Diarmuid Gavin: Bare necessities - now is the time for planting for next year
Now is the time for bare root planting, which will make sure next year's garden stars feel at home
This year we've enjoyed a lovely autumn with mild days, little wind or rain and, therefore, loads of opportunity for us to get outdoors and enjoy the beautiful displays of red-to-golden leaf colours.
But the forecast warns of a cold snap approaching and, of course, our hours of sunlight get less and less. Much garden work at this time of the year centres on cleaning up and composting, but late autumn and winter are also hugely important for those of us wishing to create gardens and plant.
Through the dead of the winter months, many plants are dormant. The sap which carries energy throughout the plant isn't rising, so this slowdown in activity results in excellent conditions for a number of garden projects. These include hard wood propagation, which I wrote about a couple of weeks back, and also some of the main types of planting.
Years ago, plants were not available in the plastic pots that are so familiar to us now in garden centres and DIY stores. Rather, they'd arrive from the growing nursery, most often in winter months, with their roots devoid of soil and kept damp in sacking or hessian.
This could only happen during the dormant season, so it meant that winter work for gardeners predominantly involved planting.
Many gardeners believe that winter planting in our climate remains the best way of ensuring that the stock we use is not put under too much pressure when settling in and establishing. That's because planting bare root stock (a plant without soil attached to its roots) allows it to begin to anchor itself, settle in and get familiar with its surroundings before the soil warms up again in spring.
While the plants are 'asleep', they wont get a big shock to their system being uprooted and replanted, but instead, they wake up gently to their new surroundings. This means they get an advance march on the growing season. And you don't have the same worry of them drying out as you do with summer plantings.
There are other important advantages to planting throughout winter, too. Plants are often easier transported and, therefore, cheaper when they are bare rooted. Many local councils do their big planting in mid winter to take advantage of these circumstances.
Laying a hedge can be extremely cost- efficient as the root stock will cost cents rather than euros at this time of the year. Ask your local forestry commission for native species they may have grown and be selling, which will encourage wildlife.
A few things to watch out for: don't plant during a period of heavy frost, as thawing ground can expand and lift freshly-planted species out.
Take care not to compact damp soil by overworking or treading on it too much - lay boards over the ground to spread your weight and that of any equipment you are using.
Dig a hole wide enough to take the spread of the roots and deep enough so that tree is planted at the same level it was in the nursery. Plant too deeply and you risk the bark rotting; too shallow and the roots may dry out.
Break up the soil at the side and base of the planting pit. If you are planting a tree that needs staking, at this point, drive the stake into the ground at the windward side of the tree, so that the tree is blowing away from the stake.
The stake should be around one-third the height of the tree. Secure the tree to the stake with a tree tie just below the lowest branch and also just above the ground level.
Once you have positioned the plant and spread out its roots, backfill the hole with a mix of good topsoil, garden compost and some slow-release fertiliser or blood, fish and bone feed.
Press the backfill down gently in stages, so you aren't leaving any air pockets, and to ensure the tree or shrub is firmly planted in.
Water in and mulch the area around the plant after planting.
After a trip to the garden centre at this time of year, your dormant purchases may not look so look great. Bring them home, plant them out, let them acclimatise through these seasons and by next spring when they wake up, you will realise that you have bagged yourself a bargain!
Now is the best time to invest in planting
Many people who visit garden centres at this time of year only do so to purchase the ‘lifestyle’ elements — gifts such as potted plants — and Christmas decorations on sale, or to have a coffee.
However, intelligent gardeners should be visiting to find out about plants now! Okay, not all the plants will be looking wonderful, but you will be guaranteed that they are at least hardy — the warmth of the heated greenhouses where they’ve been bred will be long gone.
Many herbaceous perennials will have lost not only flower but foliage and won’t look great. But because of this, there are great bargains to be had — and staff aren’t as busy as usual so will have more time to spend with you advising on good choices for your plot.