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Garden Maintenance: DECEMBER

Now is a good time to start thinking about landscaping projects you might like to do over the winter ready to enjoy next spring. For example, has water logging been a problem this year - ask your gardener for advice to improve your soil.

Top jobs for December

1. Check that tree ties are still in place to avoid wind damage.
2. Remember garden hygiene; remove fallen leaves and add them to the compost heap - do not add diseased leaves to the compost heap.
3. Most deciduous trees and shrubs can be pruned now.
4. Prune acers, birches and vines before January to avoid bleeding.
5. Deciduous trees and shrubs can still be planted and transplanted.
6. Take hardwood cuttings.
7. Reduce watering of houseplants.
8. Think about landscaping work that can be done now to make life easier next year.

Flowers

- Continue to cut back faded herbaceous perennials.
- Place bark chip mulch around the base of your Christmas rose to stop mud splashing on the blooms.
- Clear weeds from your flower beds. Mulch can be added in the Spring. You may want to order this from your gardener now so that he/she knows how much to order.
- In mild areas you can still lift and divide herbaceous perennials when the weather is dry. This will increase your stocks and revive any poorly flowering clumps.
- Root cuttings can be taken from now on and Alpines can be sown from seed this month (They need a period of cold weather to break the seed dormancy).
- Tidy-up fallen leaves from borders if you have not already done so and add them to the compost heap. Leaf-mould can be used as a soil improver.
- Don't forget to tidy your tubs and containers by removing weeds, debris and add a layer of decorative gravel/grit mulch; this will stop mud splashing up in wet weather.
- Raise pots onto 'pot feet' or bricks so that they don't spend the winter sitting in wet puddles!
- Now is a good time to improve the drainage of heavy clay soils by working in plenty of bulky compost such as bark. The wind, rain and frost will help break the soil down.
- Some large tubs may crack in the frost so you may want to cover them with bubblewrap or similar to insulate them over the winter.
- Bring tender plants into the greenhouse or your conservatory if not done so already. Even in mild areas the weather usually gets much harder after December.
- Sometimes daffodils can come up very early - enjoy them while they last.
- If you have to walk on wet soils lay a long plank of wood or similar to spread your weight and avoid compacting the soil.

Trees, Shrubs and Hedges

- Pruning and renovation of many deciduous trees, shrubs as well as hedges can be carried out from now and throughout the winter. It is easier to see what you are doing when the leaves have fallen off!
- Don't prune evergreens until the spring.
- Check tree ties and stakes to ensure that they are still effective. Wall shrubs and climbers should be tied onto their supports to protect them from damage by the wind.
- Acers and Betula should be pruned before the end of the year to avoid sap bleeding from the cuts.
- You can take hardwood cuttings from ornamental shrubs such as Berberis Buddleja and Forsythia.
- Spray a winter wash on roses and the surrounding soil to keep black spot under control; its been a big problem with the wet summer we have had. (some people have home-made remedies but visit your local garden centre first to see what they have).
- It is too late now to have plants with colour during the winter as they would need time to establish. So, visit public gardens, garden centres etc and take note of the most colourful
- dogwoods (Cornus), Salix and white-stemmed Rubus shrubs and consider what would be suitable for a possible winter display in your garden next year.
- You can continue to plant bare-root deciduous hedging plants and trees, plant roses, move established deciduous trees and shrubs.

Greenhouse and Houseplants

- Bring back amaryllis (Hippeastrum) into active growth with regular watering and feeding for flowers in the new year.
- House plants won't need so much water now that the days are shortening.
- Cacti need very little water or feeding over the winter just keep them barely moist until the spring.
- You may now be given a Cyclamen plant which appreciates a cool, light room. Water into the saucer not the pot to avoid wetting the leaves which can easily result in fungal infections.
- Christmas cactus (Schlumbergera truncata and S. x buckleyi) may fail to give flower buds if the temperature is too high (above 18C/65F). Try moving the cactus into cooler space and away from artificial night lighting.
- Hyacinths like a cool, bright space - if it's too warm you will have more leaves than flowers.
- Water azaleas with rainwater not tap water; water regularly and keep in a cool room.
- Poinsettias are susceptible to the cold; avoid buying them from outdoor stalls on cold days and keep them in a warm, draught free room.
- Have you insulated your greenhouse with bubble wrap? Clear leaves and twigs from greenhouse and shed gutters.

Lawn Care

- Grass will continue to grow if the temperature is above 5C so it may be necessary to give the lawn in trim. Don't cut your lawn as short now as you do in the summer.
- Rake fallen leaves from your lawn before they kill the grass.
- Take this opportunity to repair damaged lawn edges and re-cut the lawn edges. This makes the lawn look really tidy and saves work next year.
- Avoid walking on your lawn during a frosty morning as this can damage the grass.
- Have a good look at your lawn - watch for signs of waterlogging as you may be able to remedy this with some aeration (lots of small holes), scarifying (raking the lawn to remove dead grass) and a top dressing; ask your gardener for help.

Pond care

Net your pond to stop herons stealing your fish.
- Regularly remove fallen weeds from ponds.
- If you do not have a pond heater remove ice from your pond by holding a saucepan of hot water on the surface until it melts through. Do not crack the ice, as this could harm the fish.

Landscaping

- Are any pipes susceptible to damage from freezing?
- drain them now and put lagging around outdoor taps so that you can use them throughout the winter.
- The winter is a good time to think about landscaping and new installations; while the garden is dormant and can cope with being dug up and moved. For example, consider installing garden lighting, water pipes, drainage and add lights and power points to sheds and out-buildings; of course, you will need an electrician.
- If the weather is dry you can still treat wooden structures with preservative.
- Ask your gardener about new paving, fence building, pond digging, gravel, mulch borders, compost bins, arches, pergolas etc.
- Why not lay stepping stones to avoid walking on and damaging your lawn when the weather is wet.
- Pressure wash paths to stop them becoming slippery.
- Clean your tools and drain any petrol out; unleaded fuel wont keep over the winter.

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