BRIAN KIDD: From pom poms to cactus, dahlias just keep on giving

I have been pleased with our attractive flowering heathers, those which bloom during the winter.

On sunny winter days they cheer up the garden, but they have now finished blooming and need attention.

Clip off all the dead blooms using small sharp shears and give the plants a top dressing of leaf mould or peat to which you add just a tablespoon of Vitax Q4 fertiliser in a gallon bucket and mix it well. This will encourage the plants to grow, so do this now.

Water with a watering can with a rose attached using rain water and in a few weeks we can take cuttings. These are taken in the third week of July and should be about three inches long

There are two ways two take cuttings. The first is to pull off side shoots three inches long so they come off with a heel. Using scissors, just nip off the skin part back to the woody part.

The second method is to cut the stem just beneath a node. There are dozens of nodes on heather stems and sharp scissors can be used to do this.

Holding the cutting firmly, use youe thumb nail to remove all the little leaves so the stem is bare apart from the top one inch. Dip the cuttings into a liquid rooting solution for 30 seconds and insert the cuttings, 24 to a standard seed tray.

The compost needs to be very sandy, so 50 per cent sharp sand and 50 per cent leaf mould or peat is ideal and they will need to be kept in a shaded spot, preferably in a cold frame but no heat is needed.

Cuttings will root in autumn and in spring you will see them beginning to become a lighter green at the tips. This indicates they have rooted and now is the time to nip off the tips and put them into little flower pots.

Put each one into a three-inch pot in an acid compost, John Innes ericaceous is best but add 20 per cent extra sharp sand as they do love sandy acid composts.

If you read these articles regularly you may have seen another tip. When you do the top dressing, pull the outer stems towards the centre of the plant and peg the stems down with 10in-long wreath wires bent over like hair pins. The stems often root and can be cut off the plants about nine months after pegging them down.

This is also a good idea when you see the plants becoming bare or woody in the centre. Heathers are only expected to live for a relatively short time before being replaced with vigorous rooted cuttings.