Go for heather to beat the weather

Nothing beats winter gloom better than a bed of heather.
Nothing beats winter gloom better than a bed of heather.

BRIAN KIDD: The amazing life of plants and how to make them thrive

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I do love heathers, especially those which bloom during the winter when, on sunny days, they cheer up the garden.

But they have now finished blooming and need attention.

Clip off all the dead blooms 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, mixing it well.

This will encourage the plants to grow, so do this now.

Water with a watering can with a rose using rain water and in a few weeks we can take some cuttings.

These are taken during the third week in July and should be about three inches long.

There are two ways of taking the 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 underneath a node.

There are dozens of nodes on heather stems and sharp scissors can be used to do this.

Holding the cutting firmly, use the 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.

This means you should go for a 50/50 mix of sharp sand and leaf mould or peat, which should be absolutely ideal.

They will need to be kept in a shaded spot, preferably in a cold frame, but at this time no heat is needed.

Cuttings will root in the autumn and when spring comes around again you will see them beginning to become a lighter green at the tips.

This is an excellent sign because it indicates they have rooted.

At this point it is time to nip off the tips and place 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. Think of their natural environment – sandy, ‘heath’ land.

If you read these articles regularly you may have seen another tip I often offer.

When you do the top dressing pull the outer stems towards the centre of the plant.

Now peg down the stems with 10in-long wreath wires which should be bent over like hairpins.

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.

TIP OF THE WEEK

You will have certainly noticed that hedges of all types are growing like mad.

So try to cut yours before the new growth becomes woody.

Regular hedge cutting takes far less time and is far less tiring too.

But please, make sure there are no birds nesting in the hedge before getting out the trimmer.