Gardening in the depths of winter is not particularly inviting, but it is a great time to get outside, get active and fight the inner couch potato. When deciduous trees and shrubs are dormant in mid-winter, it is prime time to order, purchase and plant new acquisitions for the garden.
Order special fruit trees such as heritage varieties now, as they have a limited season. Fruit tree nurseries are a hive of activity in winter as their bare-rooted trees are prepared for dispatch. New-season roses are arriving in garden centres now.
Deciduous plants might look unappealing in their naked and dormant state, but the promise of flowering and fruitful plants in spring and summer makes the effort worthwhile.
There's nothing like picking fresh apples or pears in late summer for the kitchen table, or cutting fragrant roses to brighten an interior.
Top rose picks
Young Lycidas: A David Austin rose of classic Old Rose beauty. Deeply cupped. Very deep magenta with the outer petals tending towards light silvery purple. Exceptionally fragrant, which saw it win First Prize for Fragrance at the Barcelona Trials in 2009.
Munstead Wood: Another Austin rose. Deep velvety crimson. Very healthy with good repeat flowers. Also beautifully fragrant - strong Old Rose scent with notes of blackberry, blueberry and damson.
Lady of Shalott: Yet another Austin. Highly disease-resistant. Wonderful continuity of bloom. Rich orange-red buds open to chalice-shaped blooms with a lovely contrast between the salmon-pink upper side of the petal and its golden-yellow reverse. Spreading, arching growth. Tea fragrance with hints of spiced apple and cloves.
Luminis: A white rose of exceptional health. Wonderfully prolific. Lovely scent - sweet, strong, and fruity. It gives the ubiquitous Iceberg a run for its money in the health and profusion stakes.
Rhapsody in Blue: A lovely shade of purple that fades to a slate mauve. Sweetly scented. Grows into a large bushy shrub. Bees adore it. If you were to grow only one rose with them in mind, Rhapsody in Blue would be hard to beat.
Jonathan Cox is the rose specialist at Palmers Garden Centre, Remuera. His fruit tree picks will be in next week's column.
Planting fruit trees and roses
New pears won't need too much fertiliser. Bare-rooted trees usually come wrapped with damp straw around the roots, bound in black polythene.
On arrival, the tree should be kept in a cool spot and planted within a few days, or unwrapped and dug into a temporary holding spot until you're ready to plant.
1. Check the roots. Trim off any that are broken with sharp, clean secateurs. Cut any roots of pot-grown trees which are growing in a circle. In time, roots left to grow in a circular fashion will restrict the growth and stability of the tree.
2. Dig the hole to a depth where the base of the trunk is at ground level. To improve drainage, aerate the soil at the bottom of the hole by standing on a garden fork, then lever back and forth. Use the same technique to aerate the hard ground around the outer perimeter of the hole. Remove surrounding grass.
3. You shouldn't use strong fertilisers on fruit trees when they're young. Avoid digging in too much compost as it rots down in time, leaving a depression that water will fill. I use organic sheep pellets instead.
4. Basalt rock dust adds minerals, and trichoderma (found in Trichopel and Dalton's Organic Bio Fungicide) acts like a probiotic to protect the roots from fungal disease. Mix recommended amount into the soil before you backfill. Check out Environmental Fertiliser's Nature's Garden Fertiliser, which includes both ingredients.
5. You can also add a handful of dolomite to boost magnesium for healthy leaves and gently raise the pH of the soil to reduce acidity.
6. For bare-rooted trees, create a mound at the base of the hole and spread the roots of the fruit tree or rose over this mound.
7. Put in support stakes, then backfill your soil, filling air pockets around the roots. Soil should reach the base of the trunk and no higher. The final height should be slightly mounded to account for the soil settling over time.
8. Heel the soil around the tree to firm, then mulch after watering. The mulch should not touch the trunk. Use soft ties in a figure 8 to secure your tree to the stake(s).
Remove stakes in a year. If left too long the tree will not adapt as well to prevailing winds.