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December in the garden

by User Not Found | Dec 01, 2014

Winter is a time of the year when you put your garden to bed but before you sit down to your Christmas dinner there are still a good few jobs that needs to be done this month.

Feeding birds. With the drop in temperature this month it’s important to remember the birds. Top up bird feeders regularly and make sure they have a good water supply, especially when it’s frosty out. Vary the types of food you put out and make sure it is fresh and of good quality. Check out our blog on how to attract variety of birds using different types of food.

Now is a great time to add compost to your vegetable patch. It’s best not to do a huge amount of digging or walking on the beds as the soil is very wet. Instead, just cover the top of the soil with a good layer (about 2-3 inches) of farmyard manure or compost. Then cover this with black polythene, cardboard or old carpet for the winter months. When spring arrives the worms will have done the digging for you and the ground will be weed free and rested after the winter months.

Top Tip: Manure heavily the beds you plan on sowing brassicas (cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli etc) and potatoes as these like really rich soil.  

Harvest winter vegetables including kale, parsnips, leek, winter cabbage, spinach and Brussels sprouts. Don’t forget to stake up Brussels sprouts to prevent wind rocking. Spread the garden netting over cabbage and other vegetables from cabbage family to protect it from hungry birds.

Lift root veg for winter storage. While the flavour of many root crops such as parsnips is improved by a bit of frost it is best to lift and store them before January. They could be damaged by severe frosts in January and pests like slugs can use them as a food source over the winter months.

Pruning time. Pruning can be carried out any time from now on. Most trees and shrubs can be reduced by a third without causing any stress to the plant but always check when and how to prune plants before you start. There are some plants that don’t like to be pruned at all and other types that have to be pruned in a particular way for best results. Look up a good gardening book that gives these details.

Top tip: Always use sharp cutting tools and clean them with a good disinfectant such as Jeyes Fluid in between uses. This helps stop the spread of pests and disease from one plant to another.

Pests and insects. If you have a problem with aphids and other pests spray the trees after pruning to destroy pest’s eggs. If you don’t like using spray give them a wash down with soap based cleaner. Protect your plants from slugs and snails by placing a light sprinkling of slug pellets around your plants. Do this little and often as winter rain dissolves them quickly.

Plant Spring-flowering bulbs. You can still plant spring-flowering bulbs in the garden and in containers. As long as they are in the soil before the first hard frost they will flower in spring. It’s a good idea to plant them with some multi-purpose compost or add some slow release fertiliser such as J. Arthur Bower’s Fish blood and bone to encourage root development.

Plant bare root hedges and trees. Now is a perfect time to plant bare root hedging and trees. There is a full selection available now. When you buy them plant them straight away or bury the roots so the roots don’t dry out. If the roots do dry out sit them in water for a couple of hours before planting but not overnight. Add extra compost to the ground around the roots to encourage good root growth quickly. 

If you have shrubs or trees that you want to move now is an ideal time for transplanting. Make sure to water them well after they are moved and keep them well watered next spring and summer.

Tidy up your shed and clean up your pots and trays to get them ready for the next season. Give them a wash in warm soapy water to get rid of pests and diseases. Wash all your tools and labels as well. Don’t forget to clean up your greenhouse and give it a wash inside and out, fresh for next year! Insulate the outside plumbing.

Start planning your garden for next year. Start planning your spring and summer garden for next year. Make note of what worked really well this year and what didn’t. How about trying some new plants and veg for next year? Do some research now when the garden is quiet. Plan how you will lay out your beds next year.

Top Tip: Buy a ‘Gardeners Diary’ for next year so you can keep track of the year to come. Write down any garden thoughts as they pop into your head.

It’s time to get your real Christmas tree. Remember to water it regularly and not to place it too close to a fireplace or a radiator.  For more tips on how to keep your Christmas tree green throughout December check out our blog.

Make home-made Christmas decorations and wreaths from the plants that you can find in your garden like holly, cotoneaster, ivy, cones etc. these make great gifts and look nice in your home.

Jean’s Bio 
Hi my name is Jean, I am a horticulturist with CountryLife in the Ashford branch. I grew up on a farm where we always had a veg garden, so you could say that horticulture and agriculture is in the blood! I studied Landscape Horticulture in UCD and worked part-time in Fernhill Garden Centre, Athlone while I was in college. After graduating I worked in Landscape Architecture for three years before returning to the Garden Centre trade. I began in Keane’s Garden Centre, Kilcolgan, Co Galway and returned to Fernhill Garden Centre for three years before joining CountryLife.  Being a horticulturalist is a great job, you are surrounded by nature every day and there is always something to be done. Meeting customers and giving the advice is very rewarding especially when they report back positive results. I love growing my own fruit and veg and I’m always trying new varieties and ways of growing. The seasons are always changing and while the weather is challenging in Ireland, I believe we grow the best produce in the world.