Tackle all of those winter jobs head on

Crab apple John Downie.
Crab apple John Downie.

There’s always a danger of becoming so brow-beaten by the mixed bag of weather these first two months bring, that golden opportunities to get the season under way can be lost.

Once we start leaving important jobs outdoors or under glass until conditions improve, they quickly build up and we have a tail-back going into spring.

John Downie crab apple in bloom.

John Downie crab apple in bloom.

I always have an essential open air jobs list for winter, knowing full well that the weather will do its utmost to stop play. Most of them involve physical activities such as digging, lifting and building structures so as long as it’s dry overhead and suitably warm clothing is worn – there’s no excuse for slacking.

Last week, I tackled a John Downie crab apple that had been in the garden for 25 years. Over that time, it had proved an ideal pollinator, the long flowering period securing crops on several dessert and culinary cultivars.

But three years ago it was attacked by blight, which resulted in diseased fruits and leaf loss well before autumn.

Severe winter pruning followed and that stimulated growth and a modest crop the following summer. But blight returned.

In 2014, it was given a final chance but failed to show vigour or fruit.

Conclusion; when any plant has reached its useful life span dig it out, especially so if it’s a disease-prone apple and there are others nearby.

But 25 years of root development in fertile soil will not yield to the spade easily so you need a game plan which involves long-handled pruners and a bushman saw.

First, remove all top growth, leaving only the main trunk for leverage, which in my case reached shoulder height. Start digging to expose the roots, then bring pruners and saw into play. Always anticipate the one anchoring root that refuses to budge and is difficult to locate – and the elation tinged with sadness when it finally gives and you lose an old friend of a tree.

Whether you’re removing a big tree/shrub that has outlived its usefulness or aiming to transfer it to another part of the garden with a large root-ball, always start digging well away from the main stem and gradually work inwards.