Gardening: Protect Plants from the Double Whammy of Cold and Wet; Roger Clarke Advises on Winter Gardening Maintenance

By Clarke, Roger | The Birmingham Post (England), January 15, 2000 | Go to article overview

Gardening: Protect Plants from the Double Whammy of Cold and Wet; Roger Clarke Advises on Winter Gardening Maintenance


Clarke, Roger, The Birmingham Post (England)


So far we have not had much of a winter. A few light frosts, a couple of attempts at snow and enough rain to make swamp fever a danger.

Cold and wet are not a good combination. It increases the chances of root rot and puts less hardy plants such as agapanthus at risk.

If you have not done so already then cover the crowns of suspect plants with a thick mulch to protect them from frosts.

You can use bracken, upturned plant pots filled with straw or bracken or a thick layer of organic material such as peat - if you still use it - composted bark or cocoa shell to provide that bit of extra protection.

If you have planted hardy perennials since autumn, it is worth checking after every frost to ensure they have not lifted. If they have, firm them down again when the soil thaws.

The same advice goes for spring bedding plants such as wallflowers, stocks, sweet williams and polyanthus.

With a heated greenhouse, you can start sowing this month. The earlier plants are sown in a propagating case, the quicker they can be moved on to make room for something else.

A heated case is a boon at this time of year. Use it for germination and once the seedlings are large enough, you can prick out into trays or boxes.

As long as you can maintain a temperature in the greenhouse of 45 deg F, the seedlings will happily grow on to produce healthy, stocky plants.

Higher temperatures allied to low winter light levels tend to produce drawn, leggy plants.

If you don't have a heated propagator, you can germinate in a boiler cupboard or airing cupboard.

Place the trays in a polythene bag and bring the seedlings into the light as soon as the first one shows through. That means checking every 12 hours or so after the first day.

Grow them on to pricking-out stage on the kitchen windowsill.

Even without a heated greenhouse, if you have the room indoors or in a conservatory, it is worth sowing tomatoes now to provide good-sized plants for spring when they can be planted in the greenhouse. They crop earlier and, with a relatively short summer, will produce a couple more trusses than later, spring-sown plants.

Even without heat, you can still sow sweet peas. Sow in pots or trays and all they need is the protection of a cold frame or cool greenhouse.

The seeds have a hard coat so chitting is often recommended. This involves nicking the seed coat with a sharp knife to allow moisture in to speed up germination.

It also usually involves the use of at least one Elastoplast, so, to protect your fingers, you can achieve the same effect by soaking the seed in tepid water for a day.

Pop them in a cup of tepid water then place the cup in an airing or boiler cupboard. Sow the seed after about 24 hours.

If you want really good plants, sow in trays then prick out into 3in pots. …

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