The ‘Indian Azalea’ is one of my favourite winter houseplants, the deep green foliage and delicate, tissue paper flowers are just perfect. With care plants last for many years and become a family heirloom: here are the secrets of success. Keep it in a cool, bright place and the compost moist with tepid soft water. Maintain high humidity around the plant by standing it on a tray of pebbles, filled with water to just below the base of the pot, or mist it two or three times a day and remove the dead flowers immediately – this prolongs flowering too. Once it has finished flowering, continue feeding and watering, then when the danger of frost has passed, move it to a shady spot outdoors, burying the pot in the ground, to keep the compost moist. Move it back indoors in September and start the cycle again. With regular feeding, every three weeks and watering through the summer, it’ll last for many years. Keep Poinsettia’s in a bright warm, draft free, keep the compost moist but do not overwater and take all house plants from the window sill before closing the curtains at night, they should the last for many weeks.
Despite their name, alpine plants dislike cold and damp, surviving in their hostile home by snuggling under a deep duvet of snow through the winter. They often rot off in damp, cool temperate climates, with succulents and rosette plants the most vulnerable. Protect them from rain and provide good ventilation by laying a sheet of Perspex or glass, supported by a couple of bricks or a cloche, over the plants keeping it well away from the foliage. Ideally they should be covered from late Autumn onwards, so if you’ve not covered yours, do so now before it’s too late.
Bull Finches are beautiful but can be a real pest. Several times this winter, I’ve spotted them nibbling at the buds of my fruit trees. Normally they eat grass and weeds seeds, but when food supplies run low and temperatures plummet, plum, pear and cherry buds are on their menu. Even when food is scarce, they are still selective, ignoring Morello cherries and leaving apple and black currant buds until March and April. It is one good reason for having a fruit cage or covering individual plants with netting through winter and early spring. 2cm mesh is adequate but should be lifted to allow access for pollinating insects at blossom time.
It is always difficult to decide how much to control ‘Ivy’ on fruit trees. If they are still productive, then it is better removed completely, despite the benefit to wildlife. If it is a large old, tree that contributes more as an ornamental specimen, ‘Ivy’ adds character but it should still be kept under control with regular pruning. It doesn‘t damage trees but the extra pressure when it matures, acting like a sail and catching the wind, increases stress on the branches and roots so the tree may lose boughs or fall. It is much better to grow ‘Ivy’ up walls or into healthy trees that can support the extra weight, then prune accordingly in late winter and summer. Happy Gardening! Matt