Thrifty gardeners use spruce branches to stop weeds.
GARDENING THIS festive time of year thoughts turn to the spruce.
Ever earlier, spruce (picea) varieties are brought inside to, in death, enliven Christmas.
Some people love their Christmas trees so much they can’t bear to see them end up in the skip, or sadly browning in the garden as they await a bonfire.
Thrifty gardeners will know the branches can be cut off and spread as a weed-reducing mulch, leaving only the trunk to dispose of.
But, pot-grown Christmas trees are becoming increasingly popular and, as my chum, Joannie, will tell you Nordmann is the main contender for "growing-on’ and using again in future years.
Korean fir and the blue spruce (picea pungens) are also good and have the virtue of being "non-drop."
Make sure you choose a reasonably small pot-grown tree if you take that route.
Don’t keep it inside for longer than a couple of weeks and make sure you give it a pint of water every day.
When you first move it outside, put it in a garage, shed or greenhouse for a few days, so it has time to adjust to the cold and remember to keep it watered during this time, on half ration.
Decide where you want to grow it, then dig a hole about twice the size of the rootball, making sure the actual tree won’t be any deeper than it was at the nursery.
Avoid frosty periods to do this and once in the ground, the tree should be watered regularly but not during frost.
The alternative is to put it into a slightly larger container if it is pot-bound, which it undoubtedly will be, and cover the pot in bubble wrap to protect the roots from freezing.
The spruces are regarded by many gardeners as the stars of the conifer world and they are now really popular as container decoratives.
As with the other families, there is a range of sizes to choose from, including dwarf varieties.
Picea formanek will reach 1.2m at maturity, while the Serbian spruce, picea omorika, grows to 12m in 25 years, so you need to be sure you have the space to accommodate that one.
There are at least 600 species of conifer, which date back 230 million years to the primeval forest and have the great virtue of resilience.
Dwarf conifers are brilliant in smaller gardens or rock gardens. The dwarves provide colour and interest in smaller spaces when other plants are dormant.
They remain compact throughout their lives without the need for pruning.
Just look at juniperus pingii loderii — a beautiful, columnar tree that will only reach 150cm in ten years.
The blue-green juniperus squamata blue carpet has a prostrate habit, making it ideal for rock gardens.
Juniperus horizontalis wiltonii is another ground-hugger, whereas juniperus squamata holger is perfectly suited to container growing and will work equally well on a patio or balcony.