Help alpines survive winter

Posted on: 02 December 2009 by Mark O'haire

Get essential advice on how you can help these Lilliputian gems survive the months ahead.

Heralding from cooler parts of the world, diminutive alpines are some of the hardiest plants you can grow, but as they naturally grow in fairly free-draining soil they can rot in our soil if subjected to excessive rainfall.

Remove leaves

Picking up all the leaves that drop into the garden over autumn can be a tiresome task and you can be forgiven for not keeping on top of the clearing work as they seem to fall on hourly basis, often covering ground that you have just swept up. However, even if you allow leaves to gather elsewhere, do remove them from around alpines on a regular basis.

If they are allowed to smother plants they will prevent light reaching them, eventually causing the foliage to turn yellow and die. A layer of leaves over the crown will also create damp conditions, ideal for the spread of fungal diseases.

Protect from rain

Even if you have improved the drainage of the soil to make it better suited to alpines, it still pays to take precautions over winter as prolonged periods of rain can still cause plants to rot.

If you only have a few plants, try covering them with plastic cloches – those with open ends are best as this will allow air to flow freely around the plant. Those with larger groups of alpines will need something more substantial to protect their plants.

A good DIY trick is to place two columns of bricks either side of the plants you want to safeguard and then place a sheet of clear rigid plastic over the top. Alternatively, stretch some thick, clear plastic between the bricks, weighing it down so it remains taut.

What else to do

During mild periods, weeds will continue to grow, so occasionally check around plants and whip any out that you spot. Weed seeds that wedge themselves between rosettes of plants, which form spreading mats of foliage, can be particularly tricky to move without damaging the shape of the alpines if they are not removed while at the seedling stage. Other than this, remove any spent flowers as necessary.

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