Gardening: Make sure plants for gifts are sound and disease free

Time lapse of Amaryllis flower.
Time lapse of Amaryllis flower.

It’s that time of year again – stores that have absolutely no knowledge of selling or looking after plants are full of them – is there any wonder so many of them die after being given as gifts at Christmas?

Everywhere from Lidl (with houseplants being stored outside in single digit temperatures) to Marks & Spencer has Amaryllis, Poinsettia and anything they can chuck glitter on, usually in gift box form.

Amaryllis bulbs, bought without fancy packaging, ready to plant.

Amaryllis bulbs, bought without fancy packaging, ready to plant.

This is a bad thing – you can’t see what you’re buying and the extra (unneccessary) packaging is costing you money.

In the case of Amaryllis bulbs, you need to buy the biggest bulbs you can afford and make sure they are sound and disease free – no rot.

My best advice on buying Amaryllis (or Hippeastrum if you want the correct name) is to support your local garden centre and buy bulbs loose from there or from a mail order specialist.

I usually buy from Harrogate Autumn Flower Show, as there is a wealth of experts selling bulbs you’ll struggle to find elsewhere at good prices.

Poinsettia ' treat them properly.

Poinsettia ' treat them properly.

This September, I splashed out on a giant Amaryllis bulb, an absolutely huge Orange Sovereign, from Harts Nursery of Congleton –www.hartsnursery.co.uk

It’s crammed into its pot and has been started into growth, along with last year’s five bulbs.

In the case of Poinsettia, a Mexican native, don’t buy from an outdoor stall or where the plant is going to be subject to a massive temperature change, such as next to automatic doors in a supermarket.

Shop managers place them there, hoping you’ll be tempted on your way in – this is the worst possible place for them, being subjected to icy draughts every few seconds.

Would you like it?

My advice is to buy from a reputable seller (see above) and make sure the store wraps the plant up well before leaving, shielding it with newspaper or similar to minimise temperature change.

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JOBS TO DO THIS WEEKEND

Plant bedding tulip bulbs at the latest this month – they’re easy and great in pots.

Alpines can be sown from seed, as they need a period of cold to break their dormancy. A moveable cold frame can be positioned over the sown area to protect it from excessive wet. Alternatively, the seeds can be put in the fridge, for sowing next spring. This will really upset your family.

Winter can be a tough time for birds in terms of water and food, so keep supplies well topped up. Once you start feeding, don’t stop - they will come to depend on it.

Apply a mulch to protect plants that are borderline hardy such as Agapanthus, Kniphofia and Phygelius. The plants’ own leaves, e.g. Kniphofia, can be tied up and used as protection for the crowns underneath.

Helleborus niger (Christmas rose) blooms can look unsightly when splashed with muddy raindrops. A mulch will reduce this, and cloches can always be used where practical.

Continue to plant roses. Avoid planting in areas where roses were previously grown otherwise new introductions may suffer from replant diseases (rose sickness).

Shrubs normally pruned hard in the spring - such as Buddleja davidii, Cornus alba and Lavatera - can be cut back by half now, to prevent wind rock and neaten their appearance.

Ensure any pruning of Acer (maple) and Betula (birch) is completed before the end of the month to avoid bleeding of sap from cuts.

Make sure you have removed all shading from the greenhouse panes, in order to maximise light levels. If applying insulation, attach it only to the sides and north-facing roofs to let in as much light as possible.

Place hyacinths in a cool, bright place in the home. If it’s too warm, the leaves will elongate and the flowers will fade quickly.