Propagate vines

It’s easy to take cuttings from them at this time of year

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There are many types of vines that we can grow in our garden, including ornamental ones such as Vitis coignetiae and V. vinifera ‘Purpurea’ that are grown for their colourful foliage through summer and autumn, although they also produce small, unpalatable grapes. Edible vines that are grown for their white or black grapes that ripen in late summer can be grown outdoors or undercover, depending on the variety you choose.

Commercial vines are grafted onto rootstocks, but at home it’s easy to propagate them from cuttings taken in late winter. There are two methods that work well. One is to take hardwood cuttings around 20-25cm (8-10in) long, depending on the vigour of the vine. The other is to take vine-eye cuttings that consist of a short section of a stem and a single bud. This is a good way to take lots of cuttings as each bud along a stem is a potential plant. The underside of the vine-eye is wounded with a knife to expose the cambium layer and encourage roots to form.

For both methods you need healthy one-year old stems from last year and for best results they should be rooted undercover, especially the vine-eye cuttings. A cold greenhouse is fine, but preferably one with frost protection.

Sow annuals for summer colour

Start them indoors now ready to plant out in spring

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It’s worth planning your flower garden now with a range of hardy and half-hardy annuals, so you can take advantage of the full range of seed available to you and get a head start on growing. With a bit of indoor heat when sowing, you’ll have lots of young plants growing away well for you, ready and waiting come spring to be planted out. This method ensures earlier blooms than if sown direct later on, too. Just sow the amount of flowers you can fit in – you’ll need a lot of room to keep lots of sown flowers happy, which may prove unmanageable! Fast-growing annuals will get lanky and leggy too quickly, while longer-to-germinate annuals will fare better and take their time before being well-grown at just the right time for planting. Check seed packets for their germination details and heat requirements – an average of 15C (59F) is needed for good germination.

Plant up a winter herb pot

These easy-care aromatics look and smell great!

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At this time of year it’s a case of start as you mean to go on and get going with a few jobs that can be done before spring. Potted herbs that hold strong in winter make a fantastic display now with a useful bit of foliage interest, as well as being a handy culinary container from which to pick sprigs for your warming seasonal dishes.

Grow everything in a large pot or a long, rectangular planter for best effect, and give each plant a deep root run and a wide enough space to grow unencumbered. Ensure lots of drainage holes puncture the bottom, as most of these warmer climate herbs don’t like wet feet! The same goes for the compost as regards drainage – treat your herbs to a nice permanent, soil-based compost such as John Innes No 2 or 3, which has been added to with a few handfuls of grit.

Winter cultivation is mainly keeping herbs away from too much wet in a rain shadow, and raising the pot onto ‘feet’ to improve drainage. Keep plants in a warm, sunny spot through the year.

Prune wisteria

With some regular trimming it will get better with age!

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A wisteria in full bloom in May is a wonderful sight and the hanging racemes of flowers make a lovely display on a wall, fence or pergola. Wisteria is a vigorous plant and really needs to be trained and pruned regularly to keep it under control. If not, in just a few years it will grow into a plant that’s large and unruly! However, with a little regular pruning and training you can easily keep wisteria in check and manageable to create a specimen plant that will flower and get better with age.

August is when much of the pruning is done to shorten the long, whippy growths and to tie in new shoots to create and maintain the shape. In winter, when the plant is dormant, a second prune can be done to keep the growth tight and compact. Pruning now is simply a case of checking over the plant and shortening even further the stems that were pruned back last summer. The aim is to create short spurs just 5cm (2in) long, on which flower buds will develop in spring. Now is also a good time to remove any dead wood, check for suckers and make sure the stems are secured to their support.

Prune currant bushes

Trim them now to keep them healthy and encourage new growth

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Blackcurrants and redcurrants can both be pruned in winter, but they need a slightly different pruning method to keep them healthy and fruiting.

Blackcurrants grow as a stooled bush, with all the growth coming from ground level or below and they fruit on the previous season’s growth. The aim when pruning is to cut out as much of the old wood as possible and leave the new growth to fruit this summer. However, this isn’t always possible, because as you cut out the old wood, you also take some of the new shoots with it. To minimise this, always try and prune out branches low down to encourage strong replacement growth from the base of the plant.

Red and white currants are pruned differently because you want to maintain a framework of older branches from which new growth is made. Once a framework is established the new stems can be shortened back to between 7.5-10cm (3-4in) to create fruiting spurs, which will flower and fruit this summer. During the winter you can also thin out some of the older wood if the plant is getting too large and woody. This encourages new replacement growth and keeps the bush healthy.

Clear the way for emerging bulbs

Have a little tidy up now to help plants come through

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It’s so exciting when the new year festivities are over and we gardeners turn our attention to the seasons to come, thinking about what flowers will emerge for us and some of the other plant treats in store.

Next to think about is the fantastic slew of little early bulbs that will make an appearance really soon (if not already), such as winter aconites, crocuses and snowdrops.

These tough but dainty little beauties need room and light to grow, but often we’ll – quite naturally – have left a whole swamp of old foliage and fallen leaves around over autumn and winter. In the spirit of a new year tidy up and, of course, to consider the space needed by these bulbs, get ahead of your garden spring clean and clear some space for these new plants.

Old perennials and overhanging grasses will need removing at some point anyway, so start now; you’ll reduce the chance of too many pests and diseases being harboured, too. Leaving your tidy up any later in the season may mean trampling about in borders and damaging the bulb foliage that has come up, so try and do it before much of it emerges.

Take on a challenge!

Some plants may be tough to grow but are worth it

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Gardening is all about trial and error, growing old favourite plants, but also trying out new things, too. Do you like a challenge? Are you interested in unusual plants that are slightly more difficult to grow? Well, look no further than our mini selection below of four demanding plants that, if you look after them according to their list of needs, will be superb additions to the garden or home. And the satisfaction of helping hard-to-please plants thrive is all the more gratifying!

Pictured here are eremurus crowns being planted, which charmingly look like leggy starfish. They can be planted if the ground isn’t frozen, or you can wait until spring to do it. These tall plants, aptly  called foxtail lilies, like very dry conditions, no frost or wind,  no disturbance and not to be grown in pots. Each crown is best planted on a mound of grit or sand for drainage. Essentially they’re naturally at home in arid, semi-desert conditions in Asia, so warmth, sun and well-draining soil is a must; when you manage to grow these tough cookies it’s a real achievement and well worth the effort! Why not give yourself a challenge next year, keeping your gardening fresh and exciting?

Use up the Christmas leftovers!

Re-use any festive surplus in the garden

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Don’t feel guilty about this month of excess – you needn’t waste any of the uneaten food or natural decorations at all: there’s always somewhere in the garden that it’ll all be of use.

Most things can be chucked on the compost heap to give it a good seasonal helping of food, except for meat. Raw or cooked meat will become a stinking mess, unhelpful to the natural balance of the heap, and attractive to hungry pests such as rats that will appreciate the snack and hang about in the garden. Shred or cut up thick stems and branches before you add them to the heap or use them as a mulch.

And the birds will likely have a treat, too, as all that kitchen waste will be lapped up by our feathered friends. Crumbs of Christmas cake, cheese gratings and chopped up dried fruit; all is perfectly fine to feed them with. Just don’t put anything salty out, and be sure it’s all shredded and chopped well so they don’t choke.

Old satsumas, bubble and speak and the odd roast potato (if there are any leftover!) will also be welcome scraps for them. The birds will be just as well-fed as us! They’ll need it though, and once they get to know your garden as a good source of food, they’ll be back, making a wonderful winter sight.

Renovate fruit trees

Give them a prune now to improve productivity

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Don’t be afraid to prune fruit trees – it can seem daunting, particularly if yours is slightly overgrown, but if you keep a few straightforward things in mind as you’re doing it you’ll greatly improve your tree’s health and productivity.

Arm yourself with secateurs, loppers and a pruning saw if needed, and your job will be much easier. Keep in mind the vision of an open, airy canopy, with branches that have room to breathe and aren’t congested – that’s what you’re looking for.

Plus, trees such as apples and pears fruit on new growth, so you don’t want to be lopping all that off – it’s more about removing a few older branches to let the new ones have their moment in the sun. Don’t prune too much off as this leads to whippy, upward growth called watershoots, which will be unproductive and look unappealing. Also, don’t simply shear new top growth off, as this will result in no fruit. Choose about 20 per cent of old branches to thin out, and make sure any congested branches are thinned out too – the centre of your tree’s canopy should look open and clear. Shorten a few old branches by a third and neaten any side trunk growth to raise the canopy. Always stop if you think you’re taking too much off!

Take holly cuttings

It’s so easy to make new Christmassy plants for free!

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If you’re feeling super festive, take a bit of time out this Christmas to increase your lovely holly plants! Hardwood cuttings are usually taken from deciduous plants around this time of year, using leafless stems from this year’s growth that has wooded up – but you can take the same sort of cutting from some evergreens, too.

It’s always a reliable way to propagate and most of your attempts will root successfully, if you deal with your cuttings straight away and quickly pot them up, keeping an eye on the general health of your cuttings.

They need to remain ventilated, lightly moist and in a light position – a greenhouse with bottom heat will be fine, or a windowsill with a clear plastic bag over them. Holly can be a little tricky or take a while to root – wounding the end of your cuttings with a knife may help.

Check for any moulds that may occur, and remove dead or diseased cuttings or it’ll make for an unhealthy environment for any of the rest that haven’t been affected.

Keep the compost damp and check for rooting next year.

Collect seed from winter berries

Swell your shrub stocks for free with this easy, fun job

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Though we like to keep our berried bushes intact for birds to feed on in the winter months, try to spare a bunch or two of different berries to experiment with propagating.

Berries from plants, such as rowan, cotoneaster, holly or pyracantha, for example, can be taken in winter to increase your stocks for free, and it’s a fun project at this time of year, to see what will come of your endeavours!

Always choose plump, healthy-looking berries and clean off the outer flesh – this keeps the seed nice and dry and reduces any rotting. Plus, the contents of berry flesh can often serve as a natural germination inhibitor, used by the plant in the wild to restrict and control its timely germination. Alternatively, you can crush the berries, leave the flesh on and pot in sandy compost, but they may take a while to grow.

It’s really easy, and it’ll be interesting to see the eventual results of your sowing – unlike cuttings, seed-raised plants don’t always turn out exactly like their parents! You can look forward to a nice surprise in creating a brand-new plant.

Prune deciduous trees and shrubs

You can give them a new lease of life by cutting them back

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Now the leaves have virtually fully gone from your trees – all except perhaps a few birch leaves, which like to hang on a little longer – it’s the perfect time to renovate these deciduous, dormant plants.

This pruning really rejuvenates trees and shrubs, which would otherwise get too large and lanky, congested and unhealthy, if we don’t tend to many of them.

We do this job when they’re dormant to lessen the stress, to prevent sap ‘bleed’ in some, and simply because we can see what we’re doing!

All the impact and shock of such as drastic trim can be absorbed by their winter dormancy, and by the time spring comes, they’ll be happy enough to burst into growth.

There are a few things to remember when pruning – firstly, remove obviously damaged, dead and congested branches. Prune some fresh new stems that’ll bud, as it helps the plant become bushy, shocking the remaining budding stems to grow freely. Cut just above a bud, about a centimetre to the top of it, and sloping away from the bud so water runs off.

It can be worrying to prune, thinking you may be taking too much off, but most of the time your trees will love it in the long run – just be sure to create the right shape, with an open, airy canopy.

Do check whether the shrub or tree you’re pruning prefers light, medium or heavy pruning before you start.

Establish a bare-root box hedge

Plant it correctly now for a lush feature next year

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Bare-roots are cheaper and, generally, much stronger plants than container-grown – so it’s a no-brainer to use this time of year when they’re available, and when you have fewer jobs around the garden, to get planting. It’s often around now you’ll be planning for new features for next year, too – perhaps you’re intending getting a new hedge established or upping the shrub count in your borders. Well, there’s just a few things to take note of when you get down to it.

To prepare your planting site, dig over the soil so it’s airy and easily workable and ensure the area is well-drained and weed-free.

Bonemeal and a helping of compost will help the plants and the soil, but mix it all in well to evenly dilute and distribute all the goodness.

Try to plant straight away, with a trench slightly wider than the roots and level to the top of the root system. Tease the roots out a bit and hold the plant in place while backfilling the hole with soil. Firm down, water and, for extra protection, apply a bark mulch to help prevent frost, weeds and moisture loss.

Bare-roots are robust, and will thrive, as long as you water them in dry spells and ensure the new plants aren’t competing with grass or weeds too closely. Box (buxus) hedging is stalwart, amenable to lots of clipping and shaping, as well as hard pruning, but can be prone to blight.

Make a table decoration

Craft a gorgeous centrepiece from rich pickings outdoors

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There’s so much colour and inspiration in the garden this season. Yes, at first glance from your warm home, looking out the window, it can appear drab, but there are so many coloured berries, bright branches, seed heads, conifer stems, holly sprigs, ivy and some flowers that should be noticed!

Well, why not bring a selection indoors to be shown off better as a festive decoration? Nothing will beat your own home-made – completely free – centrepieces.

Quite frankly anything will do – so head outdoors on a mission to find lovely little sprigs and branches here and there, small and preferably thornless, which you can fashion into colourful displays. Much as you pop outside for a cut flower bunch in summer, get out there and bring home armfuls of garden gems, like a seasonal celebration of your plot!

The only expense may be colour sprays – arm yourself with glitter and gold to crank up the festive factor! If you want to go all out, team your natural haul with some shop-bought baubles and slices of dried orange to brighten your bounty.

Make sure all your pickings are dry and free of pests before you work with them!

Dig up and move your perennials

Help underperforming plants thrive by relocating them

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Perhaps you’ve noticed a few underperforming plants this year, or simply feel some of your prized plants have been put in the wrong place? It happens to the best of us: sometimes we think we’ve got it right but it later becomes apparent that some plants could do with a little shift about to help them thrive, or be shown off better. It could even simply be that a plant doesn’t fit with a particular colour scheme. Well now’s the time to take action.

Winter is the season to take stock, see what’s what and, with bare borders, easily work out how and where to move something. Many plants have died back and are dormant and receptive to being moved about.

Be sure what you’re moving though – this is where high season photo-taking is useful, and you can see from your snaps what plants are where in full leaf and bloom to help you locate them in winter.

The good news is that most herbaceous plants are easily moved, bearing little or no damage the following season as a result. You can even divide many of these plants up if necessary, to increase your stock or prevent them from getting too congested.

Choose a living Christmas tree

Dare to be different this year by buying a festive tree for keeps

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There is a lot of choice these days in what you can choose as your festive tree for decoration. You needn’t get a cut tree at all – container-grown and containerised ones are now available for a more permanent solution. The latter are trees grown in the ground then transplanted into pots for sale. These trees are naturally more robust at the roots than container-grown, having been allowed to grow freely and healthily.

A living tree can last in a pot for a good few years if you care for it well. Bring it in for decorating, keeping it as cool as possible indoors for 10 to 12 days over Christmas. Put it in a pot large enough for its root system – about 45cm (18in) is the largest it’ll need. Good, soil-based compost, like John Innes, will be most natural and suitable for it.

Once outside you can turn your tree into a decorative garden feature – have you thought about hanging bird feeders and treats from its branches? This can be year-round use for it. Simply prune to shape if needed, and keep it watered in dry spells – don’t forget about it in the summer months!

Grow tasty mushrooms

They’re expensive in the shops so have a go at cultivating your own

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Mushrooms are easy to grow. It simply involves buying inoculated mushroom spawn plugs, or dowels, from seed companies and suppliers, and impregnating a log or other piece of wood drilled with holes. And it’s even easier these days with ready-made kits containing all the apparatus you need to grow mushrooms on the windowsill.

Some kits are bigger and better than others, so it’ll be something of an experiment for you to find out which works best on your windowsill – it all depends on the right conditions for your mushrooms. They may take a little longer than you think, so be patient! The larger the kit, the better, though.

Mushrooms are expensive in the shops – particularly the exotic types such as shiitake and oysters. Growing this way will mean at least three pickings from each kit, saving a good bit of money. From www.thompson-morgan.com, you can even get rare ‘Lion’s Mane’ mushrooms, a frilly pink type, with a delicate, unusual lobster taste. These come as small plugs to insert into drilled logs, but are more difficult, though, and may take a while to come up.

It’s a fact that too many people are foraging for and clearing wild mushrooms outdoors at the moment, so why not break the cycle and forage for your own at home?

Plant up some winter scent

Put fragrant plants where you can smell them – near a doorway, a porch or outside a window

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One of the joys of the winter garden is wafts of wonderful fragrance from all corners. The colour in your garden may be slightly depleted, and the weather chilly, wet and windy, but one thing that often makes this season an utter delight is being able to plant a certain scented something that’ll make you stop in your tracks.

Blooms are powerfully scented at this time of year so they can advertise their presence to anything and everything to ensure the plant gets pollinated, seeing as plants get fewer visitors now.

It’s paramount to consider exactly where your shrub or tree will thrive, but many you will find in garden centres at the moment are strong and reliable, and happy in most aspects. Daphne bholua will grow very large if left untrimmed, so only plant this if you have a good amount of room. Many, such as edgeworthia and chimonanthus, love a sunny, sheltered wall. Mahonias, however, prefer shade – a handy plant for those tucked away, less sunny spots.

Try to put your scented plants where you can smell them! Near a well-used doorway, a front porch or outside a window – you’ll forever be stopping and marvelling at their fragrance.

Grow onions indoors!

Just recycle a plastic bottle and off you go…

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If you haven’t got a lot of space to dedicate to planting onions, but you love their crunchy goodness in all your meals, there’s a way you can grow them indoors that will mean you have them handy at all times!

The answer is a vertical onion garden. It’s an easy recycling project to save for a rainy, cold day, and will be a real talking point for your windowsill.

You just need a large plastic bottle and a bag of onion or shallot sets – and not much else! The larger the plastic bottle you use, the more room you’ll have for sets to grow, but from about two litre-sized and upwards is fine.

Simply create holes in your bottle, fill with compost and plant a set per hole, making sure you water well so it drains down. Place on a dish to keep it tidy. You can replace the top of the bottle after planting to keep the moisture in, or leave it open. Give it a sunny windowsill and wait a few days for the first growth.

Keep the soil moist and once there are signs of growth you can either snip off the onion foliage for kitchen dinners or wait for the bulbs to bulk up and then pick one off when needed.

Winter corm and tuber care

Taking action now will ensure you have blooms next year

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It’s time to consider what you’re going to do with your plants such as dahlias, begonias and gladioli. This will very much depend, largely, on what your local climate is like – relatively balmy winters in your area may mean you don’t necessarily have to move dahlias or gladioli – they can simply overwinter in the ground, providing you apply a mulch to protect their roots.

Many gardeners simply don’t lift them, and they return year after year with bold blooms, even if their soil has become quite boggy through extensive rain. Very frosty areas of the UK may see dahlias and gladioli succumb to it, but essentially it’s a risk that you can experiment with – it may be you don’t need to worry at all!

If you want to keep your tender begonias, overwinter them and treat them as perennials, chop down the foliage, bring the pots in to the greenhouse and lift the tubers to dry. Put them dry in paper bags and bring them indoors, keeping them in a cool-ish room until next spring.