Gardening: Brighten up the gloomy winter months by planting winter stems

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DURING the darker months of winter when the garden is dormant, plants with vibrant coloured bark come into their own, making winter stem the perfect choice for the Horticultural Trades Association (HTA) Plant of the Month for December.

Winter stem is a versatile plant which provides different textures and stem colours to attract the eye and brighten the winter gloom in the garden.

A garden can be enhanced by planting trees and shrubs that have interesting and colourful bark during the winter months. By using dogwoods, snake bark maples, willows and white washed brambles, there are plenty of colourful varieties to choose from in order to create winter effect in any garden or landscape. Most winter stems are best planted in groups to maximise their impact and where they can be seen and appreciated.

Winter stems perform best in full sun, in deep, moist, loamy soil. Try to avoid shallow and chalky soils. It helps to prepare the ground with copious amounts of organic matter.

Different varieties such as Cornus (dogwood) and Salix (willow) shrubs can be pruned to ground level in March, to ensure that a fresh crop of the brightest coloured stems are produced in the next winter. Varieties like Cornus are best planted in groups for better massed impact from a distance

Pollarding, or removing the upper branches of a plant, is suitable for Salix (willow) and Eucalyptus and other types grown as small trees, and is another way of ensuring the brightest stem colour on new growth. Fertiliser will be beneficial after cutting back to promote new vigorous growth.

Plants like Kerria japonica, which has vivid green stems in winter, can be combined with other coloured stems to provide a superb contrast especially when under-planted with snowdrops, aconites and crocus. Several trees such as Prunus serrula and Birch (Betula) have wonderful, coloured and tactile stems.

HTA’s David Gilchrist said: “Coloured stems provide winter garden colour for four to five months when little else looks good in the garden. Bamboos look superb all year round.”

Nominated and agreed upon by British growers and retailers, the HTA’s Plant of the Month campaign highlights the plants that are widely available and looking especially good each month.