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Winter Gardening

2nd of December 2006

Autumn colour this year has been quite spectacular with the Mountain Ash and Acers. However, many trees have not yet shed their leaves so we will be raking up leaves for some time yet. This is the time to get the garden tidied up and to build the compost heap. It is a good idea to leave just a few untidy places for the benefit of wild life but these should be well away from the flower beds. We can have frosts for the next 6 months so we must make sure that plants which are not hardy are given protection as necessary. Outside pipes and taps should be lagged to prevent freezing and the glasshouse can be lined with bubble plastic to help prevent heat loss. When the soil is not frozen, planting of trees, shrubs, climbers and roses can continue throughout the winter months. Herbaceous perennials will need to be cut down and divided and tall shrubs will need to be staked to prevent rocking in strong winds.
There is still time to plant a few more bulbs and autumn bedding plants, provided the ground is still open. Digging should still be done and weeds often still grow in the winter and will need to be dealt with. Now is the time to prune vines and wisteria and to cut back some of the larger shrubs. In the new year we traditionally prune and spray fruit trees. Tar oil winter wash is no longer available but there are other tree sprays. Peach trees need to be sprayed before mid-February with Copper Fungicide or Dithane.
January is the month when sowing starts in the greenhouse. Sweet peas and some of the summer bedding is sown soon and the exhibition onions should be sown as soon as possible after Boxing Day. Seed potatoes will then become available and the tubers should be chitted or sprouted in a light frost-free place. Keep off the lawn in frosty weather and use planks if taking a barrow over the grass. Don’t forget to get the lawnmower serviced; it might be needed early in the spring.
We shall soon be visiting the garden centre to choose our Christmas tree. Non-drop Nordmann trees survive better in central heating, especially if the bottom of the trunk is placed in a little water. Whilst visiting the garden centre, have a look at the plants which look good at this time of the year. There are a lot of things which make acceptable gifts for gardeners, including the famous HTA garden gift tokens. Or why not give a gift membership to the Royal Horticultural Society or National Trust, or a gift subscription to a gardening magazine? As it gets colder it is time to make plans for the new year and to browse through the garden books and seed catalogues. But don’t forget the birds need feeding, the fish in the pond will need attention, and the prize bay tree might need to go inside if it really freezes hard.
Terry Simmonds

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