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Part 2 of our Exclusive Q & A with Gardening Expert Angela Slater

If you, like us, enjoyed part one of our exclusive Q & A with Hayes Garden World‘s gardening expert, Angela Slater, then you’ll be delighted to read Part Two below.

This is what Angela had to say:

Winter baskets always brighten up the outside of our homes – when should our preparation start?

Over the winter plants for the hanging basket or container are mainly restricted to pansies, violas and primulas and these are available throughout the winter, so can be planted anytime.

If the weather is cold and frosty they will possibly go limp but will perk up again once the temperature improves. But now the weather is looking more spring-like there is a lot more choice of plants for a spring basket or container in the garden centres. You can choose from pansies, dainty violas, bellis daisies, primulas in every shade or pots of spring bulbs such as small narcissus, tulips and muscari.

To keep the cost down use some permanent planting; a cordyline or small conifer in the centre and ivies or creeping thyme around the edge. These can be left in place for the summer planting and only the flowering plants replaced. A basket can be planted up easily and simply from as little as £5 for a couple of trays of pansies. Use a good quality peat-free compost and don’t overwater as they will soon go rotten if left sitting in soggy compost in cool temperatures.

When there’s a hard frost / bad weather what can we do to protect what we’re growing?

Young plants can be protected with fleece from a roll or a fleece cloche if they are growing in rows. If you don’t want to go to the expense of buying fleece even an old net curtain can give some protection from a moderate frost.

Plants in containers can be moved into a frost free environment like a shed or even just under the eaves for the night. You can buy pot stands on wheels which makes moving them so much easier.

Whatever you do don’t use plastic to cover the plants as condensation gathers and freezes on the inside. Protect plants in containers by making sure you have put plenty of crocks in the bottom to ensure the water gets clean away. Also use a loam based compost as it is free draining; peat based composts tend to hold onto the water which freezes and damages the roots, often irreparably. You can also protect the pot by wrapping it in bubble wrap, just make sure you don’t go near the stem of the plant.

The crowns of herbaceous perennials can be protected by a thick layer of mulch. If there are just a few individual plants which need protection you can get an old hanging basket, stuff it with straw or sheep’s wool, place it upside down over the crown of the plant then peg it down to stop it blowing away or anything disturbing it.

Poinsettia can be fairly difficult to grow, what would your advice be on getting the perfect poinsettia?

When buying your poinsettia make sure it is from a reputable garden centre, you may have to pay an extra couple of pounds but it will be worth it. Don’t buy a poinsettia if it is near the front door or underneath a warm air curtain. If it has had a chill it will almost certainly drop all its leaves as soon as you get it home. Make sure the shop wraps it to the top of the plant, not just a bag around the pot. Even the walk across the car park or the bus ride home would be enough to chill an unprotected plant.

When you get it home it needs a light position but not on a windowsill as the chill from the glass could cause it to drop its leaves. It needs a constant ambient temperature, 18C (65F), so don’t place it where it gets really cold at night. Don’t place it over a radiator or right beside a heat source or anywhere it may be in a draught. It needs to be just damp so put some water into a saucer and any that it hasn’t taken up after half an hour, pour away. Wait until it is almost dry before watering again. Feed it every 3 – 4 weeks with a high potash feed, such as Tomorite.

In April cut it hard back to 15cm (4”) and re-pot it into a slightly larger pot using a mixture of 3 parts John Innes No 3 and one part horticultural grit or Perlite. Put it outside when all danger of frost has passed; place it in a spot which is light but out of direct sun and cool. Keep it just damp and feed fortnightly with a balanced liquid fertiliser. Pinch out the growing tips until late summer; this will encourage it to form a compact bushy plant. From November place in a completely dark spot for 12 – 14 hours every night.

Either put it into a cupboard which won’t be opened or put it inside a thick black plastic bag, if it receives any light during this night period it will affect the colouring. It needs bright light during the day and a constant temperature of 18C (65F). Keep it just damp. They are propagated by taking softwood cuttings in May. When pinching out the tips and taking softwood cuttings beware of the sap, as with all Euphorbias it can be an irritant.

What will be on your Christmas table that you have grown?

All the vegetables will have been home-grown; carrots, parsnips, Brussels sprouts, old and new potatoes and swede. The swede and carrot will be mashed together with butter and black pepper and the parsnips roasted in a little extra virgin olive oil and a tablespoon of honey. The old potatoes will be par-boiled then roasted in the traditional goose fat. The Brussels sprouts will be cooked following a James Martin recipe; sliced into thin threads, put into a pan with a tight fitting lid with a good knob of butter and a tablespoon of boiling water then put on a high heat for 3 – 4 minutes shaking constantly; much nicer than the usual little green cannonballs!

The decoration down the centre of the table will be a mixture of holly and evergreen and conifer sprigs from the garden, crab apples, cinnamon sticks, dried orange slices and any berries the birds might have left for me. The finishing touch will be some dumpy church candles.

Did you miss part one of Angela’s Gardening Tips? Read it here

Do you have gardening tips you’d like to pass on to others?  Please do get in touch below and tell us about them.

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