Trees and shrubs

tender shrub winter protectionPlanting and moving

Protect newly planted trees, hedges and shrubs from cold winds and frosts, which can loosen and lift the roots. Gently re-firm them in if you notice this problem, and erect a temporary netting windbreak if there is no natural shelter. Thick dry mulches will protect the roots from cold, and branches can be covered with fleece, or even packed with dry straw and then covered with fleece, for tender plants. A wooden frame with clear polythene stretched over it does a similar job for evergreens without blocking the light, but don’t let the polythene touch the leaves, as condensation could freeze or cause rots.

Continue to plant bare-root deciduous hedging plants and trees. Put rabbit guards around newly planted trees and shrubs to protect the bark from damage.

Plant roses, but avoid areas where roses were previously grown as this can lead to problems with replant diseases.

Move established deciduous trees and shrubs, provided the ground is not frozen or soggy.

tree pruningPruning and training

Tie wall shrubs and climbers onto their supports to protect them from wind damage.

Pruning and renovation of many deciduous trees, shrubs and hedges can be carried out from now throughout the dormant season. It is easier to see what you are doing when the branches have no leaves. Suitable examples are: Fagus (beech), Corylus (hazel), and also roses. Ensure any pruning of Acer and Betula is completed before the end of the year to avoid bleeding of sap from cuts.
* Exceptions are evergreens and tender plants (these are best left until spring), and Prunus species (e.g. ornamental cherries, plums and almonds), as these are vulnerable to silver leaf disease when pruned in autumn or winter.

If your trees are too large for you to manage the pruning alone, then you may need a tree surgeon. Otherwise take care not to damage the tree when sawing off thicker branches.

rooted hardwood cuttingsPropagation

Take hardwood cuttings of ornamental shrubs such as BerberisBuddlejaSalixForsythiaLigustrum and Rubus. Many deciduous climbers can also be propagated in this way (e.g. Fallopia and Lonicera).

Check hardwood cuttings taken last year. They may need planting out or potting on.

Christmas trees at WisleyChristmas tree care

Prevent premature needle drop on your Christmas tree by choosing a pine (Pinus) or fir (Abies) tree instead of the traditional Norway spruce (Picea abies); these hold their needles for longer. Avoid placing your tree near sources of heat such as a fire or radiator. Cut trees will last longer if stood in a bucket of water or a stand with a reservoir. Saw off the bottom 5-7.5cm (2-3in) of trunk to allow the tree to drink freely.

Cornus sanguinea 'Anny's Winter Orange'General maintenance

Take note of the most colourful dogwoods (Cornus)Salix and white-stemmed Rubus shrubs when visiting gardens open to the public, or in garden centres, and consider planting them yourself, for a winter display.

Packing the branches of tender deciduous trees and shrubs with straw or bracken, and securing this with fleece and ties, will protect them from frost.

Check tree ties and stakes. Replace, tighten, slacken or remove as necessary. Remove weeds from around the bases of young trees.

If there is snow in your area, then you may need to brush it off the branches of conifers, climbers and light-limbed shrubs and trees. Heavy snowfall can splay branches, break limbs and spoil the shape of the tree.

You may wish to protect a few holly berries from the birds, for use in Christmas decorations. Netting should do the job, but do leave some uncovered for winter wildlife.

holly leaf blightPest and disease watch

Holly leaf blight is still uncommon, but can be spread in wet weather.

Garden hygiene helps greatly in the prevention of disease carry-over from one year to the next. It is always a good idea to rake up and burn (if allowed), bury, or throw away infected leaves.

Diseases such as black spot on roses can be controlled to some extent in this way. Do not compost such material, though, as these diseases can persist in compost heaps and re-infect mulched plants.

Damage from bay suckers may still be evident, although the pests will have been and gone. However, it is a good idea to remove affected leaves if there are only a few, and to take note to look out for damage next spring (usually around May) - the problem should then be treated promptly.

Phytophthora root rots can cause die-back on mature trees and shrubs. Wet winter weather and poorly drained soils are likely to encourage this problem on susceptible woody plants.

Coral spot is often noticed once the leaves have fallen from deciduous hedges, shrubs and trees. This problem can be connected with poor ventilation and congested, un-pruned twiggy growth (as found inside clipped hedges).

Rabbits and squirrels can be a nuisance as the weather gets colder, gnawing the bark from shrubs and trees. Guards around new woody plants are advisable.


common frog in icy pondBeware ice

Use pond heaters to keep ponds from freezing over, as this can be fatal for fish and other pond life. There are other precautions you can take to prevent your pond freezing over, if you do not have a heater. To make a hole in frozen ponds, hold a saucepan of hot water on the surface until melted through. Do not crack the ice, as this is harmful to fish.

You may wish to make your pond more wildlife-friendly.

Deter hungry herons from fishing using nylon strings strung across the edges of the pond, at least 15cm (6in) from the ground and 15cm (6in) in from the edge of the pond.

Continue to rake out fallen leaves or shake off those that have gathered on protective netting.

This may also be a good time to repair any leaks in your pond.


building a coldframeDecember DIY

Make a cold frame as a winter DIY project - you can save lots of money, as good cold frames are very expensive to buy.

In dry spells, you can treat timber structures with wood preservative and stain. Make sure you use appropriate products - it is now illegal creosote cannot be used.

Take action to remove algae from paths if they start to become slippery.


Consider installing water collection equipment, water pipes and drainage during winter.

Ensure all stand pipes and irrigation lines are drained to avoid damage from freezing. Put lagging around outdoor taps to enable use throughout the winter.


Add lights and power points to sheds and outhouses, so that you can garden on wet days and in the evenings. Consider wildlife when using lighting in the garden.

Garden equipment

lawn mower

When putting lawnmowers and hedge-trimmers away for the winter, ensure that they are clean and dry before storing. Drain out any fuel first, as unleaded petrol doesn't keep, and may cause problems next year when trying to start up the machines.

Clean and sharpen secateurs and loppers ready for pruning of deciduous trees and shrubs over the winter. Special small ceramic tools are available to allow awkwardly shaped and angled blades to be sharpened with ease. Spare springs and replacement blades can also be purchased for more expensive models.

Get help

You may want to send garden machinery in for a service while it is not in frequent use.

Garden contractors are often short of work in winter and therefore available to do major tasks such as paving, fence building and pond digging.