Thursday, 16 December 2010

Time for planning and a little planting

It may be December, the start of the Winter season and technically the coldest month, but there are things we can be doing in the garden, at the lot and in the shed if the weather really delivers.
Outdoors, if the soil gives a little and is therefore not frozen solid, bare rooted fruit trees or bushes can still be planted. Just be sure to stake the taller ones in preparation for the possibility of strong winds. If you don't have new stock to plant, it's a good time to take hardwood cutting of fruit bushes too.
For the cooks amongst us, you still have time to push in some late Garlic bulbils, Onion sets can also be set in the soil now. Seed Onions would traditionally sown indoors on Boxing Day but that is more to do with convenience than strict time keeping. I think many gardens rely on that sort of tradition to get a break away from the festivities when the family and food gets to be too much.
Legume lovers can pop in a few rows of Broad Beans, common varieties such as Aquadulce Claudia or The Sutton, or a broad channel sown full of early cropping Peas before the ground frost comes back. They will give an early harvest and ,in the case of the Broad Beans, almost no Blackfly problems.
On the lawns and borders, use a lawn rake or Spring Tined rake as it may also be described, to rake the fallen leaves away to a leaf compost bin to make mulch eventually. If you must add them to the general compost heap, do so in small quantities as they can be much slower in breaking down and in extremes will rob nitrogen from the heap to do so. Adding Nitrogen rich materials such as lawn clippings or chicken manure, the former being harder to find, will help balance the mix.
Try to stay off the lawn whenever possible if the weather stays cold as walking on frozen or sodden ground will damage the structure and compact the soil,pushing out air pockets.
Look after the pond this month. Try to keep a small hole in any frozen water for air to pass through. A small ball, say a tennis ball or childs toy football, will expand and shrink as the ice swells and thaws. Keep fallen leaf litter off the surface to avoid turning the water into a boggy swamp of rotting material.
Rotting leaves at the base of the pond will give off toxic gases which won't help the fish or other wildlife.
If you have completed all your jobs, or the ground has become a solid block of frozen soil, take some time to enjoy the different look the garden takes on when everything gets a white coating. Record the scene and post it here. The views from the hillsides where I live took on a look of Narnia when the recent hoar frost hit. The first snow may cheer people but it soon brings travel chaos and ice may look nice but slipping and sliding as you try to walk to the shops is no fun. A good hoar frost just makes people smile and gasp in awe at the sight of their local scenery as it becomes a Christmas Card picture.
The warm seclusion of a heated and insulated shed is a great place to watch the snow fall as you clean and sharpen your tools before a light wipe with an oily cloth puts them to bed for the Christmas break. Another good tip is to check watering cans for leaks and splits and that includes the rose. Metal or plastic, all cans are at risk of damage if they are left out to freeze and thaw. Rubber and brass rose heads may have dried and perished in the long gone days of summer so check them and give them a good cleaning if they are still sound. Storing them in a dry water tight container will help them survive the worst weather and lowest temperatures.

Finally, don't forget your fellow gardeners who have been keeping the bugs and pests away all year. Feed the birds, make sure you check bonfires for hedgehogs before lighting and put out a small dish or pot saucer of fresh unfrozen water for all the animals and birds when you can.

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