Cotoneaster berries in gardens at The Lodge

Preparing soil for planting

Exploring the best time of year to plant trees and shrubs, and when to transplant existing plants.

Timing is everything

The best time to plant trees, shrubs and bare-rooted herbaceous plants is between November and March. Planting before Christmas ensures better rooting, rapid establishment and growth because the soil is warmer.

This is also the best time to transplant existing trees, shrubs and flowering plants. Planting early in the New Year, particularly into March, means plants take longer to establish and are more likely to require watering.

Daisies and cornflowers

Preparing the ground

  • Prepare new beds and borders during late summer and early autumn, ready to plant at the end of the year. You can plant through the winter, except when the ground is frozen or too wet.
  • Before planting, prepare the ground. Mark out the area with pegs and string, or use a trickle of sand, then clear grass and weeds.
  • Skim off turf with a spade or shovel and pile in a corner to rot down to form loam. Digging removes the roots of persistent weeds from the soil.
  • Alternatively, dig two spades depths and bury the turf upside down in the trench before covering over. This is quite a lengthy and labour-intensive process, but will introduce organic matter into the soil.
  • Consider covering the proposed borders with black sheeting during the summer to suppress and kill any grass or weeds before digging.
  • Clay soils are the hardest to dig, but you have the consolation of knowing they will remain fertile once you have improved the structure by digging in well-rotted manure or organic compost.
  • All soils will benefit from the addition of compost. Try to find organically produced products, and avoid peat.
  • For very large borders or shrub beds, or in new developments with no prior landscaping, it may be practical to hire a rotovator.
  • A rotovator can be used to cultivate all of a new garden, ready for planting and laying a lawn. You might be able to spread the hire cost with your neighbours and do several gardens at once.
  • Geared rotovators are easier to handle and manoeuvre. You can also adjust the depth of cultivation much easier. For borders, this is approximately 22 to 30 cm (9 to 12 ins).
Trowel and fork in soil

Tools for the job

  • Pegs and string or sand - to mark the shape of the border.
  • Plastic sheeting – to lay over vegetation to kill it.
  • Spade – to cut and lift turf.
  • Shovel – for lifting turf.
  • Wheelbarrow – to take away turf.
  • Fork – to dig over the soil.
  • Rotovator – for cultivating very large areas.
A spade on bare soil