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Image: Winter Fun in the Garden

Handy Hints from Anthony Tesselaar International

'Flower Carpet White Standards under planted with Flower Carpet Appleblossom Groundcover Roses.'

Winter’s arrived but that’s no reason why you can’t have fun in the garden. Opportunities to add colour and creativity abound.

Hundreds of flowering and foliage plants brighten the scene at this time of year. Famous for their winter flowers and berries are hardy camellias, daphnes, heaths, Chinese lanterns, banksias, wintersweet and flowering quince. Pyracantha, viburnums and cotoneasters are famous for their winter berry displays. Citrus trees colour up warm northern gardens, while conifers turn vibrant colours in the south.

Winter is also an excellent time of the year to exercise creativity in the garden. Except in the very coldest parts of the country it’s a good time for planting, and if necessary, moving plants. When the soil is too wet for digging you can always fill your pots.

Colourful foliage
Where would the winter garden be without colourful foliage plants? Fashionable winners include the flaxes, grasses and cabbage trees (cordylines), great for texture contrast as well as colour. Look out for the stunning bronze-red foliage of cordyline ‘Red Fountain’, a recent release from Anthony Tesselaar International. Forming glossy clumps of about 60cm high, its strappy foliage cascades into a rounded ball shape making it ideal for display pots, borders and mass plantings. Use its unique colour to highlight other plants in the garden.

In warmer winter climates in the north, the stunning multi-coloured foliage of Canna ‘Tropicanna’ with its exotic variegated tones of orange, red, purple and green, offers good colour options for the protected garden.

For a permanently colourful hedge, consider the silver and chocolate tones of corokia varieties (great for winter berries too), silver Teucrium fruticans, multicoloured coprosmas, red tinted Myrtus cultivars or the variegated forms of Euonymus, holly and Pittosporum. As a border or for foliage contrast in a pot, there are colourful bergenias, heucheras and hostas.

Colour indoors
When it’s cold and grey outside, it makes sense to bring nature indoors. Cyclamen is a traditional winter favourite and there’s no shortage of other flowering indoor plants to choose from.

Coloured foliage plants are also an option for indoors. Canna ‘Tropicanna’ performs well in lower light conditions indoors.

A well-lit room is essential for flowering plants, but move them away from direct sunlight. Cyclamen like a cooler area and are good for the bathroom, hallway or bedrooms.

While they are flowering, plants need feeding but otherwise its time to cut down on watering and stop feeding your house plants until spring. More often than not the main cause of death in winter is over-watering. Water only when the potting mix is dry to touch. Pick off spent flowers as they expire to keep plants looking fresh and promote more flowers.

Winter pruning
With regular pruning plants remain bushy and healthy, with better shape, more flowers, more fruit and fewer disease problems.

Spring and summer flowering perennials such as Canna ‘Tropicanna’ and Alstromeria ‘Peruvian Princess’ will flower at their very best if you give them a good cut back in winter. In colder climates they should be pruned in spring.

Winter is the time to prune roses. It’s also pruning time for deciduous trees and shrubs, except for those that flower on wood produced the previous season. These are pruned directly after flowering in spring.

The first job is to remove all dead or diseased wood (all that’s needed in many cases). Then see to the overall size and shape, shortening branches to encourage renewed vigour. Cuts should be made on an angle sloping away from a bud 5mm to 1cm above it. Too close and you risk damaging the bud. Too far away and the wood above the bud will die, risking further die back down the stem. Look at the position of the bud on the stem. The idea is to let light and air in, encouraging growth and discouraging disease. Generally this means cutting above a bud facing to the outside of the plant.

When dealing with closely branched shrubs the process is much simpler. For example with the likes of ‘Flower Carpet’ groundcover roses, all that is needed is an overall trim with the pruning shears to about half to one third of its height – no fussy pruning required here for stunning flowering results come spring.

The harder you prune, the more vigour you will inject back into the plant. This may be at the expense however of next season’s flowers. Frost tender shrubs should not be pruned until after the last frost in spring. If rhododendrons or camellias need pruning for size control, do this directly after flowering.

Caring for roses in winter
With gorgeous spring blooms to look forward to, now is the time to plant new roses and tend to those already in your garden.

When planting new roses in winter, remove the container along with any material surrounding the roots. Prune off any damaged root growth, then soak the roots in a bucket of water while you prepare a generous sized planting hole, adding compost and slow release fertiliser. Follow up with Rose Fertiliser in early spring. Well-rotted animal manures also make excellent rose food.

July is rose pruning time in most areas. ‘Flower Carpet’ roses can be trimmed in a jiffy using the hedge shears. Pruning of traditional bush roses is a little more time consuming; after removing dead or decaying wood remove old branches and those crossing over each other or growing towards the centre, leaving 3 to 5 well spaced, thick young branches with 3 to 5 buds each. Make cuts on an angle about 5mm above an outward facing bud.

‘Flower Carpet’ roses have become extremely popular for their ability to be grown without spraying. For most other roses it is difficult to get away without some spraying. However, the need to spray will be significantly less come spring if you spray after pruning with a copper spray mixed with spraying oil.

Be sure to remove and burn all leaf litter and prunings then finish off with a layer of organic mulch. This hinders weed growth, conserves moisture and continually improves the soil in which your roses grow.


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