Choosing plants, cold weather protection and compost – tips!

By Sarah Buchanan. First published by Rattan Direct on 15 April 2016.

Choosing plants for your garden

Different plants need different amounts of sun or shade and water. Some only grow well in soils that are acidic – others in alkaline chalky or limey soil. How do you know what your garden offers? How does it match up with the demands that the plant label lists? How do you go about choosing plants?

Sun and shade seem easy to work out, but how much sun is full sun?

Full Sun: six or more hours of direct sun a day. Many plants that like full sun love as much as they can get!

Partial Sun or Partial Shade: four to six hours of direct sun a day. Most plants that like partial sun or shade can tolerate more or less sun or shade.

Full Shade: less than four hours of direct sun a day. Shade-loving plants like ivy can be planted in places without any direct sun.

Choosing plants - ivy and moss
“Eiddew a Mwsogl – Ivy and Moss along Afon Dwyfor” by Alan Fryer is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic licence

How about soil acidity? Many plants cope with different soils but some don’t and the wrong soil may kill the plant or leave you with a plant that looks weak and nothing like the one in the shop or the picture on the pot.

Find out about your soil.

  • Ask a good nearby garden centre for advice, chances are your soil will be similar to theirs.
  • Ask neighbours who have gardens you admire.
  • Test it! DIY soil testing kits are available in good garden centres.

Acidity is measured by pH and given in numbers:

  • A pH value of 7.0 is neutral
  • Acid soil has a pH value below 7.0. You can give acid loving plants a tonic (ask in the garden centre) that acidifies the soil they are growing in
  • Above 7.0 the soil is alkaline.

When is a house plant a garden plant?

  • Pots of bulbs in the house during the dark days of winter are a joy. And can be a joy next year too: after flowering give them a new life in the garden. Plant them in a hole about twice as deep as the size of the bulb and they will give new flowers for years to come.
Choosing plants - naturalised hyacinths
“Hyacinths at Ventnor Botanic Garden” by Editor5807 is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported licence
  • Hydrangeas are showy house plants just now – and can be planted in gardens after their time indoors, but not yet. Cold weather still to come will shock, and may kill, them, so enjoy their showy style indoors and plan where to plant them in the summer.

Cold weather protection

This is essential until frosts end (depending where you live, that could be late May). Your new plants are usually raised in warm greenhouses and have lived in a garden centre or nursery, protected from harsh weather. The shock of Real Life may kill them.

New plants should be ‘hardened off’, which means that for a few days the plant is put outside during the day and inside a shed, garage or porch at night. Then, for a few days more, the plant is left outside at night too but with a newspaper, bin bag or horticultural fleece over the top for a few days. Then they are ready to plant.

BEWARE! It is not yet mild enough to do this for seasonal plants, like the ones we plant in our hanging baskets, or seedling vegetables. Depending where you live these frost-tender baby plants must not go outside until well into May. Where I am we have frosts until end of May, but in my sister’s city garden the last frost is probably in April. If in doubt wait, and make a list of the tender young plants you want in your garden.

Compost of the week

Stacks of sacks of compost in the garden centre with different names and prices is a challenge to us all. Which to use for what? What will happen if I use the wrong compost? Over the next few weeks we will try and make compost clear. This week we focus on seed compost, because you will be planning to sow seeds for veg!

Compost for sowing seeds may be labelled ‘for young plants’, but it is NOT potting compost. It is finer and often a little bit sandy. It can be soil based or soil free. It usually contains balanced nutrients that help seeds germinate and seedlings grow. There are different brands. Perlite, a fine volcanic substance, or vermiculite, a mineral substance, may be added to the compost to encourage the seedlings’ roots.

Enjoy your gardening!


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