December, the work is not done yet!
Tempting − I know – to lit the wood burning stove, put on an extra pair of warm socks and let the garden take care of itself this month but we gardeners are a hardy lot and a little bit of frost isn’t going to keep us from the tasks ahead.
In fact, frost can be a very good thing for those of us with heavy soils because it helps break down the clumps when we dig the soil over so it’s time to grab the garden spade and get digging. Adding a generous layer of grit will also help aerate and improve the soil at this time of the year when it is so much colder and if you’re digging the trenches for planting veg, then now is also the time to dig a layer of your homemade compost into the bottom.
Pruning is in order this month, especially if you have acers, birches and vines. Cut your vines back hard, back to just two buds of last year’s growth, but take a more genteel approach with the acers and birches since their elegance will depend on careful pruning to the shape you find most pleasing.
In the orchard, don’t prune stoned fruits in December but do tackle other fruits including apples, pears, currants, blackberries and raspberries. And talking of fruit trees and bushes, this is also the time to plant new ones whist they are still in the dormant stage of their growth. You can also spray your fruit trees now. This will not only clean the branches but also kill off fungal spores and other lurking pest infestations. Choose a vegetable oil-based spray and handle with care making sure you wear gloves and cover nearby plants and foliage that you don’t want spraying. And since you’re starting the winter cover-up, you also need to fleece cover those more tender shrubs that will otherwise be damaged by December frosts. If you’re growing rhubarb in the vegetable garden, cover the crown now with a ‘forcing’ pot which will give you tasty and tender shoots early next year – that said, some of your veggies, especially parsnips, relish the cold and will actually taste even sweeter for a good frost.
If the temperatures have dropped, check the garden plants for roots that may have lifted slightly in the colder temperatures and refirm and also make sure you check all plant stakes and supports that may have become dislodged in bad weather.
You can now start lifting potatoes that you planted out in September and should be harvesting parsnips, spinach, celeriac, leeks and brassicas throughout this month. Make sure you break any ice covering the pond if you have one – a great tip is to use a tennis ball to do this so you don’t cause too much disturbance to plants and whatever else lies beneath and do make sure you are putting out seeds for wild birds to help them survive the winter. Once you’re done with all this digging, pruning, checking and covering up then it will be time to come back indoors to the warmth of that wood burning stove and settle in for the evening with a good stack of seed catalogues ready to order for next year.
Seeds like tomatoes, aubergine, chillies and broad beans can be started as early as January so get your pre-Christmas orders in now – you know what they say… the early bird catches the worm and you don’t want to leave it so late you miss out on your preferred varieties.