There is quite an amount of work to do around the garden and in the greenhouse during December.
Tree ferns, bananas and other tender plants should all be protected against cold weather. Check that greenhouse heaters are in full working order. Apple and pear trees should be pruned now. Prune acers, birches and grape vines before Christmas to avoid bleeding. This is the time to harvest leeks, parsnips, winter cabbage, sprouts, kale, parsnips and carrots. Deciduous trees and shrubs can still be planted and transplanted but make sure that stakes are secure on trees, replacing stakes or ties that have become damaged. Plant the last of your spring flowering bulbs such as daffodils, tulips and hyacinths. Finally, choose your Christmas tree.
Houseplants, Greenhouse and Conservatory.
Reduce watering of houseplants at this time of year — water early in the day, keeping water off foliage and flowers. Use luke-warm water if temperatures are low and cold weather is prevailing.
Ensure that there is adequate ventilation in your greenhouse or conservatory, opening up the vents on mild dry days, ideally in late morning to early afternoon.
Cacti need very little watering or feeding over the winter. Keep them barely moist until the spring when they will be coming up to flowering and will therefore appreciate watering and feeding.
Clivia will benefit equally from less watering and feeding during the low light level period of winter.
Check that light levels are sufficient for houseplants over winter.
Pot up Hippeastrum (Amarylis) and bring them back into active growth with regular watering and feeding. They will reward you with beautiful flowers for the New Year.
Christmas cactus thrive best in a cool room with good natural rather than artificial light. Recommended temperature for Christmas cactus is not more than 18 degrees c (65f)
Cyclamen prefer a cool room with good light. Water from underneath and avoid wetting the leaves and flowers, as this may result in fungal infections and rotting.
Azaleas enjoy cool conditions. They are best in a cool but bright room, ideally unheated except where exceptionally low temperatures occur (when they can be brought into an area which is not frost susceptible). Water with rainwater.
Poinsettias are very much symbolic of Christmas and are chiefly sold in the period prior to Christmas. Avoid buying plants that have been accidentally chilled, especially those, which have been exposed to cold, draughty locations on cold days. Keep your Poinsettias in a warm, light place away from draughts and water with lukewarm water. Avoid standing for long periods in water. When they become dry you can stand in a saucer of lukewarm water for 10 or 15 minutes. Any water that remains at the end of the 10-15 minute period should be discarded.
Hyacinths, Narcissi, Crocus for early colour
Place Hyacinths, early Narcissi and Crocus in a cool, bright place in the home. If it’s too warm, the leaves will elongate, become drawn and the flower life will be much shortened. Keeping them cool and in a bright place will result in sturdier, more long lasting flowers.
Choose a locally grown Christmas tree. Keep in a cool place outdoors until you are ready to put it in place. Avoid placing too close to a fire or radiator, as this will cause excessive moisture loss and needle drop. Place in a stand with a reservoir of water. Check daily and top up the water when the level drops.
You can use traditional ivy with hollies preferably with berries, spruce, pines, Magnolia grandiflora, Osmanthus, Viburnum tinus and bay. For a more rustic wreath why not include twisted stems of hazel, birch, dogwood, willow, honeysuckle and vines and decorate with rose hips or the fluffy heads of old man’s beard (Clematis vitalba). Kept cool and moist, your wreaths can have a life of four to five weeks (longer outdoors).
Planting fruit trees and bushes
When weather and soil conditions permit, continue with planting of fruit trees and bushes. Why not give a gift of a collection of fruit trees or bushes as a Christmas gift? They make a highly practical Christmas gift that will give a lifetime of satisfaction rewarding the recipient year after year with delicious fruit from their very own garden! Choose a fresh site, which hasn’t grown fruit before. It is essential to have compatible pollinators when planting apple trees. A typical combination could include Bramley’s Seedling (cooker), Grenadier (early cooker), James Grieve (dessert), Discovery (dessert). If space permits, adding a crab apple will add to the collection and will help pollination. Blackcurrants, Redcurrants and Gooseberries may be planted at 150cm apart (5ft). Established currants and gooseberries will benefit from a mulch applied any time between now and March of well-rotted farmyard manure or well-composted garden compost.
May I take this opportunity of wishing you all a very Happy Christmas and every good wish for the New Year ahead. John Hosford