Hartley Magazine

All the latest news, hints, tips and advice from our experts

Cannas, Sweet Peppers, Chilli and Silver Birch

The biting chill of early snow and promises of a cold winter have made the shelter of a cosy greenhouse very welcome! This year I‘m really feeling the cold; until late November I was basking in tropical sunshine on a cruise through the Caribbean and Panama canal, a fact envied by several friends who had the last laugh when I returned home to freezing Britain – 32 one day to -2 deg C the next was a real shock to the system! Ever since, I‘ve been pottering in the greenhouse, an activity that is always a pleasure as even in December, there‘s still plenty to do! The tops of this year‘s ‘Canna‘s‘ browned and stiffened by frost have been cut back and composted, the rhizomes will be lifted from their pots aSwnd stored in trays of slightly moist multipurpose compost in the frost free greenhouse. As always, it‘s essential that plants and label‘s are never parted, otherwise you could have problems next year. Start ‘Canna‘s‘ into growth under glass from late March and they‘ll reach their pomp early, by mid summer next year.

Several ‘Sweet Peppers‘ remained on the plant until late November, storing on the plant is a good way to keep them fresh though temperatures should not drop too low and the compost should be slightly moist to stop the fruit from shriveling. A single ‘Chilli‘ plant that remains in the greenhouse is destined to be taken indoors, put on a sunny south facing windowsill where temperatures are slightly higher than in the greenhouse and it should continue to produce bright red fruits through the winter.

Despite my best intentions the vegetable seeds for over-wintering crops are still in the packets, once the border is cleared of ‘Canna‘ pots, I‘ll be sowing several crops including ‘Kohl Rabi‘, carrots and Oriental vegetables. It will be interesting to discover how they react at this late stage in the season but anything is worth a try- after all, plants don‘t read books to know when they should grow and are more likely to do so in the soil than the packet!

A ‘Silver Birch‘ in my front garden needs a large branch removing too. It hangs over several apple cordon‘s creating shade and reducing moisture. Most trees can be pruned any time of year but ‘Birch‘ can only be cut when the sap is going down to the roots, otherwise it will bleed. Late summer onwards when growth has stopped and the sap is sinking should be perfect. The offending limb will be removed in sections for safety‘s sake and stacked for firewood and the smaller branches saved for pea sticks or supporting herbaceous perennials next year. When storing wood for open fires remember that dry wood ignites easily but burns faster while wet wood is better for a slow burn. Ideally you should have a mixture of both, then all you need are the chestnuts!

Happy Christmas and best wishes for a great gardening year in 2006!