May Gardening pots for winter

The last month of autumn is upon us and growth will slow down as we head for the shortest day next month. The shortest day is only about 6 weeks away, how quickly the seasons change. It will get much cooler and plant growth will slow.
In the North Auckland area gardeners can now be planting out and growing new potatoes and way up in Northland the garden centres will have seed potatoes ready for planting.

This is great as the problems from the potato Psyllid will be a lot less than in the summer months.
Oh how would gardeners in Dunedin and Invercargill like to be doing that at this time…
Even in Palmerston North I would not risk it!

For most gardeners, winter is the quiet time, a time to plan and review the past season. It is not a time when the gardens need to be completely drab as we have available a good range of winter flowering plants to brighten our gardens and homes. Polyanthus and primulas are wonderful winter flowering plants, which can be planted into gardens, borders and containers. Not affected by frosts these plants can give us bright bold colour or lovely pastel shades to suit our tastes and various areas.

The plants are available from your garden centre in two forms, as seedlings which will flower later in the winter or as colour spots for instant flowers.

It is a good idea to buy a number of both especially if you are planting up a bed of them.
Space out the colour spots so that seedlings can be planted in between. This will give a nice show of colour which just gets better as the weeks go by.

It is great to have a nice display of colour to greet you as you come home each day. So plant up an area that you can view as you come up the drive. You could also include a few containers of winter flowering plants at the front door.

For container plants that need protection from frost, if they are on the porches and under cover, the best choices in my mind are cyclamen and dwarf cineraria. A few Primula malacoides and Primula obconica can be included for a variety in foliage type and flowering form.

Do not use potting mix for the containers; instead give them a growing medium with a bit of guts. Use an animal manure based compost that is reasonably friable. Fill the container to the desired planting height and then sprinkle a reasonable amount of sheep manure pellets over the compost along with a heaped teaspoon of dried blood and a quarter teaspoon of Rok Solid. Then place your colour spot onto this minus its original container. The new container size for one of the plants suggested should be about 15cm to 18cm in diameter.

A planter box is ideal for a number of plants in a row on a porch. The secret with container plants in sheltered areas during winter is to never overwater them. Too much water makes the mix colder, slows growth and leads to root rots which can cause the death of plants. Keeping plants a little on the dry side is the best way to have them handle winter.

Small drinks of warm water with a little Matrix Reloaded added(for extra food value) is applied as the foliage starts to droop through lack of moisture. It is surprising how little watering is required. The reason for this is the plant is not losing moisture through the foliage as in the summer, therefore reducing the water needs, by up to 90%. The plant also gains moisture from the damp air which is often enough to keep it happy even when the mix is fairly dry.  In winter its just about a game to see how little water you need to apply.

You can also further reduce the watering needs by spraying the plants with Vaporgard.
It reduces the loss of moisture through the leaves on warmer days and offers extra protection from frosts and chills. When you place your container plants on a porch make sure that they have sufficient bright light and a little direct sun if possible.

Also you can take this a little further and place a few of the same plants on windowsills indoors to brighten up rooms. On windowsills they will receive sufficient light and the cold of the window pane; they will enjoy (especially cyclamen that do not like too much heat). Placing the same plant in the middle of the room, they will suffer from lack of light and too much warmth. Then if you overwater then they will rot out.

All the primula and polyanthus type plants are ideal for the garden displays.
By the way Polyanthus have one flower stem with a number of flowers on the top of the stem where Primula acaulis, which look just like the polys, except they have lots of stems with a single flower on each. Both types are often referred to as Polys or polyanthus. The true polys usually have a tall stem so the flowers appear well above the foliage in a cluster. The primula polys have shorter stems so you have a more posy bowel effect when they are in flower.

Birds in winter, because of their lack of much food, will tend to eat the flowers of either type, especially the blue flowers for some reason… If you are finding this happening, then two things can be done. Stretch some bird repeller ribbon between two stakes near the plants and toss some bread and other food out for the birds, away from where the plants are. It’s a good thing to feed birds in winter as they do need some help for us at this time.

I can have a number of birds, waiting each morning for me to toss out some bread for their breakfast.
You notice over a period of time how these feral birds become less scared of you and will feed closer to where you are.

When planting out into gardens, ensure that sheep pellets, dry blood and a bit of Rok Solid is placed in the base of each planting hole. An occasional watering with Matrix Reloaded added to the watering can is ideal as an extra complete food source.

Food and iron can become locked up in the cold of winter so you need to ensure a plentiful supply for the flowering plants. Otherwise the foliage will pale and flower production will suffer.

A side dressing once a month of the dried blood is well worthwhile. If you find that the plants are growing slower than you would like, then spray them with MBL and Matrix Reloaded about every two weeks.

Underneath shrubs and trees where its protected, you can plant cineraria and cyclamen but even with the above protection, a spray of Vaporgard for frost protection is a good idea.
If slugs and snails give you a problem instead of putting down poisons to kill them and possibly harming hungry wild life as well as pets, simply spray the plants with Liquid Copper and Raingard every couple of weeks. The slugs and snails can’t stand the copper and will leave the plants alone while the copper is there. Spray the ground around the plants with the same.

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