Keep fit in the garden

Forget about joining an expensive gym to shed any excess pounds – a few hours a week of energetic tidying in your garden at this time of the year can keep you fit and healthy.

Tall order: Find a long brush and get rid of that snow before it does any damage.
Tall order: Find a long brush and get rid of that snow before it does any damage.

Remember, the colder it is the more calories you burn just to keep warm. It’s almost worth over-indulging at Christmas and the New Year.

Tidying also removes any hiding places for slugs and snails during the winter – a sure-fire way of reducing their numbers for next summer. Most of the winter berries have disappeared as birds make the most of the limited food on offer, but these are replaced by catkins dangling from garryas and hazels, the first signs of bulbs pushing their way through the cold soil, and buds swelling on bare stems.

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If the soil is frosty or wet, try to keep off the beds because walking over them can easily destroy the soil structure. Continue planting dormant shrubs and trees, and check that any newly-planted shrubs have not been lifted up by the winter frosts. If they have, use the heel of your welly to firm them back into the soil.

And if it snows, get out the long brush and knock off any accumulations before the weight has the chance to snap or damage stems and branches.

If your soil is particularly heavy, use planks (or walkways) to prevent compaction and give the earth a chance to dry out. And if you have any bare-rooted roses heeled in waiting to take up permanent residence in beds and borders, get the ground prepared so they can go in whenever there’s a window of opportunity.

Finally, try taking a few root cuttings of border perennials like Japanese anemones, verbascum and nepeta. Lift a plant, wash the roots to remove soil, cut off pencil-thick roots (2ins long), cut diagonally across the base and insert into a pot of compost, just burying the tops of each cutting. Water and pop the pot somewhere frost-free or into a heated propagator.

Then sit back and wait for new life to appear.