How is it possible to beat the winter blues in your garden when it's so cold outside? It's quite simple really; just plant frost hardy bedding plants!
The long lasting "wow factor" that they offer, is an indispensable part of a winter garden, providing you with a quick and easy source of colour. Bedding plants (also called annuals or seedlings) also provide your garden with various heights, textures and flowering periods, adding both atmosphere and charm. They can be combined with shrubs, ground covers, perennials and bulbs or used on their own to provide a well manicured, colourful finish to your garden. An added bonus is that bedding plants are generally not demanding and with just a little care will give you months of glorious colour.
You may think that something so beautiful would never cope with our harsh winters. Nothing could be further from the truth. Many of the plants that are frost hardy come from Alpine areas where the winters are even more severe than we have in South Africa, so they will survive the winters here. For example, it is quite fun to show the family how a pansy can be frozen at night and early morning. You can cut the flower, bring it in, and drop it on the table and it will shatter like glass. Yet the plants in the garden will thaw out with the morning sun and continue growing beautifully day after day and night after night. This continuous "freezing and thawing" programme can go on for weeks with no harm done to your precious plants.
Even so, very few plants can survive a black frost. If possible try to watch the weather report. If the weather bureau says there will be a black frost you should cover your plants with a frost cover. These are available from any good garden centre. For this reason it is also advisable not to water in the late afternoon as your plants will still be wet in the early morning making the frost extremely severe. With this in mind, it is best to water your garden in the morning so that their leaves can dry out during the day. Even though bedding plants grow very successfully in winter, it is important to remember that root uptake of fertiliser is quite sluggish when the soil gets frozen every night. This is easily circumvented by instituting a good foliar feeding programme which will optimise the growth of your winter annuals.
Because of the wide variety of winter bedding plants available, there is an equally huge number of ways they can be used. They thrive in containers, flowerbeds, hanging baskets and window boxes, basically anywhere you want to add a touch of living colour. Dwarf plants can be used for edging the front of your beds, creating a framework around which the rest of the bed is hung, while those that grow to a medium height are ideal for brightening up the centre of a bed. Plant the seedlings out en masse to create maximum visual impact. Many annuals are also well suited to growing in the well drained soil of rockeries. It is a good idea to plant those seedlings that will only tolerate light frost in warm sheltered positions, for example along a north facing wall.
Because most bedding plants have shallow roots they thrive in containers. These can be put to good effect in brightening up your entrance or patio. When selecting annuals for potting up, choose plants that offer different heights, form and texture. If your pots are big enough mix up the seedlings and plant together or you can make groups of smaller pots. Depending on the effect you are looking for you can plant up an eye-catching riot of different colours or a more soothing blend of complimentary shades.
Almost all the annuals you will find at good garden centres at the moment will be frost hardy. If you are unsure just ask for help in choosing. The staff at GCA (Garden Centre Association) nurseries are all trained and will have a good idea what plants are well suited to your local climate. It's easy to spot a GCA nursery, just look for their green flags flying outside.
Heavy Frost: Alyssum, Antirrinum, Calendula, Dianthus, Island Poppy, Ornamental Kale, Mesembryanthemum (bokbaaivygie), Nemesia, Pansy, Phlox, Stock, Verbena and Violas.
Light frost: Lobelia, Mimulus, Nicotiana, Petunia (do not flower in the dead of winter) and Schizanthus.
The shady areas: Bellis perennis (English daisy), Cinereria (will survive frost in winter, but not early spring), Foxglove and Primula.
• Make sure that you start off with healthy seedlings bought from a Garden Centre Association nursery.
• Remember to check the label on the plant tray or ask the nurseryman about light requirements and spacing.
• Water the seedlings a few hours before planting.
• Whenever possible grow annuals in a different part of the garden from the previous season to reduce the risk of disease.
• Prepare the area well by digging it over thoroughly and mixing in compost, 60g (a handful) of superphosphate and a general fertiliser per m², and mix well to a spade depth.
• Avoid pulling out seedlings by their leaves or stems. Rather push out the root ball from below.
• Make a hole in the bed with a trowel and place the seedling in at the same depth as it was in the container.
• Fill up around the plant and lightly firm the soil around the roots.
• Water well after planting and keep the soil moist until the plants are established. Once they are happy in their new home, water deeply only once the soil begins to dry out, rather than a daily sprinkling.
• Keep removing any old flowers (deadheading), to keep your beauties flowering for as long as possible.
Information Supplied by the Bedding Plant Growers Association. For more go to www.lifeisagarden.co.za
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