Get containers winter ready

The weather may have turned, but now is the time to prepare permanently planted containers for winter.   

Shrubs or large plants in outdoor pots are highly vulnerable during autumn. Excessive rain, gales and sharp frosts can all take their toll.

You can keep all containerised plants healthy by taking a few timely precautions. Good drainage is essential, so start by making sure that all permanently planted containers drain freely.

British gardening expert Nigel Colborn advises keen gardeners to prepare their outdoor areas for the colder winter months and pay close attention to shrubs or large plants in outdoor pots

British gardening expert Nigel Colborn advises keen gardeners to prepare their outdoor areas for the colder winter months and pay close attention to shrubs or large plants in outdoor pots

Drainage is always better if the containers are raised slightly from the ground. Stand big pots on bricks, old quarry tiles or purpose-made ‘pot risers’. 

That enables water to drain more rapidly and more freely from the containers.

Feeding is unnecessary during winter and can even be harmful.

Winter and spring shrubs such as daphnes and camellias (pictured) draw on nutrients stored in their tissue for flowering. They will not need feed until growth begins next spring.

Ants and earthworms are always less likely to block drainage holes if there is space between the pot base and the ground. Nevertheless, check all drainage holes and remove any plugs of soil or potting compost that may have blocked them.

Small containers will be at risk from penetrating frosts. You can reduce that risk by moving them close together. Pack more vulnerable plants into the centre of the group.

The roots of sub-tropical plants such as cannas and ginger lilies must be completely frost-free.

But if their top-growth is frozen, no permanent harm is done. To protect such plants, insulate the pots with bubble wrap, tied firmly in place to avoid wind damage.

When life gives you leaves… 

Fallen leaves are packed with plant nutrients. To convert into leafmould for use as a soil improver, pack wet leaves into large plastic bags. 

As autumn draws in and the leaves begin to drop from the trees, Nigel suggests gardeners could make use of them by converting them into leafmould for use as a soil improver

As autumn draws in and the leaves begin to drop from the trees, Nigel suggests gardeners could make use of them by converting them into leafmould for use as a soil improver

After two to three months, agitate leaves to re-mix. The leaves should break down into crumbly leafmould after about six months.

Treat hedges to a final snip

Hedge cutting season is past but your hedge may benefit from a final snip. Evergreens such as yew and holly may produce new shoots. Snip off for a clean finish for winter. 

Privet hedges could need a more thorough clip. If you spot any die-back, cut affected stems away. Dispose of quickly.

While hedge cutting season is no longer upon us, Nigel suggests it could greatly benefit the garden to have a final snip before winter hits

While hedge cutting season is no longer upon us, Nigel suggests it could greatly benefit the garden to have a final snip before winter hits

Reader’s query

I was about to chop back my Buddleja bush recently when my neighbour told me it’s best to prune them in spring. Why is that? J Saunders. 

Buddlejas are best if pruned hard. In response, they produce large, rapid-growing shoots which carry lots of flowers. Those are valuable for pollinating insects, especially butterflies. 

One reader wanted to know whether their neighbour was right to suggest the best time to cut buddlejas is in spring, and Nigel told them that the ultimate point in the year for a trim is late April

One reader wanted to know whether their neighbour was right to suggest the best time to cut buddlejas is in spring, and Nigel told them that the ultimate point in the year for a trim is late April 

February is the best month for pruning. By then, the weather is warming so by the time young shoots are at their most vulnerable, spring will have arrived.

If you have several buddlejas, leave one unpruned until late April, then cut it hard.

Flowers give peacock and tortoiseshell butterflies late nectar to stock up for hibernation.

Plant of the week: CYCLAMEN CILICIUM

From the mountains of Southern Turkey comes one of the prettiest of all autumnblooming cyclamens. 

Coming later than the better-known Cyclamen hederifolium, this plant produces flowers and leaves together in October. 

For this weeks plant of the week, Nigel opted for cyclamen cilicium, a hardy pale pink flower with elegant swept-back blooms

For this weeks plant of the week, Nigel opted for cyclamen cilicium, a hardy pale pink flower with elegant swept-back blooms

The elegant swept-back blooms are pale pink, harmonising with the leaves of silvery grey. 

Though fully hardy, C. cilicium is less robust than the widespread C. hederifolium. A sheltered position is best, preferably in dappled shade.

You can also grow C. cilicium in a sizeable Alpine pan or wide pot. Growing plants are available from specialist suppliers such as ashwoodnurseries.com.



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