Winter bedding plants have been on sale in my local garden centre for a while, but I hate to rush into winter. But summer is definitely over where I live, so this weekend I am working on a plan to cheer us up through winter and into spring. It might not look quite like this .... but I can try!
Bulbs for spring flowers should be planted now - go wild with colour! (This image, thanks to Planet Jaguar Tours).
Prepare the soil for winter bedding and biennial plants
Dig up summer bedding plants and add them to the garden compost heap. Roughly dig the soil where they grew with a garden fork, to loosen the soil, and mix in some well rotted garden compost or the contents of old grow bags. Measure up so that, when you are poised to buy, you purchase enough plants to fill the gaps and make a good display, bearing in mind that in winter plants won't grow as fast, or as much, as in summer.
Plant bulbs to flower in spring and through winter bedding plants
For those bulbs that need to be planted deep in the soil, plant before your bedding plants and biennials or you risk digging up the bedding plants as you go. Mark where the bulbs are to reduce the risk of stabbing them with a trowel as you add bedding plants on top and around them.
Choose plump, firm bulbs with no sign of mould, cuts or rot. Don’t worry if they have small green shoots at the top (they are ready to be panted) but don’t buy bulbs with long spindly shoots as these have started too much growth.
For me, the more the merrier with bulbs. But my top tip is to read the labels to make sure short flower stems are not hidden behind large biennials or bedding plants.
Only tulips and hyacinth shouldn’t be planted right now – leave them to late October or even November, keeping them cool and dark meantime.
Different bulbs should be planted at different depths to suit their needs. Labels on packets will tell you what to do. If you buy bulbs loose check out information on the RHS or gardening websites or consult the websites of some of the big garden bulb suppliers.
Plant biennial plants to flower next spring and summer
After the bulbs, add plants that will stay in the soil longer than winter bedding, coming into flower in the summer or spring.
Know-how: A biennial plant takes two years to complete its lifecycle. In the first year it grows leaves, stems, and roots. Then it is dormant over the colder months. In its second year it flowers. My favourites are foxgloves and hollyhocks - both tall and elegant, and great for the back of borders.
Plant winter bedding plants to fill gaps and create a special display
Wallflowers: buy them in loose bundles from garden centres and some florists and market stalls. Make the most of their scent by planting them near a door or window.
Winter flowering pansies: a must-have at the front of the border but they don't do well in cold and wet areas. Instead plant winter violas which are much tougher and just as pretty. Keep pansies and violas flowering by nipping off dead heads through the winter. In spring a more severe cut to remove straggly growth may give them a new lease of life.
Primroses and polyanthus are always popular for spring flowers, but may not survive the harshest winters. Single primrose are tougher than polyanthus, so if you want to plant now and know your winters are tough choose them. Or wait until spring to add these lovely plants to garden borders and containers.
A word of warning: some of the small cyclamen plants on sale now in garden centres and superstores might not be fully hardy. They will need to be planted in a very sheltered spot (in the border or containers) where they won’t get too damp but even then they may simply collapse and rot.
If you like cyclamen invest in hardy perennial varieties, and enjoy them every year.
Finally, water the plants in well to establish them. Sit back and bring on the winter!
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