Hartley Magazine

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

Exotic Winter Plants

The wonderful display of lush leaves from my Canna’s this year has now been frosted and now the foliage has been cut back and composted, the rhizomes will be stored in their pots in my frost free greenhouse. This once popular ‘exotic’ plant has been blighted by the arrival of a virus, reducing their vigour and producing mottling on the leaves. Because of this, many gardeners have stopped growing them and large collections have been destroyed. The only solution is to buy virus free stock, keep plants free of aphids which spread the virus, feed affected plants regularly with general fertiliser to boost growth through the season – or to burn or dispose of affected plants away from the garden.

Several ‘Sweet Peppers’ were left on the plant until early this month as storing them on the plant is a great way to keep them fresh. Maintain moderate temperatures in the greenhouse, keep the compost slightly moist to stop the fruit from shrivelling and they’ll last for weeks. ‘Chilli’s’, over-wintered on a sunny, south facing windowsill where temperatures are slightly higher than in the greenhouse, will continue to produce bright red fruits through the winter, where light levels allow flowering.

Late last month I removed a large branch from a ‘Silver Birch’ which hangs over several apple cordon’s creating shade and reducing moisture. ‘Birch’ trees can only be pruned when the sap is going down to the roots, as cuts bleed heavily, particularly in spring. From late summer onwards into late autumn when growth has stopped, is ideal. The main branch was chopped and stacked for firewood and some of the smaller branches saved for pea sticks or supporting herbaceous perennials next year. When storing wood dry some so it ignites and burns easily and keep some damp for a slower burn then put a mixture of both on your fire.

Winter is a great opportunity to check over hand tools, replacing broken handles and sharpening blades. Use a fine file to flatten notches on the cutting edge of steel hoes and spades, even though you may have kept one in your pocket and filed the edge constantly to keep it sharp, particularly when digging on stony soil. Don’t check sharpened blades with your finger, cut a branch or twig instead. Brush away any soil, clean off rust with wire wool, spray the surface with water repellent and treat wooden handles with linseed oil before hanging them in the shed ready for action next year.

Open greenhouse vents for as long as possible on mild sunny days over winter, shutting them before temperatures drop early in the afternoon. A combination of high temperatures and low light makes leaves and stems soft, spindly and prone to grey mould which spreads rapidly in cool, damp conditions. Though good air circulation is vital, avoid chilling draughts, don’t leave the door wide open and always err on the side of caution!

Happy Christmas and best wishes for a great gardening year in 2009