Gardening by month
Gardening in December
As the days shorten and darken further, this is the month for some ‘indoor gardening’ and dreaming of how beautiful the garden will look next spring and summer. Take an hour or two to browse through our 2013 seed catalogue, where you will find a host of varities, old and new, to grow for next year. Forgive us for saying that growing your own flowers from seed is one of the most satisfying parts about gardening. We would say that, of course, but it happens to be true! If you have never raised flowers from seed before, make an early New Year’s resolution to do so in 2013. It still is quite a magical process!
And what better place to start than with sweet peas? They are Britain’s best-loved annual flower, and to mark this Mr Fothergill’s has declared 2013 the ‘Year of the Sweet Pea’ You will see in the catalogue that our offer of sweet peas has never been bigger or better – with lots of varieties which are exclusive to us, plus many old favourites added to the list. By the way, we shall also be holding a competiton for sweet pea growers at Capel Manor College, Enfield in early July 2013. It is aimed at ‘ordinary’ gardeners and youngsters, so everyone has a chance of winning our big cash prizes! Watch this space for details. By the way, may we dispel a myth about sweet peas here and now? Ignore those people, and some actually write in the gardening magazines, who tell you modern sweet peas have no fragrance - because it is simply not true. Many varieties being bred and introduced nowadays have just as much scent as those from years ago.
Once you have ordered your flower seeds for the year ahead, now is the time to put your flower garden to bed for the winter. A final weeding and removal of dead leaves (especially rose leaves) from the ground will help to keep beds and borders healthy until next spring. If you have any shrubs which you realise are in the wrong place, they can be moved during December now they have become dormant. Dig round the base carefully, removing as large a rootball as possible before moving them carefully to their new homes. Water them regularly in dry spells during the winter and through next spring and summer to help them become established in their new positions.
If you have low-growing alpine plants in the garden, remember wet is far more harmful to them than winter frosts. It is therefore a good idea to clear up round them, taking care to remove any fallen leaves from their vicinity. If you have gravel round them, top this up after any weeds have been taken out. This weeding will of course eliminate competition to these beautiful little plants.
Many house plants are bought in the run-up to Christmas, but careful selection is important if they are to make it to the festive season and beyond. Do not buy plants which are for sale outdoors at this time of year because the shock of bringing them into a nice, warm house will give them a setback from which they may not recover. Better to go for plants which are offered for sale indoors and which have obviously be cared for and well watered. These may cost a little more, but the extra expense is usually money well spent.
Fruit trees and bushes
Judicious winter pruning controls the shape and size of fruit trees. First of all, inspect the tree for dead, crossing or damaged branches and take these out with either loppers or a saw, depending on the size of the branch. Make the cuts as cleanly as you can. They will not need sealing, but can be left to heal naturally in the months ahead.
If you wish to increase your stock of fruit bushes such as currants and gooseberries and are not in a hurry, why not take some hardwood cuttings? Select the newest stems and take a cutting about 12in long, then cut off the soft tip just above a bud. Dip the bottom of the cutting in hormone rooting powder, make a slit in the soil with a spade and insert the new cutting to a depth of about 6in. Remember to keep cuttings waterd in dry spells, and by next autumn they should have rooted well and be ready for transplanting to their fruiting positions..
As with flowers, this is the ideal time to select vegetable varieties to grow from seed next year, and to order seed potatoes too, especially if you want to secure tubers of a particular variety. Why not make a point of trying a new variety or two alongside your tried and trusted favourites to see how they perform? Many modern varieties offer gardeners benefits, especially in their disease and pest resistance, cropping ability and all-round peformance. They are a really good idea if you grow your veg organically or with as few chemicals as possible.
Now that crops such as tomatoes and cucumbers have been cleared out, many people’s greenhouses remain empty through the winter. If this is the case with yours, no excuse for not giving it a thorough clean inside and out so that it can make the most of the sun’s rays next year. If not, why not grow some salad leaves in grow bags in the greenhouse? Salads are not just for summer!
Wild bird care
While some vegetable gardeners regard wild birds as rather a pest, on balance they do far more good in the garden than they do harm. Where you have weeded round perennials and shrubs, wild birds and especially robins will soon be on hand to devour eggs and larvae of various pests which may be lurking in the soil and storing up trouble for next year. Regular cleaning of bird feeders may not be the most exciting job, but it is important to prevent the spread of various avian diseases. If posssible, clean them out and disinfect them by soaking in a suitable preparation. Rinse thoroughly and allow them to dry before re-filling and putting them out again for the birds. It is also a good idea to scrub out birdbaths thoroughly before re-filling them regularly with clean water, which is important not only for drinking, but for maintenance of wild birds’ plumage.