Root and branch
As National Tree Week begins today, Hannah Stephenson discovers a wealth of specimens suitable for all garden types.
There's no better time to plant trees and conifers, particularly bare-root ones, when the plants are dormant but the soil is still warm enough for the roots to become established before spring.
So if you're planting a tree during National Tree Week, which runs from today until Sunday, December 7, consider firstly your situation and how much space you have.
Trees can create privacy, shade, dramatic impact, colour and fruit, as well as movement and architectural form. The height and structure of the types you choose are as important in a small garden as they are in a large one.
If you have a small space, consider choosing a narrow tree with minimal spread, which will provide height and structure. Alternatively, you may prefer one landmark spreading tree with a canopy which casts dappled shade but allows for some planting underneath. Compact 'weeping' trees, such as a weeping pear (Pyrus salicifolia) could be used as a focal point. If your space is really limited, you could plant a carefully trimmed tree in a large pot.
Excellent trees for small gardens include Amelanchier lamarckii, whose graceful branches carry copper-hued new leaves in spring along with starry, white flowers. In autumn the leaves often colour brilliantly too.
If you have room for two trees, try to combine two trees which have a different season of interest, such as a photinia - an evergreen with new red growth in late spring - and sorbus, which has lovely autumn hues and dazzling berries.
If you are looking for flowers, consider one of the crab apple varieties, such as Malus floribunda, the Japanese crab, which is adorned with blush pink and white fragrant flowers in spring and is slow growing, or the Malus 'Royal Beauty', which bears deep red-purple flowers and small dark red fruits.
Among the most suitable flowering trees for a confined space is the Prunus 'Amanogawa', an upright specimen with ascending branches which produces fragrant pink flowers in mid-spring.
If you only have room for a pot, consider a Japanese maple, which will produce fantastic foliage colour, or a trimmed bay, photinia or olive tree.
Bigger gardens offer more scope to house majestic oaks, horse chestnuts and lime trees. Just be aware of their impact on your views long-term because you don't want them to screen your vista of the countryside.
Recommended RHS AGM varieties to plant include Photinia fraseri 'Red Robin', Acer freemanii 'Autumn Blaze', Quercus palustris, Malus 'Evereste' and Sorbus vilmorinii.
Trees planted in the autumn will experience much less stress and will require less watering and aftercare than trees planted in spring or summer.
When planting, dig out a hole much larger than the roots, at least 30cm (1ft) wider than the rootball and 30cm (12in) deeper and mix in good garden compost and a generous sprinkling of slow-release fertiliser.
Stake your plant using a stake as long as the distance from the bottom of the hole to just below the first branch, plus 45cm (18in). It's easier to do it if the tree is removed, then once the stake has been driven in replace the tree, teasing its roots around the stake and make sure that the tree is held away from the stake with a buffer to stop it rubbing. Larger trees can be staked using three stakes in a triangle shape in the hole about 50cm (18in) from the stem of the tree.
Add compost to the soil you are going to put back around the tree, firming it against the roots, but avoid heeling in on top of the rootball or you may damage the tree. Pile the soil around the tree to create a mound, so directing the water into the rootball.
The Tree Council's National Tree Week runs until December 7. For more information, visit treecouncil.org.uk/Take-Part/national-tree-week
Best of the Bunch
This impressive ornamental grass looks amazing when everything else has died down in the winter months, its large, loose, golden oat-like flowers forming a semi transparent screen. Also known as giant feather grass or Spanish oat grass, it forms neat hummocks of narrow green leaves, while the flowerheads are carried on erect stems to 1.5m (5ft) tall in early summer, turning a deep golden brown as they age. This amazing grass needs an uncluttered setting and looks even better against a dark background. The stems make an attractive feature over winter, so wait until early spring to cut them down, along with any dead leaves. Grow as a specimen or as a screen at the back of a border. They do best in full sun in fertile, well-drained soil.
Good Enough To Eat
Hardwood cuttings from blackcurrants
Now is the time to increase your stock of blackcurrants by taking hardwood cuttings. Choose strong, straight, disease-free shoots of this year's growth and cut off a length about 30cm (12in) long. Trim off the end to leave each cutting about 25cm (10in), trying not to lose any of the buds as they encourage basal shoots. Make a slit in the ground with a spade, creating a trench, and push the cutting in so that no more than 5cm (2in) is left showing. If the ground is prone to waterlogging, put 5cm (2in) of sand in the trench first. The resulting bushes can be moved to their final growing position in a year's time.
- Check bulbs, corms and tubers in store. Any that are becoming soft or showing signs of disease should be removed and destroyed
- Prepare for winter gales by removing dead or decaying branches on established trees and checking that recently planted trees are well staked and that ties are secure
- Continue to harvest vegetables including kale, cabbages, spinach, Jerusalem artichokes and Brussels sprouts
- Plant any remaining tulip and hyacinth bulbs
- Continue to tidy borders, cutting back dead foliage and stems unless required for wind shelter and remove stakes
- Continue to winter-dig if the ground is not too hard, leaving soil rough for the frost to break it down and add well-rotted manure or compost at the same time
- Prune wisteria, tying in new extension shoots and then pruning back the new shoots
- Finish planting winter containers to give the plants a chance to become established
- Dig up ground layers of rhododendron and azaleas started off about 15 months ago that have now rooted and plant them out in their final growing position
- When the grass has stopped growing, make the final cut for the year and prepare the mower for storage, removing rust with a wire brush and storing under cover