Roots of a tree planted in large pot.

What You Need to Know about How to Take Care of Your Tree

To ensure a wide choice, buy your tree early in the season. Water it every day, and prevent needle loss by storing it in a shed, garage, or greenhouse with good natural light for a few weeks before bringing it inside. Display your tree in a cool place indoors, keeping it well watered, and repot it in the New Year.

When to plant: Late winter to early spring.

At their best: All year round.

Time to complete: 1 hour.

You will need: Large plastic pot, broken clay pot pieces, soil-based ericaceous potting mix, sturdy gloves, well-rotted organic matter – such as manure, all-purpose granular fertilizer, clippers.

Water well

When the festive season is over, store your tree for a few weeks in a shed, as you did before bringing it into the house for Christmas. Water it frequently, and don’t allow the soil to dry out.

Prepare a new container

Buy a plastic pot, which will be light and easy to move around, one size larger than the original container. Put some broken clay pot pieces over the drainage holes at the bottom and add a layer of soil on top.

Remove the tree

Wearing heavy-duty gloves, squeeze the tree’s pot around the sides to dislodge the root ball, and then slide it out. Place the tree in its new pot.

Add fertilizer

Check that there is 2 in (5 cm) between the top of the root ball and the pot rim. Fill in around the roots with soil mixed with some fertilizer.

Shape up

Water the tree well. Trim back the stems lightly with clippers to create a cone shape. If there are two stems at the top, cut one back to a bud to leave a single “leader.”

Tips: Trimming firs

Fir stems end with a three-pronged fork; to trim them, cut out the middle prong, which will stimulate bushy growth along the stem. Do not cut the single, main “leader” stem at the top.

Young plants receiving water.

How to Feed Your Garden Plants

No matter how good your soil, it will probably need extra nutrients to help plants with specific needs, or to boost them at key times, like flowering. Always follow the instructions on the label because too much, or the wrong type of fertilizer, can cause problems, such as plants with all leaves and no flowers.

Understanding nutrients

The three basic elements that plants require are nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P) and potassium (K). Nitrogen is needed for leaf and shoot growth, phosphorus for roots, and potassium helps flowers and fruits develop. Fertilizer manufacturers list the nutrient content as a ratio: a general purpose fertilizer has an N:P:K ratio of 7:7:7, while a tomato feed has a high concentration of potassium to boost fruit production, and a fertilizer for lawns or leafy crops contains mostly nitrogen.

Many fertilizers also include various trace elements or micronutrients. A plant’s nutrient requirements can depend on its growth phase, with most needing a general boost in the spring, and additional potassium as they fruit or flower.

Fertilizer choices

Your local garden center will offer both organic (derived from plants and animals) and inorganic (chemically manufactured) fertilizers. Most are concentrated for convenience and available as liquids, powders that you dilute in water, or granules. Typical examples of organic fertilizers are pelleted chicken manure; blood, fish, and bonemeal; liquid seaweed fertilizer; and homemade plant feeds, such as the diluted liquor from a wormery, or fertilizers made from soaking comfrey leaves. Inorganic feeds include sulfate of potash, Growmore, and granular rose feeds.


Materials spread on top of the ground, usually around plants, are called mulches. They can be practical—feeding the soil, suppressing weeds, retaining moisture, or insulating roots in winter—or mainly decorative, applied for visual effect.

Applying organic mulches

Mulches are applied at different times depending on their purpose. For example, bark chips are spread over the soil after planting to suppress weeds. An organic mulch, such as manure, garden compost, chipped bark, or cocoa shells, must be laid over moist soil, whether in spring, after autumn and winter rains, or after watering.

Some mulches, especially bark, use up nutrients temporarily as they decompose, so before laying them, apply a nitrogenrich fertilizer, such as fish meal. Lay organic mulches in a layer 4in (10cm) deep so they continue to provide cover as they slowly decompose and feed the soil. Replenish these mulches every year.

Practical solutions

Man-made mulches offer many benefits. Weed membrane or landscape fabric is a semipermeable material that blocks out light but allows moisture through. Use it on low-maintenance beds, or on weed-ridden ground. Lay it before planting and cover with a natural bark or gravel, or a decorative mulch.

Black plastic does not allow moisture through, but it warms the soil and kills off weeds when laid over vegetable beds in spring. Straw insulates the soil, and protects tender plants in winter. It is also used to raise crops, such as strawberries and zucchinis, off the ground, reducing fungal and slug problems. A think layer of straw will protect the roots of vulnerable plants from frost.

Decorative options

Mulches that don’t decompose are useful as decorative garden surfaces. They are particularly effective when laid over landscape fabric or membrane, which reduces weed growth and helps prevent soil mixing in with the mulch and spoiling the effect. For a modern feel, try colored crushed glass or slate shards. Cover small areas, like the tops of pots and containers, with beads, crushed and whole shells, or polished pebbles. Natural pebbles blend well with gravel over larger areas, and can create a beach effect when laid in swathes.

Watering can spraying water over plants.

How to Water Your Plants

All plants need watering, but some need more than others. Concentrate on plants in containers, where the soil dries out relatively quickly; newly planted specimens that haven’t yet developed a strong enough root system to cope on their own; and fruits and vegetables at key stages in their growth cycle.

Preserve water supplies

Water is a precious commodity, but if you irrigate only those plants that need it, and water in the cool of the morning or in the evening, you can greatly reduce your impact on supplies. Other ways to minimize water usage are to add moisture retentive gel crystals to containers, and mulch borders every year after it has rained. Trees, shrubs, and perennials will also need watering less frequently during the first few months if you plant them when the soil is naturally moist in autumn, winter, and early spring. Lay turf in late winter and early spring, too, and it will usually establish well without the need for extra irrigation.

After planting, encourage deep rooting by watering thoroughly and then leaving for 7–14 days before watering again, rather than giving frequent small doses. The water will then sink deep into the soil and encourage roots to follow. Also, if planting in the rain shadow of walls and hedges use drought-tolerant species.

Watering methods

Make the most of your water supplies and save yourself time and energy by using a watering method that suits the job at hand. A watering can is ideal for small areas where you want to target water accurately; hoses are best for large beds, but use them with care to avoid waste.

Watering by hand

If you only have a few plants or pots to water, use a watering can, and pour slowly so it has a chance to soak into the roots; remove fine roses from cans unless watering new plantings. Direct water to the roots of your plants—they do not absorb water through their leaves so spraying overhead is not only wasteful but means that less moisture reaches the soil. Also avoid flowers and fruits, which may rot if too wet. Mound up the soil around the base of large plants to create a reservoir in which water will collect and sink down to the root area.

When hosing beds and borders, focus the spray on the soil, and turn it off as you move between planted areas. Longhandled hoses are useful if you have lots of pots and baskets to reach—again, turn the flow off between each container.

Automatic systems

Relatively easy to install, automatic watering systems can save hours of work in the garden; attach a timer, and they will water your plot in your absence. Most come in kit form and allow you to design a system that suits your garden. Kits typically include a network of main pipes into which you insert fine feeder pipes that take water directly to individual plants or pots.

These terminate in small drip nozzles, held just above soil level, that gradually release water, which drains down around the roots. Check your watering system every few weeks to ensure plants aren’t being under- or over-watered, and adjust individual flow regulators as necessary. Turn off nozzles when no longer required.

Leaky and seep hoses

Less sophisticated than automatic irrigation systems, these perforated hosepipes are perfect for watering lots of plants at the same time. Unlike a regular hose, water gradually seeps out at soil level and penetrates deeply. Lay one along a row of thirsty vegetables, or weave it between newly planted shrubs and perennials. Attach the hose to a water butt, which may need to be raised up to provide a gravitational flow of water, or fit on to an outdoor tap. Lift your hose and reposition it as needed.

Watering containers

Although large containers need watering less frequently than small ones, they may still require water every day in summer. Porous terracotta pots dry out quickly, so consider lining them with plastic before planting. Don’t rely on rain to water your pots because the soil often remains dry after a shower. When planting, leave a gap of at least 1 in (2 cm) between the soil and the pot’s rim to allow water to collect there. A bark or gravel mulch helps retain moisture.

Tips: Watering trees

Help trees establish by inserting perforated drainage tubing into the hole, close to the roots, at planting time. Water poured into the exposed end is directed to the root area with no wastage. Mulch, or use a tree mat, to deter weeds and to seal in moisture.

Freezing protection for plants for winter period.

How to Protect Your Garden from Frost

Some plants and containers need a little help to get them through cold winters but they can be left outside if you provide some protection when temperatures dip below freezing.

The big cover-up

Tender plants must be brought inside in winter because they die when exposed to freezing temperatures, but those that can survive a few degrees of frost should survive outside in all but the coldest regions.

Plants to protect

Many slightly tender plants survive low temperatures but not cold, wet soils, so ensure yours drains freely before planting. Other plants are not killed by frost, but their flowers may be damaged. Examples include peach trees, magnolias, and camellias, which suffer when frosted blooms thaw too quickly in warm morning sun. Young leaves and buds of hardy plants can also be sensitive to frost, so don’t feed in late summer because it promotes vulnerable new growth.

Also, allow herbaceous plants to die down naturally so that the leaves fall over the plant, forming a protective blanket, and apply a thick mulch over those that may suffer in low temperatures, like Alstroemeria or diascias.

Tips: Overwinter bananas and tree ferns

Popular for tropical gardens, Musa basjoo is one of the hardiest bananas and tolerates winters outside if protected from cold, wet conditions. First, cut down the stems and remove the leaves. Attach chicken wire to bamboo canes set around the plant to form a cage, and pack it with straw. Treat tree ferns in the same way: make a cage around the plant, fold the fronds over the top of the stem, and pack straw around it.

Cloches for crops

Some vegetables that overwinter in the soil benefit from a protective cloche or a layer of straw. Likewise, crops that are sown early in spring may grow more quickly if kept snug when frosts strike. A wide variety of cloches is available to buy, or make one yourself from recycled materials.

Choosing a cover

Winter root crops, such as parsnips, carrots, and leeks, are difficult to lift when the soil is frozen, so cover them with a layer of insulating straw in autumn. Cold frames are ideal for spring-sown frost-hardy seedlings in trays or pots, which will be transplanted outside later in the year, while a cloche is best for crops that are sown in situ in early spring, such as lettuce, arugula, and Oriental greens, or for overwintered vegetables like broad beans.

Cloches can be bought already constructed or as kits, or if you want frost protection for just a few weeks each year, a homemade type made from a few sheets of clear plastic may suffice. Alternatively, make a more permanent tunnel from wire hoops covered with clear plastic; leave one end open for ventilation.

Wrap up your pots

Container plants can suffer in winter on two fronts: roots are more vulnerable in pots because they afford less insulation than the soil in the ground, and the pots themselves may crack or break during icy periods.

Container care

Some containers are more vulnerable to frost damage than others. Stone, metal, and plastic pots will sail through winters unscathed, while terracotta often cracks in frosty conditions. Terracotta suffers because it is porous and when moisture from the soil and rain leaches into it and then expands as it turns to ice, the pot cracks.

So, unless you pay a premium for containers that have been fired to high temperatures to reduce their porosity, you will need to take steps to make sure yours stay intact. Either remove plants and soil and store pots inside, or, if they are housing a prized plant, wrap them up with hessian or bubble wrap. Cover the soil, too, so that it does not become saturated. Another tip is to line the pot with bubble wrap before you plant it up, thereby forming a barrier between the soil and the terracotta.

Slightly tender potted plants are best wrapped in horticultural fleece in the winter. Also tie together the leaves of strappy plants, such as cordylines, to protect their crowns from snow and ice.

Man pruning a tree with garden pruning shears..

What You Need to Know About Pruning

Some shrubs and trees require little pruning apart from removing dead or damaged stems, but for many others an annual trim is essential. Regular pruning can improve a plant’s appearance, stimulate the production of fruit and flowers, keep specimens youthful and vigorous, and encourage bolder foliage.

What to prune

Routine pruning maintains the health and appearance of woody plants. In late winter or early spring, before the leaves of deciduous shrubs and trees appear, look at their overall shape in detail and identify branches that need removing or shortening. Also note any congested growth in the center, which can encourage disease. Then, cut away dead or damaged stems to healthy tissue; crossing branches that are rubbing and liable to create a wound; and stems that are no longer producing fruit or flowers.

How to prune

When pruning, use sharp clippers for thin stems, or a pruning saw for wood that is thicker than a pencil. Loppers are useful for chopping up prunings into more manageable pieces. Always make your cut just above a bud to avoid the stump dying back into healthy wood, and make clean cuts that will heal more quickly and are less prone to infection. To avoid wood ripping or splitting when cut, take the weight off long branches in stages.

Cutting branches

When possible, remove tree branches when young, because the cuts heal more quickly. Most should be pruned in late winter, but wait until mid- to late summer for hornbeam (Carpinus), pears (Pyrus), plums and cherries (Prunus species).

Make an undercut first

Take some weight off the branch first to prevent it tearing close to the trunk. Cut partly through the underside of the branch; then saw from the top a little further up. Allow the branch to snap off.

Cut close to trunk

Remove the final stump by cutting close to the trunk, but not flush with it. Make an angled cut away from the tree, just beyond the crease in the bark where the branch meets the trunk.

Allow the wound to heal

The result is a clean cut that leaves the tree’s healing tissue intact, speeding up its recovery. The wound may bleed after pruning, but will soon form a layer of protective bark.

Spur pruning

This technique encourages climbers, wall shrubs, and trained fruit trees to flower and fruit more freely. Shortening the shoots that grow from the main stems promotes the remaining buds to produce far more productive stems than would normally appear.

Find a healthy shoot

Identify strong growing shoots and trim back to two or three buds from the main stems to form short branches or “spurs.” Make a slanting cut to channel rainwater away from the chosen bud. This helps prevent disease and die back.

Create short spurs

The “spurs” of this climbing rose will each produce two or three flowering stems in the forthcoming season. You can also spur prune wall-trained Chaenomeles, Pyracantha, and Ceanothus to keep plants neat and blooming well.

Tips: Keep safe

Wear thick gardening gloves when pruning or trimming, and use well-maintained tools appropriate to the task. Wear goggles and ear protectors when using a hedge trimmer. Don’t cut above head height; use ladders or platforms and make sure that they are stable and secure. Undergo approved safety training and wear specialist clothing before using a chainsaw.

Man with gardening gloves pruning a shrub.

How to Prune Shrubs

The best time to prune deciduous climbers and shrubs depends on whether they bloom on growth produced in the same or previous years. Generally, those that flower after midsummer are pruned hard in spring. Those that bloom in winter, spring, and early summer are pruned soon after flowering.

Early-flowering shrubs

This group contains spring show-stoppers, such as forsythia and flowering currants (Ribes), as well as early-summer bloomers, including Philadelphus, Weigela, Deutzia, and Spiraea ‘Arguta’. These all flower on stems that were produced the previous year; prune them just after flowering so that new growth can ripen throughout the summer.

Remove dead and diseased growth, and cut back old flowering stems, leaving new shoots to take over. Thin overcrowded growth, cutting a third to a fifth of the oldest stems to ground level. Apply an all-purpose granular fertilizer, water well, and lay a deep organic mulch.

Encourage flowering

Prune early-flowering shrubs, such as honeysuckle, Lonicera x purpusii, in early summer after flowering. Cut a third of the oldest stems to 12 in (30 cm) from the ground with a pruning saw, reducing the length gradually to prevent tearing.

Maintain vigor

Trim back tall stems to stimulate new buds to shoot lower down the stems and make a bushier plant. This also gives new growth room to develop and mature, and still leaves sufficient old wood to bloom the following year.

Late-flowering shrubs

This group contains shrubs and climbers that flower in late summer and autumn, such as butterfly bush (Buddleja), shrubby mallow (Lavatera), Hydrangea paniculata, Perovskia, and hardy fuchsia, as well as late-flowering clematis, like C. viticella. Prune all the stems back hard in late winter or early spring to promote lots of new flowering shoots.

Shorten stems

To prevent tall, fast-growing shrubs, such as butterfly bush, Buddleja, from being damaged by autumn storms, prune the tallest stems after flowering. Then carry out the main pruning in spring.

Cut back hard

In spring, remove long whippy stems and thin twiggy growth with clippers to reveal the main framework of branches. Using a pruning saw, cut back to create a low structure of healthy stems.

Encourage larger blooms

Pruning encourages more flowers and healthier growth. It breathes new life into old shrubs, and can even increase the longevity of short-lived plants, such as shrubby mallow, Lavatera.

Pruning evergreens

Many evergreens are not as hardy as deciduous shrubs and grow more slowly. They are best pruned sparingly to reduce their size and keep them tidy after the frosts, between late spring and late summer. To avoid removing any blooms, prune summer-flowering evergreens, such as Escallonia, when the flowers have finished.

Never prune evergreens in autumn because any new growth will not have enough time to harden off before the frosts return, and could be damaged. If any stems are harmed by frost, leave them until the following spring before removing them.

Trim plants lightly

Shrubs, such as Ceanothus, should be pruned lightly after flowering since they may not make new wood if cut back too hard. Maintain a compact, flower-filled shrub by pruning long, straggly branches by 10–12 in (25–30 cm), but leave some of the shorter stems unpruned to help the plant maintain its strength. Cut above a leaf bud to prevent die-back and stimulate new growth below the cut.

Renovating shrubs

Old and overgrown deciduous or evergreen shrubs can be cut back quite severely to rejuvenate them and help them become productive once more. Those flowering on wood made the previous year may take a couple of years to bloom again.

Trim plants lightly

Shrubs, such as Ceanothus, should be pruned lightly after flowering since they may not make new wood if cut back too hard. Maintain a compact, flower-filled shrub by pruning long, straggly branches by 10–12 in (25–30 cm), but leave some of the shorter stems unpruned to help the plant maintain its strength. Cut above a leaf bud to prevent die-back and stimulate new growth below the cut.

Cutting back an overgrown mahonia

Shorten the main stems to 2 ft (60 cm) above ground level. First, remove dead, damaged, and diseased stems. Then, imagine the regrown plant and maintain a balanced shape while you cut out the oldest growth, to leave around 5 or 6 strong young stems. Prune these to 12–16 in (30–40 cm) from the ground, making sloping cuts to deflect the rain.

Prune for foliage displays

Many deciduous shrubs are valued for their brightly colored foliage, which grows on young stems and can be encouraged by hard pruning. Some shrubs should be cut back severely every year, such as the colored-leaved forms of elder (Sambucus), spiraea, Indian bean tree (Catalpa bignonioides), and smoke bush (Cotinus). Others, like the purple filbert (Corylus maxima ‘Purpurea’), should be pruned every two years. To aid their recovery after pruning, water them well and apply an all-purpose fertilizer. Then add a thick mulch.

Cut back a smoke bush

Prune the shrub down to a stout framework of branches in spring, before the leaf buds burst. Use a pruning saw to reduce the height initially, then cut all the healthy stems to 2 ft (60 cm) from the ground. Pruning also keeps the shrub more compact.

Purple Clematis flower.

How to Prune Clematis

Clematis are some of our best-loved flowering climbers but although they are generally easy to grow given the right conditions, there is often confusion about how best to prune them. Some flower well if pruned lightly, while others thrive when cut back hard. The trick is to identify which type you have.

Identifying clematis

Clematis species and cultivars are divided into three main pruning groups; the plant label should tell you what type you have. A broad rule of thumb, as with many deciduous flowering shrubs and climbers, is that early-flowering (spring and early summer) types require just a light tidy-up, while late-flowering (mid- to late summer and autumn) clematis should be pruned hard in late winter.

Pruning group 1

This group contains the vigorous, latespring-flowering, Clematis montana and earlier blooming evergreen, C. armandii; the late-winter-flowering C. cirrhosa, and dainty C. alpina and C. macropetala which both flower in mid-spring. These need little pruning once established, except to remove dead and damaged stems.

Pruning group 2

This group includes the flamboyant large flowered cultivars, like ‘Nelly Moser’. Wood made the previous year bears flowers in early summer, but these plants can also bloom again in late summer on stems made the same year. In early spring, follow the stems from the top down to new growth, and cut just above it.

Pruning group 3

Clematis that flower from midsummer through to the autumn make up this group, and include the prolific small-flowered C. viticella hybrids, and forms of C. texensis. The yellow autumn-flowering C. tangutica and C. orientalis also belong here.

Prune back top growth

When left unpruned, these clematis form flowers at the top of the plant, leaving long, straggly bare stems beneath. To prevent this, cut back the tangle of shoots, removing them from their supports. Do this in late winter before the buds have started to break.

Prune to healthy buds

Then cut all the stems back hard. It may look drastic, but pruning the stems to within 12 in (30 cm) of the ground encourages plants to develop a strong network of new shoots. Cut to just above a pair of healthy buds. Prune less radically if you want to maintain height.

Man pruning a rose plant.

How to Prune Roses

Modern floribunda and hybrid tea roses benefit from hard pruning to encourage new flowering shoots, while shrub roses require relatively gentle treatment. Pruning also helps control the disease blackspot.

Floribunda roses

Also known as cluster-flowered roses, floribundas produce flushes of blooms through summer and early autumn. Compact dwarf floribundas are also called patio roses, and can be grown in pots. In early spring, remove dead, diseased, and crossing stems. Prune the other stems to outward-facing buds 8–12 in (20–30 cm) from the ground using sloping cuts.

Examples of floribunda and patio roses: ‘Arthur Bell’, ‘English Miss’, ‘Fellowship’, ‘Fragrant Delight’, ‘Pretty Lady’, ‘Princess of Wales’, ‘Remembrance’, ‘Sunset Boulevard’, ‘Sweet Dream’, ‘Tall Story’, ‘Trumpeter’.

Hybrid teas

These are large-flowered roses, with some varieties that repeat bloom, although they produce just one flower per stem. Prune in early spring, removing dead, diseased, and crossing stems. Cut the oldest stems to the ground, and shorten the remainder to 6 in (15 cm) from the base. In late autumn reduce their height by one third to prevent root damage caused by wind rock.

Examples of tea roses: ‘Alexander’, ‘Blessings’, ‘Deep Secret’, ‘Elina’, ‘Ingrid Bergman’, ‘Just Joey’, ‘Lovely Lady’, ‘Paul Sherville’, ‘Savoy Hotel’, ‘Tequila Sunrise’, ‘Troika’, ‘Warm Wishes’.

Shrub and species roses

Usually flowering once on wood made in previous years, these should be pruned lightly in early spring. Thin out congested stems to improve air flow, and remove dead, weak, damaged, or diseased wood. Also prune some of the oldest stems to ground level. Cut main stems back by a quarter and slightly reduce side shoots by a few inches. These roses often grow quite tall and benefit from being cut back by a third in late autumn to prevent root damage caused by wind rock.

Examples of shrub and species roses: ‘Blanche Double de Coubert’, ‘Boule de Neige’, ‘De Resht’, ‘Fantin-Latour’, ‘Graham Thomas’, ‘Louise Odier’, ‘Madame Isaac Pereire’, ‘Madame Pierre Oger’, ‘Maiden’s Blush’, Rosa gallica ‘Versicolor’, ‘Souvenir de la Malmaison’, ‘William Lobb’.

Three types of plants on a wooden cutting board.

How to Propagate Plants

There are many simple techniques to propagate all types of garden plants, from perennials, shrubs, and climbers to fruit trees. You don’t need specialist equipment; divisions, layers, and some cuttings can be left to root in the ground with little additional help, although a cold frame is useful for some plants.

Dividing perennials

This easy method can be used to propagate most herbaceous perennials, and to rejuvenate large, tired clumps that are no longer flowering well. You can also divide newly bought perennials, providing they are large enough, to make the most of your purchases.

Plants to divide:

Achillea Aster Bergenia
Campanula Geranium Helenium
Heuchera Hosta Iris
Ligularia Monarda Nepeta
Phlox Polemonium Pulmonaria
Rudbeckia Sedum Veronica


Dig up plant

In early spring, select a healthy clump of plants and water them well. Cut back any top growth to the ground. Using a fork, lift the clump, taking care to keep the whole root ball intact.

Divide with forks

Cut solid crowns into portions with a spade or old bread knife. If you can’t pry other pieces apart by hand, use two forks back-to-back to split the clump into smaller sections, ready for replanting.


Discard dead central portions of overgrown clumps. Replant healthy hand-sized pieces with strong buds in soil improved with well-rotted organic matter, such as manure. Water in well.

Layering shrubs and climbers

The stems of climbers and shrubs sometimes root when they touch the soil, and you can harness this tendency to make new plants. This is useful for shrubs, such as rhododendrons that can be difficult to propagate in other ways.

Make a slanting cut

In spring, from the base of the plant select a flexible stem that bends to the ground. Remove side stems and make a shallow slanting cut on the underside, 12 in (30 cm) from the tip. Dip the cut in hormone rooting powder.

Peg down stem into soil

Use wire staples, or a large stone, to firmly anchor the wounded section of stem just below the soil surface. To aid rooting in poorer soils, pin the stem into a shallow depression filled with moist potting soil.

Plants to layer:

Aucuba Chaenomeles
(above) Cotinus
Erica Fothergilla
Lonicera Magnolia
Passiflora Skimmia
Syringa Viburnum
Weigela Wisteria


Other layering techniques

Basic layering works for a wide range of shrubs, and by varying the technique, you can also use it to propagate woody climbers and fruit bushes.

Ivy and honeysuckle

Climbers, such as ivy (Hedera), and honeysuckle, Lonicera, often root where their stems are in contact with the soil. Either pin stems down yourself in autumn or spring, or check your plants for any stems that have rooted naturally. Use a hand fork to lift any stems with roots, and cut them between each rooted section to make new plants, which you can then grow on.


In summer, propagate blackberries and their hybrids by burying the tip of a healthy, young stem in a hole 4 in (10 cm) deep. In a few weeks a new shoot will appear; transplant it the following spring.

Man planting plant cuttings in a pot plant.

How to Take Cuttings

Given the right conditions, plants can be persuaded to root from stem cuttings in spring or summer, or in winter from pieces of root. Seal collected cuttings and root material in a plastic bag to keep them fresh.

Root cuttings

With the exception of variegated plants, which produce only green shoots from root cuttings, many perennials can be propagated using this method. Never take more than a few roots from each plant, and quickly replace the plants in the soil. Thin roots, such as those of phlox (Phlox paniculata), should be laid horizontally on the soil to root.

Suitable plants:

Anemone x hybrida Bear’s breeches, Acanthus
Campanula Crambe
Dicentra Globe thistle, Echinops
Plume poppy, Macleaya Oriental poppy, Papaver orientale
Sea holly, Eryngium Tree poppy, Romneya


Trim off healthy roots

In midwinter, lift the plant, or scrape away soil from larger plants to expose the roots. Cutting close to the stems (crown), remove three or four fat, healthy roots, avoiding brittle, damaged, or woody pieces. Seal in a plastic bag.

Cut top and bottom

Cut each root into 2–3 in (5–8 cm) segments with a sharp knife. Trim the top end (nearest the crown) straight across and the bottom at an angle, to make sure you plant them right end up. You do not need to do this with thin roots.

Plant up

Insert the root cuttings vertically in pots of soil (with the blunt end at the top), spacing them 2 in (5 cm) apart. Lay thinner roots on the surface, covering them with. in (1 cm) of coarse sand or grit. Water the roots with diluted fungicide and move pots to a sheltered spot outside.


Cover pots and trays with fleece, or place them in a cold frame, and keep the soil damp. The cuttings should be well rooted in about six months. They may produce shoots beforehand but wait until roots appear at the holes at the bottom of the pots before transplanting.

Hardwood cuttings

These are the easiest cuttings to grow, but you need patience, as rooting can take

more than a year. Find a sheltered spot where the cuttings won’t be disturbed, such

as the back of a border. Use this method for deciduous shrubs, trees, roses and fruit.

Take a healthy stem

In autumn, select straight stems, about the thickness of a pencil and with plenty of buds, taken from the current year’s growth. Strip off any leaves and side shoots. You may be able to take several cuttings from a single stem.

Cut into sections

Make individual cuttings about 10 in (25 cm) long. Cut straight along the bottom just below a bud, and make a slanted cut above a bud at the top. The cuts differentiate the top from the bottom, and allow you to plant the right way up.

Plant in ground

Make a narrow V-shaped trench by inserting a spade about 8 in (20 cm) in the soil and pushing it forward. On heavy soil, add horticultural sand to the base to aid drainage. Insert cuttings 6 in (15 cm) apart, leaving a few buds above the surface. These will form the branches of the new shrub. Firm lightly, label, and water.

Pot-grown cuttings

For less hardy plants, such as Cistus, Perovskia, and Santolina, plant cuttings in pots of free-draining soil. Trim cuttings to 3–4 in (8–10 cm) long and plant with the top bud exposed. Protect from frost by placing pots in a cold frame or unheated greenhouse until spring. Plant in autumn once rooted.

Suitable plants:

Boxwood, Buxus Butterfly bush, Buddleja
Deutzia Dogwood, Cornus
Elder, Sambucus Forsythia
Flowering currant, Ribes Mock orange, Philadelphus
Rose (including bush types) Spiraea
Viburnum Weigela
Willow, Salix


Softwood cuttings

Nonflowering shoots of many tender perennials and patio plants, as well as some herbaceous perennials, including delphinium and lupin, will root in six to eight weeks in warm, humid conditions in summer. Cuttings are prone to disease, so sterilize any knives, pots, and trays used in their preparation, and root them in fresh, sterilized soil mix. Use tap water for cuttings.

Select healthy stems

In summer, collect healthy, leafy shoots, about 3–5 in (7–12 cm) long, from plants that you have watered well the evening before. Take your cuttings in the morning, before the plants are stressed by high temperatures, and seal them in plastic bags to keep them fresh.

Take off lower leaves

Pre-fill pots and trays with moist cutting soil mix to avoid any delay once cuttings have been prepared. Using a sharp knife, cut just below a leaf joint and trim off lower leaves neatly to leave just two or three healthy ones at the top. Dip the cut ends in hormone rooting powder.

Pot up

Push the cuttings into the soil mix, leaving the upper half exposed. Root singly in small pots or fit several into large pots or trays, making sure the leaves are not touching. Firm lightly, water, and cover with a clear plastic bag, or root in a propagator, and keep at 59–70°F (15–21°C).

Suitable plants:

Argyranthemum Begonia Chrysanthemum
Delphinium Dianthus Erysimum
Felicia Fuchsia Hebe
Impatiens Lantana Lupin
Nepeta Passiflora Pelargonium
Penstemon Salvia Verbena


Semiripe cuttings

These are gathered later in summer when the bases of the stems are firmer. You can pull off side shoots with a little tear or “heel” of stem, and they will root in about ten weeks, or the following spring. This method is used mainly for evergreen shrubs, like boxwood (Buxus), and woody herbs, such as sage (Salvia).

Choose a healthy stem

Select shoot tips or side shoots that are firm at the base, soft and leafy at the top. Cut just below a leaf joint or gently pull side shoots downward to leave a heel of stem tissue still attached.

Prepare the stem

Use a sharp, sterilized knife to trim off the soft shoot tip just above a leaf joint. Discard this section. Removing the shoot tip helps reduce moisture loss from the cutting.

Remove lower leaves

Remove the leaves and side shoots from the lower half of the cutting, and trim back any heels at the base that are particularly long. If your cutting has no heel, simulate one by cutting a 1 in (2.5 cm) slice from one side of the stem.

Pot up

Dip the cut ends in hormone rooting powder. Either root in pots of moist cutting soil mix, inserting them up to the base of the lower leaves, or set hardy types, such as boxwood 3 in (8 cm) apart in sandy soil in a cold frame.

Keep warm

Place your pots of cuttings in a covered propagator set to 64–70°F (18–21°C), or seal them in clear plastic bags, propped up with sticks to keep the plastic off the leaves. Keep soil moist. Harden off and plant out once rooted.

Suitable plants:

Abutilon Artemisia Buxus
Calluna Ceanothus Choisya
Cytisus Erica Lavandula
Mahonia (pictured above) Rosmarinus
Salvia Sarcococca