January update: looking back and moving forward

Some of the larger pots, including a donated rhododendron

Although there has not been that much to report, work has been continuing at a slow pace on the roof top. As there has only been the lightest of frosts to deal with, planting has been ongoing throughout winter as and when we have had large enough pots and the compost to fill them.  These last two items have been in somewhat short supply, and now that we are looking forward optimistically to spring the hunt for free stuff will be taken up a notch.

We have a plan to start making some planters from wooden pallets lined with geo-textile a.k.a weed-control fabric. These large-capacity planters will have a greater surface area in relation to soil volume than a conventional large plastic pot, meaning that more varied plant selections can be grown alongside each other in a planter than can be achieved in a plant pot. This is an important consideration when trying to create the undergrowth needed for sheltering invertebrates.

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This mild winter has produced some anomalies; many deciduous plants are doing a good impression of being evergreens and plants than normally don’t bud until February already have leaves on them. Some folks will already be aware of the trend for plants emerging ahead of schedule after a mild winter and while leaf buds have good frost tolerance, emerging leaves and shoots are more vulnerable. However, many plants grown in this country are hardy enough to deal with late frosts; even if the first flush of foliage is damaged, once the temperature increases plants will put on new growth and ultimately recover well. The fate of frosted flower buds is slightly less certain and there is a risk that the blooms of early flowering shrubs and trees, such as magnolias and cherries, will succumb and turn brown before rotting. This will not kill the plant although it probably means that no more flowers will appear that year.

Bearing in mind that milder winters and wetter summers may well be the new normal, at least for the temperate UK climate, it is best to work with nature rather than against it by choosing the hardiest plants to start with. It is worth noting that plants in containers may fare less well than those grown in the ground – ones on exposed roof tops may struggle most of all!

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