Gardening: Weekend Work

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weekend work

Autumn/winter has traditionally been a time for planting trees in the garden. Our woodlands, however, have often been overlooked. Over the past 50 years almost half Britain's ancient woodland has disappeared, making this one of the least wooded countries in Europe. National Tree Week (26 November-7 December) provides an ideal opportunity to do something about this. The national charity, the Woodlands Trust, is running a project with which the public can get involved: "Woods on your Doorstep" aims to create a total of 200 new community woods across England and Wales by the year 2000. For more information call 01476 581149.

In our own gardens, bare-rooted trees, shrubs and hedging often arrive in late November and December from mail-order nurseries. Plant them immediately unless the ground is frozen or waterlogged. If heavy rain or frost have made soil conditions difficult, position bundles together in temporary planting holes. Recent plantings should be checked after strong winds or heavy frosts.

Many trees and shrubs brighten up winter with their colourful berries, and provide vital food for birds. Blue tits are especially welcome as they eat over-wintering greenfly. Additional food and water are essential as the weather gets colder. Bird boxes should be cleaned out and washed down with warm water to remove parasites.

Seed heads from flowers such as Chinese lanterns, pampas grass and honesty can be used in dried winter decorations. Poppies and hydrangeas are particularly good to dry now and spray with gold and silver in time for Christmas. If you have any summer bedding plants still in good condition, consider potting some up to enjoy as pot plants on a sunny window-sill indoors. Busy lizzy and Begonia semperflorens make good temporary pot plants while fuchsias and pelargoniums, saved to replant next year, will flower for many weeks in warm, light conditions. Petunias can also be cut back hard, potted up, then brought indoors and encouraged to produce new shoots and flower again.

Garden centres will soon sell off bulbs at a discount. Plant daffodils, tulips, crocus, hyacinth and other bulbs in pots with drainage holes, using bulb fibre, and keep the tips of bulbs at the surface. Water well, place in a cool, sheltered position and cover with a thick layer of bark or compost. Leave to root over the winter.

At this time of year, maintenance is also essential. Check and repair fences, carrying out any preservative treatment while most climbers and wall shrubs are dormant. If you've finished with your mower for the year, clean it well, wiping blades, body and all metal parts with an oily cloth. Replace badly worn blades, resharpen blunt blades, change the oil and remember to empty fuel tanks.