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Thursday, June 13, 2024
GardeningDecember in the Garden

December in the Garden

There was practically a false spring this autumn as the unusually warm conditions, well into November, combined with the standard arrival of copious amounts of rain resulted in many plants, which had defoliated during the summer drought, to produce a flush of new growth and even have a second flowering. This kind of behaviour is bound to have repercussions when it comes to how well those plants overwinter, having put their energies into a late burst of growth, so paying extra attention to improving soil conditions, especially aeration, is a good idea.
I’ve mentioned before that I think that soil compaction is often something that is overlooked by many gardeners. It is good practice to always have a border fork handy whenever you have to walk on flower beds, whilst weeding for example, so that you can insert the tines and lift the soil wherever you’ve left a footprint. Similarly, during dry periods in the winter, it’s a good idea to fork over all your beds and borders and then apply an organic mulch to the areas that you have just aerated. In this way the organic matter in the mulch will fall into the cracks and fissures that your forking has created. This will help to keep the soil structure more ‘open’ and fend off compaction in the future.
Although December is generally a pretty quiet month, when it comes to practical gardening tasks, it’s always worth remembering that we are now in the bare-root planting season. As long as the ground isn’t frozen or waterlogged, obtaining trees and shrubs in their bare-root state is the most cost-effective means of obtaining them in quantity. Also, due to being soil and pot-less, they are able to be sent by post or courier so an internet search should yield any number of nurseries to provide whatever it is that takes your fancy.
There seems to have been a bit of a resurgence in interest in bare-root plants recently, possibly aided by Covid restrictions preventing physical nursery visits for a while, which can only be a good thing. Before pot grown plants became the norm, relatively recently in the history of the horticultural industry, practically every sort of winter dormant plant was lifted from stock beds and dispatched bare-root.
One of the major exceptions to being supplied bare-root is evergreen trees and shrubs. The reason for this is that they do not lose their foliage in the winter so are never really dormant. If a plant is not deciduous then it is always going to be losing water by transpiration, the evaporation of water primarily via leaves, and this means that if it is bare-root it will become stressed, possibly to the point of dying, because it will still be losing water but will not be able to replace it via its root system.
This is also the reason why it’s not a good idea to plant bare-rooted plants during frosty conditions as the surface water in the soil will be frozen and therefore not available to any plants that you have just planted. Even plants that are supplied bare-root need to be planted into well prepared soil, with plenty of organic matter added, and then well watered in so that their burgeoning root systems get the best chance possible.
One plant that you may be considering buying at this time of year is a Christmas tree which, being an evergreen, will be supplied as a pot grown plant if you are intending to obtain a living specimen. It’s more likely that you will be buying a cut tree in which case the three most likely contenders, according to the ‘Forestry England’ website, are the ‘Norway Spruce’, ‘Nordmann Fir’ and ‘Lodgepole Pine’.
The ‘Norway Spruce’ is the traditional one which has the familiar Christmas tree scent while the ‘Nordmann Fire’ may be preferred because it is a bit better at holding onto its needles. The ‘Lodgepole Pine’ is the rarest of the three but is recommended for its “lush green needles and a wonderful pine scent”. The same website has a tool for you to locate British grown Christmas, trees from your nearest ‘nation’s forest’, where each tree bought will help to fund their important work in looking after our UK forests.
I like the idea of having a living Christmas tree in a pot but this will, of necessity, be of a smaller size than a cut specimen. Being indoors is a very challenging environment for a living tree because the light levels will be much lower than it is used to and the atmosphere will be practically desert like and really desiccating. For these reasons it is necessary to ensure that the tree is kept well watered while it is inside. Regularly wetting the foliage with a misting sprayer, as long as you’ve not festooned it with mains powered fairy lights, will reduce the stress as will keeping it out of droughts and well away from any heat source. Keep it indoors for as short a period as you can and place it back outside, in a sheltered spot, as soon as the festivities are over.
Once spring has arrived treat it to a repotting, into a slightly larger pot, with fresh compost. Keep an eye on it all year and make sure that it never goes short of water, especially during the summer months, so that it is in the best condition possible for when it comes back inside next Christmas. After a few years of being potted on each spring it will, of course, reach a size at which it will no longer be practical to bring it indoors any more. At this point you can plant it out in the garden, if you have one big enough to contain a fully grown coniferous tree, and start again with another small specimen the following festive season.
In a way that process kind of sums up the whole of gardening; cyclical, continually growing and requiring human intervention at certain critical points. Have a Happy Christmas!

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