As part of a project designed to sow ideas, grow inspiration and cultivate futures, 300 London schools are growing their own picnic this summer and their reward could be a £500 voucher from GardenSite.
Whether it's a bleak December or the more mild weather we are becoming used to, you can still spend useful time in the garden during the last month of the year. David Coton suggests some garden jobs that can occupy the short days.
Continue to collect leaves from the lawn and brush them off paths. Stuff the leaves into black bags, fold over (don't tie), spike the bags to aid drainage and put aside. The result after six months will be leaf mould, great for potting or as a soil improver.
Transplant shrubs that have overgrown their current location. After deciding on an alternative position, dig in plenty of organic matter and move the shrub making sure it retains a large root ball. As always water well and, if we are suffering a dry period, continue to do so until the shrub is established.
If you are given a poinsettia for Christmas, use a slow-release fertilizer to keep the bracts that lovely shade of red. Keep them warm and moist in a light position, away from hot radiators. For information on poinsettias and other seasonal plants, read our blog on Christmas Plant Care.
Carry on pruning overgrown hardy shrubs such as forsythia, exochorda and hazel, this will keep them in good shape and also encourage new growth next year. After cutting the stems back hard, especially the oldest ones if you have neglected pruning in the past, new buds will soon appear.
Firm in shallow rooted trees and shrubs to avoid wind rock that loosens and lifts roots, especially if they have been recently planted. You should have finished pruning roses by now so that should help their stability. Hardy climbers can still be pruned before they are caught by heavy winds.
Propagate perennials such as phlox, verbascum and acanthus that have fleshy roots. Pick them out of the parent plant, cut into 3ins lengths and place into gritty compost. Cover with 1½ ins of compost and leave in a warm position but don't allow to dry out before new growth shows through in the spring.
Remove old and diseased fruit that has fallen from or has remained on trees, it could be the source of infection and should be thrown away. Put yellowing brassica leaves on the compost heap. Mulch fruit trees to suppress weeds and improve the soil. Make sure that any netting, cloches and other protective measures, as well as tree ties and stakes, are secure.
Gooseberry and currant plants can be pruned as well as outdoor grape vines. Start storing carrots, turnips and beetroot if it looks as though the ground will be frozen. Continue to plant bear rooted fruit trees and bushes. Divide rhubarb and re-plant with plenty of manure in a position that isn't likely to get waterlogged.
In the greenhouse, make sure everything is tidy and clean, removing all the plants that have fruited to be composted. Check and wash the glazing, removing any dirt and algae to enable the maximum amount of light to penetrate. Remember to insulate the greenhouse with bubble wrap if plants are overwintering in there, you can also use it to prevent frost damage to plants left outside.
This is just the right time to try and improve the soil. Dig over the vegetable plot, work in lots of organic matter such as compost and well-rotted manure and leave the frost and worms to do their job i.e. breaking the earth down and distributing the goodness. In the borders, fork in compost, loosening the top few inches of soil and mulch with leaf mould or compost to a depth of about 2ins.
Heavy soils can be improved by adding sand or grit to increase drainage. Make sure the vegetable plot and garden in general are clear from any debris, take out any annuals and remove the remains of your summer crops. After shaking off any loose soil, add the dead plants to your compost heap.
If you have installed a pond heater then it is likely that this has already come into its own, preventing at least a small area from freezing over, allowing toxic gases to escape and vital oxygen to enter the pond water. Our blog on How To Prevent Your Pond From Freezing provides more useful information.
Keeping a hole for the gases to escape and oxygen to enter the water is a must, in the past customers have mentioned they've used a football or forcibly broken the ice, but the problem with this nmethod is that the vibrations from breaking the ice can actually harm fish. If possible, always use a pond heater or alternative such as an air pump to prevent your pond from completely freezing over.
Organic materials in the pond will not decompose very quickly at this time of year due to the low temperatures. Unexpected fish deaths may indicate poor water quality, to prevent this problem test the water weekly, bi-weekly or even monthly.
Usually warm water will rise to the surface of the pond but below 4ºC the opposite happens, the warm water will settle in the deeper parts of the pond, this is where you will find your fish hibernating. Lift your pond pump off the bottom if you haven't already, this will leave the warmer water at the bottom which is ideal for your fish.
Don't worry about fish not eating, when the water temperature is very low their digestive system shuts down temporarily. If they do eat, then it's likely that the food will rot inside them and cause future problems that can result in fatalities.
See our other Monthly Garden & Pond Blogs
|What To Do in The Garden in January||What To Do in The Garden in February||What To Do in The Garden in March|
|What To Do in The Garden in April||What To Do in The Garden in May||What To Do in The Garden in June|
|What To Do in The Garden in July||What To Do in The Garden in August||What To Do in The Garden in September|
|What To Do in The Garden in October||What To Do in The Garden in November||What To Do in The Garden in December|
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Although the days are short and the view from our Garden Centre is dull and overcast, David Coton suggests various jobs that can be done in the garden during the month of January.