December Top Tips
Cold nights and damp days can be expected towards the end of the year, as deciduous plants shut down their food factories and get rid of waste material through falling leaves. Days are now very short and it’s dark before tea time, so make the most of sunshine outdoors to keep the garden clean and tidy.
Most perennials will have finished flowering although many of them will retain their seed heads. After the birds have had their fill of the seeds, cut down the stems to tidy up your bed and place the finished stems onto the compost heap to rot down.
November is the ideal time for planting out tulip bulbs, giving them sufficient time to produce a good root system while soils are still warm and enough time for the internal flower buds to grow out of the bulb next spring. Black is the most fashionable of colours in spring bulbs. The tulip Paul Scherer is said to be the darkest available, while Midnight Mystique is said to be the blackest hyacinth.
Mixed pots of spring bulbs and winter bedding will provide colour on the patio throughout the winter. By layering different types of bulbs at various levels you can increase the length of flowering display. To do this, add a 8cm (3in) layer of Miracle-Gro compost in the bottom of a decorative pot and position daffodils about 3cm (1in) apart at this deepest layer. After adding some more compost, then place some early tulips such as Red Riding Hood at this middle layer and repeating the process with some crocus. To complete the display and to provide colourful flowers for most of the winter top off the pot with flowering bellis or winter pansies and violas.
Buy prepared hyacinths now and start them into growth in special glass vases designed especially to grow individual bulbs. Simply add water to within 1 cm from the base of the bulb and wait for roots to develop. Your children and other young visitors will be fascinated to watch the strength and extent of the roots that emerge from one bulb and soon you should see the green leaves and flower buds swell and emerge from the top.
Plants such as cyclamen and Christmas cactus (Schlumbergera) that are preparing to start flowering however need more water and regular feeding with Miracle-Gro Plant Food every 10-14 days. Remember to find a fixed place for your Christmas cactus as they will drop their flower buds if they get moved too often.
November is the month when you will need to collect fallen leaves every week to ensure the grass doesn’t die off in the shadow of ever-falling foliage. Some mowers will collect leaves fairly efficiently, chopping them up as they go along. If fallen leaves are chopped small and mixed with plenty of grass cuttings they should rot down easily over the next few months when mixed with ordinary kitchen waste on the compost heap.
Continue to cut the lawn every fortnight while it is actively growing, which could be through until January when really cold weather finally halts grass growth.
VEGETABLES AND FRUIT
With careful planning you should be starting to harvest the first of your winter vegetables including parsnips, red cabbage, leeks and early Brussels sprouts. For great tasting parsnips dig a few and leave on the soil surface so that frosts can help to change carbohydrates into sugars and thus sweeten the flavour. They can be roasted around a joint of meat or added to potatoes where they add great flavour to mash. Pick the last of apples and pears and start winter pruning. Start by cutting out any unproductive branches and dead wood. Then cut back hard any new vertical whippy stems by at least a half to maintain the shape of the tree. Finally cut back new side shoots to about three leaf joints to encourage new fruit spurs to form for subsequent years.