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. David Coton suggests the jobs that can occupy the shortening 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 will be leaf mould that will be great for potting or as a soil improver next year.
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 fertiliser to keep the bracts that lovely shade of red. Keep them warm and moist in a light position, away from radiators. For information on poinsettias and other seasonal plants, read our blog on Christmas Plant Care.
Pruning, Mulching, Propagating
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.
Don't forget to apply a good mulch. 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.
Fruit And Vegetables
Remove old and diseased fruit that has fallen from or has remained on trees, they could be the source of infection and should be thrown away. Also compost yellowing brassica leaves. 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 the bubble wrap if plants are overwintering in there, you can also use it to prevent frost damage to plants left outside.
Improve The Soil
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 with using sand or grit to 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 get in is a must, in the past people have mentioned they've used a football or broken the ice but the problem with this 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 a total freeze over of the pond.
Water Quality And Temperature
Organic materials in the pond will not decompose as quickly at this time of year due to the low temperatures. As long as there are no unexpected fish deaths or anything rotting down in the pond then you will be okay with regards to water quality, however if you want to keep an eye on it you can perform a test weekly, bi-weekly or even monthly when possible.
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 will have shut down temporarily. If they do eat then it's likely it will rot inside them and cause future problems like internal bacteria that can cause fatalities.
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