Leafs and fruits of a cherry tree.

How to Plant Cherry Trees in Your Garden

There is no more spectacular harbinger of spring than an ornamental cherry tree bursting into bloom. After a winter of bare branches come clouds of fluffy, pastel blossoms. Some produce fruits that attract birds to the garden, and many also have good autumn color to end the year with a bang.

When to plant: Late autumn.

At their best: Spring.

Time to complete: 2 hours.

You will need: Cherry tree, stake, tree tie, spade.

Choose a site

Ornamental cherries grow best in fertile, moist but well-drained soil, in full sun, although they tolerate partial shade and a drier soil once they are established. Make sure there is ample room for the tree to grow because some mature into large trees.

Planting and staking

Dig a hole the same depth as the rootball and twice as wide. Plant the tree so that its rootball is slightly proud of the surrounding soil surface. Hammer in a stake angled into the prevailing wind. Attach it to the tree using a flexible, adjustable tree tie.

Aftercare

Water the tree thoroughly after planting, and apply a mulch, keeping it away from the trunk. Water for the first two years. Check the tie often, and loosen it if need be. In a couple of years, you can remove the stake because the tree will be fully established.

Planting choices

Cherry trees come in a wide variety of shapes, sizes, and colors to suit all gardens. Prunus ‘Spire’ has a slender, upright habit, ideal for smaller gardens. P. x subhirtella and P. incisa are both compact trees with pale pink flowers and attractive autumnal color. P. ‘Shizuka’ is medium-sized, and has large, scented, white semi-double flowers.

Tips: Pruning

If you choose the right-sized cherry for your garden, the only pruning required will be to remove dead, diseased, or damaged growth. If you need to shape your tree, do so after flowering in early summer, because there are fewer diseases then, and you will not remove the flower buds.


Hedge made of different colored plants.

How to Create an Informal Hedge

If you prefer a relaxed, rustic style of garden, avoid formal hedges, and opt instead for one that contains a mix of species. This style of hedge is good for wildlife, as it provides food and somewhere to live. It is also relatively easy to look after, needing just one trim per year in late autumn.

When to plant: Autumn.

At their best: All year round.

Time to complete: 3 hours, or more for long hedges.

You will need: Wildlife hedging plants (blackthorn, dog rose, hawthorn, hazel, holly), spade, fork, string and pegs, well-rotted organic matter, such as manure.

Selection of plants you could use: Berberis darwinii, Blackthorn – Prunus spinose, Dog rose – Rosa canina, Field maple – Acer campestre, Guelder rose – Viburnum opulus, Hawthorn – Crataegus, Hazel – Corylus avellana, Holly – Ilex aquifolium, Rosa glauca.

Prepare the site

Hedges are permanent structures, and fare best in well-prepared soil. Dig over the area, removing all weeds, especially the roots of perennials. Fork in some organic matter deep into the soil to improve its structure.

Compress soil

Use your weight to compress the soil, shuffling slowly over the entire area. Then repeat this at right angles. If planted immediately after it has been dug over, the soil will settle, and plants will not be anchored properly.

Mark guide lines

For a deep hedge, set out two lines of string, held taut by pegs, 14–16 in (35–40cm) apart. These form the planting guides for your two rows of plants. For a narrower hedge, you will need just one line of plants.

Plant in trenches

To ensure a really straight hedge, dig out a long trench, rather than individual holes. Plant one line at a time and position the plants along its length, about 14 in (35 cm) apart. Alternate the different plant species for a mosaic effect.

Check planting depths

Hedging plants suffer when planted too deeply or shallowly, so take care to ensure that they are at the same depth as they were in the nursery, or in their pots. The stems will be darker where they previously touched the soil.

Stagger planting

If planting a double row, stagger the second line, so that the plants grow in the gaps between those in the first row. Water in all plants well, and mulch with organic matter, keeping it clear of the stems. Water the hedge regularly throughout the first year.

Thorny barriers

An informal wildlife hedge can also double as a barrier to deter intruders because many wildlife-friendly plants are covered in vicious spikes and thorns. Deer will avoid barriers that look tricky or painful to negotiate, and are more likely to go elsewhere for easier pickings. Alongside the classic native plants, there are also many roses that make beautiful but fearsome hedges.

Site and soil

Ideally most hedging plants, including roses and the other plants used here, prefer a sunny site, with well-drained and fertile soil. If your soil is not perfect, spend some time preparing the ground by digging in plenty of organic matter down to a spade’s depth.

Plant species roses

Follow the advice for planting roses. However, species roses, which are ideal for hedges, do not have a graft union, and are planted at the same depth they were growing at in their pots, or in the field.

Aftercare

Once plants have started growing in spring, cut them back by about a third to encourage bushy growth from the base. Keep them watered throughout their first year and regularly remove any weeds around their base. This will prevent your roses from having to compete for nutrients and water while they are in the process of becoming established.


Small hedge in a garden.

How to Make a Formal Hedge

Yew, hornbeam, and beech make excellent closely clipped hedges, and you can reduce the cost by buying young bare-rooted plants from late winter to early spring from specialist nurseries and growing them on yourself. Prepare your soil in advance and plant immediately, unless the soil is frozen or waterlogged.

When to plant: Late autumn to early spring.

At their best: All year round.

Time to complete: 4 hours or more depending on hedge size.

You will need: Young bare-rooted hedging plants (like yew, Taxus baccata, for example), well-rotted organic matter – such as manure, spade, fork, stakes, garden string, watering can or hose, all-purpose granular fertilizer.

Prepare the site

Six weeks before planting, remove all weeds from the site and dig a trench the length of the hedge and 3 ft (1 m) wide. Fork in organic matter, and refill the trench. Set out a line to mark the edge of the hedge.

Mark planting intervals

Dig a trench twice as wide and as deep as the plants’ root balls. Using a ruler or guide, lay stakes at 18–24 in (45–60 cm) intervals along the string line to mark the planting distances.

Check planting depths

Check that the plants will be at the same depth as they were in the field when planted—you will see the soil line just above the roots. Place one plant by each stake, and backfill around the roots with soil, removing any air gaps with your fingers.

Firm in well

When in place, check that the plants are upright and then firm in around them with your foot. Create a slight dip around each plant to act as a reservoir, and water well. Add a thick mulch of compost or manure, keeping it clear of the plant stems. Water for the first year and feed plants annually in spring.


Woman pruning a lavender hedge.

How to Shear Your Lavender Hedge

Although lavenders are generally easy plants, requiring little or no additional watering once established, they do need annual care. Leave small, young plants unpruned for the first 12 months after planting to allow them to put on some growth, but in subsequent years cut your hedge twice a year to prevent it becoming leggy.

When to start: Late summer, after flowering, and early spring.

Time to complete: 1 hour or longer depending on hedge size.

You will need: Garden shears, household disinfectant, clippers, all-purpose liquid fertilizer.

Prune into shape

To keep your lavender plants young, bushy and healthy, cut them back in late winter or early spring. Clean your tools thoroughly and spray them with a household disinfectant before you begin work. Then, using sharp shears, cut the stems back as close as possible to the old wood.

The correct cut

Take care not to cut into old brown wood, since the plants will not reshoot from this. Shear to a few healthy leaves above the brown stems, and work systematically along the hedge, keeping it as level as possible.

After flowering

In late spring or early summer, the sheared plants will grow an abundance of side shoots to create a compact, bushy hedge. To keep it neat, cut it back again after flowering in late summer: remove all the old flower heads to prevent the plants from putting their energy into making unwanted seed.


Arch covered by a climber plant between two trees.

How to Make Your Garden Look Good in the Winter

Often overlooked or dismissed as too common, ivy comes into its own in winter, with beautiful leaf shapes and bright colors. Grow it over an arch for a spectacular foliage effect.

When to start: Autumn.

At their best: All year, especially winter.

Time to complete: 1 day to make arch; 1 day to plant.

You will need: Garden arch (kits are available), well-rotted organic matter – such as manure, garden twine, clippers.

Ivy plants, good choices include: Hedera helix ‘Cavendishii’, ‘Glacier’, ‘Oro di Bogliasco’, and Hedera colchica.

Erect an arch

When bold foliage is at a premium, ivy has plenty to offer, with plain or variegated, and large or small leaves. Select a tall cultivar of Hedera helix or the large-leaved Hedera colchica for an arch. Either buy a preassembled arch, or make one from a kit and erect it close to a screen, over a bench seat, or to frame a view.

Plant the ivy

Select an ivy with long stems, and check the label to make sure that it will grow large enough to cover the arch. Enrich the soil around the arch with organic matter, and plant an ivy about 12 in (30 cm) away from each side. You can also plant a few 12 in (30 cm) from the fence or wall. Plant the ivies at the same depth they were in their original pots.

Aftercare

Use garden twine to tie the stems to the arch; they can be removed once the stems have taken hold. Water the plants frequently and trim any wayward stems in spring and summer.


Yellow flowers covered by snow.

What Winter Plants You Could Plant in Your Garden

The winter jasmine, Jasminum nudiflorum, is really a wall shrub, but its long, lax stems are easily trained over trellis or on wires to cover screens and fences. Masses of starry golden yellow flowers appear on bare stems in late winter and early spring, but unlike summer jasmine, they are unscented.

Planting jasmine

Choose a spot that will be in full sun or partial shade in the winter to encourage the best blooms. Note that areas that are in sun in summer may be shaded later in the year, so check your aspect carefully. In autumn, dig well-rotted organic matter, such as manure or homemade garden compost, into the soil before you start, and plant the jasmine as for wall shrubs.

Evergreen clematis

Exquisite blooms set amid evergreen foliage are the star qualities of winter-flowering clematis. Plant them in a sheltered site because they don’t tolerate low temperatures.

Planting tips

Clematis armandii has sweetly scented white or pink flowers and long, slim, dark green leaves. In some areas it may stay quite compact, but when fully established and in a suitable location, it can grow through a large tree. Clematis cirrhosa, with its freckled, cup-shaped flowers, can be equally vigorous in ideal conditions. Although these clematis are less likely to fall prey to clematis wilt, it is still worth planting them deeply in well-drained soil, just in case the disease strikes.

Aftercare

Water well during dry spells for the first year until the plants are established, and clip untidy growth lightly after flowering. The lower leaves of Clematis armandii may turn brown and fall, which is a characteristic of this plant; use another climber or shrub to disguise the stems.


A circle shaped topiary in a pot.

How to Create Your Own Standard Trees

Standard trees make a bold statement in the garden but can be expensive to buy, but with a little patience and the right care you can create your own, as long as the plant has a strong lead shoot.

When to start: Anytime.

At their best: All year round.

Time to complete: Initial pruning, 30 minutes.

You will need: A variegated holly, such as Ilex x altaclerensis ‘Golden King’(for example) , large container, a stake, twine, clippers.

Assess the plant

Look at the plant from all angles before pruning. Decide how long you want the clean stem to be and what growth you are going to leave to make up the lollipop top.

Remove side shoots

Prune the lowest side shoots from the main stem, but don’t remove all of them at once because they help pull sap up the plant. Once the plant has a round head, you can cut them all off.

Tie in and shape

Shorten the growth left at the top of the plant slightly to encourage it to bush out and form a rounded head. Push a stake into the soil to support the main stem, which will be quite weak at this early stage; tie securely in several places. Trim the head to shape each year.

Planting options

Almost any plant can be grown as a standard, and if you have the time it is worth experimenting to see which work best.

Globes of flowers and foliage

Roses are traditionally trained as standards, and are particularly effective grown in this formal way with less traditional mixed cottage-style planting beneath them. The same is true of wisterias. Other commonly grown standard lollipop trees include boxwood and bay, often used for topiary, and decorative evergreens, such as rosemary, Euonymus fortunei, and Photinia. You can also create interesting foliage and structural effects with large deciduous trees, such as acers and oaks, trimmed into standards, as long as you prune them regularly.


Woman holding seeds in her hand over a lawn.

How to Seed a Lawn

Sowing lawn seed is much cheaper than turfing, but you will have to wait a few months before it is ready for use. The best time to seed a lawn is in early autumn when the soil is warm and germination quick; sowing in early spring is an option but the colder soil conditions may prolong germination.

When to plant: Early autumn or early spring.

At their best: All year round.

Time to complete: 3 hours or more for larger lawns.

You will need: Lawn seed, well-rotted organic matter, horticultural grit, all-purpose granular fertilizer, stakes or string, pen and plastic cup, bird-proof netting.

Choose your seed

Unlike turf, where you have a choice of just two or three types, lawn seed is available in many forms, including seed for shady spots or dry areas and clover lawns. Prepare the soil as for turf. Mark out a square yard (meter) with stakes or string, and weigh the right quantity of seed for that area. Pour the seed into a plastic cup and mark the top level with a pen. You can then use it as a measuring cup.

Sow systematically

Cover the soil evenly by scattering half the seed in the cup over the square yard (meter) in one direction, and then the other half at right angles. Set out the next square and fill the cup to the marked level; repeat the sowing process. Continue in this way until you have sown the whole area. If you have to walk over soil you have already seeded, stand on planks of wood to prevent your feet from creating hollows in your new lawn.

Protect from birds

Rake the seed into the soil to just cover it. Water with a can fitted with a rose, or spray lightly with a hose. Cover the seed with bird-proof netting, raised off the ground about 12 in (30 cm). The seedlings should appear in 14 days; continue to water regularly. When the grass reaches 2 in (5 cm), make the first cut with your mower on a high setting. For autumn-sown lawns, maintain this height until spring, then lower the blades.


Garden with different types of conifer trees and plants.

What Conifers to Plant in Your Garden

Conifers comprise a wide group of mostly evergreen trees and shrubs that provide welcome color and structure all year round. Although some have a bad name, growing into ungainly monsters, many make elegant additions to small gardens, especially when combined with other woody plants and perennials.

Size matters

The following plants are examples of the different types of conifer you may see in garden centers and catalogs. Check their labels carefully to make sure you buy a conifer that will suit your plot. “Slowgrowing” conifers are not necessarily small, they simply grow slowly, putting on 6–12 in (15–30 cm) of growth per year. “Dwarf” types remain compact, and grow between 1–6 in (2–15 cm) per year, while “Miniatures” are tiny and will only grow to about 10 in (25 cm) after ten years and, ultimately, no more than 3 ft (90 cm).

  • The blue Colorado spruce, Picea pungens ‘Koster’, is a slow-growing conifer that reaches a height of 8 ft (2 m) and width of 4 ft (1.2 m) but may, after many years, grow even larger.
  • Hinoki cypress, Chamaecyparis obtusa ‘Opaal’, is a dwarf conifer reaching 3 ft (1 m) high and 30 in (75 cm) wide when mature.
  • The dwarf mountain pine, Pinus aristata ‘Sherwood Compact’, with its decorative candlelike cones, is tiny and reaches just 24 in (60 cm) when mature.

Creative effects

Conifers are excellent design tools, offering a wealth of colors and shapes. You can use them en masse for a mosaic effect, choose just one striking example for a focal point in a border or lawn, or plant tiny types in pots and containers.

Design options

For year-round color, you can’t do much better than the blue spruce, Picea pungens, which comes in all shapes and sizes and makes a great companion for purple-leaved shrubs, such as the smoke bush, Cotinus ‘Grace’. Alternatively, match them up with contrasting golden conifers, such as the spreading Juniperus x pfitzeriana Gold Sovereign or the rounded Chamaecyparis lawsoniana ‘Golden Pot’.

To strike a pose, look for pencil-thin plants that provide accents and can be used as focal points, or to line a path. The Italian cypress, Cupressus sempervirens, is a classic example, but junipers are easier plants for cooler climates. Try J. communis ‘Compressa’ or ‘Sentinel’, which have a similar rocketlike form.

Options for small gardens

Conifers are quite easy-going and adapt to a range of conditions, but most thrive in a sunny site in moist soil that drains freely, although junipers will cope with drier conditions. Check labels for width as well as height, as some need space to spread.

These conifers are perfect for small areas:

  • Abies balsamea ‘Nana’
  • Cephalotaxus harringtonii ‘Fastigiata’
  • Juniperus communis ‘Compressa’
  • Juniperus scopulorum ‘Blue Arrow’
  • Pinus heldreichii ‘Smidtii’
  • Tsuga canadensis ‘Cole’s Prostrate’

Part of a garden with multicolored flowers.

How to Have an All-season Color Garden

By planting evergreen conifers with long-lasting grasses, and then throwing in a smattering of perennials, you can have a garden that looks good all year round, with a few highlights in summer.

When to plant: Autumn.

At their best: All year round.

Time to complete: 1-2 days.

You will need: Spade and fork, well-rotted organic matter.

Selection of plants to use: Abies concolor ‘Wintergold’, Pinus heldreichii ‘Smidtii’, Erica carnea f. aureifolia ‘Foxhollow’, Pennisetum alopecuroides ‘Little Bunny’, Imperata cylindrica ‘Rubra’, Pinus mugo ‘Ophir’, Stipa gigantean, Kniphofia ‘Percy’s Pride’.

Prepare the site

In the autumn before planting, thoroughly remove all weeds from the border. Dig it over deeply and then incorporate plenty of organic matter, such as well-rotted manure or garden compost.

Set out the planting pattern

Buy the plants in spring and set them out before planting them. The dwarf conifers provide the backbone, with a ribbon of Imperata and Erica running between them. Use the Stipa as an accent plant, and fill gaps with the Pennisetum.

Plant and feed

Plant the conifers and Erica first, then add the grasses and Kniphofia. Water the plants in well. Keep them watered throughout their first full growing season, and feed them each spring with an all-purpose granular fertilizer.