What will you be doing in the garden in December?

By Andy McIndoe

Personally I can’t wait to get outside and get some fresh air whatever the weather; I know that a lot of other gardeners feel the same. It may look pretty soggy and uninviting out there, but there is plenty to do.  In my garden the latest leaves to fall, mostly oak, now form a carpet over the grass under the trees. Left there through winter they will cause damage to the grass and before you know it naturalised bulbs will have started to grow, making their collection virtually impossible.

[caption id="attachment_9697" align="alignleft" width="550"]Fallen oak leaves Fallen oak leaves[/caption]


For those gardening on heavy clays soils digging might already be out of the question. However if you can turn over the soil and leave the ground rough in the vegetable patch then do so. Spread compost or manure and coarse grit and leave worms and frost to do their work over winter. I have the luxury of light, sandy soil which is easy to work even after the heavy rains of winter. It is very low in nutrients and lacks body so a similar application of compost or well-rotted manure now helps to improve fertility and structure.


[caption id="attachment_9698" align="alignleft" width="550"]Clematis montana Clematis montana[/caption]


Gardening experts are very good at telling you the right time to do things; that is all very well if you have the opportunity at that time. Rules are meant to be bent, if not broken. Some pruning jobs can be tackled now: clematis pruning for example. Clematis montana, alpina, macropetala and any other early flowering varieties must be left alone. A session with the secateurs now will only remove the flower buds.


[caption id="attachment_9699" align="alignleft" width="550"]Clematis viticella 'Pagoda' Clematis viticella 'Pagoda'[/caption]


Any Clematis viticella varieties can be cut back hard to as little as 30cm, 1ft above ground level. These get more vigorous as they get older and mild weather in early spring will see them producing vigorous green shoots.  It is much better for these to originate from a pruned plant, rather than one about to be cut back.


[caption id="attachment_9700" align="alignleft" width="550"]Clematis 'Perle d'Azur Clematis 'Perle d'Azur[/caption]


Any later flowering, large flowered clematis, that is those that flower on the current season’s growth, can be cut back to 60 – 90cm (2-3ft) above ground level. Examples are Clematis jackmanii, Clematis ‘Hagley Hybrid’ and Clematis ‘Perle d’Azur’.  If you don’t prune it is not the end of the world, however your plants will become bare at the base with all the growth on top, usually in the neighbour’s garden.


[caption id="attachment_9701" align="alignleft" width="550"]Loganberry Loganberry[/caption]


December is also a good time to cut back autumn fruiting raspberry canes to ground level and sort out loganberries. Cut out all the old growths that have fruited this year and tie in the new supple canes that have just been produced. I always remove any thin weakly canes, assuming that there are enough strong ones, and shorten back any very long straggly growth to make the canes more manageable.


[caption id="attachment_9702" align="alignleft" width="550"]Young apple tree crop Young apple tree crop[/caption]


Pruning apples and pears can be done now.  If you want good results from your fruit trees then invest in a book on the subject and learn how to prune properly.  Pruning of young trees is particularly important and has a profound effect, not only on the shape of the trees but also on their subsequent performance. Incorrect pruning, or total lack of it, spoils many new fruit trees.


When you plant a young apple tree, perhaps a two year old bush, the best thing you can do when you plant it is to cut each branch back by two thirds. This may sound brutal but it stimulates strong, vigorous growth and creates the basis of the branch framework.


[caption id="attachment_9703" align="alignleft" width="550"]Narcissus Rijnveld's Early Narcissus Rijnveld's Early[/caption]


The first spring flowers are not far away. Before they get too advanced have a good tidy up of their surroundings.  Soggy leaves and the fallen stems of surrounding herbaceous plants need removing if they are going to hide or detract from those frail emerging early bulbs.


Helleborus x hybridus looks better, stays healthier and displays its flowers to advantage if you remove the old leaves in December.  The foliage tends to collapse and become untidy as winter progresses. New leaves soon follow the flowers once their stems have reached a few centimetres/inches in height.


[caption id="attachment_9704" align="alignleft" width="550"]Helleborus x hybridus Helleborus x hybridus[/caption]


Winter is a time for reflection in the garden, a time to look forward and to plan the coming year. What better opportunity to spend time out there and plan for a new year ahead?





Andy McIndoe

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