How to Prepare Your Garden For Winter Frosts

February 5th, 2019 | Garden Diaries, The flower garden, The vegetable garden | 0 Comments

Temperatures have noticeably dropped over the past few weeks. It’s got very close to freezing in my garden, so it’s safe to say the first frosts of winter aren’t far off. Preparing the garden for the colder months ahead is a wise move, to keep overwintering plants and your hard-working soil happy. Read on our watch our video to discover simple, cost-effective ways to do just that.

warm soil protect from frost

Protect Soil in Winter

Leaving soil exposed risks depleting the beneficial life contained within it. Keep the likes of worms, bugs and fungi happy by laying organic matter over the surface before it gets too cold. A layer of organic material such as well-rotted compost or manure, spread 1-2in (3-5cm) deep is thick enough to keep soil life fed and protect the soil itself from erosion, yet thin enough to enable hard frosts to penetrate the soil below, thereby helping to control overwintering pests.

Fast Frost Protection

Keep row covers at the ready so they can be used at a moment’s notice. Store them somewhere dry, ideally neatly rolled up and off the ground to keep them clear of vermin such as mice. Dirty polythene covers should be washed down then dried so they’re ready to deploy.

When frost threatens, or if you simply want to extend your cropping period, the row covers can quickly be put into position, held down at the sides with stones, bricks or staples.

Homemade Crop Protection

Don’t forget the many homemade options for cold weather protection. Clear plastic bottles, cut in half, are great for fitting over individual small plants, either outside or as an added layer of warmth inside the greenhouse.

Cold frames can be costly but it’s very easy to make your own. Check out our step by step guide to making your own cold frame.

garden-fleece-and-hoops-are-great-for-protecting-crops-during-colder-monthsTemporary Tunnels

Clear plastic may also be secured onto homemade hoops, making a handy hoop house. The one below uses lengths of PVC water pipe, secured onto lengths of rebar hammered into the ground and connected at the top by a central ridge of piping. It’s an effective way to keep winter hardy salads and vegetables safe from harsh weather.

Protecting Root Crops from Frost

Many root crops such as carrots and beets can be left in the ground until they’re needed. Some, like parsnips, actively improve with frost, becoming more tender and sweeter.

Lay a mulch of compost, straw, dried leaves or leaf mold about six inches (15cm) thick to help keep frosts at bay, but if the ground is likely to freeze solid for weeks on end, dig up your root crops to store them somewhere cool, dry and frost-free.

Protect Containers

In winter the biggest enemy of containerized crops such as herbs is the wet. Persistently wet potting soil can turn lethal in cold weather. Make sure excess moisture can drain away by lifting up containers onto pot feet. You can use elegant pot feet, or just improvise with stones, for example.

Delicate containers can crack if potting soil freezes solid and expands. You can stop this happening by wrapping pots up in bubble plastic or burlap. Or look for pots sold as frost-resistant. Sensitive plants and pots can also be moved somewhere more sheltered – against the house for instance, or into a greenhouse.

Insulate Your Greenhouse

Inside a greenhouse it makes more sense to protect individual plants rather than trying to heat the entire structure. Wrap frost-sensitive plants up in row cover fabric. Alternatively, section off an area of the greenhouse and heat this smaller space instead.

Old polystyrene fish boxes are great for insulating smaller plants like winter salad leaves against the worst of the cold. Most already include drainage slots at the corners, so you can fill them with potting soil and plant directly. Or just drop trays and pots into the boxes for a snug fit. Cover with fabric or plastic overnight for extra protection.

Know Your First Frost Date

Knowing when to expect your first frost is important for planning your frost protection. Don’t forget to keep an eye on the weather forecast too.

Help your plants stay warmer or use the frosts to your advantage. Either way, being prepared will help you to successfully work with winter. How do you get ready for the frosty weather? You can let us know in the comments section below.

Try some of these techniques to protect your garden from frost! If you have any of your own tips and tricks for for the winter months, comment below or head over to our Facebook and Twitter page.

Unique new verbena

February 1st, 2019 | Plant Talk with Graham Rice | 0 Comments

Verbena 'Showboat Mango Orange'

We’ve occasionally been looking at that splendid old Victorian magazine The Floricultural Cabinet over the last few months. As we leave January, I see that for the January 1852 issue the good Mr Joseph Harrison, who “conducts” the magazine, has commissioned “Orion” to discuss verbenas. They love pseudonyms in these old magazines….

“Verbenas stand very high in the estimation of the flower-loving world,” he reports, “and deservedly so, for what rival have they for filling beds on lawns? What is there that will make a grander display, from early in the season to quite the close?

“So various are the shades of colour that a splendid parterre may be laid out consisting entirely and exclusively of the Verbena…. Yellow is the only decided colour wanting; though new ones described as yellow, have been, I think, dishonestly put out only to prove dirty white or pale Primroses. But no more need be brought forward to prove the superiority of this many-coloured flower over every other, for bedding and other out-door purposes…”

And while yellow verbenas still prove elusive over a hundred and fifty years later, last year’s super-scented ‘Scentsation’ (from seed) brought as fragrance as never before combined with soft pastel colours and this year we have a new colour, never seen before: ‘Showboat Mango Orange’.

Voted second favourite by 3,500 professional and amateur visitors to the country’s largest annual flower trials (we’ll get to the favourite next time), this striking new colour features large umbels of brilliant mango-orange flowers with blushes of pink and brings a new colour choice to verbenas.

Valuable in baskets and tubs, and also as a front-of-the-sunny-border ground cover, why not give Verbena ‘Showboat Mango Orange’ a try and order some plants?

February Gardening Advice

February 1st, 2019 | News | 0 Comments

February Gardening Advice

Not even the promise of romance this Valentine’s Day can melt the cold heart of winter. But the sight of a shy hellebore or a solitary crocus might be just the thing to break the ice. This is an unpredictable month, so don’t be in a hurry to sow as before you know it, the weather will have turned for the worse, and your hard work will be ruined. Patience is key.

So, wrap up warm, go outside and enjoy the stillness of winter. A lone robin, a snow-covered allotment, or frozen husks of perennial plants huddled together are unique sights that should be enjoyed.

In the flower garden

Borders

Borders may have suffered over recent months, but now’s the time to prepare them for the warmer months ahead. Cut away last season’s dead perennial foliage, and remove all weeds and fallen debris. Give the area a thick mulch, as this will help suppress weeds. Do not cover perennials, shrubs or protruding bulb shoots, as this will prevent sunlight and warmth reaching them and will encourage the onset of rot.

Whilst in the borders, turn your attention to perennials. If you’ve left their seeded heads for nature, or as something structural to look at over winter, now’s the time to cut them down to base level. Encourage more plants by dividing them with a sharp spade. Think ahead to how you want your summer borders to look.

Grasses

Deciduous varieties will now benefit from being cut back hard with a pair of shears. This may seem drastic, but don’t worry, they will thank you for it. Varieties such as stipa, need nothing more than a good comb. By using your hands and a sensible pair of gloves to prevent cuts, simply drag your fingers through the clump, removing old growth.

February Gardening Advice - Snowdrops

Divide

Snowdrops will now be fading and returning to their green form. Although they will naturally increase in number over time, you can speed up the process by lifting, dividing and re-planting, and now’s the time to do it.

Pruning

This is the month to prune late-flowering clematis. They flower from mid to late summer, and on newly grown stems. Cut back last year’s growth to a strong pair of buds, about 30cm above the ground. Tie them into a support frame, and mulch around the base of the plant. As soon as the temperature starts to rise, they will quickly put on growth.

Prune wisteria by cutting back to three buds, and prune hard on shrubs such as cornus, buddleia and salix.

Pansies and Violas

Keep pansies and violas looking their best by deadheading regularly. This will prevent them from going to seed. Remove fading or diseased blooms by making the cut just above a lower pair of leaves. If you’re growing them in pots or containers, ensure they don’t dry out, but don’t overwater. If you have them in the ground, keep an eye out for pests, such as slugs and snails.

Sweet Peas

Sweet pea seeds can sometimes be challenging to germinate. Leave them overnight in water, or create a tiny hole in the seed so it can take in water. Fill 7cm pots with multi-purpose compost and sow three seeds to a pot. Cover with 2cm of compost, and water. Remember to label your varieties, then place the pots in a greenhouse or cold frame.

February Gardening Advice - Polytunnel

Greenhouse

If you have a heated greenhouse, a polytunnel, or even a well-lit, warm, windowsill, hardy annual and perennial seeds such as cornflower, cosmos and echinacea can now be sown. Overfill a small pot or tray with either seed or multi-purpose compost. Tap the container gently, and brush the excess soil from the rim. Sow your seeds thinly over the surface, and then cover over with a thin layer of compost, or vermiculite. Once labelled, place your container in a couple of inches of water. It’s preferable to let the pot draw the water from the bottom, leaving the seeds undisturbed, as watering from above can easily scatter the seeds, disrupting their growing environment and hampering germination. Place in a bright and warm spot.

Garden Wildlife

Continue to keep bird-feeding stations supplied with food and fresh water. If the weather is too bad to work in, then this might be the time to retreat to the shed and think about building a nest box. Garden birds will soon be looking for nests to hatch their chicks, and installing a nest box will encourage them into your garden.

On the veg patch

Raspberries

Cut autumn fruiting raspberries down to an inch above the ground. Mulch around the raspberry stalks, ensuring you don’t cover them over. If you want a longer growing season, cut only half of your stock down to above the ground. The untouched canes will provide fruit earlier in the season.

Fruit Trees

Although spring will soon be here, there’s still ample time to prune dormant fruit trees and soft fruit. Beyond this, tree sap will be on the rise, and pruning too late could damage the tree. Consider buying bare rootstock varieties, and rhubarb crowns, and plant out.

February Gardening Advice - time to start chitting your potatoes

Chitting

Order your stock! Leave it any later and you may find your favourite variety is no longer available. As soon as your potatoes arrive, place them in a warm, dry area with plenty of sunshine. Stand them upright, egg boxes make a great holder, with their eyes facing upwards. After several weeks they should have healthy shoots.

Sow

With the soil prepared, early varieties of carrot, such as Early Nantes or Amsterdam Forcing can be sown under cloches.

With a cold frame or greenhouse, the following can be sown into plug trays; onions, beetroot, cabbage, leeks, spring onion, lettuce, radishes, and tomatoes. If you sow into large plugs, and thin your seedlings out accordingly, then your young plants can continue to grow on until you’re ready to plant out. This method gives you time to prepare the plot, and also gives the soil an opportunity to warm up.

If you’re hoping to sow seeds, such as carrot, straight into the ground, wait until at least the end of the month. Ideally, warm the allocated plot, by covering the soil for a few weeks with either a cloche, or plastic sheeting. This extra warmth is precious when trying to germinate seeds, such as carrots and parsnips. Remember to stagger your sowing to avoid gluts.

Broad Beans

You can begin sowing broad beans now. As these legumes have a deep root system, ideally you want to sow them in root trainers as they don’t like their roots disturbed. Not only are you providing the best opportunity to grow strong plants, but when you plant out, the roots won’t suffer from stress. Use a good multi-purpose compost, push the seeds down to the depth of 2cm. Water well and place in either a greenhouse or cold frame. They’ll be ready to plant out, come March.

February Gardening Advice - lift and store any parsnips growing over winter

Storage

Check regularly for any damage or decay on any fruit or veg you having been storing over winter. Anything spoilt, remove at once and destroy. Ensure remaining produce is individually spaced to prevent further contamination, and to encourage a good airflow. If you still have parsnips growing, lift and store them. Place carefully into a box, cover with dry sand, and store somewhere cool and out of sunlight.

 

Other Jobs

  • Check houseplants for whitefly and aphids
  • Any remaining bulb plants that have finished blooming can be taken outside, or kept in a greenhouse, to let the foliage die back. However, continue to water and feed amaryllis bulbs, as this may encourage the flower to return late next autumn, or winter.
  • Order seeds, summer plants and plug plants.

Mr Fothergill’s Boosts its Seaweed Plant Tonic Offering with NEW Seasol 4-Litre

January 30th, 2019 | News | 0 Comments

Mr Fothergill’s Boosts its Seaweed Plant Tonic Offering with NEW Seasol 4-Litre

As spring is just around the corner and greenhouse gardeners are about to start sowing, Mr Fothergill’s offers a natural seaweed concentrate that improves seed germination and root growth. Studies confirmed that soaking seeds in Seasol prior to sowing, or watering with Seasol immediately after sowing, gives seeds the best possible start in life and leads to vigorous, uniform plants.

The 1 litre Seasol is now stocked in over 650 retail outlets nationwide, but Mr Fothergill’s has launched the seaweed-based plant tonic in a 4-litre bottle for the 2019 season.

Ian Cross, Mr Fothergill’s Marketing Manager comments: “The great thing about Seasol is that because it is a natural plant tonic, you can use it regularly throughout all stages of growth, from seed to mature plant, unlike chemical fertilisers. The new 4-litre bottle will not only give our customers great value for money, but as you can use Seasol on most areas of the garden, at any time of the year, it also won’t run out as quickly.”

Seasol is derived from a blend of the finest brown kelps and is proven to stimulate root development. The tonic promotes healthy growth of plants, flowers and vegetables, enhances flowering and fruiting and increases resistance to heat, drought, frost, pests and diseases. It can be applied directly to soil or foliage, contains beneficial micro-nutrients and is also rich in trace elements.

A 4L bottle of Seasol is priced at £19.99. Visit your local garden centre, head over to www.mr-fothergills.co.uk to shop or request your copy of the Mr Fothergill’s latest seed catalogue here.

Disease resistant nicotianas

January 25th, 2019 | Plant Talk with Graham Rice | 0 Comments

Disease-resistant Nicotiana 'Babybella'Disease wiped out the trials of tobacco plant, Nicotiana, at the RHS Garden at Wisley in Surrey in 1997. Tobacco blue mould also ruined the trial in 1998 and again when they tried in 2001and most varieties vanished from catalogues and gardens for almost fifteen years. There was no point growing them as, unless you were isolated from sources of infection, they were simply wiped out in most gardens.

But a plant breeding company in Norfolk has worked diligently to develop attractive varieties that are also tolerant of disease and Mr F now lists the best two of their introductions. With blood from a number of mould-resistant wild species added to the floral impact of traditional types, they developed ‘Whisper’, introduced a few years ago, and now we have another: ‘Babybella’.

Reaching about 90cm in height, the slightly bell-shaped flowers reveal the influence of the old lime-green favourite Nicotiana langsdorfii. But ‘Babybella’ not only comes with flowers in rich crimson but they’re carried on very well branched stems to create a plant that’s ideal in mixed borders with perennials and shrubs and also in large containers.

‘Babybella’ also makes a fine cut flower, the slender but wiry stems supporting the mass of flowers very effectively and the elegant way in which the flowers are held on the stems ensures that the cut stems fit well into large mixed arrangements.

‘Whisper’ is available to grow from seed sown from February to May, ‘Babybella’ is available as young plants to order now for planting in May.