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Gardener's Diary

December


In association with the Royal Horticultural Society

The Royal Horticultural Society

The Royal Horticultural Society is the UK's leading gardening charity dedicated to advancing horticulture and promoting good gardening.

Their goal is to help people share a passion for plants, to encourage excellence in horticulture and inspire all those with an interest in gardening.

In this section on Laterlife they share their expertise to provide your Jobs for the Month - making sure that your garden is ready for the season ahead.

Find out more about how to become a member of the RHS

Jobs to do in December

It's getting even colder

Top 10 jobs this month

Frost, rainfall and winds are increasingly common, sunshine hours are much reduced and it can be bitter with a risk of snow. You may not want to be working outside at this time of year, but luckily there's not a lot to do. Keep an eye on winter protection, and if you have a greenhouse, make sure the heater works. It's time to think about pruning apples and pears too. See our video on how to do it to get the best possible harvest.

  • Check your winter protection structures are still securely in place

  • Check that greenhouse heaters are working

  • Insulate outdoor taps and prevent ponds 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


Trees and shrubs


Planting and moving

Continue to plant bare-root deciduous hedging plants and trees. Put rabbit guards around newly planted trees and shrubs to protect the bark from damage.

Plant roses, but avoid areas where roses were previously grown as this can lead to problems with replant diseases.

Move established deciduous trees and shrubs, provided the ground is not frozen or soggy.

Protect newly planted trees, hedges and shrubs from cold winds and frosts, which can loosen and lift the roots. Gently re-firm them in if you notice this problem, and erect a temporary netting windbreak if there is no natural shelter. Thick dry mulches will protect the roots from cold, and branches can be covered with fleece, or even packed with dry straw and then covered with fleece, for tender plants. A wooden frame with clear polythene stretched over it does a similar job for evergreens without blocking the light, but don’t let the polythene touch the leaves, as condensation could freeze or cause rots.

 

Pruning and training

Tie wall shrubs and climbers onto their supports to protect them from wind damage.

Pruning and renovation of many deciduous trees, shrubs and hedges can be carried out from now throughout the dormant season. It is easier to see what you are doing when the branches have no leaves. Suitable examples are: Fagus (beech), Corylus (hazel), and also roses. Exceptions are evergreens and tender plants (these are best left until spring), and Prunus species (e.g. ornamental cherries, plums and almonds), as these are vulnerable to silver leaf when pruned in autumn or winter.

If your trees are too large for you to manage the pruning alone, then you may need a tree surgeon. Otherwise take care not to damage the tree when sawing off thicker branches.

Ensure any pruning of Acer and Betula is completed before the end of the year to avoid bleeding of sap from cuts.

 

Propagation

Take hardwood cuttings of ornamental shrubs such as Berberis, Buddleja, Salix, Forsythia, Ligustrum and Rubus. Many deciduous climbers can also be propagated in this way (e.g. Fallopia and Lonicera).

Check hardwood cuttings taken last year. They may need planting out or potting on.

 

General maintenance

Packing the branches of tender deciduous trees and shrubs with straw or bracken, and securing this with fleece and ties, will protect them from frost.

Remove weeds from around the bases of young trees.

Check tree ties and stakes. Replace, tighten, slacken or remove as necessary.

If there is snow in your area, then you may need to brush it off the branches of conifers, climbers and light-limbed shrubs and trees. Heavy snowfall can splay branches, break limbs and spoil the shape of the tree.

Prevent premature needle drop on your Christmas tree by choosing a pine (Pinus) or fir (Abies) tree instead of the traditional Norway spruce (Picea abies); these hold their needles for longer. Avoid placing your tree near sources of heat such as a fire or radiator. Cut trees will last longer if stood in a bucket of water or a stand with a reservoir. Saw off the bottom 5-7.5cm (2-3in) of trunk to allow the tree to drink freely.

You may wish to protect a few holly berries from the birds, for use in Christmas decorations. Netting should do the job, but do leave some uncovered for winter wildlife.

Take note of the most colourful dogwoods (Cornus), Salix and white-stemmed Rubus shrubs when visiting gardens open to the public, or in garden centres, and consider planting them yourself, for a winter display.

 

Pest and disease watch

Garden hygiene helps greatly in the prevention of disease carry-over from one year to the next. It is always a good idea to rake up and burn, bury, or throw away infected leaves.

Diseases such as black spot on roses can be controlled to some extent in this way. Do not compost such material, though, as these diseases can persist in compost heaps and re-infect mulched plants.

Damage from bay suckers may still be evident, although the pests will have been and gone. However, it is a good idea to remove affected leaves if there are only a few, and to take note to look out for damage next spring (usually around May) - the problem should then be treated promptly.

Phytophthora root rots can cause die-back on mature trees and shrubs. Wet winter weather and poorly drained soils are likely to encourage this problem on susceptible woody plants.

Coral spot is often noticed once the leaves have fallen from deciduous hedges, shrubs and trees. This problem can be connected with poor ventilation and congested, un-pruned twiggy growth (as found inside clipped hedges).

Holly leaf blight is still uncommon, but can be spread in wet weather.

Rabbits and squirrels can be a nuisance as the weather gets colder, gnawing the bark from shrubs and trees. Guards around new woody plants are advisable.

 

The Royal Horticultural Society

Want more Gardening tips?
Why not view the Royal Horticultural Society's website.



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