GARDENING: Best winter-flowering shrub of all now needs some TLC

Act now to produce camellia blooms like these next winter.
Act now to produce camellia blooms like these next winter.
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If I were to ask you the name of the best winter-flowering evergreen shrub, I wonder if you would come up with the answer? Of course you knew, it's the camellia.

They've been wonderful this year and have been if flower since January which makes them the most beautiful of our winter-flowering plants.

But now they are going over it is the time to give them a treat.

Camellias have a very hard system of roots called a root ball and once that ball gets dry, despite of the wettest winter ever, it is very difficult to get it wet again.

So this is the time of year to give the ground a good soaking with rainwater and then apply a mulch over the top of the soil

Don't do it just where the stem is, but apply a four-inch layer of acid compost such as John Innes ericaceous mix all over the soil right out to the

edge of the canopy of leaves and give that mulch a good soak with rain water.

This will encourage the plant to produce fibrous roots which will grow into the mulch.

It is a good idea to add some Vitax Q4 pelleted fertiliser into the mulch, using half an ounce to a two-gallon bucket of compost. Mix it really well

before applying.

If your camellias are in pots or containers use the same treatment, but if there isn't sufficient space for the top dressing, use just the fertiliser or repot into a larger pot as soon as possible.

The same treatment can be given to azaleas and rhododendrons but it is even more important  to remove the dead flowers and seeds.

If this is done immediately after the flowers fade new shoots will grow quickly and next year's flowers will be on those new shoots.

If any pruning is needed, this needs to be done as soon as the flowers have fallen.

In the case of camellias, the shrubs often become too wide or too tall. Perhaps an entire branch is growing over a path and needs to be removed. If so, now is the time to do that pruning.

If done now, the camellias will have lots of flowers again next year. If they are pruned any later, especially in the autumn, you'll end up removing next year's flower buds.

Heathers of all kinds can be rejuvenated by clipping off all the dead flowers with shears.

You may find that older heathers have become bare and woody in the centre. If so, buy some thick wreath wires from a florist and then bend them over to form a hairpin shape so the outside tips of the stems can be bent around towards the centre of the plants and kept in place with the hairpin-shaped wreath wires.

The bed is then mulched with acid compost, the same as for camellias, so all the bare stems are hidden by the mulch. The stems usually root into the mulch and the heather area of your garden will look far better for this treatment when next winter arrives.

Yes, I know summer has only just arrived, but all good gardeners plan ahead – even if it means thinking about next winter!

THIS WEEK'S TOP TIP

Plant runner bean seeds now. You don’t need a greenhouse, sow them in insert cells in a window. They'll be ready to plant out the day after Wickham fair – the day after which there should be no frosts– we hope !