Tag Archives: gardening tips

Free plants: the hardwood cuttings edition

First published by Rattan Direct on 2 November 2016.

Welcome to another blog post in our occasional series about taking cuttings to make plants for nothing. For nothing, that is, if you’re prepared to put in a little time now and you’re not in a hurry. That’s because hardwood cuttings take about nine to 12 months to establish a root system.

The dormant period, when plant growth has slowed to a standstill, is the best time for hardwood cuttings. This is from October to about February, just before growth starts again in the spring.

Which plants are suitable for hardwood cuttings?

This fantastic display of colour comes from various dogwood species (Cornus), at Broadview Gardens, part of Hadlow College. Hardwood cuttings.
This fantastic display of colour comes from various dogwood species (Cornus), at Broadview Gardens, part of Hadlow College.
© Nick Smith and reused under Creative Commons CC BY-SA 2.0 Licence.
  • Many ornamental shrubs and trees including dogwoods, flowering currant, forsythia and willow.
  • Roses. If you’re renovating climbing and rambling roses you might be able to use some of the prunings.
  • Climbers like jasmine and honeysuckle.
  • Fruit bushes like gooseberry, blackcurrant, redcurrant.
  • Deciduous hedgerow trees.

How to take hardwood cuttings

  1. Take fully ripe (hard) one-year old stems, about the thickness of a pencil. You’ll be making cuttings of about 25-30cm (10-12 inches) long.
  2. Make a cut above a bud at the top (a sloping cut will mark the top and will encourage rain to run off) and below a bud at the bottom (a straight cut will mark the bottom and allow you to push the cutting into the soil easily).
  3. With redcurrants, whitecurrants and gooseberries, remove all but the top three or four buds to create a clear stem. (Leave all the buds on blackcurrants.)
  4. Some people use hormone rooting powder to encourage root formation and to discourage rotting … and some people don’t. This year, I’m not using any and will see how it goes.
  5. You can either put hardwood cuttings round the edge of a big pot or in the open ground in a slit trench.
  6. A big pot filled with gritty potting compost (say 50:50 coarse grit and multi-purpose compost) works well if you’re only taking a few cuttings. Push them about two-thirds in, close to the edge which helps drainage. Firm them in, then water well. Keep the pots in a sheltered cold frame, unheated greenhouse or somewhere very sheltered until next autumn.
  7. To make a slit trench, drive the spade in and move it to and fro a bit. Add a good handful of grit or sharp sand. Then insert the cuttings to about two-thirds of their length, spaced 10-15cm (4-6in) apart. Firm them in, then water well.
  8. Look at the cuttings every fortnight or so and water during dry spells or if the pots are drying out. Standing pots on a tray of gravel with some water in it can help.
  9. Leave the cuttings where they are for at least 12 months or until they are making visible new top growth.
  10. Move them to their final destination next autumn or winter, the next dormant season.

More detailed advice from the Royal Horticultural Society here.

A Gardeners’ World video with David Hurrion here.

Good luck!

Winged thorn rose, Rosa sericea omeiensis pteracantha, grown from a hardwood cutting. Hardwood cuttings
Winged thorn rose, Rosa sericea omeiensis pteracantha, grown from a hardwood cutting
© peganum and re-used under CC BY-SA 2.0 licence


Clip Virginia creeper and other late autumn gardening jobs

First published by Rattan Direct on 19 October 2016.

Virginia creeper has started to cover the windows so the next few weeks are the time to clip it back. It’s also time to ‘renovate’ tangled climbing and rambling roses. Keep an eye on the weather, too, and protect your plants if frost is forecast.

Penrhyn Castle, near Bangor, Gwynedd. Virginia creeper
Penrhyn Castle, near Bangor, Gwynedd. Do they use ladders or do they abseil down to clear the Virginia creeper from the windows here? © Denis Egan, published under CC BY-SA 2.0 licence

Autumn is definitely with us now and I’m scrambling to get jobs done before the weather turns nasty. Like all of us, I’m busy but I know that if I don’t get these jobs done I’ll regret it.

Clip back the Virginia creeper so you can see out of the windows

You probably know Virginia creeper, a vigorous large deciduous climber whose leaves turn bright red and orange in the autumn. It grows very high, more than 12 metres according to the Royal Horticultural Society, and it grows so vigorously that windows can be quickly veiled by the leaves. It will soon be time to cut it back so that you can see out again, and more light can come into the house over the autumn and winter. (Or you could leave it till early spring.) It’s a two-person job if you’re working at height on ladders or with ropes.

Renovate climbing and rambling roses

My rambling rose, Félicité et Perpétue, has been sadly neglected for a number of years. I offer no excuses; it’s just one of those things that sometimes happen in a life and a garden.

It’s grown enthusiastically and has become very tangled. Often roses in a tangle don’t flower very well and although this hasn’t happened to F&P yet, it’s only a matter of time and I’d like a mass of flowers next summer.

Early August is the time for light pruning. Late autumn and early winter is the time to ‘renovate’ climbing and rambling roses as you can see their structure more clearly when they’ve lost their leaves. Renovation will boost the plant ready for flowering next year and is good for disease prevention, as more air and light can get to the plant.

The Royal Horticultural Society gives the same advice for renovating both climbing roses and rambling roses, given here in brief.

  1. Remove all dead, diseased, dying and weak shoots.
  2. Cut some of the old woody branches to the ground, retaining a maximum of six young, vigorous stems that can be secured to supports.
  3. Saw away any dead stumps at the base of the plant, where rain can collect and encourage rot.
  4. Shorten side shoots on the remaining branches and prune back the tips by one third to one half, to encourage branching.
  5. Give pruned plants a boost in the following spring by spreading a granular rose fertiliser over the soil and mulch them with a 5cm (2in) layer of garden compost or well rotted manure.

It’s not quite late autumn/early winter yet, so I’m giving myself fair warning that this has to be done!

Finally frost

Back at the beginning of September we started to talk about protecting plants from frost. Some of us have seen temperatures down to zero already, so watch the weather and make sure everything is protected if frost is forecast.

Good luck with keeping on top of the garden before bad weather starts in earnest.


Houseplants: how to care for them over the winter

First published by Rattan Direct on 7 October 2016.

Houseplants need special care over the winter when the temperature and light levels drop. Pelargoniums also have particular care needs. We tell you what to do so that your plants make it through.

Come inside out of the cold

Houseplants that have been outside for a summer holiday should be back indoors now. Most plants will be slowing down now, and some will become dormant. That’s because, from late autumn to early spring, there’s less light around.

Make sure your plants get as much natural light as possible

If you can, move your houseplants into a sunny conservatory or porch to give them light from different directions. A west or south-facing windowsill is good. And clean your windows inside and out to max the light. (I definitely must do this.)

Gradually reduce watering, and stop feeding

Dormant plants need very little water and no food so gradually reduce watering to once a fortnight or when the compost is almost dry. Check carefully on plants near radiators or fires.

Succulents only need water every two to three weeks, and cacti need none at all in winter.

If you give houseplants too much water in the winter they will either produce weak growth or rot and you don’t want either.

Plants growing vigorously, or flowering like Christmas cacti and poinsettias, are not dormant so they should be watered when the compost feels dry.

The Christmas or Lenten rose (Helleborus niger). Houseplants
The Christmas or Lenten rose (Helleborus niger)
By Motmel and released into the public domain.

Clean their leaves

Plants that have been outside have enjoyed rain showers cleaning off their leaves. Their indoor friends haven’t been so lucky. Light is already limited now and dirt on the leaf reduces the amount of light reaching its surface even more, making it very hard for plants to photosynthesise food. Wipe off dust regularly with a damp cloth, or give the plant a gentle lukewarm shower for five minutes or so.

Keeping Goldilocks Houseplants at just the right temperature

  1. Houseplants don’t like big changes in temperature: 12-18C is just right (a little too cool for most of us in the winter).
  2. They don’t like it too hot. Keep them away from open fires and radiators, and move them out of overheated rooms.
  3. They don’t like it too cold. Don’t leave them on the windowsill behind the curtains as this traps them in cold air all night.
  4. They don’t like draughts. Make sure they aren’t near open windows or doors.
  5. Tropical plants especially don’t like dry air; they need the atmosphere to be humid. Place them on a tray of damp gravel or mist them daily. Group plants together to create a humid microclimate around their leaves.

Pest inspection

Plant pests love being inside in the warm over the winter and take the opportunity to breed. Check all of your plants thoroughly for pests, but especially check plants that spent the summer outside. Look at both sides of the leaves, and remove any pests you find. Keep checking throughout the winter.

Keeping pelargoniums over the winter


If you’d like to carry your pelargoniums on to next year you have three, perhaps four, overwintering choices:

  • take cuttings and grow them on indoors or in the shed or greenhouse
  • overwinter plants in containers in greenhouses or garden frames or a sunny shed windowsill
  • overwinter in a semi-dormant state, giving them a complete rest, somewhere cool, dark and frost-free.

More from the Royal Horticultural Society about overwintering pelargoniums, and from Dr Hessayon.

There is a fourth choice – to keep them going as they are! Zonal pelargoniums will flower as long as there is good light and the temperature is at least 7-10°C. I mentioned my local café’s all-year-round pelargoniums in an earlier post. My co-blogger has a three year old pelargonium on a kitchen windowsill that just keeps on going. Don’t overwater them and their flowers will brighten the darker days. Cut them back to new shoots and feed them in the spring, ready for the new season’s growth.

Good luck!


Plan ahead for spring cabbage and early onions

By Sarah Buchanan. First published by Rattan Direct on 21 September 2016.

Spring 2017 may sound a long way off but it will soon be here. Plan ahead for some garden vegetables to be ready next spring. A burst of freshness will help to fill the ‘hungry gap’ until the spring-sown vegetables are ready in the summer.

Look ahead to spring 2017

Gardeners are always looking ahead and thinking of the next seasons. I do know that ‘Life’ can often get in the way, and I’m certainly not able to follow through on all my gardening plans! The way I look at it, though, doing anything in the right direction is a good thing.

So it’s in that frame of mind that I’m thinking about the soil still being warm after the summer. It’s such a good time to sow seeds. Just look at Nature which is scattering seeds around with abandon: blackberries, rose hips, conkers and all the rest.

Conkers, fruit of the horse chestnut tree. Ahead
Conkers, fruit of the horse chestnut tree
© Andrew Dunn and published under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic licence.

And it’s a good time to plant. Plants put in now can establish themselves comfortably before the winter gets started (as it will). Their roots will help to maintain the soil structure and prevent your valuable soil from being washed away.

Let’s talk about onions and cabbages.

Onions in spring

Having your own onions is a delight. They are fresh, firm and you don’t have to lug them back from the shops.

Hang on, you may be thinking. Didn’t we plant onions back in the spring? Yes, we did and outlined how to plant them. And we harvested them a few months ago. Yum.

But there are some other varieties of onion (and also shallot) that can be planted in autumn. Look in your garden centre or supermarket for sets (a small onion bulb that you plant). Plant them now and they’ll get themselves comfortable and be ready by early to mid-summer, perhaps a couple of months before the spring planted ones. Yum again.

The Royal Horticultural Society is, as always, good on onions.

Plant out spring cabbage plants

Spring cabbage – sow in summer, plant out in autumn, cut in late spring and early summer.

Thinking ahead: you’ll be cutting these cabbages in April and May, either as loose ‘spring greens’ or as a tightly ‘hearted’ cabbage. Home-grown greens are streets ahead of shop-bought.

So now, late September/early October, is the time to be planting out spring cabbage plants to overwinter.

What do they like? They like a deeply worked, well drained site and not too rich a soil. Where early peas or potatoes were would be great. The soil should be firm.

How much space do they need? About 30cm (a 12″ ruler) between each plant. Here’s the advice we gave in June.

Harvesting spring greens near Charlton, Worcestershire. Ahead
Harvesting spring greens near Charlton, Worcestershire
© Copyright Liz Stone and licensed for re-use under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic Licence


Good gardening!