Tuck up your gar­den for win­ter

Alice SpenserHiggs of­fers some sur­vival tips for the gar­den in the cold sea­son

Business Day - Home Front - - HOMEFRONT -

THE gar­den has ex­pe­ri­enced its first cold snap and, now that win­ter is a re­al­ity, it is a good time to re­visit those win­ter gar­den­ing tips to min­imise cold dam­age.

Pre­vent­ing frost dam­age and deal­ing with its con­se­quences is likely to be a first con­sid­er­a­tion.

Kirch­hoffs’ Mar­laen Straathof says young, ac­tively grow­ing and flow­er­ing plants tend to be par­tic­u­larly vul­ner­a­ble to frost, es­pe­cially when cold tem­per­a­tures oc­cur af­ter a warm pe­riod.

Watch the weather re­ports and if a cold front is pre­dicted take pre­ven­ta­tive ac­tion, like cov­er­ing young or ten­der plants with frost cloth that can pro­tect plants at mi­nus zero tem­per­a­tures.

A very light, easy to man­age frost cloth is avail­able from gar­den cen­tres and nurs­eries of­ten throw it over beds of frost-sen­si­tive plants in the af­ter­noon and re­move it the fol­low­ing morn­ing.

When pro­tect­ing a young shrub or tree one can make a frame of sticks, which is placed around the plant so that the cloth does not touch the leaves.

Make sure there are no open­ings from which heat can es­cape. Do not gather the drape around the trunk of a tree be­cause the aim is to trap heat be­ing ra­di­ated from the ground. The best is to ar­range the drape so that it touches the ground at least as far out as the drip line.

Straathof says that cold air set­tles down­ward and can col­lect at the bot­tom of a slope, while hot air rises. Any plants in pots should be moved to higher, sun­nier and shel­tered ar­eas. If plants can’t be moved they should be pro­tected with frost cloth.

If frost dam­age has al­ready oc­curred don’t be tempted to cut away the black­ened, dead leaves.

“The dead branches and leaves pro­tect the plant from fur­ther dam­age,” says Straathof, who warns that cut­ting back could also stim­u­late new growth that could be vul­ner­a­ble to late frosts.

“The frost-dam­aged leaves and stems will con­tinue to help trap warm air within the canopy of the plant. The dam­age of­ten is not as bad as it looks and new growth could come out of tis­sue that ap­pears to be dead. In spring, dead wood can be pruned out.”

How­ever, if the frost has killed ten­der an­nu­als and peren­ni­als dig them out. Soft-stemmed peren­ni­als like arum lilies that were flat­tened by the black frost are an ex­cep­tion and will sprout again in spring, but there are oth­ers that will not re­cover.

In win­ter, plants should be wa­tered ear­lier rather than later so that the leaves can dry be­fore tem­per­a­tures drop from 4pm.

Don’t over­wa­ter in win­ter but also don’t let them dry out com­pletely be­cause drought­stressed plants are most vul­ner­a­ble to frost. Well-es­tab­lished flow­er­ing plants only need to be wa­tered once, pos­si­bly twice a week. An­nu­als that have been trans­planted may need more wa­ter but as soon as they are es­tab­lished the wa­ter­ing can be cut back.

Al­though growth slows in win­ter, plants should still be fed be­cause healthy plants are more tol­er­ant of cold weather. Flow­er­ing plants in par­tic­u­lar need feed­ing to con­tinue pro­duc­ing flow­ers.

A liq­uid plant food is more quickly and eas­ily ab­sorbed by the plants. Do not use a ni­tro­gen-rich food for win­ter or spring flow­er­ing an­nu­als be­cause this could en­cour­age soft, sappy growth.

Rather use a feed for­mu­lated for flow­ers and fruit that con­tains higher amounts of potas­sium. In the N:P:K for­mu­la­tion of a fer­tiliser, potas­sium is rep­re­sented by K.

Ni­tro­gen-rich food can be used for green leafy veg­eta­bles such as spinach, let­tuce and cab­bage.

Keep­ing the com­post heap go­ing is an es­sen­tial win­ter ac­tiv­ity. The mi­crobes will con­tinue to be ac­tive if they are kept go­ing with a bal­anced diet of brown ma­te­rial (car­bon) such as dead leaves and green ma­te­rial like lawn cut­tings, prun­ing’s, veg­etable and fruit peels. Shred or chop the ma­te­rial as finely as pos­si­ble — this not only speeds up de­com­po­si­tion but forms an outer in­su­lat­ing layer.

An­other way is to use a com­mer­cial com­post ac­ti­va­tor like the Kirch­hoffs Com­post Maker.

At ev­ery 20cm sprin­kle the Com­post Maker evenly over the sur­face and cover with a fresh layer of ma­te­rial.

In sum­mer the best place for a com­post heap is in the shade, but in win­ter in cold ar­eas the heap will de­com­pose quicker if made in a sunny part of the gar­den.

In dry win­ter ar­eas the com­post heap needs to be wa­tered about once a month be­cause the mi­crobes need mois­ture to sur­vive. The heap should be moist but not sod­den

Win­ter flow­er­ing an­nu­als that like the cold, such as vi­o­las, prim­u­las, Ice­land pop­pies and cineraria, can be planted out even in very cold weather. It is less risky plant­ing win­ter an­nu­als in cold weather than sum­mer an­nu­als in very hot weather be­cause the roots dry out quicker in sum­mer.

Pre­pare the soil well us­ing lots of com­post, wa­ter and let it stand for a day be­fore plant­ing so that the soil is moist but not sod­den.

Left, pan­sies and alyssum ... con­tinue to fer­tilise flow­er­ing an­nu­als in win­ter so that they keep on flow­er­ing. Above, petu­nias in pots ... con­tainer-grown plants that are kept in sunny, shel­tered ar­eas are less likely to be af­fected by frost.

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