Beat the winter chill

Now is the perfect time to trim the garden hedge. Photo: PA Photo/thinkstockphotos
Now is the perfect time to trim the garden hedge. Photo: PA Photo/thinkstockphotos

We may have had storms and rain, but while the ground’s workable, gardeners should make the most of the time they have left to do the jobs which will give them a head start next year.

Whether it’s revamping your lawn, dividing perennials, trimming hedges, clearing weeds or preparing the greenhouse for winter, you should leave no stone unturned if you want to get things in order for spring.

Don’t delay in completing these tasks:

* Plant new trees, shrubs and roses. These should benefit from the warm soil, which encourages root growth to develop quickly. You will need to give them a good soak when planting initially, but hopefully rain will play a part too. Just keep an eye on newly-planted specimens and don’t allow them to dry out if we don’t have wet weather. The plants should establish over the winter, giving you a head start for spring.

* Revamp your lawn. With all the autumn rain we’ve had, the ground will be soft enough to either turf or reseed a new lawn, or repair an old one. If you are laying new turf, good preparation is the key, which will mean removing weeds and stones, digging over the soil adding compost or well-rotted farmyard manure and incorporating sharp grit on heavy soil, and levelling the area off to a fine tilth on which to sow seed or lay turf. It needs to be kept well watered, although the rain should help at this time of year, and seed needs to be protected from birds with netting, elevated by placing shortened twigs or canes around the area and securing the netting to them.

* Divide perennials. Now is the perfect time to split those plants which have become congested while they are dormant but before the ground becomes too hard to dig them out. Perennials which benefit from dividing every few years include hostas (but you’ll need a knife to cut through the thick roots), cranesbill geranium, montbretia, rudbeckia, helenium and aster. You can also move plants which aren’t happy in their allotted space to a spot where they may be happier.

* Trim hedges, tidying evergreens which should remain neat until spring. Evergreens should not put on much new growth during winter, so should save you the job of pruning them in spring, when you may risk disturbing nesting birds. Deciduous shrubs can be pruned into winter.

* Weed out the worst culprits. If you do a final weed before the perennial weeds disappear for the winter, you should hopefully make your task lighter when they come back in spring. Look out for ground elder, couch grass and bindweed, which are among the most pernicious weeds and try to dig up all the white roots which, if left in the ground, will just sprout up again next year.

* Increase your stock. Take hardwood cuttings in late autumn to propagate shrubs including roses, willows, philadelphus, weigelas and dogwoods. Cut woody shoots for the base of the current year’s growth, trim below a leaf joint and remove the tip to leave the cuttings 20-30cm (8-12in) long. Dip the base into hormone rooting powder, make a slit trench in a well cultivated but vacant area of the garden, push the cuttings in vertically, 30cm (12in) apart and firm the soil back around them, closing the trench. Water them in. This time next year they may have rooted enough to be moved.

* Spruce up the greenhouse. If the weather’s still sunny, there’s no better time to wash the windows, remove the shading, clean the staging and do any structural repairs needed. Then you can insulate the greenhouse with bubble wrap in preparation for winter. A cleaner greenhouse may encourage you in the coming months to sow hardy annuals and perennials for the year to come.