Jobs to do in December

“The glossy holly lined the path,
The Yew tree lent its shadow dark,
And many an old oak, worn and bare
With all its shivered boughs, was there
Lovely between the moonbeams fell
On lawns and hillock, glad and dell”
(Sir Walter Scott)

"A warm Christmas, a cold Easter."

"A green Christmas, a white Easter."

"A good winter brings a good summer."

This can be a tempestuous month, storms and then bright cold frosty days. Hunker down, get the log store filled, last of the leaves at last blown away, shortest day is coming and the end of the year.

If you can wrap up, take a close look at your garden with pen and pad. Check all ties on climbers, tree ties, stakes and trellis. Loosen off or re-secure. Too much movement around young trees will loosen root balls and stop roots growing leading to a tree blowing over or dying. Anticipate winds to come and make secure. Make sure that the soil is pressed firmly around newly planted trees and shrubs.
Pressure wash decking, patios and paths and get rid of the algae, sprinkle coarse sand on top to give grip.
Empty gutters and gullies.
Clean pots, plastic and terracotta with warm soapy water and rinse off. Stubborn stains use a jet wash, dress up appropriately it’s a messy job this one. Whilst in cleaning mode tackle washing bird-feeders and bird baths, rinse well. Empty nest boxes don’t be surprised to find a mouse inside!

There is always the shed to sort out, garage and greenhouse too! Tools to clean, oil and sharpen, and machines to put in for service for next year.
Put up trellis, posts or an arch, brace any loose fence panels.

Pruning – Grape vines outside, cut back all side shoots to two buds, this is an important job to get done in December/January before the sap starts to rise, tie in securely all stems.
Apples and pears – if a bush or standard tree think of the tree as a wine glass. The middle of the tree should be fairly open in shape, goblet shaped, to allow light and air into the centre of the tree. Prune out long water shoots. Create spurs, short side shoots. Flower buds are now visible, try to leave as many as possible, this helps to regulate the growth of the trees.

Frost protection – Plants in containers need packing together, close to buildings for shelter. Raise off the ground to stop drainage hole getting blocked. Be prepared to place fleece over the top of more sensitive plants. Take down netting over fruit cages to stop snow getting trapped and your fruit cage collapsing under the weight.
Wash the stems/trunks of Silver birches and snake bark maples, you might think Pete you’ve gone too far, but on a dull day your trunks will stand out from all the others!!! No green slime just glistening stems.
Keep bird feeders topped up and fresh water, plenty of winter migrants coming into the gardens to feed on pyracantha, holly, cotoneaster, hawthorn berries etc. Lots of redwings, fieldfares, blackbirds and thrushes and if you are really lucky waxwings.

Bare Root Plants:
Don’t forget to order bare root fruit trees, hedging and roses. If your ground is too wet to plant them in their final position, either heel them in or pot them up as soon as you receive them.
Do not allow the roots to dry out!
Stored bulbs, vegetables and fruit, check for damaged or rotten items, remove and discard. Do not put on the compost heap if fungal – onions. Rotten apples and pears put out for the birds.
Check sweet peas for mouse damage.
Greenhouse, conservatory and houseplants need to be checked for bugs and beasties, greenfly, mealybugs, whitefly and even caterpillars on overwintering plants in the greenhouse.
Ventilation on warmer days is very important, this reduces fungal diseases, stops plants getting sweaty and mouldy.
If you use a heater in your greenhouse check it is working. Insulate as best as you can, bubble wrap and several layers of fleece work very well. Water plants sparingly.
Go through seed packets, peas, beans and tomatoes will last several years if kept cool and dry past their sell by dates. Seeds still in their hermetically sealed packets will last years too. Throw away packets that are open and two or more years old.
Manuring and mulching if the ground isn’t too wet. Use scaffold boards to get around with a wheelbarrow over lawns or ground to stop compaction. Dig over heavy soil and leave in clods for the frost to break down. Do not attempt if the ground is saturated.
Wood ash from open fires or wood burners can be sprinkled around fruit trees, roses and shrubs or mixed in with your own compost.

Many shrubs flowering now are scented, Viburnum x bodnantense, fragrans, Mahonia, Daphne, Chimonathus praecox (wintersweet), hamamellis mollis (witch hazels)….

Christmas present ideas :
If you want an unusual present for someone or simply yourself then check out two very good websites -Burncoose Nurseries and Habitat Aid.
Make up your own present from a garden centre or nursery – a gardening hamper
Seed trays, inserts, cell trays, pots, seeds –flowers, vegetables, herbs, wildflowers, dibber, gloves……
Tools, a good spade/fork, spring tine rake, and secateurs, or more for the animals, a bird bath, feeder, nestbox, bug house, hedgehog house. Garden centre vouchers for next years purchases always go down well, pots of spring bulbs, house plants or camellias.

Christmas Trees – here are some tips to keeping a cut tree looking good.
Buy a Christmas tree stand that holds water.
When you get home with your tree, saw two inches off the stem.
Put your tree up in the stand and fill with water, the tree will draw up at least a pint of water so replenish each day
Keep the tree away from hot radiators.

"If the ice bears before Christmas, it won’t bear a goose after."

Happy Armchair Gardening,
Peter Mills