Gardening Advice for Mid-December to Mid-January

This time of year is so exciting, with Christmas coming and lots of celebrations on the horizon!  Make the most of any bright, sunny days, wrap up warmly and get out in the garden!

Mycorrhizal fungi are a UK species of fungi that occur naturally in the soil.  Mycorrhizal fungi have a special growing relationship with some plants, they effectively work together to create a stronger, wider reaching root system for the plant; helping the plant to withstand drought and stress.  You can purchase a concentrated amount of these beneficial fungi at nurseries and garden centres.  They are ideal to use when planting bare root roses, trees, shrubs, fruit trees and bushes, and this is the ideal time to plant these plants in your gardens and at your allotments.

This is a good time to assess and re-evaluate your garden.  As long as the ground isn’t frozen or waterlogged, you can move plants that have become too big for their current situation, although you may need some help and assistance if you’re moving a big plant or tree.  Using a fork, always lift as large a root ball as is possible.  It’s worth applying some mycorrhizal fungi to help the plant establish its roots in a new position, and stake if necessary when re-planting.   Add home-made compost, or your own soil improver to enrich the soil, then apply a mulch to conserve moisture and help suppress weeds.  It’s often good to have a rearrange, you could improve your garden, and the view from your house or flat, so it’s worthwhile taking time out for a cup of tea, to check whether you’re making the most of your plants and garden.

Take cuttings from vines and prune dormant grape vines now.  It is important vines are pruned while they are dormant to prevent bleeding, for this same reason Acers and birch trees should also be pruned now.

To grow the largest onions for exhibition, you really need to sow seed now.  Many giant seed varieties are available; Mammoth Improved and Kelsae are two varieties which will produce huge onions, if started early enough!

Earth up winter brassicas, and provide support to protect against wind damage.

Sow cress, sprouting seed, and herbs indoors.

Plant indoor Hippeastrum – often mistakenly known as Amaryllis, inside, and Lily and Tulip bulbs outside.   If you didn’t plant all of your spring bulbs last month, do get them planted now – they won’t keep forever!  Make use of containers if you can’t plant in the ground.

Sow Cyclamen, Antirrhinums and Begonias in a heated propagator.

Sow Sweet Peas in tall pots or Rootrainers outdoors in a sheltered spot outside, or in an open cold frame.

Put out food and fresh water for the birds.  If you’re putting up nest boxes for birds, do remember not to site boxes close to food sources such as bird tables, as this leads to competition over the nest site.

It’s important to remove the roof nets from fruit cages over winter.  The weight of any winter snow may rip or damage your net, and can often bring the whole fruit cage down.  I have seen so many damaged fruit cages at allotments after the past few snowy winters.  Removing the net also allows the birds to pick off any pests that had been protected by the cage, helping you, and giving the birds access to an extra food source, at a time when food is harder to come by.

Prepare new borders now.  Digging improves aeration and drainage, leaving the soil drier than it was before, so it’s a good idea to complete this task before springtime.  Adding well-rotted manure now, will allow it to be further broken down by frosts and rain.

Winter prune apple and pear trees, and shred the prunings to use as mulch.  Check tree stakes and ties, replacing any that are tight or damaged.  Old pairs of tights or stockings make useful soft ties for use in the garden.

Continue taking hardwood cuttings of blackcurrants, redcurrants, whitecurrants, pinkcurrants, and gooseberries.

Carefully ventilate greenhouses and cold frames on sunny days, but keep the vents closed on damp or foggy days.

Insulate garden taps, exposed pipes, and greenhouses.

I wish you all a very Merry Christmas.  I hope you can snuggle up indoors planning a wonderful, seasonal display and order your seeds and plants for next year!

Merry Christmas!

This article was first published in the mid-December 2012 edition of the Surrey and Hants News.

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