Canny vegetable gardeners start thinking about what to grow next winter as soon as the last one is finished. Take time out from the spring rush to think about what you'll grow in the coldest months of the year and you'll reap the rewards in fat cabbages, nutty Brussels sprouts and kale when there's little else around to pick.

The range of veg you can enjoy in winter is extraordinary, and from late spring onwards you'll find a huge variety on sale as plug plants and seeds in your favourite garden centre. Look out for delicacies like long-cropping 'Dwarf Green Curled' kale, burgundy 'Rubine' sprouts, pretty red 'Rhubarb' chard or knobbly gourmet root vegetable Celeriac 'Prinz'.

Winter veg plants often take a long time to grow, so get winter brassicas, leeks, parsnips, swede and celeriac in the ground from late spring. Faster growing chard, winter spinach and salads can wait till August: sow to follow on from potatoes or onions to keep your veg garden productive year-round.

A time-honoured way of keeping slow-growing brassicas out of the way while you enjoy earlier crops is a nursery bed. This is a separate area – often a raised bed or cold frame – for sowing rows of brassicas direct. Thin seedlings as they grow, then in June dig them up and transplant into beds just vacated by early broad beans, peas or lettuces.

If you haven't room for a nursery bed, you can still grow early crops in between generously-spaced brassicas like Brussels sprouts plants, usually sown around 60cm apart. While they're still small, use the space between the seedlings for an extra crop of carrots, salads, spinach or beetroot. The faster crop will be out of the ground well before the brassicas are big enough to overshadow them, giving you twice the crop from the same amount of space.

Please ask the staff in our Mullingar garden centre for more information and advice about planning a winter vegetable garden

January 21, 2021 — Ciarán Haskins


Filling your house with the colour and fragrance of fresh flowers cut from the garden is one of the great pleasures of gardening. The trouble is, though, if you take all the flowers from the garden, there's nothing left to look at outside.

The answer is to create yourself a cutting garden – an area of your garden dedicated to raising flowers to enjoy indoors. The whole purpose of such a garden is to be harvested regularly, rather like a vegetable garden, so you don't mind if it's sometimes got a few bare patches.

You'll find all you need to create your cutting garden in our garden centre in Mullingar. Here's how to go about it:

  1. Find the right spot: you'll need somewhere in full sun, as your plants will only flower to their full potential with plenty of light. Planting densely also demands a lot from your soil, so choose the best-quality patch you've got.
  2. Get ready: before you start, dig over the area, removing weeds and large stones, and work in plenty of well-rotted farmyard manure. Then put in hedging and edging: you'll find plants for low hedging in our garden centre, and materials to lay a smart path.

  3. Choose your plants: select 'hardy annual' seeds from the range in our garden centre. Great choices are white, frothy Ammi majus, Cosmos bipinnatus with lovely daisy-like flowers and of course sweetpeas to train up a wigwam in the centre.
  4. Start sowing: Sow your flowers from March onwards just like vegetables, in straight lines to make picking them easier. Make shallow drills and sprinkle the seed sparingly along the bottom. Cover with a little soil, label and leave.

  5. Keep the display going: sow little and often so you've got some plants to pick, some coming up to flowering and some just sown. Support taller varieties like larkspur by sticking canes in each corner of the row and threading round string at intervals up the height of the plants.

Please ask the staff in our Mullingar garden centre for more information and advice about planting an annual cutting garden.

January 21, 2021 — Ciarán Haskins



Cuttings fall into three main groups, but whichever method you use it is essential that cuttings are taken from healthy plants:

  •  hardwood
  •  softwood
  •  semi-ripe


  • Taking hardwood cuttings is one of the easiest ways to produce new plants of Salix (willow),
  • Deutzia and many other woody shrubs, and only needs secateurs.
  • From autumn to early spring, select shoots produced the pre-vious spring and summer. Only select strong growth and remove near its base or point of origin.
  • These shoots – about the thick-ness of a pencil and 23–25cm long – should be cut square below a bud to form a base, at an angle of 35 degrees.


  • Treat the bottom 3cm of each cutting with rooting hormone.
  • Insert the prepared cuttings into a 12–15cm trench made in well dug garden soil with a 5cm layer of sharp sand for drainage.
  • Alternatively plant three or four cuttings in a pot of multi-purpose or cutting compost and place in a cold frame or sheltered part of the garden. The following autumn the rooted cuttings can be carefully planted out in their final growing positions. 


  • These are taken in early to late spring to grow many semi-ten-der plants such as pelargoniums and fuchsias, herbaceous plants and some alpines. Young growth on shrubs such as Rosmarinus (rosemary), Artemisia (worm-wood) and Lavandula (lavender) may also respond well.
  • In spring, remove shoots from the parent plant once they are firm enough to handle and not too soft to lose their rigidity.
  • Using a sharp knife or secateurs, prepare the cutting by making a cut at an angle of 35 degrees at the base of the chosen shoot.
  • Cuttings should be 5–10cm long according to plant variety. If the leaves are alternate on the shoot, make the upper cut four leaf joints above the first cut.
  • If the leaves are opposite, make the cut above the second pair of leaves. In both cases make cuts from the buds in the leaf joint.
  • Gently remove the lower leaves. If the remaining leaves are more than 3cm long, halve them with a knife, to cut down moisture loss during the pre-rooting period.


  • Dip the bottom 3cm of the pre-pared cutting into water. Shake off the surplus then roll the bottom 2.5cm in rooting hormone.
  • Insert cuttings into seed trays or pots containing sharp sand.
  • Place the tray or pot into a propagator – preferably one with a heating control.
  • Close all vents and shade the cover with a newspaper. After 7–10 days, open the vents and remove the shading.
  • Once the cuttings make new shoots at the leaf joints, this is a good indication that rooting has taken place. Remove the tray or pot from the propagator.
  • When new growth on the rooted cuttings reaches more than 3cm long, pot them into individual pots of general potting compost.
  • In four to six weeks they should be large enough to plant in their final growing positions, provided all risk of frost has passed. 


  • Semi-ripe cuttings of many shrubs and climbers can be taken in late spring to midsummer. Success is not guaranteed but it’s worth a try.
  • The method or preparation is the same as for softwood cuttings, but use shoots from the current season’s growth that have begun to firm.
  • The use of a propagator is more important and the availability of controllable heat will enhance the success rate. Rooting is slower than softwood cuttings but once new growth has reached 3cm the cuttings can be potted on into individual pots.
  • Grow young plants on in a frost free light-protected environment such as a greenhouse or garden frame with no additional heat. Plant out in the garden or into larger pots the following spring or autumn. 
January 21, 2021 — Ciarán Haskins


When you're happily beavering away in the veg garden over summer, it can seem like the long days of abundant flowers and fruit will never end. But one day, inevitably, you cut the last pumpkin and pull up the bean plants and it is, undeniably, winter.

There's no need to stop enjoying your plot just because the weather has turned cold, though. Embrace winter as part of your veg-growing year and you'll find your patch can be as productive from November to February as it is for the rest of the year.

You'll need to begin planning in early spring, as these are plants which need a long time in the ground. Start by choosing some of the great winter veg we offer as seeds or plug plants in our Mullingar garden centre: here's our pick of the best.

  • Parsnips: sow fresh seed direct into the ground: the sweet, pale roots taste better after being kissed by frost.
    Recommended varieties: 'Tender and True', 'Gladiator'.
  • Cabbages: super-hardy savoys have fabulous flavour and texture: follow with crunchy spring cabbages for an April treat.
    Recommended varieties: 'January King', 'Duncan' (spring cabbage).
  • Brussels sprouts: plant early, mid-season and late varieties to pick fat sprouts from September to February.
    Recommended varieties: 'Trafalgar', 'Rubine'.
  • Celeriac: knobbly roots with the fine flavour of celery but much easier to grow: keeps well, too.
    Recommended varieties: 'Prinz', 'Monarch'.
  • Kale: if you want an easy-to-grow cabbage substitute, pick young kale leaves for a taste sensation.
    Recommended varieties: 'Dwarf Green Curled', 'Cavolo Nero'.
  • Winter salads: sow spicy winter baby-leaf mixes under cloches, or pick from the new range of Japanese salads.
    Recommended varieties: Mizuna, Mustard 'Red Frills'.
  • Chard: sow in September and you'll be picking spinach-like chard all winter. Protect with cloches in bad weather.
    Recommended varieties: 'Rhubarb', 'Swiss Chard'.
  • Leeks: ramrod straight leeks are as hardy as anything: plant seedlings deeply for long white shanks.
    Recommended varieties: 'Musselburgh', 'Bleu de Solaise'.
  • Rhubarb: force clumps of big, beefy rhubarb for tender pink stems from February onwards.
    Recommended varieties: 'Timperley Early', 'Victoria'.

Please ask the staff in our garden centre in Mullingar for more information and advice about growing winter vegetables

January 21, 2021 — Ciarán Haskins


You may be short of outdoor space, but that doesn't mean you have to do without home-grown vegetables. There are lots of veg which do brilliantly in containers, whether window boxes, grow bags, pretty terracotta pots or just tin cans nailed to a fence.

Growing in containers has many advantages: perfect soil, easy planting and your crops are kept well out of reach of slugs. These days, there are lots of innovative new ideas around to help you get started: look out for wall-hung vertical planters, automatic watering systems and even special varieties of veg bred for growing in pots, all available from your favourite garden centre in Mullingar.

There's a huge range of veg you can try in containers, from herbs and salad leaves to tomatoes, chard, beetroot and even climbing French beans trained up against a wall. Just follow our five golden rules for a summer of plenty from your patio.

1.Use the largest containers you can
The more room veg roots have, the happier they'll be (you can pack more veg in to larger pots, too!) So always buy the biggest containers you have room for.

2.Water, water, water
Plants in pots are completely reliant on you for water supplies. Water container-grown veg every day – twice a day in hot spells.

3.Feed, feed, feed
After the first six to eight weeks compost runs out of nutrients, so add weekly liquid feeds to your watering routine.

4.Re-sow fast-growing crops every month
Keep picking continuously by sowing new containers of fast-growing salads, herbs, and quick crops like beetroot and turnips once a month.

5.Choose the right varieties
Look for the words 'container veg' or 'patio veg' on seed packets: special varieties like Courgette 'Patio Star' and Aubergine 'Ophelia' will crop brilliantly in pots. 

Please ask the staff in our Mullingar garden centre for more information and advice about a container vegetable garden.

January 21, 2021 — Ciarán Haskins


Sometimes in veg-growing, as in life, the golden oldies are the best.

Older 'heritage' veg varieties aren't often found in the shops, as they aren't uniformly shaped, sometimes don't store or travel well, and are difficult to harvest mechanically. That means the only way to enjoy their sumptuous flavours, colours and textures is if you grow your own.

Here are five of the best old-style veg to look out for in your favourite garden centre in Mullingar  and try in your own garden: we promise you won't be disappointed.

  • Runner bean 'Painted Lady' has been grown since at least the 1850s. It's prized for its bicoloured red and white blooms, pretty enough to be grown in the ornamental garden. The flowers are followed by a heavy crop of delicious long, flattened green beans.
  • Broad bean 'Crimson Flowered' was rescued from extinction in 1978 thanks to an elderly gardener from Kent. The rest is history: its gorgeous deep red flowers are now seen, and admired, in gardens all over the country.
  • Kale 'Cavolo Nero', also known as Black Tuscan kale, came to our shores in 1860 on board Thomas Cook's ship. It was originally grown as an ornamental for its extraordinarily long, puckered black foliage, but we know different: pick the full-flavoured leaves young and cook like cabbage.
  • Tomato 'Marmande' is a sumptuously flavoured beefsteak variety from France, making huge fist-sized fruits. They're lumpy and bumpy, and prone to splitting - but it's worth it for one taste of that superb, rich flavour, the perfect balance of sweet and sharp.
  • Squash 'Turks Turban' was brought to the UK from America in 1869 and gets its name from its extraordinary shape – a doughnut-like lower layer with a 'hat' on top. It's orange, but striped cream and green: like nothing you've ever grown before (it has a great flavour, too!)

Please ask the staff in our Mullingar garden centre for more information and advice about a taste of history.

January 21, 2021 — Ciarán Haskins


When you're starting out with your new veg garden and trying to decide what to grow first, the sheer variety of vegetables that opens up to you when you grow your own can be bewildering. You'll find so many different types in our garden centre in Mullingar, from artichokes to zucchini, not to mention the mouthwatering selection of varieties of each, that it's hard to know where to begin.

But there are some veg you shouldn't be without: the tried-and- tested, easy-to-grow kitchen essentials. Plant these first, and you won't go far wrong.

Grow your own spuds, and you'll transform your opinion of this 'humble' vegetable forever. Try deliciously-flavoured heritage varieties, or savour melt-in-the-mouth new potatoes within minutes of harvest. Recommended varieties: 'Duke of York', 'Mayan Gold', 'Sarpo Mira'

If your idea of a pea comes from the freezer, fresh peas are a revelation. Sow on windowsills for microgreens, enjoy young pods as mangetout, and sprinkle curly shoot tips in salads. Or just enjoy the mature peas. It's up to you. Recommended varieties: 'Douce de Provence', Mangetout 'Shiraz', 'Ambassador'

French climbing beans
The connoisseur's alternative to runner beans, tailor your French climbing beans according to taste. Choose from slender pencil beans, flat-podded types, purple or yellow varieties, or shelling beans for white haricots. Recommended varieties: 'Cobra', 'Blauhilde', 'Blue Lake'

Breaking a fat head of garlic into cloves to plant in chilly November starts your gardening year with a smile. As well as dried cloves, try green scapes (flower spikes) and mild-flavoured green garlic. Recommended varieties: 'Chesnok Red', 'Solent Wight', Elephant Garlic

Generous crops of leafy greens, with a side order of crisp midrib, chard is just like spinach but miles easier to grow. It comes in a rainbow of differently-coloured stems - sometimes on the same plant. Recommended varieties: Swiss chard, Ruby chard, Chard 'Bright Lights'

Please ask the staff in our Mullingar garden centre for more information and advice about five easy veg.

January 21, 2021 — Ciarán Haskins


Dahlias are among the loveliest of late-summer bulbs, flowering their socks off for weeks on end (especially if you dead-head them regularly to keep the blooms coming).

You can choose a dahlia to suit your garden whatever your style: spidery cactus varieties like 'Black Narcissus' for an exotic look, or pretty pompom 'David Howard' for a classic herbaceous border. Single-flowered dahlias suit natural planting styles: in our Mullingar garden centre you'll find delicate pure white 'Twynings After Eight' and what are popularly known as 'The Bishops' – 'Bishop of Llandaff' in scarlet, yellow 'Bishop of York' or lilac 'Bishop of Leicester'.

All, however, are frost-tender, so need special care over winter.

In a well-drained soil in a warmer area of the country, you may be able to leave your dahlias in the ground: insure against hard frosts by covering the ground around the plant with a mulch up to 15cm thick of dry autumn leaves or coarse bark chips. Hold it in place with a double layer of fleece, pegged down to stop it blowing away. In spring remove the mulch to allow the plant to shoot up again.

If you're reluctant to risk losing your tubers in a hard winter, though, lift and store them in autumn under cover. Here's how:

  1. Once the foliage has been blackened by frost, dig up the tubers and let them dry for a day or so. Then brush off excess soil and trim back the stems to about 15cm above the roots.
  2. Line a shallow tray with newspaper and place your tubers on top with the stalks uppermost. Pack loosely with dry compost or sand, so the tubers are just covered.
  3. Store somewhere dry, cool and frost-free: a garden shed won't be reliably frost-free unless it's heated, so cover your dahlias with sheets of newspaper if a frost is forecast.
  4. Inspect your tubers regularly through the winter and get rid of any showing signs of rotting or disease, as otherwise it'll spread quickly to other healthy tubers in storage.

Please ask the staff in our Mullingar garden centre for more information and advice about storing dahlias over winter.

January 20, 2021 — Ciarán Haskins


Of all the fruit you can grow in the garden, a grapevine is among the most productive and beautiful. All you need is a sunny wall, fence or pergola for it to scramble up and it'll cheerfully cover the whole thing with big elegant leaves turning brilliant colours in autumn, and of course fat clusters of fruit dripping with sweetness.

There are dozens of varieties of grapevine and we've got a great selection in our garden centre in Mullingar. For sweet fruit for the table, go for a dessert variety: 'Brandt' has small but very sweet dark-skinned grapes (and spectacular autumn colour) while 'Phoenix' is a reliable modern variety good for both eating and winemaking.

If it's a vineyard you're after, there's an even wider choice. 'Seyval' makes a light, fruity wine; while 'Pinot Noir' ripens well in a good summer for a classic deep red claret.

Here are our top tips for growing successful grapevines:

  • Choose a sunny site, ideally a south- or southwest facing wall and sheltered from the wind. Vines do best in free-draining soil like sand or chalk: if you're gardening on clay dig in a barrowload of grit before planting.
  • Add well-rotted farmyard manure (found in our garden centre) to improve soil before planting, as grapevines are in the ground a long time.

  • Add a handful of slow-release fertiliser like pelleted chicken manure or bonemeal to keep your plant happy all season.
  • Plant when vines are dormant – from late autumn till early spring, as long as the ground isn't waterlogged or frozen.

  • Put up a sturdy training system before you plant: stretch wires 30cm apart up a fence, or attach trellis. You'll find all you need in our garden centre.
  • Water thoroughly in dry weather: if grapevines get parched at the roots they're more likely to suffer from mildew, ruining your crop.

  • Prune each winter once the vine has dropped all its leaves and is completely dormant to remove some of the year's vigorous growth and keep the plant productive and healthy.

Please ask the staff in our Mullingar garden centre for more information and advice about growing grapevines.

January 19, 2021 — Ciarán Haskins


Gardeners demand a lot of pruning tools, especially in winter when there are roses, clematis, apple trees and fruit bushes to do. There are other cutting tools in regular use, too: hedging and topiary shears, and blades you might not think of as blades like hoes and border spades, both of which need sharp edges to cut  through the earth.

Keeping your tools razor-sharp is key to efficient working. Blunt tools take more effort to use, and worse, they can tear at branches rather than cutting them cleanly, causing snags and ragged edges that invite rots and other infections to set in. Hoes and spades, too, are far more effective if they're sharp enough to cut through obstacles rather than bludgeoning them with brute force.

You'll find all you need to keep your tools honed to perfection in our garden centre Mullingar, from sharpening stones to specialist sharpening tools for curved blades such as secateurs. To use them well and get your tools cutting cleanly, follow our top tips:

  • Work out which side has the flat cutting surface: for bypass secateurs, this is the curving blade that scissors past the 'anvil' one. This is the edge you need to keep sharp.
  • Work at an angle of about 30° to the blade and run the sharpening stone along the angled side – if you look at the blade sideways on you'll find out which that is. Work from hinge to tip, always moving the stone away from you to avoid hurting yourself. Keep doing this for a few minutes and you'll find you have a rough edge forming on the underside as tiny shards of metal shear off.
  • Use a circular motion to gently remove this burr from the other side of the blade, though working flat to the blade this time as you don't want to take the edge off again.
  • Consider a professional tool-sharpening service for larger-bladed items like hedging shears or petrol-driven hedge trimmers. These only need doing around once a year and it's easier to get the professionals in.

Please ask the staff in our garden centre in Mullingar for more information and advice about sharpening gardening tools.

January 19, 2021 — Ciarán Haskins


Your tools are your best friends in the garden. They'll stand by you through thick and thin: they're the first things you reach for at times of trouble, and your companions through your greatest triumphs.

Well-made, good-quality tools like those you'll find in our garden centre can last you a lifetime if you take good care of them. So make it a part of your annual routine to spend an hour or two at the end of the season getting them in good shape before storing them away for the winter. Here's how:

  • Give them a clean: let your stainless steel spades and forks dry for a few days so the mud is easier to brush off with a stiff-bristled hand brush. Get every last bit off including the mud wedged in to the neck of the tool head.
  • Repair any breakages: bent fork tines can be straightened with a piece of hollow metal piping: just slot it over the end of the tine and pull. Replacement wooden handles are available in our garden centre, and you'll also find spare watering can roses to replace the one you lost, and new blades for pruning saws.

  • Oil non-steel tools to prevent them rusting in damp weather. This can be as easy as wiping them over with a rag soaked in paraffin, or alternatively fill a bucket with sand and mix in some oil; then dig your tools into the sand to clean and oil them at the same time.
  • Hang everything up out of the way so they won't fall over into a hopeless tangle which you'll have to sort out before you can use them.. Hang spades, hoes, forks and rakes blade-upwards, on double nails banged into the wall, and add some single nails to hold hand trowels, forks, and shears.

  • Get powered tools serviced at a reputable garden machine company once a year, to change the oil, sharpen blades and generally give them the once over before they're back in regular use again.

Please ask the staff in our Mullingar garden centre for more information and advice about looking after your garden tools.

January 19, 2021 — Ciarán Haskins