December began with strong winds and heavy rain, setting the tone for the start of another potentially mild, wet winter. It blew all of the remaining leaves from the ‘Silver Birch’ in my garden and has concentrated them all to one side of the garden, alongside those that have already fallen, making them easier to collect. Rotted leaves make wonderful soil conditioner so make a cage at least 1m square using chicken wire tacked to tree stakes to stop them from blowing away and collect as many as you can. Alternatively, rot smaller quantities in bin liners tied loosely at the top, with a few ventilation hole punched in the sides. Composted leaves should be moist, so collect them after rainfall if possible, or collect them when dry and water them thoroughly. Shredding leaves speeds up the rotting process too, mine are collected from the lawn with a rotary lawn mower, it makes life easy and works really well. Leaves rot rapidly, though ‘Holly’ and other tough evergreens take longer and should be rotted separately if there are larger volumes. Depending on the type of leaves, you could be using the first of your leaf mould this time next year. Wonderful!
The time of year when Amaryllis, or Hippeastrum bulbs are for sale ready for flowering at Christmas or the New Year. Start them into growth by watering sparingly at first; just trickle a little tepid water around the bulb, and increase the amount as growth appears. Once they are actively growing, keep them constantly moist but not waterlogged and take care not to get the growth tip wet. They like temperatures between 60-65degF so a warm sunny window is ideal; keep room temperatures cool to prolong the flowering period this applies to ‘Indian Azalea’s’, ‘Poinsettia’ and ‘Christmas cactus’ too. Stake the flowering stems carefully to prevent it from falling over and rotate the pot a quarter of a turn each day, then sit back and enjoy the display. Don’t forget to remove any of your houseplants from the windowsill during the night, as they are easily damaged by low temperatures.
It is essential to protect your plants and containers in winter particularly when there are sudden low temperatures after several days of rain. When the compost is waterlogged and the terracotta is full to capacity, even ‘frost tolerant’ pots can be vulnerable. Move them to sheltered corners away from strong winds or frost pockets, raise them above the ground using pot ‘feet’, a piece of wood or a couple of bricks and this will improve the drainage, preventing the compost from expanding so much when it freezes giving the plant and pot more of a chance of survival. Listen to the weather forecast too and cover vulnerable plants with insulating material like old newspapers, net curtains, corrugated cardboard or hessian; if you use bubble plastic or plastic sheeting, remove it as soon as the weather warms as it soon causes rotting. Don’t forget to cover ‘Holly’ berries with horticultural fleece to protect them from the birds, then you’ll have some for your festive display.