By Patricia Jordan
The storms at the beginning and end of November brought some welcome rain to our thirsty gardens and you will notice how green shoots are appearing everywhere as a result. It is a pity that our rain comes in such strong downpours, with the inevitable loss of soil. Make up that loss by digging in some homemade compost, or bagged potting compost as not only will it replace the soil lost in the beds, but give some new nourishment to them.
National Poinsettia Day is December 12 so make sure that you have your plants by then to make the most of them! Remember to remove them carefully from their cellophane wrapper and give them a good soak before displaying them in a draught proof place. I recall writing about them last year, when I read that they are not even in the top ten favourite Christmas flowers in the UK any more. However, I am sure that growers will continue to produce them here for the festive season, no matter what! Orchids now are produced so cheaply (every supermarket has them on display) and so are no longer the expensive ‘special’ gifts to give to someone. They are available in wonderful colours nevertheless, but beware as some of the colours are not natural and have been artificially applied by the growers. Some growers think that cacti and other plants such as small fir trees should be smothered in fake snow. Really! Give them a miss, for although they may look attractive for five minutes, the plants cannot tolerate the coated leaves and will soon demise.
I am sure that you will be moving potted plants into more sheltered spots as night temperatures drop. Aloe attenuata, with its huge fleshy leaves, is very susceptible to low winter temperatures. I have several including babies of my original one, but have yet to see them flower although I know of one that flowered on a veranda in Nicosia a while ago, so I keep hoping. The flower appears on a huge stem, which the plant finds difficult to support, so it tends to bend over into an arch. The flowers are very attractive, but sadly, after the flowers die, the plant will also demise, although it will have reproduced itself with new plantlets from around the lower stem. This type of plant is known as monocarpic.
WHAT TO DO IN THE GARDEN THIS MONTH
Your fruit and nut trees will need some feeding this month, so do that before you get too involved with Christmas preparations. Remember that the feeding roots are halfway between the trunk and the leaf canopy, so ensure this is where you will apply the fertiliser. If the ground is dry, then water the feed in. This month the dose is 900g for mature trees and 300g for young trees of 20.10.10 fertiliser. Finish pruning any almond trees before feeding. In a very short while the first almond flower buds will be swelling.
Shrubs and trees may also need a tidy up. Cut out any dead or diseased branches and those that cross in the middle of the tree. The exception to this rule is plum trees, which tend to grow in higher elevations here. They should be pruned after harvesting the fruit, or they may be affected by silver leaf, a fungal disease of the wood and leaves of some trees, especially plums, apples and apricots. The fungus infects the wood through pruning wounds that have not healed, and causes a silvering of the leaves, followed by the death of the branch. I have stopped growing any prunus trees in my garden, along with other friends who live nearby, as they were subject to bacterial canker, which is very difficult to deal with.
There should be plenty of dry root roses in the garden centres. The best advice when you get them home is to soak them in a bucket of water for a few hours, helping the plant to recover from its journey. Check the roots and trim any that look dead or very thin. Prepare your planting hole, which should be deep enough to be able to spread the roots out, and have the graft point just above the level of the soil. Failure to do this will encourage the rootstock, onto which your chosen rose was grafted, to throw out growth from below the ground. These shoots, called suckers, will take any goodness from the soil, as well as weakening the plant. Make sure that the planting hole is damp, add some slow-release fertiliser to the bottom of the hole, and fill in around the rose with fresh soil. Check over any banksia roses for dead or diseased stems and remove them. Ensure that the roots of all your roses are firmly in the ground by pressing the ground around the base of the plants with your foot.
Spring flowering plants such as freesias and chasmanthe are shooting up already and may need some staking to protect the flowers. This is best done before the leaves become too tall. You will no doubt notice that tiny cyclamen are pushing up their attractive, silver mottled leaves, which have been dormant since late spring, and it is a wonder of nature that they survive our hot weather. In the Levant, where most native cyclamen come from, summers are extremely hot and a covering of leaves may help to keep them cool, although the tubers can withstand a certain amount of cold weather, too. What a splendid sight huge colonies of tiny cyclamen make towards the end of winter. The speedy spread of these lovely plants is helped by ants, as they distribute the sticky seeds around shaded areas of gardens, particularly under trees and shrubs, in order to shelter them during their dormant summer season.
Grown from a round tuber, not a corm as is erroneously thought, and depending on the species, the roots can appear from anywhere on the tuber, sides, bottom or top. The sometimes heart-shaped dark green leaves, dotted with unusual silver blotches, have reddish stems, while the flower stems are red. Flowering begins once the leaves are above ground and fully formed and the flower stems seem to appear almost overnight. The tiny, sometimes fragrant, flowers have five petals and five sepals, and while the flower bud hangs downwards, the petals open in an upward folded back position, which some say resembles butterflies or shooting stars. Colours may be white or pink with a darker pink colour around the downward facing base. All too soon, the round seed pods begin to form as the flower stem begins to hang downwards and when the seeds are ripe, the outer case bursts and the seeds are spread around the area. Cyclamen tend not to be affected by bugs, other than slugs and snails, which may eat the leaves as they appear. Enjoy them while you can.