There is no doubt that gardens slow during late autumn and winter but there aren’t many days when I don’t find something to do outside, even if it’s just a quick check around to see if all as it should be. It’s just nice to take in the fresh air- that is providing it’s not raining. Through the winter months I regularly check the plants in my unheated greenhouse, picking off dead leaves and only if the compost is bone dry do I give them a little water. The plants I overwinter are fairly tough but just need a little protection, scented geraniums, fuchsia’s and salvias. I also keep a few pots of herbs in the greenhouse too, and although growth is slow, they can provide fresh leaves for cooking. 

I love Christmas Roses (Helleborus ) they are tolerant of most garden situations  providing they are not too wet and have a little shade during the hottest part of the day. Most nurseries and garden centres sell plants in flower at this time of year, and providing they have been growing outside in pots, they can be planted as soon as you get them home, providing the ground isn’t frozen. They require little attention throughout the year, I usually give them a sprinkling of general fertiliser ( chicken pellets) in spring and mulch with garden compost to help keep the soil moist. As the flowers start to open I cut back the old leaves that are by now looking scruffy and a little bedraggled. It doesn’t harm the plant and it makes the flowers stand out too. 

Herbaceous perennials die down through winter and providing you are not leaving seed-heads for the birds or for display, they can be cut down and all arisings consigned to the compost heap. If the soil is not too wet and the weather is mild you can also lift congested groups, divide then replant. Take sections the size of a saucer from around the outside of the crown and discard the middle (this part of the plant will be old and won’t produce a good plant). Replant having first refreshed the soil with a little well rotted garden compost, I usually leave feeding them until spring, again using the old faithful (Chicken pellets). It is not always possible but if you can move the plants around so they aren’t in the same place, it gives the opportunity to try out new combinations and reduces the risk of pest and disease build up.

I am fortunate that throughout my life I have planted hundreds of trees, and will continue to do so too. I realise that not everyone has the space but there are local community groups and charities that continue to plant and tend woodlands and tree plantations. Get in touch with your local council and they will let you know how to get involved. 

I occasionally visit some of the parks I have planted trees in and it is amazing how they have grown, although they do say that planting a tree today is for the benefit of future generations, and of course our planet too. 

If you only have a small garden there are hundreds of trees that grow between 6 and 10 metres ( !8 – 30ft) and if you choose one that bears fruit or berries, then it can also provide food for wildlife through the winter months. Your local garden centre or nursery can advise you of the type of tree best suited to your space and conditions. 

I am often asked if it is possible to move shrubs, and my usual answer is yes, providing it’s not too big and is reasonably healthy. For larger more established shrubs it is best to plan twelve months in advance. Think about where you plan to move it to and how that area will need preparing, Ideally when it comes to lifting the shrub you need to keep as much of the root system as possible, The size of the spread of branches is an indication of the size of the root ball below ground, although generally the roots don’t go as deep as the shrub is tall. For the larger shrub, a root ball about 1m (3ft) across and 0.5 m (18 inches) deep, bear in mind this will take some time and you will need some assistance to lift and relocate it. It’s a good idea to prepare the new planting site before you start to lift the shrub, so that the plant can be moved directly to its new position. Water in after planting and apply a thick mulch of garden compost around the base of the shrub. Feed in spring with a general fertiliser, and water in dry spells during its first year.

Happy gardening,

Martin

Next month, (sowing hardy annuals in a greenhouse, early vegetables to sow now, repair fences and structures).

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