Pic of pansies for roundell

Winter herbs

At this time of the year many garden herbs such as mint are starting to die down for the winter where they will lie dormant until next spring. This is their natural growth habit and for plants growing outside there is nothing we can do to stop it. If you are growing mint in large pots, it is possible to extend the growing season by a few weeks by bringing the plants into a frost-free greenhouse or conservatory. Alternatively, you can take mint cuttings at this time of the year to produce small pots of herbs to grow on a windowsill over the winter months. Simply select young shoots approximately two inches long from the mint plant and remove the lower leaves. Insert the cuttings around the edge of the pot and keep the compost moist. The cuttings root quickly and will soon start to grow to provide you with fresh mint shoots over autumn and winter. If you grow several pots you will have a steady supply of shoots and leaves to use in mint sauce and for making mint tea. You will also find that mint grown this way be by much tastier than the pots of lanky mint that are sold in supermarkets. These are grown in heat and under lighting which produces plants very quickly, but the fast growth reduces the amount of essential oils in the leaves that give the distinct flavour. It’s also much more fun growing your own from cuttings and of course there are many different types of mint to choose from.

Readers’ Questions

I have been asked recently about ways to protect olives shrubs and other tender plants during the winter months.

Olives are surprisingly tough and can withstand a fair amount of frost, although in very frosty weather they will benefit from a little extra protection. At this time of the year the plants are perfectly fine outside and unprotected, although to help the new growth ripen before winter it is beneficial to move the plants to a sheltered position such as against a warm, south facing wall. This also applies to border-line hardy plants such as agapanthus in pots. A high potash feed will also help to prepare the plants for winter. When the weather does eventually turn colder, keep an eye on the plants and make sure the compost isn’t dry or wet, ideally it should be moist. If we get very cold weather with sub-zero temperatures for several days you can protect the roots from freezing by wrapping sacking or bubble polythene around the pots. Garden fleece can also be used to drape over the branches, but under no circumstances should you cover the whole plant with polythene. With just a little protection in the coldest parts of the winter, you should be able to get your plants through to spring without too many problems.

Jobs for the week

Have a final hoe through borders to chop off any small weed seeds that are growing in the warm soil conditions. Ideally choose a dry, sunny day to make sure the weeds die.

Bedding plants have about finished now and need to be removed if you are planting spring flowering plants such as wallflowers, pansies or polyanthus in their place.

Keep harvesting apples are they mature. To test if they are ready to pick, cup the fruit in your hand and give a gentle twist. If the apple leaves the tree easily they are ready to pick. If you have to pull and tug, leave them for another week.