December and the party season is here! If though you want a break from festivities, there is a few jobs to do in the garden.
There will be Dogwoods with their yellow or red stems (Cornus alba sp.), Calacarpa with purple fruits, Mountain Ash (Sorbus) Cotoneaster, and Pyracantha with their yellow or red berries and Viburnum Fragrans with it’s delicate, perfumed pink flowers on bare stems. Plants to look for now to give winter colour next year will be Christmas Rose (Hellebores), Mexican orange blossom (Choisya), Quince (Chaenomeles), Witchhazel (Hamemellis Mollis), Viburnum Tinus and Sarcococca.
Cyclamen can provide colour year on year. They are relatively easy to grow and can be bought in pots ready to plant out. They prefer well-drained soil with plenty of organic matter, and away from full sun ideally in dappled shade. Plant in groups of 3 or 5 spaced at 150mm apart. Given time they will naturalise.
Gentians are another easy to grow plant that will flower well at this time of year. Gentians offered at nurseries tend to be G. sino-ornata. These prefer well-drained soil with plenty of leaf-mould and lime-free. (the leaves will turn yellow) They are available now in pots in garden centres.
Bulbs that were potted up in September for Christmas flowering will need to be brought out into the light and be kept moist. Likewise if you want to bring on prepared early bulbs for the spring then these will need potting up and placing in a cool dark place for about 6-8 weeks and will also need to be moist.
Continue to clear leaves especially from lawns. If you are thinking of burning them, check any existing piles for hibernating animals, especially hedgehogs, before you set fire to them. Protect evergreens that are susceptible to damage from winds and frost. Particularly early flowering Daphne, camellias and pieris by draping fleece over them and tying it in to keep it there. Place straw mulch over strawberries, paeonia and the like to protect them from hard ground frosts – it’s better to be safe than sorry.
Pruning and cutting back
When all the leaves have finally dropped from the apple and pear trees you can prune them. It’s much easier to see the framework. When completed a winter wash will help to reduce the number of over wintering eggs of aphids etc. hatching out in the spring. Be mindful of spray drift. If the trees are in a lawn area, then place a ring of polythene or similar to protect the grass as excessive solution on the lawn will burn it.
Prune back herbaceous plants. Mulching over the ground with well-rotted manure will replace some of the food taken out during the season. Split and divide any old or tired plants. The best way is to lift the whole clump, place two forks back to back in the middle and then force them apart. Split them up as many times as necessary relative to the space available or conversely the space you wish to fill up. In some cases, such as aster, the new plants will be around the outside. Discard the middle and use the young plants for re-planting. Before re-planting mix in compost with fish blood and bone to help establish a good root system.
Don’t forget your garden friendly birds in December. You will have plenty to eat, make sure they have. Apart from the array of feeders and treats in the shops for our feathered friends, a simple, cheap source of food (and amusement to all onlookers) is a coconut. Instructions are fairly simple – buy coconut, crack in half, hang upside down on a bird table or tree branch. You’ll need to give it a few days to go mouldy and dry before you get any visitors though.
Finally, it leaves me to wish you all a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.