Gardening: Cuttings: Weekend work

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HYACINTHS, tulips, narcissi, crocuses and grape hyacinths can all be forced in bowls to provide flowers for the Christmas period. Fastest are Tazetta narcissi, such as 'Paperwhite' and 'Soleil d'Or', which bloom only six weeks after planting. So, for Christmas flowers, plant at the start of November.

Tulips are much slower and need at least 12 weeks in a cool, dark place to form roots before they can be brought into the warmth. Try yellow 'Joffre', double pink 'Peach Blossom' and double red 'Stockholm', all of which respond well to forcing. The trick lies in the initial period of darkness, which must be really cool.

Hyacinths are the most commonly forced bulbs and the multi-spiked kinds are easier to cope with than the big fat single spikes which tend to flop as they develop. Both kinds respond to the same treatment and, if you want hyacinths for Christmas, you need to act quickly. If you plant a bowl every two weeks, you will have a succession of flowers in the New Year.

Set the bulbs with their noses just above the surface of the compost. Water them and keep them in a dark, cool place (not more than 9C/48F) for at least 12 weeks. When a good 2in of bud is showing, bring the pots into a warm, well-lit place to hurry them into bloom.

Lift potatoes and store them away from the light. Take semi-hardwood cuttings of shrubs such as ceanothus, choisya, hydrangea, honeysuckle, pyracantha and senecio. This is a good time to peg down growth for layering. Cotinus, kalmia, hydrangea and honeysuckle all propagate well from layers.

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