You definitely need a break from all the present-buying, list-making, baking and strategic planning required in mid-December!
So relax for a while and choose some beautiful foliage to make your home a green haven this Christmas, as well as thinking about our precious songbirds over winter, and perhaps a little gentle pruning……….
Creating a festive forest
Do you go mad with your Christmas greenery? I’m afraid we do! We drape ivy round the shelves and the plate rails. And then there’s myrtle, Euonymus, mistletoe, Mahonia, laurel, Skimmia and of course holly…. they all give a marvellous sense of bringing the garden inside when placed among your other festive decorations or in a welcoming door wreath. A while ago, we wrote a piece about our favourite decorations – click on the link below.
But all this delightful foliage will last much longer in a centrally-heated home if you condition the cut stems a bit first, before you put them up.
Split the base of the cut stems then plunge them into a deep bucket of warm water. If you have any sachets of cut-flower food, pour one of those into the water too.
Leave them there overnight and then re-cut the base of the stems again before using them to decorate your home. The odd fine mist of water will keep your sweet-smelling greenery looking fresh even longer.
Feed the birds
Our songbirds need some help now that food sources are becoming scarcer. It is important they find some high-energy nutrition in the winter, or they won’t be fit or healthy enough to breed in the spring, or feast on the annoying aphids and snails in your garden next spring!
Another benefit for you, is that they’re delightful to watch while they’re feeding. Even if you have done the big garden tidy-up ready for winter and not left seedbeds and berries for our feathery friends, you can do something about it now.
If you can provide a range of goodies, you’ll attract a larger variety of species to your garden. Proprietary birdseed (we get sacks of Countrywide birdseed, which seems to go down well), peanuts (not salted!), sunflower seeds, fat-balls, niger seeds, meal-worms – they all have their avian fans. Don’t put these things on the lawn or they may attract vermin, but fruit pieces will interest ground-feeders like robins and blackbirds.
There are recipes on the internet for birdseed cakes to put in hanging coconut shells – get the children involved.
Squirrels can be deterred with pest-proof songbird feeders which work brilliantly- for us, at least. Do clean out the feeders regularly to prevent birds catching salmonella bacteria – a 9:1 solution of water and bleach works well, then dry them thoroughly. And remember that wild birds benefit from a supply of clean fresh water for drinking and washing.
Rhubarb and figs
We absolutely love rhubarb, do you? I remember being amazed by a film of the sheds in the famous Rhubarb Triangle between Wakefield, Morley and Rothwell in West Yorkshire, where the stems were being forced upwards in the dark and you could actually HEAR them growing! And then they were picked by hand in candlelight so that the delicate pink stalks wouldn’t be turned green and hard by photosynthesis. Wow!
I can’t aspire to anything like that, but I am happy to give my rhubarb patch a boost now and again. Winter is a good time to plant new rhubarb crowns, or divide old clumps to renew vigour and health (the plant’s, not yours, but I suppose that would apply too…) Every 4/5 years, lift the rhubarb clump, and dig over the soil mixing in some manure. Then replant just the healthy outer bits of the clump into the improved soil.
Perhaps not QUITE as delectable as in West Yorkshire, but still a pleasure to look forward to next spring!
Still in the fruit world, have you got a fig tree? We had the most fantastic crop on ours this year – climatic conditions must have been right up its street, perhaps. If you are lucky enough to grow this delectable fruit tree, you may well have lots of figs of different sizes still on it.
This is because figs try to fruit twice each summer, but our summers are not (usually) long enough to allow that to happen. Leaving that second (unripe) summer crop on the tree will inhibit the development of next year’s pea-sized fruits which are already forming in the leaf-axils. So take off all the medium-sized figs now and let the tiny ones grow on over the winter.
The depths of winter can in fact be a good time to prune lots of tough overgrown summer shrubs. Think Berberis, Buddleia, Cotinus, Spiraea, elders, willow, etc.
The sap has slowed to almost a standstill, and you are very unlikely to cause it damage by pruning now. I’m having a go at a Berberis in our feature pic this week. But don’t touch Mediterranean plants like Salvia and Myrtle which need their topgrowth to protect their lower buds from frost damage. One other warning – pruning on very frosty days isn’t a great idea as the cold can damage the freshly-exposed parts of even the toughest customer. I made a quick video about this job – link is below.
- Pots of cyclamen are a popular choice for indoor decoration. They are happiest with good light but in a cool room. Try to always water them from below into the saucer or tray, and remember to deadhead them often to keep the flowers coming.
- You’re soon gonna need those Brussels sprouts for the festive table! If you haven’t already done so, stop the quite heavy plants from getting blown over by supporting them with a strong cane and twine tied in a figure-of -eight about halfway up the stalk.
- Japanese maples are gloriously decorative trees that don’t often need a lot of pruning. But if you do need to do some gentle shaping, now is the time to do it. They are fully dormant and won’t drip precious sap when you cut the stems.
Here is the link to our chat about our favourite plant-based Christmas decorations.
This is the short video about winter-pruning shrubs.
Meanwhile, back in the mild autumn in 2020, Louise chose a plant that you wouldn’t normally associate with December – but was still looking great – click on the box below to find out what it was.
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