How to brighten up your winter garden

Gardens can lose their colour in May, but there are ways to brighten things up.

1. Sow sweet peas, unless you live in a warmer region. If you do, leave it until June or July or the stems may grow excessively tall before flowering.

2. If they’re open, garden centres should have flowering Ericas – hardy, low-growing shrubs such as heather – Polyanthus, and pansies for pots and garden beds.

3. Plant spring-flowering annuals. Sow seeds or plant seedlings of stock, sweet williams, and wallflowers.

4. Plant perennials such as lupins, hollyhocks, and Canterbury bells. These need a long season to establish, but once they do, they’ll bloom for several years.

5. Potted flowering plants such as dianthus, cyclamen, and nerines might be on sale for Mother’s Day. Plant outdoors once they’ve finished flowering.

6. Take rose cuttings. Select healthy, pencil-thick stems with at least three leaf nodes. Cut above the top node and just below the bottom node. Remove any buds. Dip the bottom end in rooting hormone and insert into a mix of compost and coarse sand or pumice. Place in a sheltered spot over winter and keep moist. When roots appear after a few months, repot and wait a year before planting out.

7. You can also take cuttings from many perennials, including daisies, hebes, and viburnums.

8. This month is your last chance to plant spring-flowering bulbs if you can find any for sale. You might still find daffodils and tulips, which can be planted later than others. In warmer northern regions, chill bulbs in the fridge for 4-6 weeks.

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Plant trees and shrubs that flower in winter:

Options include
• Camellia;
• daphne;
• Edgeworthia;
• Leptospermum;
• Protea;
• kowhai;
• Japanese flowering apricots (Prunus mume).

Japanese flowering apricots have white or pink flowers. The most common cultivar in New Zealand is The Geisha, which has semi-double, rose-pink blooms in late winter. It’s grown more for its ornamental value, although it does produce tart apricots (best used for preserves). These small trees reach about 3m high.

Plant shrubs and trees with berries or ornamental fruits

This is an excellent way to add colour to the garden and entice birds in for a feed. Look for fruiting plants, including:
• crabapples (Malus);
• purple-berried beautyberry (Callicarpa);
• white-berried snowberry (Symphoricarpos);
• sweet box (Sarcococca);
• rowan or mountain ash (Sorbus).

NZ Lifestyle Block This article first appeared in NZ Lifestyle Block Magazine.
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