Winter gardening

Even though the days are shorter there is still plenty to do in the garden

As Christmas gets nearer and the days get shorter, there is less inclination to work outside in the garden. There are lots of jobs you can do though if you can take the time off from Christmas shopping and baking, such as weeding and replanting your planters with winter pansies or petunias, if you haven’t managed to do so already.

You may find that your roses have been waving around in the wind if you haven’t shortened them by half already and it is a good idea to firm them in all the way round with your foot. There is a wonderful supply of bare root roses in the garden centres at the moment with many named varieties, which is most unusual for here!

Even if you are busy, do find time to give the fruit and nut trees their first feed of the winter though. Hopefully your garden chemical shop will have a supply of 20.10.10 fertiliser. If they don’t have that formula, try to get something as near to those numbers as you can. You need three cupfuls for around the base of mature trees and 1 cupful for smaller trees. Fork this in around the tree root area.

The numbering system used in fertilisers is listed on the back of packets or containers of fertiliser. The first number denotes Nitrogen (N) for green leaves, next is Phosphorous (P) for flowers and roots and the last large number is Potassium (K) for flowers and fruits. You will see lots of other items listed in smaller amounts and these are called ‘trace elements,’ including Iron and Zinc and along with the NPK they make up the nutrition that all plants need to thrive.

So having fed your trees, it is time to think about pruning them. Some trees, like fig trees and pecans, can be pruned this month. Pecan trees will grow to enormous heights and if you don’t keep them to a manageable size then you will not be able to crop the nuts, as they will be beyond your reach. Loquats, in full blossom this month and smelling like baby’s talcum powder, can be pruned after fruiting in April. They are very accommodating trees needing little attention other than to take out crossing or weak branches and kept to a reasonable height. Most of the prunus and citrus trees are pruned in February or even January.

Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas these days without the ubiquitous Poinsettia. During the summer while you were lounging on the beach or sipping your G&T or Brandy Sour in the garden, huge boxes of small plantlets were flown in from Holland for the local nurserymen to pot up and get them into shape for your Christmas celebrations. Now as they have turned from green into red they are bundled into cellophane wraps and ready to buy. They have been growing in controlled temperatures until now, and as they don’t like cold weather or draughts try not to buy them from an outside display and certainly don’t let the shop assistant spray the leaves with leaf shine as they are naturally matt.

Unwrap them carefully when you get them home as their stems are very brittle and may bleed from the leaf joint where they come off. Watch out for any sap as it can cause rashes on sensitive skin. To keep the plants looking their best, check the moisture content of the soil and if the compost is dry, run some water through the pot and let it drain away. Don’t let stand the pot in a container or saucer of water. Keep it in a bright spot out of the sun and draughts and certainly not on a windowsill between the curtains!

Poinsettias have wonderful common names like ‘Christmas Stars’ or ‘Short Day Plants’ and these days come in pinks and creams as well as the more usual glowing reds. Some people have them growing in their gardens, which is fine as long as there are no severe frosts during the winter. There are two large ones growing in the grounds of the Terra Santa Church in Larnaca, Cyprus and doubtless many others in sheltered spots around the island. If you look closely at the flowers and compare them with potted poinsettias you will see that the yellow centres (the real flowers) are much larger on the trees.

Other popular plants in the garden centres at this time of year are cyclamen in a myriad of colours and of course Christmas Cactus, whose flowers burst out from the stem ends in pinks and reds. These can grow to enormous proportions when they live in a suitable place. If you are looking for something unusual then try Guzmanias, quite striking plants, with leaves forming an urn shape, which is where they collect moisture and where you water them, but only sparingly!

If you want to have a real Christmas tree, watch for the Forestry Department announcement in the newspapers as to where they will be sold. Norway Spruce is the tree most grown in UK for the Christmas tree market but you will not find real ones here. However, the shops are full of imported fake trees, some of which are very good quality. They are mostly made in China, where else, along with the countless baubles with which we decorate them.

If you like natural foliage to decorate your house at Christmas time there is plenty of ivy in different shapes and forms, scrambling along the ground or tumbling over walls and fences. It may be difficult to find holly bushes although Solomou Nursery in Nisou village has potted ones already shaped into topiaries and some even have berries. There are one or two hollies which are self fertile, but normally you need to have a male and a female plant in order to have berries. A pretty substitute for holly could be Osmanthus, with its bright green freckled leaves looking just like the real thing but you may have to resort to the fake Chinese kind.

Whichever you choose, enjoy your Christmas and the New Year!