Common name: Mountain ash is so named because of the similarity of the divided foliage to that of the common ash. Also, mountain ash can be seen growing mainly in hilly and rocky areas. This year it is carrying an exceptional load of bright red berries. Soon, when the leaves have fallen, these trees will look even more spectacular. Rowan is another, less often used, common name, and refers to its red colour.

Botanical name: The botanical name for mountain ash, rowan and whitebeam is Sorbus, which is an old Latin name for these fine trees. Various species, including the native wild mountain ash, appear across the northern hemisphere. Later on, the berries provide important winter food for birds in the thrush family. Sorbus is part of the rose family.

Garden value

The species most commonly grown in gardens, Sorbus aucuparia, is the same as the wild mountain ash. It is usually planted as a single tree, but can be grown as a group of trees too, or mixed into a shelter belt or screen planting to bring colour of foliage and fruit to the mixture. Apart from the wild species, there are some selected forms that are grafted onto the wild form. One of these, ‘Sheerwater Seedling’, is very popular because of its upright habit and plentiful berrying, producing bright orange-red berries. ‘Rossica Major’ has large sealing wax berries in drooping clusters. ‘Cardinal Royal’ is also upright in habit with masses of red berries.

The best yellow rowan is ‘Joseph Rock’, a hybrid of the native mountain ash with other species. ‘Wisley Gold’ has superb rich orange-yellow berries in dropping clusters that last long after the leaves have fallen, as do those of ‘Joseph Rock’. In fact, the berries cannot be fully appreciated until the leaves have fallen. ‘Hilling’s Spire’ has somewhat paler yellow berries.

‘Chinese Lace’ is another hybrid with fine foliage that turns to beautiful purple, red and yellow shades in autumn. The Hupeh rowan, Sorbus hupehensis, has large clusters of smallish berries, pink changing to white and ‘Rosea’ is very pink. ‘Pink Pagoda’ is a lovely form of this. The Kashmir rowan, Sorbus cashmeriana, is a truly magnificent tree, larger than the native tree with larger leaves, a slight blue-green cast to the foliage and large clusters of large pure-white berries which usually last well after the leaves turn yellow and fall.

Care of mountain ash

In general, rowans are easy to grow and do not need special treatment. The wild kind can be used with other trees in mixed planting or as a specimen tree. The fancy kinds are best planted as part of a mixed border as specimen trees. They are sometimes planted on their own in grass areas and always look a bit lost, they need other shrubs and tree around. They are all best planted in ground that is not too rich and is well drained. In rich soil, the trees over-indulge and grow too large and somewhat soft. They tend to suffer more from pest and disease attack when grown soft but thrive when growing on the side of a wind-blown rocky hill.

Garden centres restocked

Perennial flowers.

Planting perennial flowers

Now is a good time to plant perennial flowers. When planted before winter, or just as the colder weather starts, the roots get a good chance to settle in. Lifting or planting during the winter is possible too, of course, and it is perfectly fine for most kinds, but often the weather conditions are not as good and can be very mucky, which does not suit herbaceous plants very well. The other advantage of planting at this time of year is that many garden centres will have restocked to at least some degree since the end of summer and the new stock will be fresh and likely to do well.

This week’s reminders

Fruit, vegetables and herbs

This is an ideal time to plant new fruit trees and bushes. Dig over vegetable ground, removing old crops to the compost heap. Control weeds over areas of ground that will be dug over later. Spread compost and rotted manure before digging it in.


If moss has been a problem, lawn mosskiller can be used now. Moss will grow strongly in the coming months and may have built up to damaging levels. Even though grass growth has slowed, occasional mowing is a good idea if the soil is not too wet.

Trees, shrubs and roses

Planting of bare-root deciduous trees, hedging and shrubs can continue in good weather. Do not plant into wet ground or into planting holes that fill with water, because the wet conditions cause the roots to rot. Pot-grown trees and shrubs can also be planted.


Spring bulbs should be in the ground by now but should be planted if not. Tulips can be planted quite late ad still do very well. Bedding plants for spring colour should be put in now, if not already done. Lift dahlias, begonias and gladiolus in frosty localities.

Greenhouse and house plants

Remove all debris and dead plants and ventilate occasionally. Water very little to reduce the risk of grey mould disease. Set up a greenhouse frost protection heater to protect tender plants, such as geraniums or fuchsias. Be careful not to over-water house plants.