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February 2016 Newsletter

In February you can start sowing flower seeds indoors to get the flower garden off to an early start. This is a great job to do indoors whatever the weather outside. Make sure you have plant labels at the ready to keep track of the varieties you’ve sown and then let nature take its course. 

If it happens to be pleasant outside you can start preparing and clearing your borders for spring-planting bedding and outdoor sowing. Keep your eye out for emerging winter flowers like snowdrops and aconites, buttercup-like flowers with attractive green ruffs, and note where you could add more bulbs in autumn
Of course, it pays to have horticultural fleece, cloches and protective tunnels at the ready in the event of cold spells.  

Forewarned is forearmed! 

Patrick Wiltshire 

Top Tips for February…

Cut back winter interest perennials 

You may have kept some of your perennials in the ground unpruned over winter. Touched by frost the architectural spent stems of plants like sedums, rudbeckias and grasses look lovely.

Now is a good time to cut them to the ground with secateurs ready for the new shoots to come up. Many of the spent stems will have toppled at this stage in winter so cut them down, cut them into small sections and add to the compost heap.



Sow hardy annuals and sweet peas indoors 

Give plants a head start by sowing indoors while the soil outdoors is still cold. Plant large seeds in individual small pots, and smaller seeds sprinkled on top of seed trays.

Sowing small seeds in seed trays (lobelia, foxgloves)

  •          Fill a seed tray / half seed tray with seed compost – which is light and contains a small but balance level of nutrients in the soil. Overfill and strike excess soil off with a board so that the seed tray is filled to the top with un-compressed soil.
  •          Press the soil down evenly with a board so there is a 1cm lip at the top.
  •          Submerge the seed tray into a watertray beneath so that the soil slowly absorbs the moisture from the bottom without disturbing the soil on top.
  •          Sprinkle seed evenly on the soil level using the furrows in your palm and tapping the seed off with the other hand.
  •          Cover the seeds with a small layer of vermiculite or perlite.
  •          Water above with a watering can fitted with a spout sprinker (rose).
  •          Label and date the seeds and place in a cool light place

Sowing larger seeds in pots (sunflowers, sweet peas)

Follow the instructions above, put insert single seeds into 6-9cm pots, and push seeds down more into the soil. Cover the seeds with the surrounding seed compost.


Deadhead winter bedding 

Flowers like polyanthus, pansies and cyclamen add colour to your containers and winter baskets right through the winter and will happily continue to flower into spring.

Just remove the fading and wrinkled petals and the plant will concentrate its energy into producing further flowers as opposed to producing seeds.

Use pruning snips to cut the flower heads off. It’s a good habit to remove flowers and stems with the ‘clean cut’ to reduce the likelihood of diseases. 


Divide herbaceous perennials 

If the weather has been mild and the soil is not frozen, increase your stocks of perennials by splitting up the roots and replanting in divided clumps.

Dig right around the root area and lift the clump with a garden fork. Chop the clumps into smaller sections with a spade and replant the new clumps into the soil around 30cm (12in) apart.  This is a good way to rejuvenating older plants which can lose vigour after a few years.



Winter protection 

Keep an eye on perennials like penstemons that may be affected by hard frosts. If frost is predicted for two or more consecutive nights consider covering more-tender perennials and shrubs with a double layer of horticultural fleece. Smaller specimen can be covered with individual cloches or small tunnels.

If you kept dahlia tubers or gladioli corms in the ground over winter consider covering the area of soil with a protective blanket to keep the combination of cold and wet off that part of the soil.

If you lifted the tubers and bulbs of half-hardy perennials for storing overwinter, check the health of these and discard any that have succumbed to rot.


Check on overwintering half-hardy perennials indoors – tubers and potted plants 

You may have decided to bring containers indoors over winter of plants that thrive in hot summers on a sunny patio. This is a good time of year to give these plants a health check.

Prune out weak stems or stems that are growing into the centre of the plant rather than growing outwards. Remove dead, diseased or yellowing leaves.

Feed with a phosphorus-rich feed for healthy root growth and water pots in the soil if dry. Consider replanting into a larger pot with fresh John Innes No3 compost if the plants are root-bound.


Unwins visits… RHS Garden Wisley, Surrey

We visited the RHS flagship garden to take a look round for inspiring plants that really come into their own in the colder months of the year. We noticed in particular how shrubs and silhouettes of decorative garden trees stand out, especially against a blue sky.

Ornamental garden in winter 

This area really highlights the structure of a garden in winter. With a good framework of plants you can have impressive displays all year round.



Snowdrops in the rock garden 

In rock gardens snowdrops look lovely when in bloom. The flowers contrast well with the stone backdrop. Plant with aconites, early-season irises and crocuses to extend the season display.



Formal garden in winter 

Evergreen topiary creates formality into a garden.  Here the symmetrical lay-out and central canal really emphasises the restfulness of winter. Try the effect of symmetry in your own garden.



Hamamelis flower 

Many flowers that open in winter are fragrant like the witch hazel Hamamelis. The interesting spidery flower of witch hazel are as enchanting as the scent.



Snowflake in winter 

A relative to the snowdrop, the snowflake is a pretty winter bulb that looks lovely especially when reflected in a garden pond. Like snowdrops they can be divided up to increase plant numbers.





Plant of the month….Hellebores 

These hardy perennials are like the roses of winter and definitely worth investing in to create colour in beds, containers and baskets in the winter months year after year. They come in a range of varieties and mixes all with different petal colours and markings.

  •          Fully hardy in sun or shade
  •          Rose-like flowers each winter
  •          Make great cut flowers for vases indoors

TOP TIP - Remove the surrounding green leaves just as the flowers break bud in winter. This will show off the blooms to full effect. It also prevents the disease hellebore leaf spot from spreading.

FASCINATING FACT – Though often associated with roses, and having common names Lenten rose and Christmas rose, they are not related to roses at all, but belong to the buttercup family.

PESTS AND DISEASES – Can suffer from hellebore leaf spot; black lesions on the leaves. Removing these before flowering in winter lessens the risk of spread. Hellebore leaf miner is a pest that affects leaves; again remove leaves in winter before adult flies emerge.



Recently we highlighted the benefits of growing shrubs together; especially when their different leaf textures and growing habits complement each other so well at a time of year when there are notably fewer flowers.

We’d love to see images of shrubs in your garden that come into their own at this time of year, whether their main features are fantastic foliage, winter fruit or simply a stand-out silhouette. Follow us on Facebook or Twitter to send in your pictures.






Star-performing plant NEW to Unwins

Prunus Kojo-no-Mai 

Gorgeous early spring-flowering blossom specially bred to suit small gardens and container displays. It’s a great choice even if you just have a balcony as they’ll grow in larger containers as well as directly in the soil.

Zig-zag branches give the plant a beautiful and unique silhouette in the winter even when it is has no flowers and leaves. Against a blue winter sky the branches look great. In the spring, a wealth of white blossoms blushed with pink fill the branches, transforming the tree and attracting pollinators early in the year. At the end of summer, the deciduous leaves turn vibrant oranges and red, extending the seasonal interest, before falling to reveal the attractive zig-zag branches once again in winter.

See our video on how to plant Prunus ‘Kojo-No-Mai’ presented by Head of Horticulture James Oakey 


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