Grow your own winter five a day.

Just because we have nearly reached the shortest day does not mean to say that we should only eat sprouts, cabbage and leeks between now and springtime.

With a few small pots of multi-purpose compost, a bright windowsill or cool glasshouse and as little TLC, we can all have a succession of yummy salad leaves to add to our five a day.

 

Cabbage Chinese 'Natsuki' & Leek 'Autumn Giant 2 - Porvite

Cabbage Chinese ‘Natsuki’ & Leek ‘Autumn Giant 2 – Porvite

Flicking through the 2017 Thompson & Morgan catalogue, you do not have to look very far before you find Spinach ‘Perpetual,’ eaten cooked or raw, and Salad Leaves ‘Speedy Mix’ to give you a quick start. If you fancy growing your own pea shoots (they will need a few days in the dark to get them to start germinating) or spring onion seedlings to lift a posh meal to another level, why not give them a try.
If you like that wonderful peppery flavour that rocket gives, try Wasabi Rocket to spice up a boring lettuce salad. Add some colour to the salad with a few Beetroot ‘Rainbow Beet’ leaves. With a little more heat, up to 15° C and light you might try one or two of the fabulous basil varieties that are listed amongst the herbs. Coriander leaves can also be grown with that little extra TLC.

 

Lettuce 'Yugoslavian Red' & Turnip 'Oasis'

Lettuce ‘Yugoslavian Red’ & Turnip ‘Oasis’

 

If you like something unusual, try growing Cabbage Chinese ‘Natsuki’  and throw the leaves into a stir fry.
Check out the pages on Salad leaves for a whole collection of other salad leaves to try. If you have a cool glasshouse (10°C) with a soil bed or similar and a little more patience, why not try growing some white salad Turnip ‘Oasis,’ sown in early January. Harvest from April onwards.

 

Salad Leaves 'Speedy Mix' & Spring Onion 'Feast' F1 Hybrid

Salad Leaves ‘Speedy Mix’ & Spring Onion ‘Feast’ F1 Hybrid

Remember that all most of these salads need is a bright windowsill, temperatures of between 10 and 12°C. Many are best being grown in shallow pots to avoid excessive use of compost – the plants will only be in the compost for 6 to 8 weeks and so do not need large volumes of compost.
Whichever ones you grow, enjoy your winter salads and look forward to growing more as winter turns to spring.
Graham Porter.

 

Graham Porter
I have worked in horticulture for the past 49 years and have become more involved with and concerned about the environmental impact that our profession has had on the world. I am married with 2 grown up children and 4 wonderful grandchildren. I am currently writing my first book that reflects my thoughts on gardening / horticulture in an environmentally friendly manner.

Winter protection advice for new gardeners

With the onset of the cold weather it is important to consider protecting your plants from the frost which will no doubt be on the way. Inadequate frost protection has killed too many plants, so don’t get caught out this winter, as we know the weather can change in a matter of days.

As the temperature starts to drop the cells in plants can freeze, this blocks vital fluid movement so plants no longer receive nutrients. Ice forming in cell walls will eventually dry and the plant will no doubt die. Ice can also cause sections of the plant to die back. When weather warms the thawing process damages plants. Damage is easy to see. The foliage is usually affected first, becoming discoloured, and wilting. The stem will eventually blacken and the plant turns brown and crispy.

Choosing plants wisely to begin with will always be the best method of prevention. If you live in an area that suffers from heavy frosts, extreme weather or gets water logged then buy plants that can withstand this type of environment if possible. However, if you are taken by surprise with adverse weather conditions at Thompson & Morgan we have products to aid plant protection.

Bell boy cloche & pastic tunnel cloche

Bell boy cloche & pastic tunnel cloche

Move your containers and pots with specimen plants, such as palms, to a sheltered spot in the garden. Another protection tip is to move them off the ground. Put small pieces of wood or legs underneath the pots. This will stop the roots getting cold, and the plant from becoming waterlogged. A bell boy cloche can be added on top of smaller plants.

With heavy brassicas, such as Cabbage ‘Savoy King,’ brussels sprouts, draw up soil around the base of the stem to prevent movement. If the wind does manage to rock them this can cause damage and prevent them from providing a healthy crop in the spring. Once you have drawn the soil up then add netting over them to protect them from the pigeons.

On cold nights apply horticultural fleece to hardy salad crops such as Lettuce ‘Winter Gem’ and Salad Leaves ‘Land Cress’ and Corn Salad ‘Cavallo.’ This will protect them from the harshest of the cold weather, which can blacken the leaves, or even kill them completely.

Netting & Horticultural fleece

Netting & Horticultural fleece

Potted plants that can stay out over the winter can be grouped together in a sheltered spot. Put horticultural fleece, and they can be stored in a cold frame if you have one. Cold frames are usually used to protect hardy young plants such as Stenocarpus sinuatus. It is a good idea to add in any plants that are susceptible to rotting in cold, wet conditions.

If you soil is heavy clay then it could be an idea to keep some of your winter vegetables such as carrots and pak choi in a cold frame or unheated greenhouse.

Cold frame & Lean-to greenhouse

Cold frame & Lean-to greenhouse

Tender perennials such as Coleus ‘Kong Mixed’ or geraniums should be lifted and stored in the greenhouse and given extra protection with horticultural fleece, and in some cases, a heated greenhouse. This type of warmth will encourage good root growth through the cold months.

Straw can be used to protect plants that cannot be moved indoors. A cloche or mini tunnel will also add extra protection from freezing conditions. Fruit such as strawberries can be covered with straw and broken twigs, this stops the frost from getting at their roots.

Winter tips

Moving deciduous trees and shrubs, or fruit trees while dormant, avoids damage. This allows them to be settled in to their before they start to grow again. So if you are thinking of moving a tree or shrub from one part of the garden to another, now is the time to do it.

A well documented tip during winter is to try not to over water your plants. Just a small amount every so often has proved to be the best way to keep your plants happy during this time of year.

Good luck with your over wintering. If you have any good tips for our new gardeners, please let us know.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wendie Alexander
I have worked for Thompson & Morgan for nearly four years. In that time I have learnt lots about gardening, but consider myself very much a novice. I have started growing veg on a colleague’s allotment and also growing windowsill seeds such as Salad Leaves and Rocket. I love gaining more knowledge about horticulture and am lucky enough to work here.

Potatoes – First earlies are great for beginners?

Potatoes are one of the easiest things to grow when you get your first plot of land for cropping. The early potatoes grow fairly quickly, in approximately 10 weeks. Check our Potato Selector Guide to find out which variety is the best one for you, and don’t forget it depends on the time of year you are growing them too. You also need to decide if you want to grow in bags, or in the ground. Potato ‘Rocket’ is a good first early. It has good all round disease resistance and can be grown in bags or in the ground.

Potato growing kit & T&M potash fertiliser

Potato growing kit & T&M potash fertiliser

Once you have decided where you are planting your potatoes, you need to prepare the ground or get the bags and compost, you can buy a Patio Potato Growing Kit which has all you will need for this choice.  For comprehensive instruction on growing potatoes in bags, see our guide. If you want to see the difference between growing in the ground or bags then read Sue’s (very unscientific) potato trials.

Potato 'Rocket' grown & cooked

Potato ‘Rocket’ grown & cooked

When growing in the ground potatoes are not too fussy on soil type. An acidic soil is preferable but not essential; add sulphur to the tops of the potato ridge if the soil is alkaline. This will deter skin blemishes like Common Scab that is a problem in alkaline conditions. You can get a kit to tell you the type of soil you have. Choose an open position in full sun on fertile, well drained soil. Avoid soil where potatoes have grown for two years in succession, as this will increase the risk of disease. Begin preparing the planting site well in advance. A couple of months before planting is ideal to allow the soil to settle. Remove all weeds and dig the site thoroughly and deeply, lifting out any large stones, and incorporating plenty of well rotted organic matter like leaf mould and high potash fertiliser.

Ph tester kit & potato growing bags

Ph tester kit & potato growing bags

When your potatoes arrive you will need to ‘chit’ them. This is essentially just growing shoots out of the tubers prior to planting. The benefit is they will produce faster growth and heavier crops. Do it as soon as you get them. Remove packaging; lay them out in a cool bright, frost-free position. Pop them in egg boxes or seed trays; you will notice that the immature shoots are all at one end (called the rose end). Place the potatoes with this end facing upwards. By the time that you are ready to plant them, they will have produced shoots up to 25mm (1″) in length.
Remember seed potatoes (tubers) can be cut if they have shoots at both ends, this will make 2 tubers, so you will get more potatoes from your crop.
Plant your first earlies in February; you will need to dig a trench to a depth of about 10cm (4″) and place the seed potatoes into the trench with the rose end facing upwards. Fill the trench with soil to cover the potatoes. The potash fertiliser purchased at the beginning of the year, which you added to the ground, is fine to put over the top of the trench.

Potato sacks - paper & hessian

Potato sacks – paper & hessian

It is important to ‘earth up’ potato crops as the shoots emerge above ground, to protect them from frosts which blacken the shoots and delays production. Simply draw some soil over the top of the shoots to cover them again. first early crops need plenty of water during prolonged dry weather especially when tubers are starting to form. When the stems reach a height of 23cm (9″) above ground they should be earthed up again to prevent tubers near to the soil surface from turning green.

Plannting and lifting guide times

Plannting and lifting guide times

Start to harvest first earlies as ‘new potatoes;’ when the plants begin to flower, approximately 10 weeks from planting around late May. Tubers will generally become larger the longer their growing period. It is worth having a gentle dig below the surface to check the potato sizes – if they’re too small simply leave them for another week or so, otherwise lift them and enjoy!
After harvesting, leave the tubers on the soil surface for a few hours to dry and cure the skin. Once dry store them in paper or hessian sacks in a dark, cool but frost free place. Avoid storing in polythene bags as potatoes will ‘sweat’ and rot.
Then all you have to do is enjoy them!

Pack size info: 1kg equates to approximately 15 potato tubers of grade 35:55.

Wendie Alexander
I have worked for Thompson & Morgan for nearly four years. In that time I have learnt lots about gardening, but consider myself very much a novice. I have started growing veg on a colleague’s allotment and also growing windowsill seeds such as Salad Leaves and Rocket. I love gaining more knowledge about horticulture and am lucky enough to work here.

Winding down through autumn

Having had an unexpected rest from gardening due to a chest infection that has now lasted for around 6 weeks, and a computer crash following an update! Which ended up at the repairers for around nine days.  Thankfully I am now starting to recover and have managed to cut back old plants that were overdue and cleaning out pots. As I had to leave a lot of the work I noticed that plants seem to be having a second round of flowering – I guess you never give up learning especially when it comes to gardening.

Clematis' 3rd flowering of the season & unnamed trial fuchsia

Clematis’ 3rd flowering of the season & unnamed trial fuchsia

While clearing through some drawers during my enforced rest I found an old note book I had for my gardening in 1995! I had left notes to myself reminding me about getting fresh compost and not old bags because I had had a bad experience that year losing several plants. Also notes about cutting fuchsias and burying them until the spring amongst many other good ideas which obviously I took to heart as I seem to be doing them up to now..

1995 notepad & part of the container garden

1995 notepad & part of the container garden

With the weather cooling down quickly and leaves turning on my hydrangeas I noticed two Calla Lilies which have been in the garden for four years and have got to this stage in bud.  Now that a lot of the other plants have finished they are taking pride of place, and yesterday (last week October) discovered that one of them has now flowered. FUCHSIA FuchsiaBerry has had a lot of fruit.  I have tried them a couple of times and they taste quite smooth almost the texture of a cherry.

Still flowering laurentia & an unnamed trial antirrhinum

Still flowering laurentia & an unnamed trial antirrhinum

The Strawberry ‘Irresistible’ which I trialled about four years ago from Thompson and Morgan is producing fruit for the second time this year. The double antirrhinums, Sun Diascia ‘Eternal Flame’ and the three unnamed trial plants from this year – unnamed bidens, fuchsia and trailing antirrhinum are all pictured here. The latter, a peachy pink colour – have been flowering for the whole season. I wonder if they have been named yet?
In September I received an Invitation to attend the Bournemouth in Bloom presentations, thankfully Alan and I were well enough to attend. What a big surprise when I discovered I had won the Gold Award and overall winner for my Container Garden and Silver award for my Hanging Basket and Patio garden.  I was thrilled to bits and thank you Wendie Alexander for the lovely piece on Facebook.

Bournemouth in Bloom awards & Strawberry 'Irrestitible'

Bournemouth in Bloom awards & Strawberry ‘Irrestitible’

This year I have planted up some plants for the winter. We are usually visiting my Sister in California through October/November not getting home until the beginning of December, then of course we are into Christmas, so I have already planted tulips ready for the spring and thought that I would plant the daffodils in the garden so it doesn`t look so bare and then they can establish without much help.

Autumn colour & diascia's 2nd flowering

Autumn colour & diascia’s 2nd flowering

Alan has been busy taking the watering system out of the front and drying the computer timer, taking the battery out and storing for next year.  I usually throw the battery away as you can`t tell how much power is in it and it has been working for over five months. We leave the watering system in place in the back garden just putting the timer away as it is more sheltered than the front. My two tier stands have been taken down and sprayed with protective oil and the baskets cleaned and put away until next year. I take all the chains off the baskets and spray them, then hang them in my shed.

Calla Lilly & useful notes in 1995 notepad

Calla Lilly & useful notes in 1995 notepad

Now is the time to start thinking about next year`s plants etc and look forward to the new spring/summer catalogue from Thompson & Morgan so the dark evenings will be used thumbing through the catalogues…and then of course there is Christmas.  I have just received the Christmas catalogue from Thompson & Morgan and they have some wonderful flowers/plants in there, must start planning for some of them!!

Autumn tones & Tomato 'Sweet Aperitif'

Autumn tones & Tomato ‘Sweet Aperitif’

Hope all my gardening friends are keeping healthy and enjoying the autumn, take care until the next time………………….Jean

Jean Willis
I started gardening 65 years ago on my Dad’s allotment and now live in Bournemouth, where spend a lot of time gardening since retiring. In 2012 I won the Gold Award for Bournemouth in Bloom Container Garden. I am a member of Thompson & Morgan’s customer trial panel.

Look to winter shades to keep the blues away

Autumn is upon us and winter is fast approaching, long cold nights offer little to raise our spirits and many people now recognise S.A.D. as a definite problem at this time of year.

The loss of daylight hours and the cold temperatures can give us a lack of incentive to wander outside into our gardens, there are no longer any summer blooms, bees or butterflies to wonder at, and it is so much easier to stay indoors and wait for spring.

But if you do stay in, you are missing out on so many autumn and winter spectacles, sights and colours!
It is still possible to create a fantastic autumn and winter display to bring you outside – where you will at least get a little sunshine – not just flowers but grasses, shrubs and trees can brighten up even the dreariest of days.

Take pennisetums for example, a wide range of them are available; they are guaranteed to draw you in with their wonderful structure, colour and amazing seedheads. They are very easy to maintain and look fantastic planted in drifts of different shapes and sizes.

Pennisetum alopecuroides, Pennisetum setaceum 'Fireworks' & Pennisetum villosum 'Cream Falls'

Pennisetum alopecuroides, Pennisetum setaceum ‘Fireworks’ & Pennisetum villosum ‘Cream Falls’

There are a huge variety of colours still to be seen at this time of year, the bright foliage of berberis makes a striking counterpoint to the bare trees or other evergreens around it, almost adding the warmth of a roaring fire. Pyracanthus will offer its red or yellow berries into the display too (making a tasty treat for the birds at the same time).

Holly, yew and privet, with many other evergreens can help maintain rich glossy layers of deep greens. Usually at the back of borders they help to provide a backdrop for other plants. Many have berries too, adding contrast and additional interest.

Berberis 'Admiration,' Pyracantha 'Soleil d'Or,' & Eucalyptus gunnii

Berberis ‘Admiration,’ Pyracantha ‘Soleil d’Or,’ & Eucalyptus gunnii

Moving upwards, there are many trees that create lots of interest during autumn and winter. Some, like eucalyptus are not only evergreen, but have unusual coloured leaves and interesting bark too. Whilst others once they have given us a spectacular display of autumn colours as their leaves fall, reveal a wonderful winter filigree of branches and twigs to capture the frosts or winter sunshine.

Of course, the easiest way to provide yourself with quick and easy colour is to plant out winter bedding in pots or borders where they can be easily seen from indoors. Even if you are not tempted to leave the warmth of your house, the cheery faces of pansies, the bright shades of primroses and the daisy heads of bellis are sure to bring a smile or two!

Pansy 'Matrix™ Mixed,' Polyanthus 'Firecracker' & Bellis 'Pomponette Mixed'

Pansy ‘Matrix™ Mixed,’ Polyanthus ‘Firecracker’ & Bellis ‘Pomponette Mixed’

There is really no excuse to not enjoy your garden this autumn and winter, there are plenty of joys to behold, colours to take in and various plants and schemes to try out. I’ve only touched on a few of my ideas and favourites. There are so many more I could have added, cornus, autumn crocuses, winter flowering clematis to name a few.

Check out Thompson & Morgan’s plant finder, I have always found it a really useful tool when thinking about trying new plants in different locations and at different times of the year too.

Graham Ward
I’ve been gardening for as long as I can remember, my first earliest memory being planting seeds in my Grandfather’s prestige flower bed and having a prize lettuce growing there, which he proudly left to show everyone.

Since then, gaining knowledge and experience from both my Grandfather and my Father, I’ve continued to garden, both as a hobby and later on as a professional gardener and landscaper for 12 years. I love all aspects of it, from the design and build, to the planting out of summer borders with plants you’ve either grown from seed or raised from plugs. Unusual varieties always catch my eye and I’m keen to try growing them, even if sometimes it means learning from my mistakes.

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