This Months Garden Diary - December
While native trees perform well in the colour stakes, showier garden plants such as Japanese maples, liquidambar and euonymus provide the spicy shades of scarlet, yellow and orange to brighten the run up to winter. The sun has little power to warm the soil and rains are plentiful to bring back soil moisture to normal levels.
As we head for the shortest day and nights regularly turn really cold it’s time to review the year and plan next.
Patio Tubs & Baskets…
Alpine plants growing in sink gardens or stone troughs will flower better next spring if they are protected from regular winter rains with a sheet of clear Perspex. As their name suggests these high-altitude plants are not too bothered about really cold weather, but they do tend to rot off, if roots are permanently wet or rain is allowed to stagnate on the foliage. Many of these alpine plants are naturally dormant under snow cover where they have cold but dry conditions, so water from the sides if necessary and place the troughs in the best light conditions possible.
Remove pumps from ponds if they are not to be kept running throughout the winter and clean them thoroughly. Remove tender plants such as water hyacinths and store in a bucket in a greenhouse or other frost-free light place. A covering of fine netting will help to keep falling leaves from fouling the pond and also deter birds of prey who may swoop in to take your fish. Feed fish occasionally in mild weather.
Beds and Borders…
If you haven’t started already its autumn clear up time. It's a good time to trim back summer flowering shrubs and to keep trees within reasonable boundaries. Candidates for cutting back hard include the butterfly bush (Buddleia) and lavateras. The stems of tall roses are also best trimmed back by around a third to minimise any wind rock.
Not all shrubs will appreciate a winter trim, so don't get too carried away with the secateurs. Cutting back spring flowering shrubs such as forsythia, prunus, viburnum and flowering currants will ruin next spring displays, so leave them well alone until summer when they have produced all their blossom.
Planting up new roses, shrubs and trees is still possible. For permanent structure nothing beats the beauty and well-behaved nature of conifers. These evergreen plants can be found in all shapes and sizes from rockery miniatures to soaring columns. Those of us with small suburban gardens will appreciate the dwarf conifers that carry attractive steel blue, vibrant yellow or bright green foliage. Do visit your local nursery or garden centre to view what they are offering. All retailers will be happy to help you choose the most appropriate types for your garden although many plantsmen and women will advise you to spend an equal amount of money on planting as you do on the plants themselves.
Left on the lawn, fallen leaves encourage casting worms and diseases, and can lead to bare patches where grass is fighting for light and air. It's why it's best to remove them at weekly intervals, so problems do not build up.
As winters become milder and wetter, grass rarely stops growing completely and trimming lightly will be required on a monthly basis during a bright mild spell. To keep the grass tidy during winter, adjust the cutting height of the mower so that the grass is left at least 3cm (1in) long. This will avoid any potential for scalping and thus reduce the amount of moss that can infiltrate into bare patches.
Reshaping of the lawn is appropriate at this time of year after you have pruned back shrubs and trees that form the main skeleton of the garden. For straight edges tighten string between two stakes and for attractive curves arrange a hose pipe as appropriate. A special half-moon lawn cutter will help to provide clean edges rather than the raggedy results often achieved if you use a spade.
Are you seeing pockets of winter moss on the garden, it’s not too late to apply our ‘Winter conditioner and moss control treatment’, this will target the moss patches?
If you think that your lawn could be in a better condition next spring, but it all sounds too much like hard work, contact Greener Gardens for a Free lawn assessment and quotation.
For help with your lawn, Greener Gardens are your local independent BASIS Lawn Assured standard lawncare specialist. The scheme helps ensure a consistent and high standard of practice in the professional lawn care sector.
Grow your Own…
There is still time to plant fruit trees, canes and bushes for long term production of luscious berries and tasty fruit.
If your garden space is limited, a bush of blackcurrants placed among shrubs is a good idea. Or you could think about planting a row of raspberries or a mix of tayberry, boysenberry and loganberry against a dividing fence. These cane fruits will be highly productive and take up little space. Before you start planting, dig in plenty of garden compost to improve the soil structure and its ability to hold water and nutrients.
Garden Diary is written by John Draper of Greener Gardens, your local independent BASIS Lawn Assured lawncare specialist and Vice Chairman of the UK Lawncare Association.
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