The garden is still there – even though it’s Christmas

By Andy McIndoe

For those of us in the northern hemisphere the winter solstice is upon us. The days are at their shortest, so it is important to make the most of those daylight hours. There is always plenty to do in the garden, even if you think you should be shopping and preparing for Christmas festivities. Warm, wet weather means that means that weeds just keep on growing, and so does the grass.


2 Frosted grass (1280x853)


If weather permits just keep on mowing. Not as short as you would in the summer, but keeping the grass at a reasonable length keeps it in good condition and makes the collection of fallen leaves easier.  Autumn lawn food and mosskiller can still be applied, as long as the conditions are not actually freezing. Frosty days may be comparatively rare, but when they do occur keep off the grass. Walking on frozen grass causes damage and leaves black footprints.


3 Hairy Bittercress


Some weeds seem to grow as much in summer as they do in winter.  Keep an eye open for small, hardy annual weeds that can grow, flower and seed at low temperatures. Hairy bittercress, Cardamine hirsuta, anative of Europe and Asia and also widespread in North America. Is a good example. A small, bright green weed with tiny round leaflets and white flowers that are produced on the smallest seedlings.  It is often introduced into gardens as a weed of container grown plant. It spreads and establishes itself at the earliest opportunity, germinates in low temperatures and will flower and set seed remarkably quickly. To control it you just have to keep pulling it, or hoeing it out. Herbicides may kill it, but not until after those seeds have been distributed.


I am sure many of us still have flowerbulbs in the garage or shed which we intended to plant in autumn; but we just have not got around to it. I still see flower bulbs on sale in garden centres and nurseries at bargain prices, if you did not buy them earlier, there is still time.  Tulips, daffodils and narcissi can be planted up to mid-winter and they will still perform perfectly.   Do not be tempted to plant them nearer the surface. Plant at the normal depth and spacing and you will be surprised how quickly they catch up.  Most flower bulbs should be planted at three to four times the depth of the bulb. Plant nearer to the surface and you may get short flower stems and stunted growth.


5 Hamamelis x intermedia 'Barmstedt Gold (1280x960)


This is the perfect time for planting new trees and shrubs.  The soil is warm and moist and planted now your new shrubs have three months to get established before spring growth commences.  It is also an excellent time to choose plants that will brighten the winter garden. Many plants are at their best in our coldest months Look out for hamamelis (witch hazels), sarcococca (Christmas box) and the winter flowering honeysuckle, Lonicera x purpusii ‘Winter Beauty’. They all flower on the bare stems after leaves have fallen.


6 Frosty morn (1280x853)

Flowers are not the only feature of the winter garden. Big, green and glossy leaves come into their own, as do colourful and textured stems and bark.  The red-barked dogwoods are looking superb by midwinter with their red, burgundy and yellow- green stems. The snowy white and beige-pink stems of birches seem to get even brighter in the low midwinter light.


7 Snowberry (1280x853)

Personally I find the garden all the more invigorating over the holiday period.  We all spend so much time indoors eating, drinking and watching television a couple of hours outdoors are a real fillip. I also like to think that I’m getting ahead a little on spring whilst enjoying the winter garden. After all – we are soon past the shortest day and another great gardening year approaches.


8 Rosa (1280x894)


Andy McIndoe

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