December Easy-Gardening Tips
With Christmas and New Year to think about, made especially complicated with looming lockdowns and the impact of Covid-19, it might be the case that gardening tasks must be put on the back burner this month. As always, however, getting outdoors can provide a welcome break to the stresses of the everyday and if you do venture into the garden, there are plenty of tasks that deliver the steady rhythm and simple rewards that clear the mind and lift the spirits. As well as our top tips for December, this month we also look at planting options as it is never too late in the year to prepare for the growing season to come, as well as how to make the most of festive cheer by keeping your burner or open fire easily supplied with wood, whether you have your logs delivered or are considering venturing into being a ‘do it yourself’ lumberjack, complete with a checked shirt of course!
EMBRACE THE COLD AND BARE IT ALL!
There are some advantages of the weather being colder, as the dormant growing season means that plants and shrubs can be planted, especially those with bare roots such as roses which are more cost-effective when bought in this basic format. Equally, because the soil is damp, you will not need to worry too much about watering-in and they should become quickly established over the coming months if planted correctly. Have a look at the fabulous Sarah Raven selection including one of our favourites, called the Koko Loco which flowers early, with blooms developing from a ‘soft creamy latté’ to the most subtle pink and lavender hues. An equally beautiful and reliable performer in the garden is the Honey Dijon which has extraordinary mustard yellow flowers, a wonderful shape and tolerates most soils.
Bare-root rose planting is a fairly simple process but a good tip is to soak the roots in a bucket of water for a few hours beforehand. The hole that you dig should be comfortable for the roots of the rose shrub to sit in and it’s a good idea to leave some loose soil at the bottom of it so that they have an easier time getting established. Also do add some mycorrhizal fungi (commonly sold as Rootgrow) into the base before planting as it is well worth the extra expense. If you would like to see rose planting done before tackling the job yourself, just watch the work of Steve, the Head Gardener at David Austin, in this you tube film. He explains the process simply and clearly and has a number of good tips such as adding some Carr’s organic soil improver or two-year old manure to the soil before back-filling and treading down. He also recommends lying a garden cane across the hole so that you can position the ‘union’ of the rose shrub an inch or so below the surface which prevents the formation of secondary suckers that will divert growth from the main stem. The ‘union’ is simply how today’s commercial growers multiply their roses and is the point where the rootstock meets the graft and looks a bit like a knee.
In any case, as long as the weather is above freezing and the ground is not water-logged, we would recommend an afternoon of rose planting this winter. The rewards next year will be tremendous and you’ll have the satisfaction of knowing that all of those magnificent blooms are the result of all your own work, with just a little help from Mother Nature of course!
As wood burning stoves have become increasingly popular over the last few years, so has the need to prepare and store your logs effectively for a roaring winter fire. While many choose to have their logs delivered ‘ready-made’, there is a huge amount of money to be saved as well as satisfaction to be had by preparing your own, from wood you have gathered locally on common land or trees that you have felled in the garden. If you are considering this option, it is well worth checking out our range of log splitters which start from just over £250 for an electric version, such as our Handy THLS-4 and really take the strain out of chopping, as well as the sometimes precarious nature of using an axe. Supplied with a 1500 watt motor that powers a splitting force of over 4 tonnes, it can handle logs up to 37cm long and 25cm in diameter at a rate of up to 100 logs an hour. Features also include a safety guard and table that meet the latest safety regulations, as well as a carrying handle and sturdy wheels to allow easy transportation.
No matter how you prepare your wood, the crucial part of keeping a hungry wood burner happy is to use dry, well-seasoned logs. If you are going for open-air storage, our first recommendation is to stack your logs neatly, ensuring that if it rains only the top layer will get wet. Ideally your stack should be close to a wall or fence for protection but not touching it to allow air to pass between logs. As moisture is the enemy of a good fire, it is also worth thinking about the prevailing winds and what direction rain is likely to come, as well as avoiding storing your wood under trees which will drip moisture onto them long after the skies have cleared. Another good tip is to stack your wood on a pallet to keep it off of the ground and also to sheet over the top with tarpaulin as long as you don’t cover your wood stack completely otherwise you will compromise air circulation. Height wise, then limit your enthusiasm to around 1 metre as a taller stack can become unstable and a hazard to children or pets.
If getting storage right sounds too involved then just opt for a wood store. There are obviously an innumerable number on the market but we have fallen in love with the Moreton Cross Log Store which at just over £300 is not the cheapest but it is definitely one of the most stylish. Featuring a black wooden ‘cross bar’ made of weatherproof Spruce, it allows you to stack your wood in four quadrants for easy access, as well as separating logs by tree type or even keeping one for kindling. It also has a galvanised roof which doubles as extra storage if needed and looks so smart it wouldn’t be out of place indoors if you have the room!
As usual, we have picked a quote for the month that sums up our shared gardening experience at this time of year. For December, our inspiration comes from the avid gardener, Marie Huston who quite rightly says that "The gardening season officially begins on January 1st, and ends on December 31st." How true! One of the absolute delights of gardening is the fact that there is always something to do and the cycle is a constant one; even as the year draws to a close we have the certainty of looking forward to it all beginning again, with the seasons as fresh and new as ever. So here is to 2022 and are our gardening pleasure starting anew!
TOP 10 TIPS FOR DECEMBER
Use straw or bracken around the base of delicate climbers or shrubs to protect tem from sub zero temperatures
If hedges or shrubs are woefully overgrown, take advantage of the dormant growing season to give them a hard prune
Take the opportunity to clear out the shed or greenhouse as part of your New Year’s resolution to be a tidier gardener this year
If you have not already done so, check everything is in place and secure against winter damage such as staking trees against storms, wrapping vulnerable bushes and shrubs against frost and bringing pots into warmer spots such as an outdoor porch or next to French doors
Think about ponds freezing over and install a pond heater or use a pan full of hot water on the surface to melt ice and help fish to survive
Try not to walk on lawns on frosty mornings as heavy feet can damage the frozen cell structure of the grass
If rainfall is persistent, look out for water logging on your lawn and think about how you can fix it by aerating and then filling the holes with horticultural sharp sand
Check tubers and bulbs stored in the shed to make sure they are still dry and rot free
If it is not too cold and the ground isn’t frozen then dig over empty borders and prepare the soil for next year’s planting with organic matter such as manure or compost
Leave the faded flower heads on your hydrangeas until spring, as they act as frost protectors for the emerging buds further down the stems
Dizzy wraps up warm ready for gardening in December