Garden guide

PUBLISHED: 05:32 02 February 2015

Trachycarpus fortunei

Trachycarpus fortunei


Plant specialist Keith Clouting, from Taverham Nursery Centre, brings you his guide to getting the best out of your garden.

Coronilla valentina subsp. glauca CitrinaCoronilla valentina subsp. glauca Citrina

It might not seem the obvious time of year to be talking about exotic-looking palm trees, but they can add valuable structure to the winter garden as well as giving us a reminder of warmer, sunnier days ahead.

One of the hardiest palms is Trachycarpus fortunei which came through the cold winters a few years back unscathed when many other exotic type plants such as cordylines were cut back to the ground or killed. They develop a single trunk which is covered in the fibrous remains of the bases of old leaf stalks; these can be removed to give the palm a smooth stem. The large fan-shaped leaves at the top of the stem can reach around 100cm across and can be heard chattering together on a breezy day. In early summer mature plants produce large panicles of small yellow flowers; if pollinated these are followed by blue-black fruits. T. fortunei will grow in sun or light shade; very exposed sites are best avoided to prevent its large leaves being damaged in the wind.

A slightly less hardy but more wind-tolerant palm is Chamaerops humilis. Rather than a single trunk, it forms a clump of many stems giving it a shrubby appearance. It rarely exceeds 2m in height, the fan-shaped leaves growing to around 45cm in length with small yellow flowers on mature plants in early summer. Growing on mountain sides in coastal areas in its native habitat makes it ideal for near the sea or in windy spots where the larger leaved Tracycarpus fortunei would struggle.

Plant of the month

Coronilla valentina subsp. glauca Citrina

This small to medium-sized evergreen shrub given a sunny sheltered spot in the garden will put on a show for many months. Although its main burst of flowers is in spring, it can flower throughout the winter, pausing if the weather is severe then carrying on again, its scented pea-like, pale-lemon flowers like winter sunshine in the garden. Like many Mediterranean plants it prefers well-drained soil (a warm spot near a sunny wall would be perfect). Old woody plants can be rejuvenated by pruning hard back in late winter or can be replaced with young cuttings in the spring.

Question time

Last autumn many of leaves of my fuchsia were a pale yellow with an orange dust-like bloom on the undersides. What was the cause and how do I prevent it reoccurring?

The problem sounds like fuchsia rust, a common disease which is easily spread by rain, overhead watering or on the wind from other hosts (particularly willow herbs). Affected leaves should be removed and destroyed and plants fed well to help them recover. There are fungicides available which can help prevent rust but fuchsias are susceptible to fungicide damage, so it’s best to spray a few leaves first to test the reaction and only use chemicals as a last resort.

Catch up with Keith

Remove faded flowers and damaged leaves from plants in the greenhouse to prevent grey mould (Botrytis) from spreading.

Many house plants will benefit from misting to prevent damage from the dry air caused by central heating.

Keep winter pansies and violas flowering well by deadheading to prevent them setting seed.

Start chitting early potatoes by standing them in a tray or egg boxes in a bright but cool frost-free position.

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