower than they grew in the nursery , about 1 in (2.5cm)  will do. However, the grafting point should always be below ground. The reason for planting it lower is to encourage growth of new shots below ground. If you are planting in Autumn, they should be pruned back hard immediately after planting. This ensures they do not suffer wind damage during winter and that they put all their energy in establishing a good root system. Always keep all newly planted  roses watered throughout their first year, then ensure their root system does not become too dry.

Suckers are shoots which have grown from the original root below where your hybrid rose has been grafted. If you have suckers, then they should be removed as soon as possible, since they are usually stronger than the hybrid and will take over the plant. Remove by digging down a little towards the root and pull off the sucker. If you cannot pull it off, the cut it off as near to the root as possible.

Pruning on hybrid bush roses is carried out every year in early spring just before the bush rose start to grow. This is so that you can assess the amount of damage caused by frosts and cut it out. The principle of pruning is that the harrder you prune, the more vigorously the shoot will grow. So, get into the habit of cutting back weak shoots further than the strong ones.  Bush standards are pruned just like ordinary hybrids whilst weeping standards are pruned after flowering, just cutting out very old, diseased or overcrowded wood.

Dead-heading Roses (removing dead flower heads)  particularly continuous flowering varieties will ensure a supply of blooms through summer and autumn and often into early winter. Some varieties are grown for their spectacular hips, so of course, you do not dead head these.

Roses have their own particular pests and disease, mainly blackspot, mildew and greenfly.  Mildew shows itself as a mealy, pale grey coating on leaves, bud, flowers and young shoots. This results in yellowing and general lack of vigour. It is worse when the roots are dry. It thrives in cool damp and humid conditions, so ensure your roses are not overcrowded and are not being overwatered. Mulching will also help keep it at bay. Remove and burn any leaves showing signs of the disease and if it is persistant  you could spray with a copper fungacide.

Greenfly are aphids. They suck the sap from your roses causing distortion and particularly attack the young growing tips. Greenfly excrete sticky honeydew on which sooty mould can grow, and transmit virus diseases. There are a number of predators, such as ladybirds and hoverflies, which eat greenfly by the thousand, so the trick is to attract these into your garden. You can grow French Marigolds (Tagetes) close to your Roses to attract these. You can also rub the greenfly off with your fingers (they feel sticky) or you can spray them off with a powerful jet of water. You could also use insectorcidal soap but since the soap only lasts a day, it seems to me to be a treatment which introduces  foreign material into your garden a bit unnecessarily.

Black Spot on roses is a fungus. It starts as a small black spot and merges into large dead areas.which drop out and leaves may wither and die. If your roses become infected with black spot, then ensure that they are not too overcrowded. Remove infected parts of the plant and burn them. Spray the rest of the plant with dispersible sulpher if the infection is really bad. Hard Pruning in autumn will kill off any remaining overwintering spores. Burn all the prunings.

Roses are beautiful flowers to grow and, provided you look after them, are usually free from pests and diseases  and will give years of pleasure. . Every garden deserves at least one.