Dec 10 – ‘Protecting Your Tender Plants’

If you haven’t already done so, now is the time to start protecting your tender plants before it’s too late. This week the temperatures are set to plummet with some pretty punishing frosts over night as well as some sub zero temperatures through the day. These will certainly see off the last of your summer bedding as the geraniums turn black and the begonias turn to mush. If you want to make sure some of you less hardy plants make it through the winter they will need a bit of protection.

 Most tropical or exotic plants will need your attention such as palm trees, bananas and oleanders. Although olive trees will probably be alright down to about -10 ° C and not all palms will need protecting. Things like Trachycarpus fortuneii and Chamerops humilis are tough as old boots and will hardly bat an eyelid in the cold weather so they can be left unprotected. The Trachycarpus or Chusan Palm comes from the mountainous regions of China and is used to cold temperatures. On the other hand, Mediterranean palms such as the widely sold Phoenix canariensis are particularly frost tender as are palms like Brahia armata, Butia capitata, Bismarkia nobilis and Washingtonias.

 So, what’s the best way to protect them? With bananas (Musa Basjoo), you will need to trim off the leaves and then wrap around several layers of horticultural fleece, the more layers the better and then tie with string to keep it in place. You can also use chicken wire hoops or tubes placed around the stem and then stuffed with straw and then covered with fleece or bubble wrap. What you do need to avoid is using materials that stay wet against the plant such as old blankets or carpet as these will cause fungal and bacterial infections.

 With palms you will need to bunch up the leaves/fronds and tie together with string and then wrap at least 4 layers of fleece around them and then tie to secure it. Ensure that the stem base is thoroughly protected as this is where the new growth will come from and if this is destroyed then that’s the end of your palm as they only have one growing point.

 If you have access to a heated greenhouse then move in some of  your more tender pot plants. We bought a cheap plastic greenhouse this year with a heater that keeps it frost free – ideal for a marguerite that we want to keep going.

 If the forecast is for severe frosts then it’s also worth protecting tree ferns (Dicksonia Antartica). With these you will need to protect the crown, the growing point of the plant by placing a few handfuls of straw in the top and then covering with fleece and securing.

 Be aware of bulbs in pots. Most are generally hardy but in severe winters when the pot and compost freezes solid, things like tulips and lilies can be damaged. So if you are worried, it might be worth tucking the pot under an evergreen hedge for a bit of protection or putting away in the garage until the worst is over. On the subject of pots, you might need to protect the pot itself especially if it isn’t frost-proof.  Make sure the pot is lifted up off the ground on pot feet and wrap with fleece.

 If we start to get those biting easterly winds, what Beth Chatto calls ‘lazy winds’ as they go right through you and not around you, other plants might also need protecting. These winds can dessicate conifers and evergreens, especially in pots, and cause foliage to turn brown and become scorched.  So be prepared to fleece up if necessary. The tubular fleece that you can get in DIY stores can be handy for this as it fits over pots quite nicely like a sleeve.

 If we do get a break in the weather, now is a good time to dig over rough areas such as allotments or new borders. You can leave quite large clods on the surface as the frost will break them down nicely to more manageable sizes over the winter.

 There aren’t many other jobs to do in the garden this month that won’t wait. The ground is far to cold and frozen for planting projects so wait until it thaws out a bit before you plant any bare root or deciduous trees or shrubs. It’s better to wait until the spring now if you want to plant any evergreens or herbaceous perennials.

 If the frost and snow does subside try to keep on top of the leaves. You should try to clear as many leaves as possible from the lawn so that it doesn’t turn yellow. Don’t worry too much about clearing them from the borders as they will provide a much needed mulch and the worms will take them down to improve the soil. But if the snow does linger for a bit, ensure that you shake off any laying snow from the leaves and branches, the extra weight can lead to splitting or breaking.

 Have a Happy Christmas and here’s looking forward to a new gardening year. If you are stuck for Christmas ideas try garden centre vouchers.