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Gardening Tips - December
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December Gardener's Calendar
Sowing and Planting
Enjoy late flowers still in bloom and let us know what out of season flowers are still going in your garden! You can still plant out ferns and grass – they look as lovely covered in frost as they do when in bloom. Grass plants are great for planting under trees, complimenting surrounding plants with their delicate seed heads. Mix ferns up with berries and winter flowering hellebore (Christmas Roses) for an interesting winter display.
In keeping with the Christmas theme, why not try to grow your own mistletoe! If you are lucky enough to have one of the host trees - apple, hawthorn, lime or poplar, growing mistletoe should be fairly easy. Simply collect some berries from a mistletoe plant and rub them into the cracks of the bark - let your mistletoe flourish from your tree’s nutrients.
Round off the season by sowing plants for next year, sow summer flowering seeds and vegetable seeds to be harvested next autumn. Turn it into a family activity this winter - kids love growing from seed! Peas are perfect because of their quick visible results and they are great fun to pick and shell.
Fruit and Vegetables
It’s time to plant new fruit trees! December is your last chance to plant fruit trees and bushes, secure the tree loosely to its stake to prevent it from being dislodged from the ground and remember to water when the weather is dry.
Gather up all your beanpoles, canes and other veg supports from your garden so they don’t deteriorate over winter. Clean off any soil and leave them undercover, ready for next spring.
Net cabbages and other winter crop to stop hungry pigeon and other birds trying to eat them. Protect salads, herbs and other crops from the cold with cloches.
Gather the last harvest, now is the final time to pick the fruit that are left and bring it indoors. Leave parsnips in the ground because they taste much better after the frosts. Tomatoes are unlikely to ripen further, bring them inside and put them next to a banana to ripen them quickly. Another way to use unripe tomatoes is to make green tomato chutney, perfect for eating on Christmas day, and even as presents!
Clearing borders of dead or dying plants helps create tidy displays, showing off those still in bloom. The spent debris makes a great soil improver for next year, so get it rotting down. Prune harshly to improve the shape of your trees and shrubs, look out for flaws such as split or broken branches, and make sure you cut them back so they are healthier next year.
Leaves and manure are great for creating an alternative to compost; leaf mould can act as soil coverage during those harsh winter months and manure can be rotted down and used to rejuvenate your soil with nutrients. If you’re looking for something a little more natural, green manures like clover or rye are great for improving soil nature’s way!
Mulch requires very little work, and is great for applying to the roots of established or flowering plants. Let earth worms do all the hard work; they will eventually drag and blend the mulch into top soil.
Don’t let ivy be a pest; it may seem like any other climbing plant usefully covering your bare walls and fences. Unfortunately no matter how much you try and keep it in bounds, ivy always has a way of escaping! It has a habit of smothering other plants and annoying neighbours, so make sure you keep cutting back those escaping shoots or get rid of it altogether.
Be aware of pests and diseases, one of the most prevalent diseases this time of year is root rot. Stop root rot by placing pots in the rain shadow of a wall or fence and lift them off the ground on pot feet or large stones to let the moisture drain out. Prevent falling leaves from going near the base of your roses to stop the spreading of rose black spot. Take hardwood cuttings. Propagate a wide range of fruits trees and shrubs by taking hardwood cuttings from healthy plants in winter.
December is all about protection for your plants and garden wildlife.
Protect ponds by catching any fallen leaves with a small net and trimming off any dying or tatty foliage so they don’t pollute the water. You may wake up on those winter mornings to find your pond covered in ice, fish can withstand such low temperatures but can’t survive too much in the water. Float a tennis ball on the surface to stop ice taking over your pond and keep your fish and pond wildlife safe!
Wind can cause major problems, sometimes loosening plants causing disease to spread or making them become completely dislodged from the ground. When plants are loosened it forms a gap between them and the soil, allowing excessive moisture and frost to reach the roots. Check that newly planted plants are firmly back into place and reduce the height of overly tall plants will reduce wind rock. If you are extremely worried about some of your tender plants, the best thing to do is move them inside when the weather becomes more severe. The cold weather doesn’t just affect your plants, don’t let your containers crack as the frost starts to set in, wrap them with bubble polythene or fleece. If you have lots of containers pack them together and wrap protection around as a group. Your garden furniture is also at risk, cover furniture with polythene sheeting to protect it from becoming damp and possibly rusty.
Remember to replenish and add water for birds to drink out of. Watch out for bird nests when pruning. Many gardeners assume that birds aren’t hungry when they look plump; birds actually fluff up their feathers to minimize the loss of heat from their bodies when they are seriously hungry.
The Lord Cavendish of Furness DL., Mrs Olive Clarke OBE, JP, DL., Mr Paul Rose, Mrs Eileen Kirby
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