December garden tips from Keith Clouting

The beautiful flowers of the Correa backhouseana. Photo: Keith Clouting

The beautiful flowers of the Correa backhouseana. Photo: Keith Clouting - Credit: Archant

How to pick the right Correa to give you winter garden colour

Correa glabra var. turnbulli 'Mt Barker Beauty'. Photo: Keith Clouting

Correa glabra var. turnbulli 'Mt Barker Beauty'. Photo: Keith Clouting - Credit: Archant

I like grow several winter rainfall species from the southern hemisphere to brighten the garden and greenhouse through the dull winter months. One of my favourite species are Correas, often called Australian fuchsias, and, although unrelated, they do share the same characteristic of a long flowering period. There are several good species and cultivars with varying degrees of hardiness to choose from.

One of the toughest is Correa reflexa var. nummularifolia which is more compact than most Correas, with small rounded silvery green foliage and pale creamy-green flowers produced from autumn right through the winter. Another species I have found to be quite hardy is Correa backhouseana, a taller variety which can reach 2m in a sheltered position.

It made an excellent wall shrub for me for many years, producing its creamy-yellow flowers over many months in autumn and winter before eventually succumbing to -15C in the cold December of 2010. A good low spreading variety with colourful flowers is C.‘Dusky Bells’. It has small, deep evergreen leaves which, like many other varieties, have a citrus smell when crushed and bell-shaped flowers of carmine pink. Although not quite as hardy it has survived several frosts to -7C with just a piece of fleece thrown over for protection.

A more upright variety with similar hardiness is C. glabra var.turnbullii ‘Mt Barker Beauty’. It makes a busy shrub to around 2m which and has attractive, slightly narrower crimson flowers with green on the tips. If grown in the garden Correas like a sheltered position in full sun in well-drained fertile neutral to acid soil and may need some protection from severe cold. Alternatively they make excellent container specimens which can be more easily protected by moving them into a greenhouse or conservatory in the worst of the weather where their flowers can be enjoyed throughout the winter.

Coral spot fungus, Nectria cinnabarina. Photo: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Coral spot fungus, Nectria cinnabarina. Photo: Getty Images/iStockphoto - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Plant of the month

Helleborus niger ‘Christmas Carol’

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This popular selection of Helleborus niger flowers earlier than the species and if the weather is not too unkind will usually flower from Christmas to early spring, it produces a mass of pure white outward facing flowers with prominent yellow stamens. It’s happy in a semi-shaded border or in pots which can be brought in for some festive colour then reacclimatized before being put back outside or planted in the garden. Remove any untidy foliage and flowers as they fade and feed in spring after flowering.

Helleborus niger 'Christmas Carol'. Photo: Keith Clouting

Helleborus niger 'Christmas Carol'. Photo: Keith Clouting - Credit: Archant

Question

I have lots of pinkish spots on a branch of my walnut tree, is it harmful and if so can I eliminate it?

This sounds like coral spot (Nectria cinnabarina) a fungal disease which often attacks damaged or weak mainly deciduous woody plants causing die back, there is no chemical cure so it’s best to cut back beyond the infected area into healthy wood, this is best done in dry weather to help prevent reinfection. It may also be worth if possible to give the tree a feed and mulch in the spring to get it growing well and help prevent any future problems.

Catch up with Keith

Turning compost heaps helps speed up the composting process but I prefer to leave mine over winter to protect any sheltering wildlife then resume turning around April.

Plant some scented winter flowering shrubs in pots such as Sarcococca and Daphne and place them near the door for some winter flowers and fragrance.

Treat cut Christmas trees as you would cut flowers. Remove a few centimetres from the bottom of the trunk, place in a water-holding stand and top up regularly to prevent excessive needle drop.

Check bulbs and corms stored for winter for any signs of rot and remove as necessary.

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