Act fast to prepare your Christmas treats

While you're deep into harvesting autumn fruits, vegetables and flowers, don't forget to keep planning future treats.

Saturday, 7th October 2017, 3:54 pm
Potatoes have been planted up to ensure theyre ready in time for the Christmas table. Picture by Tom Pattinson.

Time is of the essence for planting potatoes that could be part of a yuletide feast, organising pots of colour to accompany it, and propagating from a wealth of plant growth before winter sets in.

Timewise, this is the last call for planting up containers of potatoes or bulbs if you want them ready for Christmas.

If you’ve ever stored potatoes in a warm, dark cupboard, you’ll know that some start to sprout. Given a decent compost, frost-free environment and light, such tubers can be encouraged to develop into a crop.

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But there is a better way – buy and plant named, late season potatoes right now and you could be harvesting within 10 weeks.

The most common prepared varieties are Charlotte, Duke of York, Maris Peer and Pentland Javelin. These have been stored at a temperature low enough to keep them dormant, but once introduced to a good growing medium and warmth, they romp away.

A pack of Charlotte containing nine tubers for under £3 has been planted, three to a pot in stages to encourage succession, and placed outdoors. They’ll be brought under cover as the risk of frost increases.

Plant into large pots of organic-rich compost initially, fill one third full and press the tubers gently in, then cover with another third of growing medium. When the shoots appear, top up again to just below the pot rim and keep the compost watered.

Alternative growing containers include a purpose-made potato bag, empty fertiliser or compost type, or the ubiquitous grow-bag.

You need to take the long-term view in gardening.

Last year we had a good crop of berries on both garden hollies – the seriously prickly Ilex aquifolium and (equally ouch) variegated Argentea Marginata. But they needed corrective pruning, which came in January.

Hollies flower in May, offering a prediction of the potential berry crop, and few blooms were present. The result is a lean harvest for ‘decking the hall’ and for blackbirds, but a bright future for both trees.

Potted cyclamen are available in a range of colours at garden centres and are value for money. They can last for two decades with care.

A group of corms bought in November 2016 continued flowering until spring this year, at which point we stopped offering water. The pots were eventually laid on their side in the greenhouse and when the compost was completely dry, we rescued the corms.

They stood in a small sieve on a greenhouse shelf all summer. When tiny leaves emerged early September, it was time to gently press those corms into the surface of fresh compost in a new pot.

A mass of embryo blooms indicates that good light and modest amounts of warmth and water are required.