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.

Grow tasty windowsill greens

Sow seeds now for fast, fresh, leafy goodness

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Cold and frosty outside? Still want to have some handy veg available for the kitchen? Well, why not use your little makeshift greenhouses – also known as your indoor windowsills – as a home for trays of tasty greens over the coming season?

There are microgreens, which are simply the baby shoots of larger plants such as peas and sweetcorn, and are perfect for a little flavour of the larger vegetable in your cooking, but grown in a smaller space. These can be harvested quickly, and then more seed sown again in quick succession. You can also grow all sorts of herbs and salads, which only need a mini trough or small pots to thrive. The cut-and-come-again nature of these plants means you’ve always got a leafy display on show, returning again and again until the plants are spent.

The key is to have nice, sunny windowsills, so plants are relatively warm and get lots of light. Should seedlings get leggy and start leaning a particular way, turn them around to re-orientate them and strengthen them up. Keep plants lightly moist at all times. If you have the room, try a whole range of greenery, which will also make for a pleasing display. Rocket is quick and easy, as is cress, mustard, kale shoots and beansprouts.

Happy winter gardening!

Take cornus cuttings now

They’ll strengthen over winter for new plants next spring

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This is a really easy and satisfying job to do once the leaves have fallen from your cornus bush, and its lovely stems that’ll brighten your winter garden have been revealed. Everyone loves cornus for their pretty leaves, flowers and berries, followed by stunningly bright branches, until the foliage grows back in spring again. And taking a few cuttings of this super plant now will make fantastic gifts next year.

Unless you’ve a bit of room to develop a nursery trench bed for hardwood cuttings, it’s easier to pot them up in containers to grow on, where they’ll grow just as well as in the ground, and will be easier to transplant at a later date. In dry spells just make sure the compost is lightly moist, and firm in stems from frost displacement, or they may not settle and root as quickly. Your cuttings will strengthen over winter, so from spring you can gently check them for signs of rooting. Tentatively tug one and if it more or less stays it’s likely to have rooted and you can pot each one up individually to grow on into larger plants.

Plant an apple tree

It’s the ideal time to get bare-roots in the ground

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Apple trees are actually very easy to grow, particularly in the ground. In containers they need a little more TLC to check that they’re fed, watered and healthy, but even still, they’re also fairly straightforward.

Now’s the time to get bare-root trees going. They’re available to buy from now until early spring, but are better able to establish well in the plant’s initial stages due to stronger root systems. Siting is important. Apples prefer good sun, but can tolerate a few hours of shade a day. They like loamy, well-drained soil and relative shelter. If you improve the soil just before planting, restricted to the planting hole, it may mean roots feel too comfortable where they are and don’t extend to make for a strong, stable plant. If possible, improve the whole area weeks beforehand so all of its surroundings will be attractive to the roots and it’ll want to spread out more.

Along with many other fruit trees and bushes, apples fruit well if they’ve a pollinating partner to help. Have your neighbours got apple trees close by? If so, that may be enough for your tree to succeed. If not, consider planting two or more apples if you’ve space. So-called ‘family apple trees’ are available from good online nurseries such as Pomona Fruits or Thompson & Morgan, which have two or three apples grafted on to the same tree – a real space-saver that’ll solve your pollination problem.

Give your houseplants winter TLC

A few simple steps will keep them stress-free and healthy

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The even temperatures and indoor climate of spring and summer are great for houseplants. The environment they live in is consistent so they’re happy and able to cope with life in your house. But then autumn and winter arrives! We whack up the central heating and there are cold windows and drafts, and suddenly our plants find themselves having to cope with some unstable conditions. It’s really stressful for them.

But there are a few things we can do to prepare them for this environmental onslaught. Firstly, check if any pests are present that may have come in from the plants’ time outside, or if any mealybugs, aphids or scale have colonised them indoors. Pests will only diminish their vigour when they’re trying to adapt to new winter conditions. A product such as Bug Clear Ultra will help you control infestations.

Then make sure your plants are situated correctly, look healthy, aren’t overwatered and aren’t damaged in any way.

Grow a nut tree

Add crunch to your patch with sweet and tasty kernels

Hazelnut Tree

Hazelnut Tree

You may not have considered it before, but adding a nut tree to your garden is extremely worthwhile and will round off your fruit and vegetable patch nicely.

You have to watch out for their size, though, as most nut trees will need a lot of room to expand and grow into large specimens, which is great if you’ve got the room to accommodate sweet chestnuts or walnuts, to add a touch of maturity to your plot. All large trees – particularly nut trees – are a real boon for wildlife, too.

These days, though, most people have small to medium-sized gardens, limiting tree size, so what can be squeezed in?

Hazelnut trees will only ever grow to 3m (10ft) high, and many varieties can be smaller. They’ll even thrive happily in large containers.

Grow nuts in a sunny, sheltered spot, and try one or two varieties for better pollination. Add a fertiliser such as Growmore in late winter, as they’re growing, to encourage them on.

It seems obvious to say, but be on the lookout for squirrels! They’ll relish your nut hoards to ‘squirrel’ away for themselves, and can significantly deplete a tree’s bounty. You’ll simply have to watch out for them and shoo them away when you can, or pick unripe nuts to pickle before the squirrels can get hold of them. It’s nice to share too, though!

A useful tip is to keep your nut cases. Crunched up they’re extremely effective as mulch material, and can be a good slug and snail deterrent, too.

It’s time to move shrubs

If you have to relocate any, then do it now

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Don’t move shrubs and trees too often – only do it if you really need to. They may have been sited wrongly, or something nearby is overshadowing them, and now’s the time to move them if you must – but be warned that lots of shrubs and trees will find the process stressful.

They key is to make it as easy for them as possible, so the impact of transplantation is lessened. The bigger the plant, however, the more stress and difficulty it’ll cause it – and you! The likelihood is, though, that you’ve got a young shrub, less than a year or two old, which needs moving to a better spot and, thankfully, young, small plants don’t mind being moved as much.

Both deciduous and evergreen plants can be moved now. If you can, choose a dull, non-windy day – a bit of rain’s not a problem – so the weather isn’t against you and the plant roots don’t dry out. Don’t try to move extra-large trees – hire a contractor as it’s too much work for one person! Once transplanted, make sure the plant is adapting well and water evenly and mulch well. As with any establishing plant, fertilise it in early spring as encouragement.

Clear away with a bonfire

And use the ash it creates in the garden

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If you’ve a plot on an allotment site or you have a sizeable garden with a bit of room, one way of quickly and efficiently clearing away old plant material that’s old, dead and possibly full of pest and disease is to have a safely controlled bonfire.

It’s not illegal to have a bonfire, but you must be mindful of neighbours as to the smoke output and the size of the heap. Keep an eye on it at all times and don’t let it get unmanageable.

It’s really beneficial to have a bonfire – it used to be a more common practice, but gardeners now tend to go to the skip if they have too much waste.

All garden waste, such as cleared crops, particularly heavy, thick prunings and old logs, work well as well as thick leaves and thorny material. And one of the most satisfying components of your heap will be horrid gluts of perennial weeds that could otherwise simply spread around in the compost heap.

Once your fiery clear-up has finished, a fantastic, free resource is the result. A nice pile of ash is perfect for use in the garden to raise alkalinity levels or to put on the compost heap to help it break down a bit quicker. Use it around fruit bushes, to inhibit club root in the soil around brassicas, and as a snail and slug deterrent – they don’t like its dryness and get stuck in it.

Plant some brand new shrubs

Garden centres are bursting with them now

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It’s around this time of year when us gardeners want to up the structure and interest in our gardens. It’s natural to want to try and increase the colour spectrum just when everything’s slowly receding, and often flowers aren’t always available just now. So, shrubs come to the fore and bulk up our borders nicely. Pots of bedding are super, but for a more permanent solution, source some great foliage for bright beds now.

If you’re taking a trip to the garden centre, it’s more likely you’ll see potted shrubs which are container-grown and perfect to plant now or throughout the year. In a few weeks it’ll be strong bare-root plants for planting in late autumn and winter. Whichever it is, keep the root areas moist – soak bare-rooted shrubs for about half an hour before planting, and for containerised plants, give them a good soak in their pots before you pop them in. As a general rule, keep the top of the root area level with the top of the soil surface – make sure you find the top of the roots in potted plants first, as planting too deeply for many shrubs means lack of air and poor establishment. Firm in and water in well.

Keep your garden clean

It pays to have a tidy and hygienic plot to ward off pests and diseases

Clear away dead foliage

Clear away dead foliage

After a long season, and now that you’re carrying out fewer jobs in the garden as we descend further into the colder months, you can take time out to make sure everything is spick and span. Hygiene is paramount, as many diseases and pests can be harboured on surfaces and soil really easily, so look at it as preparing for next year’s excellent displays and crops instead of being too much of a chore!

Be sure that you’re not transplanting any blight or club root-infected soil via tools or shoes, by giving them a thorough clean now.

Diseased plant material won’t do you any favours either, so clear up droopy, wet foliage, any stems and other plants that won’t last the winter and keep your planting airy and spaced.

Make the most of the last relatively warm days to give your greenhouse a good clean, too. Removing dirt and algae from the glass will let in more light and clearing up debris helps to control those pesky pests and diseases. Start early in the day so it has time to dry off before night time.

Clear out all your plants, trays and pots, then sweep or vacuum away old leaves and cobwebs. Using hot water and detergent, such as Jeyes Fluid or household cleaning products, wash down the structure and benches. Also clean the glazing inside and out and use a scraper to ease out any dirt trapped in corners or between the panes.

Plant new currants and berries

Now’s the perfect time to start a collection

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Chokeberry

Cheap to do and really easy to look after, next year you could be picking bounteous berries and fruit from your patio.

Currants and berries, even the common ones, such as blackberries or blackcurrants, are expensive in supermarkets, but aren’t that dear as plants from garden centres, particularly when you factor in the amount of yearly berries you can yield. So, think about indulging yourself a little and create a fruit collection to be proud of! Now’s the time to plant new bare-root bushes (you can plant potted ones too), and if you’re up for something new, below are some suggestions to break away from the norm.

Currants appreciate manure-improved, well-drained soil and like to be sited in full sun. Cranberries, however, will need to be potted in ericaceous compost and kept very moist. Chokeberries – a rather tart fruit if eaten raw but delicious when cooked in puddings and jams – grow in most soils in sun or shade. Wonderfully-scented and sweet-tasting Chilean guava is perhaps the most low-maintenance of all, needing just shelter, sun and water in dry periods – perfect.

Plant new rhubarb

And why not try a miniature variety, too?

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Rhubarb plants are such undemanding perennials, they should have a place in every garden. And what a delicious fruit they are – or should I say sweet-tasting vegetable!

In warm and moist soil, rhubarb crowns can be planted in autumn and spring in the spot you want to permanently keep them, with a helping of manure in sun or part shade. Plant so the tip of the crown is just visible above the surface of the soil. Rhubarb plants are great in large pots, too – and look like a really attractive, architectural plant in spring and summer when colourful leaves and stems grow tall. The three most commonly available varieties are the excellent traditional varierty ‘Victoria’, the early-maturing ‘Champagne’ and the even earlier ‘Timperley Early’, but why not try miniature 20cm (8in) tall variety ‘Lilibarber’ from www.lubera.co.uk, whose leaves and pencil-like stems can both be eaten? It’ll save you the usual rhubarb glut!

Existing plants, though, will need a little care to tuck them in after their growing season, and to keep them perennially healthy – they’re low maintenance but not no maintenance!

Take hibiscus cuttings

Spread the joy of this beauty in time for Christmas!

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Hardy hibiscus (Hibiscus syriacus) is one of those splendid beauties that looks for all the world exotic – just like its tender cousin see on holiday, H. rosa-sinensis – but is as happy in our British gardens as anything else. Forget roses and peonies, hibiscus is a real winner, covered in blooms in full sun from mid-summer to mid-autumn, and just minimal care will see it turn heads!

Deadhead blooms regularly, prune young plants well in spring to create the shape you want, and then established plants need only a simple trim in early spring to tidy and keep them healthy.

It’s only about now that this magnificent plant has stopped flowering, but perhaps you might want to pass on a little bit of its charm to others by taking cuttings, which will hopefully root in time for Christmas – what a superb present!

The key is to ensure the compost is lightly moist at all times, keep cuttings on a warmish windowsill and up the humidity, which is key to good rooting, by securing a clear polythene bag over the top and keeping it clear of the leaves.