Most garden centres and nurseries have a section featuring some of the loveliest seasonal plants currently in flower or berry, potted up, ready to purchase and take home. These plants look at their best at the very moment you visit, and make a super gift, either for yourself or for a loved one.
If you’re looking to purchase a winter flowering plant and pot it up yourself to give as a Christmas present, maybe because you’re looking for a specific plant that’s a favourite of the recipient of your gift, or because you want to design and plant up your own container, it’s important to use a good quality growing media or compost.
I’ve been conducting some trials on peat-free composts, where Dalefoot Composts, a range of peat-free composts made from 100% natural ingredients including bracken and sheep’s wool, have performed very well indeed, out performing the other composts I have used in comparison. Dalefoot’s Wool based potting compost is ideal for containers, the sheep’s wool that’s incorporated into this compost has naturally absorbent properties which provide extra water retention, meaning that your containers will require less watering.
Dalefoot’s Double Strength Wool Compost, contains a highly concentrated amount of nutrients, if you have a sandy soil, this compost is ideal to use in the garden, where you can add it to your beds and borders to improve water retention and add nutrients to your soil. Double Strength compost, as its name suggests, is very highly concentrated, you can mix your own compost, using Dalefoot’s Double Strength Compost as a base and then mix with garden soil or spent compost – so a bag of this compost will go a lot further than you might expect.
Dalefoot produce a variety of different composts from their farm in the Lake District, all of their composts are peat-free and are delivered to your door – ideal if you, or someone you care about struggles to purchase and lift heavy bags of compost home with them. If you know a keen gardener who struggles to physically purchase compost and other heavy items, I am sure they would be over to moon to receive a gift of a compost delivery. The other advantage of Dalefoot’s delivery system is that you can be sure that the compost you’ve purchased hasn’t been sat in a garden centre for an extended time while the nutrients are gradually being depleted and washed out, through the inevitable little holes in the compost bag, each time it rains.
If you’re planning to plant a special container for your garden, or for a gift this Christmas, ensure that your chosen container has drainage holes at the bottom of the pot and will be resilient enough to survive the winter. If you’re looking to purchase a new pot, look out for containers advertised as frost proof. From personal experience, I have found that the terracotta clay type pots, that have course sand embedded through the clay – you can feel the rough surface of the sand when you touch the inside surface of the pot – are very resilient, and these for me have lasted many years, with no additional protection, through some very severe winters.
It’s also important to consider the shape and size of your container – the shape of some pots when they are planted up will naturally create a top-heavy display that frequently tips over and needs to keep being picked up, which will take a lot of the joy out of the feature. Pots can also become top heavy when a larger, taller pot is used, and to save on compost, the gardener adds lightweight material such as polystyrene, to the bottom of the pot and then fills the top section with compost, this effect is exacerbated when a pot that narrows at the base is used, so avoid these if you can.
If you intend to plant a long lived plant, for example, a shrub, that you will want, one day, to remove from your chosen container and re-pot or plant, either back into the same container, or in the garden or elsewhere, avoid planting your shrub into a container with a narrow opening which swells to a much larger base – urn shaped pots are a good example of this. The only way you can remove an established plant from such a pot, is to expend a monumental amount of effort and energy trying to force your way through the compost and tear at the compacted compost and intertwined plant roots to free your plant. As you do so, you’ll have to remove the majority of your plant’s outer roots, doing a vast amount of damage to your prized plant, until the rootball that you’ve torn at, is small enough to be removed through the narrow opening of your pot.
If you plant to re-pot your plants ahead of time, you can get away with using a less severely urn shaped pot, providing that you re-pot your plants long before they are anywhere close to needing re-potting, but do bear this in mind and remember to re-pot your plant long before it outgrows its pot and becomes difficult to remove. Urn shaped pots are often very beautiful and can be a very attractive addition to the garden, they are well suited to temporary plantings, using bedding plants.
It might be tempting to think that once you’ve planted up your container, your plant will be happy living there in the very same compost and pot, you so kindly chose for it, forever….it won’t! Broadly speaking, it’s best to re-pot your container plants every couple of years, but you’ll need to tend to your plants sooner if they have outgrown their pot or need attention. If you’re thinking of creating your own container garden, early spring through until autumn is the best time to create new container displays. Avoid planting containers on cold, frosty days.
Choose a container that’s well suited to the size of your plant – avoid choosing a planter that’s too large for the plant, this won’t do your plant any favours, and it won’t save you any time next year – in fact you will need to re-pot your plant again far sooner than you would have done, in order to keep your plant in good health. Over-potting often results in the bottom of your pot being filled with rather horrid, swampy compost and a dose of root rot for your plant, so avoid using too large a pot. The best grown pot plants are regularly tended to, and potted on in stages, using a slightly larger pot each time.
It’s important to remember to cover your pot’s drainage holes with crocks or a few stones before you add your compost to your pot. As you’re potting up your plant, ensure that you leave a large enough gap at the top of your container, after the compost has been added for watering, and if you want to top dress with gravel or mulch, leave a slightly larger gap to accommodate this additional layer. Specially made ‘pot feet’ are available to purchase to raise your planters off the ground slightly. Using ‘pot feet’ will help avoid water-logging and drainage issues – you could also use bricks, or pieces of tile, to raise your planters up if you prefer.
For my Christmas outdoor container, I’ve chosen to plant Sarcococca confusa, a hardy, evergreen shrub that prefers to grow in the shade. A slow growing shrub, it’s remarkably tolerant of neglect and pollution. Producing tiny, highly scented white flowers with a gloriously sweet fragrance, from December through until March, which are followed by black shiny berries. Sarcococca confusa‘s early flowers are very valuable to bees and other pollinating insects, as they flower at a time when nectar and pollen are in short supply.
More Compost Trials
To read my 2016 Peat Free Trial Report, please click here.
To read my 2017 Compost Trial Report: Growing Broad Beans, please click here.
To read the results of my 2017 Compost Trial Report: Growing Calendula, please click here.
Other links and articles that may interest you……………………….
To visit Dalefoot Composts’ website, please click here.
To see my recommended, trialled, tested, and reviewed list of gifts for gardeners for 2017, including talks and events for 2018, please click here.
To read the results of my 2017 Sweet Pea Trial, please click here.
To read the results of my 2017 Scented Daffodil Trial, please click here.
To read the results of my 2016 Peat Free Compost Trial, please click here.
To read my 2016 recommended, trialled and tested gifts for gardeners, please click here.
To read about lovely holly trees that would make a super gifts this Christmas, please click here.
To read my review of Katie Scott and Kathy Willis’ book Botanicum, please click here.
To read my review of the EarthBox, a specially developed container growing system, which I trialled using Dalefoot Compost as the growing medium, please click here.
To read about growing Suttons Seeds F1 Sweet Corn Shoots ‘Bodacious’, quick and easy to grow seeds that you can grow indoors now, please click here.
To read about buying British, seasonal cut flowers, please click here.
To read my review of the Trug Makers No. 7 trug, a hand-crafted trug made using traditional methods, please click here.
To read about live, growing Christmas trees, available from Wheeler Street Nursery in Witley, please click here.
To read my review of Richard Mabey’s latest book, ‘The Cabaret of Plants Botany and The Imagination’, please click here.
To read my review of Burgon & Ball’s Weed Slice and Burgon & Ball’s Short Handled Weed Slice, please click here.
To read my review of Kathryn Aalto’s new book ‘The Natural World of Winnie-the-Pooh: A Walk through the Forest that Inspired the Hundred Acre Wood, please click here.
To read my review of the Espresso Mushroom Company’s Pearl Oyster Mushroom and Hot Pink Mushroom growing kits, (yes, you really can grow your own delicious, pink mushrooms indoors!) please click here.
To read my review of the My Kitchen Food Dehydrator from Lakeland, please click here.
To read my review of Stephen Woodham’s latest book, ‘Garden Design Solutions: Ideas for Outdoor Spaces’, please click here.
To read my review of the BiOrbAir, a specialised, automated terrarium from Reef One that features an ultra sonic misting unit and automatic watering system, please click here.
To read my review of Lakeland’s Apple Master, an amazing device that peels, cores and slices apples in super quick time, please click here.
To read my review of the Garden Girl Rain Poncho, an adjustable, waterproof poncho with a pretty, floral design, please click here.
To read my review of Louise Curley’s latest book, ‘The Crafted Garden’, please click here.
To read my review of the Espresso Mushroom Company’s Wild Flower Tea Seedbombs, please click here.
To read my interview with David Neale, an award winning Garden Designer based in Guildford in Surrey, please click here.
To read the results of my 2015 Sweet Pea Trial, please click here.
If you’re looking for reputable suppliers of snowdrops, sold ‘in the green’, please click here.
For gardening advice of what you could do at your allotment or in your garden from mid-November until mid-December, please click here.
For gardening advice of what you could do in your garden or at your allotment from mid-December until mid-January, please click here.