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General tasks and garden maintenance for December

The last week hasn’t been good for gardeners. There’s little incentive to get out and tend the soil when the wind’s blowing a gale and the rain is pouring down unremittingly. However, we gardeners are made of stern stuff. We know that our precious gardens and plants won’t look after themselves: they need care and attention even when the weather is atrocious. Granted it may be December, and Christmas may be just around the corner, but there are still chores that need to be carried out so that the garden is in the best possible condition when the New Year begins. So here are Ladybrook Nursery’s top tips for the December garden.

Ten top jobs for the December gardeners

  • Check your winter protection structures are still securely in place
  •  Check that greenhouse heaters are working
  • Prevent ponds and stand pipes from freezing
  • Prune open-grown apples and pears (but not those trained against walls)
  • Prune acers, birches and vines before Christmas to avoid bleeding
  • Harvest leeks, parsnips, winter cabbage, sprouts and remaining root crops
  • Deciduous trees and shrubs can still be planted and transplanted
  • Take hardwood cuttings
  • Keep mice away from stored produce
  • Reduce watering of houseplants

Top tips for the December garden

 

Flower garden

  •  Start to winter-prune your wisteria, cutting back summer side-shoots to 2 or 3 buds.
  • Prune climbing roses; cutting away diseased or damaged growth and tying-in any new shoots to their support. Prune older flowered side shoots back by two thirds of their length.
  • Leave the faded flower heads on hydrangeas until the spring, as they will provide frost protection to the swelling buds further down the stems.
  • Gather up any fallen leaves around the base of rose bushes which have suffered from blackspot or rust in the summer, to reduce the chance of infection next year.
  • Move containers of shrubs or bedding plants to a sheltered spot; clustering them together helps protect the root systems from suffering frost damage.
  • Lift and store dahlia tubers once their leaves are blackened by frost.
  • Take root cuttings of oriental poppies and grow them on in cold frames.
  • Plant up winter containers with hardy cyclamen, ivy, skimmia and evergreen grasses such as Carex to add colour to your garden.
  • Plant some shrubs for winter interest. Sarcococca confusa adds colour and fragrance to your garden at this time of year.
  • If you still haven’t planted your tulip bulbs there is still time, provided the ground isn’t frozen.
  • Spread fresh gravel or grit around alpine plants.

 

Fruit garden

  • December is the perfect time to prune fruit trees to maintain an open, balanced structure and encourage quality fruit production. However plums, cherries and other stone fruits should not be pruned until the summer as winter pruning will make them susceptible to silver leaf fungus.
  • Prune grape vines.
  • Protect wall trained peaches and nectarines from wet winter weather which spreads the peach leaf curl fungus.
  • Protect the tips of fig tree branches as these will carry the fruits for next year and are susceptible to frost. Cover with fleece or straw.
  •  Apply glue bands or greasebands to the trunks of fruit trees to prevent wingless female winter moths climbing the trunks and laying their eggs in the branches.
  • If you’d like to grow your own delicious raspberries next year, plant raspberry canes now whilst they are dormant.
  • If your strawberry plants are over 3 years old, order some new strawberry runners to replace them. Old strawberry plants can harbour diseases and tend to lose vigour and productivity.
  • Plant blueberries this winter for an attractive addition to the fruit garden. With pretty white flowers, delicious berries and fiery autumn foliage, these acid loving plants provide constant interest.

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