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Wally Richards
Wally Richardshttp://www.gardenews.co.nz
Wally Richards has been a gardening columnist for over 30 years. Check his websites - for gardening news and tips visit www.gardenews.co.nz. For mail order products visit www.0800466464.co.nz. Wally also has a gardening problem help line on 0800 466 464.

Gardening with Wally Richards: Plants in winter

Winter gardening opinion

Before we get onto this weeks subject; a question that was asked this week from a gardener who has wood ash from a fire place and wanted to know if they could be use on the garden.

Wood ash from burning non-tantalised wood is great for the garden and in particular for flowering and fruiting plants.

Spread it around it is a nice mild source of potash (Hence the name).

You should not be burning tanalised wood in your wood burner as the gasses that will seep out into the room are not good for your health and likewise the chemicals still present in the ash are not good for your gardens.

Now that winter is starting to make its presence known it is important to protect frost tender and cold tender plants and the easy way to achieve this is a spray of Vaporgard, Spray On Frost Protection.

The film gives down to minus 3 degrees frost protection within 3 days of application for about 3 months.

If there is just an occasional frost every few days this is likely to be the only frost protection you need.

If however there are several frosts in a row, night after night then extra protection will be required from the second night on till there is a break in the frosts.

Your sprayed plants will gain more energy from the sun light which is also a great advantage this time of the year when day light hours are much sorter.

A lady gardener from the Deep South email me recently about her two container planted lemon trees which she has brought indoors because of frosts down to minus 6.
Her question was also what to feed the plants with?

I pointed out that being indoors the plants will suffer from lower light when compared to being outdoors or in a frost free sheltered situation, ideal is a glasshouse or conservatory.

Indoors right in front of a northern facing window would be best and once a week rotate the plant 180 degrees to get even light and prevent stretching.

This light thing indoors is very important this time of the year for your indoor plants.

Another aspect is the watering of the plants, all container plants should be kept a little on the dry side and only given smaller drinks to prevent stress from dry growing medium.

Saucers underneath plants are great to prevent getting surplus water all over the place but an hour or so after watering any water in a saucer should be removed to prevent wet feet.

Container plants outside where they are rained on should NOT have a saucer under them this time of the year and have the container raised slightly off the ground to allow water to drain away quickly.

Losses will occur if your plants are wet in the root zone during winter.

If you have plants which require free draining situations you can spray their foliage with Wallys Perkfection to help prevent wet weather diseases.

Indoor plants need only a fraction of their water requirements in winter when compared to summer.

The reasons are low to nil growth because of lesser light levels with shorter daylight hours.

Which brings us back to light and the amount of light plants receive when they are grown indoors.

For instance my excellent light meter tells me that at my south-west facing window at 1pm right against the window pane I have 550 FC (Foot Candles).

Where my plants are on a shelf 50cm away from the window pane its down to 325 FC; One metre away 250FC and at 3 meters 160 FC if I take a measurement at the far side of the room we see its only 50FC.

That is where only the lowest light loving plants will survive in winter if they are kept fairly dry in their mix.

A spray of water over the foliage is beneficial at times and ensure that the foliage is dust free as that further reduces the light level available.

A window facing the north will have a much better FC reading at the window pane but once again the FC drops dramatically once you are about a metre or more away from the window pane.

Our eyes automatically adjust to light intensity so we do not notice the light levels till they become very low or very high, plants on the other hand do notice.

A general rule of thumb is the plants with the largest leaf surface will do ok in lower light levels where plants such a maidenhair ferns, with very small leaf surfaces, need a much higher light level to grow well.

We can think of ferns in a shady area outside, but outside there is much more light than indoors with light entering only though a window. Not overhead.

In summer time you have long hours of light and that makes a difference to plants that need a good level of light even if they are not near a window.

In winter these plants will look poorly as a result of low light levels and instead of moving the plant closer to the window the tendency is to water the plant which maybe the last straw and the plant dies.

Flowering plants need ample light to form flower buds and open the bud into flowers.

A cyclamen within a metre of a good light window will flower well but if taken across the room you will see both flowers and leaves stretching to the light source.

Over-water when they are like that and goodbye cyclamen.

A timely reminder to be very careful watering container plants keeping them a bit on the dry side and where possible move them closer to a good light source.

In mansions in Victoria times and the likes of Downton Abbey where lushes ferns, palms and other indoor plants appeared to flourish in rooms that were of low light often with drapes closed to protect furnishings and paintings from UV.

So how come the plants always looked good?

Very simply; they had two of everyone with large conservatories where each week the servants would take the plants out of the house and into the conservatory then pick up its twin to replace inside the house. The plants would not suffer in the week and would be refreshed when in the conservatory.

The answer to the food question back near the beginning I just sprinkle a little Unlocking your soil over the mix and dilute either some Mycorrcin to give some mild food.

You don’t really want to encourage growth in winter.

Keep warm.

Image credit: Thomas Verbruggen

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Products mentioned are from Wallys Range of products and can be found in some garden shops or by Mail Order on www.0800466464.co.nz

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