BLOG - 07/12/18

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Create Winter Interest with Bark and Stems

Now’s the perfect tree and shrub planting time, as we’ve mentioned before. It’s still nice and mild out there and the soil has some warmth to it. This will give plants a really good start, so that when Spring comes around again, they’ll be ready to really go for it. Besides, from now until around late January, garden centres sell “bare-root” trees and hedging plants. These are significantly less expensive than their container-grown equivalents.

If you do want to plant anything, think about not only the foliage and flowers, but also the colour and texture of the trunks, branches and stems of the plants. There are some really lovely varieties around that, although deciduous (leaves fall off every year), create nice winter interest. Frost on the red bark of the Acer ‘Sango Kaku’ is really beautiful, for example and the Acer ‘Griseum’ has cinnamon-coloured peeling bark, which is really attractive too.

Cornus (‘Dogwood’) is the classic winter coloured stem in a lot of garden spaces. Red, gold, yellow and green varieties grown either as a single colour en masse, or in combinations of colours, give a really colourful structure to a garden in winter. They do need to be pruned back every year to keep them in check, but you can use some of the pruned stems indoors for arrangements.

Speaking of which, at this time of year we like to use evergreen foliage and branches to make into festive wreaths and garlands. You don’t even need to do anything much with them really. Just cut a few nice looking pieces from Conifers, Eucalyptus, Ferns, (the) Holly and (the) Ivy (ahem) and Cornus and place them on mantlepieces, shelves and furniture tops around your home, tied with just a little ribbon or twine. Maybe make the short trip to Epping Forest and see what you can find (although do take care not to damage anything you take cuttings from - an don’t remove any root systems (and absolute “no-no”).


Avoid walking on your lawn when it’s blanketed by heavy frost or snow, because this will inevitably damage the grass underneath. That said, given the incredibly mild winter so far, you may find you need to continue to cut the lawn if it’s growing. If so, do remember to raise the height of the mower blade, so you don’t cut it too close, like you can during the summer months. Spike it with a fork too, to improve drainage and aeration. Continue to clear leaves away to let in light and prevent dead patches appearing.

Mustard and Cress

Mustard and cress seeds can be harvested within around two weeks of sowing indoors. Apart from being tasty, it’s a great thing to do with kids, to show them how plants start life and develop (don’t hold us to this, but you might find that they are actually keen to eat the crop, just because they grew it!). If you’ve never done it before, just line a tray with wet kitchen paper and sprinkle it with seeds. Put it in a polythene bag in a dark, warm place until the seeds germinate (start to open up). Then move the tray to a sunny windowsill and water gently every day, to keep the paper moist. Start harvesting once the stems are around 5cm tall - and make retro egg mayo and cress sandwiches!

Other Stuff

Leave the faded flower heads on your Hydrangeas until Spring. They’ll provide frost protection to the swelling buds further down their stems.

Protect your Poinsettias from cold draughts and allow them to dry out slightly between watering, for the best chance of them lasting for the whole Christmas period and well into January. Position them in a warm, bright room that maintains an even temperature.

Orchids need an even temperature of between 16 & 21 degrees celsius too - and relatively high humidity. This is best achieved by standing the pot on a dish of damp pebbles or horticultural grit. Give them water about once a week, making sure to let the pot drain well. Don’t use tap water - kettle-boiled water that’s been left to cool, or better still, rainwater should be used. If you’ve never had any luck in keeping orchids alive and have always given them tap water, chances are that’s what’s been killing them (tap water is slightly alkaline - they hate it!).

With it being so mild, there’s still time to plant Tulip bulbs - just avoid doing it on a frosty morning. Give the soil a chance to warm up a bit before you get the trowel out! If you have problems with hungry squirrels digging for your bulbs, try laying some chicken wire above the bulbs, but below the surface of the soil, to protect them. The sprouting stems will work their way through the wire without a problem.

After all the leaves have fallen from the trees, be sure to have your gutters cleared. They’re likely to be filled with dead foliage and twigs, clogging and preventing them from doing their job. If they’re not cleared and a freeze comes, you may well find you have even greater problems.

Similarly, if you have an automatic irrigation system, shut down the controller. Also, make sure to empty and store hoses so they don’t crack during any freezing temperatures we may get in the coming months.

As ever, if you have any questions, or think we might be able to help in some way, please do feel free to get in touch.

The Lancasters Team