There are some easy and calming garden tasks such as taking hardwood cuttings, tidying hellebores and pruning apple-trees that will provide a short escape from the mad and panicky festive fray that is now upon us, and this is how to do them:
Here is a very satisfying and simple way to make more of your favourite shrubs. You do need a bit of patience because these cuttings are unlikely to create a decent root system in less than a year, but honestly, it’s a doddle. Oh my goodness, there are SO many candidates for your attention: for example, dogwood, willow, Abelia, Euonymus, ornamental vines, honeysuckle, jasmine, willow, Philadelphus, Physocarpus, Deutzia, Weigela, Hydrangea, flowering currant…….and, of course, roses! Experiment with all sorts of things, including trees.
In December, the plants have entered dormancy and it’s the perfect time to find stems of pencil thickness, cut them cleanly at a slant above a bud, and straight across below a bud at the bottom. The ideal length is about 30 cm. You can even make several cuttings from one stem. No twiddling about with basal heat, adjusting the humidity etc. with these cuttings – put them (right way up!) into a trench in the soil, with only about a third of the cutting above the soil, or in a large pot of sandy compost, several in a pot, and leave it out of the way somewhere. Here’s an important thing – LABEL THEM! That way you won’t stumble across them sometime next spring and have no idea what the little sticks are……ahem, who would do such a thing…….
Make sure that they don’t dry out, but otherwise that’s it. You won’t get a shrub from every cutting, but some will take, and you will be able to transplant them next autumn.
Surely that’s worth half an hour of your time?!
HELPING THE HELLEBORES
Casting our minds forward to spring, this is a perfect moment to tidy up your hellebores, particularly H. orientalis, so that their lovely blooms don’t sit amongst a mess of dead material. I always think it’s incredible that hellebores are happy to throw out such gorgeous flowers from a morass of black mouldy foliage. This foliage might also carry Hellebore Leaf Spot Disease right through the winter, ready to infect the next set of leaves and flowers.
So trim all the old leaves right to the ground, taking care not to damage any new buds. If any of your plants have got stunted or distorted growth and black streaks, I’m afraid this is the dramatically- named virus Hellebore Black Death, and you must dig up the plant and destroy it. Like hostas and peaonies, hellebores are not that keen on all that business of being divided and replanted that you have to do with other herbaceous things, so a bit of mulch and feed (they are quite greedy plants) is all that they then require.
With apple-trees, what you’re after of course, is a good crop of flowers and fruit, so you want to maximise the amount of wood that WILL bear fruit, and you can help that process along during the winter.
First cut out all the manky bits where branches are crossing or rubbing, growing into the centre (keep thinking ‘goblet-shape’), or just plain diseased. Then shorten the main branches by about a third to an outward-facing bud. Lastly, trim up the side-shoots which are going to carry the fruit, especially the ones growing the wrong way – inwards, straight upwards or downwards. Particularly take off any shoots going underneath wide main branches, because the fruit here won’t get enough sunlight to ripen properly.
No more than that is needed now – very hard pruning in winter can end up with a forest of new congested growth, like a great green Afro haircut!
* My own greenhouse is much too new to need this yet, but winter is a good time to give your greenhouse a good wash-and-brush-up, to prevent over-wintering fungal infections and maximise light. The hectic spring sowing season is just around the corner, and you’ll be MUCH too busy to do it then!
* I know this might be ‘life’s too short to stuff a mushroom’ territory, but if you have a silver birch or two, a gentle wash of the bark with water and a soft cloth will make it sparkle. Polishing the bark of trees like Prunus serrula really enhances their already prodigious beauty too.
* Put some frost-protection round vulnerable pots, if you haven’t done this already. Bubble-wrap may not be aesthetically- pleasing but it does the job well, as well as being re-usable.
* Lots of you were interested in the boots on sale from the Dry Boot Company, and we are very pleased to say that this firm are happy to give 10% off their products when ordered through our website. Just put in the code gb010 at the checkout for your discount.