Gardening Year

December

With the end of the year in sight, a new gardening season beckons. Once Christmas is done and dusted, gardeners begin to plan the new campaign – the seed catalogues will have arrived, perhaps Santa has brought a new selection of tools and we all eagerly await the first signs of the new Spring.

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Until then, there are a number of tasks to be dealt with this month.

This is a great time to move any shrubs, perennials, conifers or roses. These plants are now dormant, so if a shrub has outgrown its position in your garden, or a rose is struggling in a shady place – on a dry mild day, with a sharp spade, simply dig around the plant leaving a good amount of soil around the root ball and with care simply transfer it to the new position.

It’s a good idea to pop in a handful or two of some kind of organic fertilizer and some fresh compost to give the plant a flying start in its new home.

If you follow these steps, there’s no reason why, come the Spring, the plant will flourish in its new position.

The last of the leaves continue to fall, so keep on top of them by regularly raking up and using them on your compost heap.

Keep an eye on your compost, as you don’t want to let it get too wet and slimy. It’s well worth turning the heap every couple of weeks to keep the air circulating. If you feel the compost does need a boost, you can use a dressing of “Garotta” to heat it up – if you want to stay organic, a few handfuls of Comfrey leaves will do the same job.

This is pruning time, with ornamental and fruit trees particularly receptive at this time of year to a bit of tidying. Taller shrubs such as Lavatera, Viburnum and Cotoneasters can be tackled with a sharp pair of secatuers.

But the one thing that dominates all gardening activity in December is of course, the weather. No matter how keen you are, or how pressing the task – more often than not in Winter, it’s just impossible to get on with those outside jobs. Indeed, one can do more harm than good, ruining lawns and paths. And don’t forget, at the end of the day gardening is supposed to be a pleasurable experience!

Where’s the fun in getting wet and cold on a dark December day ?

Why don’t you pick up one of the new season’s seed catalogues, pour a hot cup of tea and plan your 2004 summer border ?

So, if you have decided to leave the garden to fend for itself for a few weeks, why not take a look at what houseplants are at their best at this time of year. With Christmas in mind, perhaps the number one choice is the Poinsettia. A real symbol of Christmas! The Poinsettia is in fact a member of the Euphoria family. Traditionally, a Poinsettia is red, but over the past few years we now have them in white, lemon, burgundy and pink, and even a variegated species. These showy plants really do bring a Christmas feel to any household , and although, come the New Year many people simply dispose of the plant , it is possible to keep your Poinsettia going strong and get it to bloom next Christmas. If you cut it back in the Spring and leave the plant in a shady spot, new fresh shoots will come through. During the Autumn it is important to keep the plant in darkness for around 12 hours each day. If you can manage to do this, then you’ll have Poinsettia in full bloom for Christmas 2004.

Another favourite at this time is the Cyclamen. This is a hardy, showy houseplant that prefers to live in a cool environment, indeed the plant struggles if the temperature rises beyond 70 degrees Fahrenheit.

A real favourite for Winter. However, there are a few things to bear in mind to get the best from your Cyclamen. Never water from above, and do not over water and keep the plant away from direct sunlight.

We grow both the miniature form and the larger, more extravagant frilled form. Again, as with the Poinsettia, it is possible to keep a Cyclamen going for many months. Once the plant has stopped flowering, it is advisable to stop all watering and let the plant die back . Then, trim off any debris and replant into a new pot with plenty of fresh compost.

The Primrose produces some beautiful colour throughout winter. These hardy little plants can be planted out into the garden, but they also can make a superb houseplant, bringing a little bit of Spring into the home during December and January. Let them flower in the house, then plant them out into a sheltered spot. These plant will then settle outside and reward you with lots of winter colour for seasons to come.

The Solanum is another great choice for Christmas. The plant bears a mass of orange berries throughout the festive season, and with its deep green foliage really is a striking selection.

As with the Cyclamen, the Solanum prefers a cooler room, so again try to keep the temperature under 70 degrees.

By now, the indoor bulbs you planted back in September will be showing their heads, ready to explode into colour over Christmas. The prepared Hyacinths are looking great, nice and chunky with plenty of bud. We have them growing in blue, pink, red or white and these pots will be full of colour and fragrance for Christmas and New Year.

The Narcissi varieties like Jet Fire, Tete a Tete and Jack Snipe should be showing as well, again they will provide a real burst of Spring weeks before the bulbs you planted outside get going.

Again, once these bulbs have finished, simply plant them outside in the garden where they will be more than happy for many years.

If you are scratching your head wondering what to buy the gardener in your life this Christmas – how about a National Garden Gift Token?

These tokens are accepted in nurseries and garden centres nationwide, and are just the thing for a keen gardener.

They are available in various denominations and are valid for six years – a great gift to slip in with your Christmas card.