Gardening News, Advice, Tips and Jobs For December 2021

News, Advice, Tips and Jobs For December 2021

News

 After gale Arwen it is worth checking the garden carefully for damage, we experienced a neighbours' tree falling onto the rock garden and many pots even in sheltered positions were blown around.

I won't argue.  It is often difficult to garden in December.  Nevertheless, I do believe that all efforts should be made to finish winter digging whenever weather and ground conditions permit, as well as carrying out a general tidy up of the garden before Christmas festivities take over and occupy us completely.  It is also time to check that the lagging is holding firm around any stand-pipes and taps in the garden.  Turn off the water if necessary and drain down any outside systems.

In December, any sunshine we may be graced with is usually weak.  The frost will have ruined the last few roses which struggled on through November, and there seems an abundance of bare earth in the borders and the vegetable plot.  But there is no reason why December should be completely bleak and gloomy.  It need not be flowerless.  Winter heathers, Jasminium nudiflorum, Christmas roses (Helleborus niger), witch hazel (Hamamelis), Iris unguicularis and the winter cherry are just a few of the many plants which can be relied on to brighten up those dull, dark winter days.

December is, of course, the month for nativity plays, icing cakes, buying presents, decorating trees, making garlands, wrapping gifts, writing cards, stuffing turkeys, carol singing . . . . . . you'd wonder how we get through it all!  It can be a frantically busy time, especially if you children in the house or are expecting the family home for the holidays.  But don't forget that the greenhouse and garden can often supply you with many materials to decorate the home.  Holly and other berrying shrubs, together with evergreens, make simple yet effective door decorations or arrangements.  Flowering bulbs or cyclamen can be given as gifts or used to add colour to your own home.  Then there are all those flowers you collected and dried.

And when you are exhausted with all the festive excitement, you can always retreat to the fireside to browse through those enticing seed catalogues and dream about next year.

Advice

 Will be added as time nears

Tips

Will be added shortly

 The Flower Garden

Continue tidying up beds and borders this month, cutting down any faded plants.  The crowns of tender plants will need protecting with straw or bracken, and you should regularly check the soil around newly planted specimens, re-firming it where it has been loosened by frost.  Now is also the time to clear and dig over any areas which are to be redeveloped next year.

Keep a watch-out for slug damage, particularly in cold frames and amongst the shoots of plants such as delphiniums, and check stored gladioli and dahlias for signs of decay.  In milder districts, it may be possible to plant lily bulbs on a layer of sand and rich soil.

In the rock garden, efforts should be made to clear all fallen leaves.  December is an excellent month for sowing slow-germinating seed and those needing exposure to the cold in order to break their dormancy.  Clay pots or shallow trays should be used for this purpose.  Stand them outside on a hard surface – not under trees – and do not water.

Roses can be planted as weather conditions permit and, if not already completed, existing ones should be pruned to safeguard against wind-rock.  Ensure that hardwood cuttings planted in September are firm in the ground.

Heavy falls of snow can do a lot of damage to bushes and trees, especially conifers.  After heavy snow, it is wise to shake as much as possible from the branches before the load causes them to break.  In extremely cold weather, a patch of ice on the pond should be melted to allow fish to breathe when the pool is frozen.

Holly, winter jasmine and viburnum can be cut for seasonal decorations at this time of year, but take care not to spoil the overall shape of the shrub.  And finally, if Santa does bring you any garden plants this Christmas, they should be unwrapped and either planted or heeled-in as quickly as possible.

The Lawn

 

Areas that you wish to seed in the spring should be dug over now.  Any worn areas in lawns and grass paths can be re-turved, working from boards at all times but especially when wet.  As the ground is often quite soft at this time of year, lay the turf a little high and allow it to settle.

During the winter, lawns should be kept free from fallen leaves and, where necessary, treated against leather jackets.  Spiking will help to improve aeration, drainage and water infiltration.

If weather forces you into the workshop this month, consider making a start on overhauling all machinery and equipment.  Mowers, in particular, should be checked over so there is time to order spare parts or book it in for a service.

The Vegetable Garden

 Carry out single and double digging when weather and ground conditions permit.  As the ground becomes frozen, celery and parsnips should be lifted and, although swedes are very hardy, it may be preferable to lift them too and then dig the soil.  Don’t forget to inspect vegetables in store on a regular basis and remove any showing signs of disease or decay.

If the ground is fairly dry it will be necessary to draw up a little soil around the stems of Brussels sprouts and spring cabbage to give them better anchorage against the wind.  Sprout buttons can be picked when they are young and tight, but do not remove the tops.  Protect winter brassica crops from pigeons where they are a problem and remove faded leaves periodically.  It will also be necessary to protect winter lettuce from slugs by using slug pellets or traps.

Work can begin on preparing runner bean trenches towards the end of the month by digging out a trench 2-3ft wide and 18ins deep.  The weather will have beneficial effects on the soil if the trench is left open.  Onion beds can also be prepared now by digging deeply and adding manure.  Bonfire ash can be spread as a top-dressing, together with 4oz/sq yd of bonemeal and hoof and horn.  These will be worked into the soil when preparing the seed-bed.

Rhubarb crowns should be lifted for forcing this month.  Seakale, chicory and endives can also be forced.  They will provide a varied winter salad bowl.


The Fruit Garden

Carry out single and double digging when weather and ground conditions permit.  As the ground becomes frozen, celery and parsnips should be lifted and, although swedes are very hardy, it may be preferable to lift them too and then dig the soil.  Don’t forget to inspect vegetables in store on a regular basis and remove any showing signs of disease or decay.

If the ground is fairly dry it will be necessary to draw up a little soil around the stems of Brussels sprouts and spring cabbage to give them better anchorage against the wind.  Sprout buttons can be picked when they are young and tight, but do not remove the tops.  Protect winter brassica crops from pigeons where they are a problem and remove faded leaves periodically.  It will also be necessary to protect winter lettuce from slugs by using slug pellets or traps.

Work can begin on preparing runner bean trenches towards the end of the month by digging out a trench 2-3ft wide and 18ins deep.  The weather will have beneficial effects on the soil if the trench is left open.  Onion beds can also be prepared now by digging deeply and adding manure.  Bonfire ash can be spread as a top-dressing, together with 4oz/sq yd of bonemeal and hoof and horn.  These will be worked into the soil when preparing the seed-bed.

Rhubarb crowns should be lifted for forcing this month.  Seakale, chicory and endives can also be forced.  They will provide a varied winter salad bowl.

The Indoor Garden, Conservatory and Greenhouse

Light is very important at this time of year.  Hours of daylight are short and the strength of the sun weak.  It is important, therefore, to make sure that glass in the greenhouse and conservatory is clean.  On sunny days, ventilators should be opened a little to provide a fresh supply of air and improve circulation, but don’t forget to close them early in the afternoon before the air turns nippy.  Watering also needs careful consideration this month.  Water sparingly so as not to encourage outbreaks of botrytis and other diseases.

When the December weather drives you from the garden into the greenhouse, take the opportunity to clean the greenhouse, staging, pots and trays.

Continue to examine bowls of bulbs and bring them into the house as required.  Many beginners make the mistake of bringing them into the light too quickly, ideally they should be about 3ins tall and the plants brought gradually into the warmth and light.

Chrysanthemums that have finished flowering may be cut down now and the stools boxed up, taking care to label each one clearly and securely.  The plants should be cut down to about 3ins and top-dressed with peat and loam plus a sprinkling of silver sand.  Be careful not to over-water the stools.

To encourage the formation of side shoots, the tips of sweet pea seedlings need to be pinched-out after the second or third pairs of leaves have formed.  Cover the cold frame with matting or straw if a severe frost is predicted.  If an unexpected frost occurred, as often is the case, the cold frame should be covered immediately as rapid thawing will blacken sweet pea foliage.

At this time of year, it is sensible to carry out any necessary watering during the morning.  Cyclamen in particular should be watered with care.  Watch for any signs of damping-off in the crown and pull out any sickly-looking leaves.

Pot roses can be brought into the greenhouse now and pruned hard.  Hydrangeas and fuchsias grown in pots or container should also be brought into the greenhouse or shed.  They will require only very little water between now and spring.  Fuchsias should be dormant by now, but they will need to be inspected regularly.

Towards the end of the month, old geraniums should be cut back to encourage new growth.

If you are looking forward to making a start with the edible crops, try sowing some radishes into growing bags or into the border soil of the greenhouse.  They should be ready for early spring.

Exhibition onions such as Ailsa Craig, Flagon or Premier can also be sown now, sowing the seed thinly into seed trays.  Force chicory and rhubarb by covering with an upturned bucket or container.  Chicory should be ready in around 4 weeks, rhubarb in 6 or so.

Finally, retire to the fireside with a clean sheet of paper and a pencil, and begin planning how you will use the greenhouse next year.  What colours will you choose to brighten your home?  What varieties of tomato and cucumber will adorn you summer salads?  Now fill in those seed orders and post them today.

Looking Good This month

 

Trees

Arbutus unedo

Euucalyptus gunnii

Prunus subhirtella autumnalis 'Rosea'

Shrubs

Erica carnea varieties,

Fatsia japonica,

Hamamelis mollis,

Lonicera fragrantissima,

Viburnum fragrans, V. tinus varieties.

Climbers

Clematis cirrhosa,

Jasminum nudiflorum

Herbaceous

Helleborus niger  and varieties

Bulbs

colchicum and crocus as November

Fruit and Vegetables in season

Cauliflowers, Winter Cabbage, Carrots, Parsnips, Brussels Sprouts, Kale

The information given in this Fact Sheet is provided in good faith. It is however of necessity general information and advice on the topic. Howard Drury will not be under any liability in respect of the provision of such advice and information, and you are strongly advised to seek independent advice on any particular gardening problems or queries you may have, preferably from experts who can (when appropriate) inspect the problem before providing advice.

© 2022 This material has been produced by Howard Drury and must not be reproduced in part or full without the written consent of Howard Drury, Kings Heath Birmingham, B13 0SJ.

JHD/ 18.02.2022

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