Planting and moving
Protect newly planted trees, hedges and shrubs from cold winds and frosts, which can loosen and lift the roots. Gently re-firm them in if you notice this problem, and erect a temporary netting windbreak if there is no natural shelter. Thick dry mulches will protect the roots from cold, and branches can be covered with fleece, or even packed with dry straw and then covered with fleece, for tender plants. A wooden frame with clear polythene stretched over it does a similar job for evergreens without blocking the light, but don’t let the polythene touch the leaves, as condensation could freeze or cause rots.
Continue to plant bare-root deciduous hedging plants and trees. Put rabbit guards around newly planted trees and shrubs to protect the bark from damage.
Plant roses, but avoid areas where roses were previously grown as this can lead to problems with replant diseases.
Move established deciduous trees and shrubs, provided the ground is not frozen or soggy.
Pruning and training
Tie wall shrubs and climbers onto their supports to protect them from wind damage.
Pruning and renovation of many deciduous trees, shrubs and hedges can be carried out from now throughout the dormant season. It is easier to see what you are doing when the branches have no leaves. Suitable examples are: Fagus (beech), Corylus (hazel), and also roses. Ensure any pruning of Acer and Betula is completed before the end of the year to avoid bleeding of sap from cuts.
* Exceptions are evergreens and tender plants (these are best left until spring), and Prunus species (e.g. ornamental cherries, plums and almonds), as these are vulnerable to silver leaf disease when pruned in autumn or winter.
If your trees are too large for you to manage the pruning alone, then you may need a tree surgeon. Otherwise take care not to damage the tree when sawing off thicker branches.
Take hardwood cuttings of ornamental shrubs such as Berberis, Buddleja, Salix, Forsythia, Ligustrum and Rubus. Many deciduous climbers can also be propagated in this way (e.g. Fallopia and Lonicera).
Check hardwood cuttings taken last year. They may need planting out or potting on.
Christmas tree care
Prevent premature needle drop on your Christmas tree by choosing a pine (Pinus) or fir (Abies) tree instead of the traditional Norway spruce (Picea abies); these hold their needles for longer. Avoid placing your tree near sources of heat such as a fire or radiator. Cut trees will last longer if stood in a bucket of water or a stand with a reservoir. Saw off the bottom 5-7.5cm (2-3in) of trunk to allow the tree to drink freely.
Take note of the most colourful dogwoods (Cornus), Salix and white-stemmed Rubus shrubs when visiting gardens open to the public, or in garden centres, and consider planting them yourself, for a winter display.
Packing the branches of tender deciduous trees and shrubs with straw or bracken, and securing this with fleece and ties, will protect them from frost.
Check tree ties and stakes. Replace, tighten, slacken or remove as necessary. Remove weeds from around the bases of young trees.
If there is snow in your area, then you may need to brush it off the branches of conifers, climbers and light-limbed shrubs and trees. Heavy snowfall can splay branches, break limbs and spoil the shape of the tree.
You may wish to protect a few holly berries from the birds, for use in Christmas decorations. Netting should do the job, but do leave some uncovered for winter wildlife.
Pest and disease watch
Holly leaf blight is still uncommon, but can be spread in wet weather.
Garden hygiene helps greatly in the prevention of disease carry-over from one year to the next. It is always a good idea to rake up and burn (if allowed), bury, or throw away infected leaves.
Diseases such as black spot on roses can be controlled to some extent in this way. Do not compost such material, though, as these diseases can persist in compost heaps and re-infect mulched plants.
Damage from bay suckers may still be evident, although the pests will have been and gone. However, it is a good idea to remove affected leaves if there are only a few, and to take note to look out for damage next spring (usually around May) - the problem should then be treated promptly.
Phytophthora root rots can cause die-back on mature trees and shrubs. Wet winter weather and poorly drained soils are likely to encourage this problem on susceptible woody plants.
Coral spot is often noticed once the leaves have fallen from deciduous hedges, shrubs and trees. This problem can be connected with poor ventilation and congested, un-pruned twiggy growth (as found inside clipped hedges).
Rabbits and squirrels can be a nuisance as the weather gets colder, gnawing the bark from shrubs and trees. Guards around new woody plants are advisable.