This is the time of year for hardwood cuttings, they don’t need a propagator, heat, misting or any specialist equipment, all you need is good old fashioned garden soil, sharp sand and a pair of secateurs. Plants that can be propagated using this method include ‘Dogwood’, ‘Buddleia’, gooseberries, roses, winter flowering viburnum’s and red and flowering currants too. Cuttings are taken after leaf fall from stems that are one year old, as thick as a pencil, with the soft tip removed. Cut the stems into sections 15-30cm (6-12in) long with a sloping cut above a bud at the top and a straight cut at the base below a bud and remove the buried buds. They should be planted in a trench in a sheltered site on well drained soil, with a layer of sharp sand at the base with two thirds of the cutting below ground. Check the trench after early frosts and firm the soil around them if required. Keep them well watered during dry periods and lift the new plants the following autumn after leaf fall. If outdoor conditions are unsuitable bundles of up to twelve cuttings can be put into a cold frame filled with moist sand until the spring. Towards the end of March to early April, before the buds break make a trench 12.5cm (5in) deep and line out the cuttings 10-15cm (4-6in) apart with two-thirds of the stem buried and firm the soil around the cuttings. They root most successfully just after leaf fall but results are excellent any time, apart from early in the New Year, until just before bud burst in spring.
Winter is a great opportunity to check over hand tools, replacing broken handles and sharpening blades. Use a fine file to flatten notches on the cutting edge of hoes and spades, even if you’ve already developed the good habit of keeping one in your pocked while digging on stony soil. Years ago when I worked on the local Parks’ department, Fred, the play equipment maintenance man sharpened our hoes each day with an angle grinder! Whatever you choose to sharpen blades, don’t check the edge with your finger; try cutting a branch or twig instead, for obvious reasons. Brush away any soil, clean off rust with wire wool, spray the surface with water repellent and treat wooden handles with linseed oil before hanging them in the shed.
Open greenhouse vents for as long as possible on mild sunny days, remembering to shut them before temperatures drop early in the afternoon to save the heat. A combination of high temperatures and low light makes leaves and stems soft, spindly and prone to grey mould which spreads rapidly in cool, damp conditions. Good air circulation is vital, but chilling draughts should be avoided; don’t leave the door wide open and err on the side of caution!
And a final reminder. ‘Acer’s’, ‘Birches’ and grapevines should be pruned before Christmas to prevent the wounds from bleeding, which disfigures the bark and in severe cases causes the death of the plant.