Ooh, it’s nearly here now! But before we lose ourselves utterly in the chaos and magic of Christmas, let’s get a few jobs done like feeding the birds, tending to the houseplants, and sowing some alpines……
Don’t forget the birds!
Everyone getting excited about the delicious food and drink we are going to consume over the next three weeks? But while you’re swigging back the dry sherry and munching Quality Street chocs, please remember to feed our precious birds.
Having a range of different feeders is a good way of attracting lots of songbirds with their favourite snacks. All sorts of tits and finches like high-energy foods like seeds, peanuts and fat-balls. Leave fruit pieces on the patio or lawn for the birds that prefer to feed on the ground like blackbirds and robins. Bluetits and robins also like mealworms, and goldfinches and greenfinches like niger/nyjer seeds, though I have to say that when I put out some of these little black seeds, they were much less popular than everything else. I read somewhere that soaking them can make them more attractive as a food-source, so maybe I’ll try that next time.
And what about getting the children and grandchildren involved too?! The NGS has a super recipe for making bird-seed-cakes. A perfect activity for the holiday.
I hope you’ve kept some seedheads on your garden plants as well as berries on holly, ivy, honeysuckle, Pyracantha, etc. and left all sorts of rosehips out there. It’s so wonderful to watch the birds feasting on them.
One last thing, do keep the birdbath clean and topped up, and melt it if it turns to ice! We actually use a china pet food bowl on our birdtable, which seems to work well.
Deck the Halls!
We just love to decorate the house with greenery over Christmas. Besides the fir-tree, we drape ivy round the shelves and the picture rails. And other evergreens look fabulous as well – myrtle, Euonymus, 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.
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.
Creating Houseplant heaven
Houseplants can have a rough old time during the winter months roasting near drying radiators or shivering in dark draughty corners. The problem is basically that many of them hail from sunnier, more humid parts of the world than ours, and they have to be helped to tolerate our less than perfect indoor conditions here in the UK. Here are few simple ideas of how to keep a smile on their faces:
- For most houseplants, there is not a lot of growth going on so don’t overwater them. Have the compost only just moist, using tepid water and avoiding getting water on the leaves – it’s best to water from below with things like Saintpaulia (African violet) and Cyclamen, or you run the risk of rotting the plant’s crown. Just fill up the tray they are sitting in, leave it for an hour or so, then pour out any water still in the tray. Use rainwater for azaleas, if you possibly can.
- Stop or reduce feeding. Unless they are growing strongly or actually flowering, feeding a houseplant monthly is more than enough.
- Try and keep the room temperature as even for them as you can. It’s fluctuations between cold and heat that most houseplants hate. Many will actually do better in an unheated frost-free room as long as the light levels are good. Things like miniature azaleas, hyacinths and Christmas cacti, for instance, are happier in a cooler atmosphere. If you are given a houseplant for Christmas, read the instruction leaflet carefully.
- Do you like alpines? Some are such exquisite plants, aren’t they? This is a good time to sow the seeds of alpines because they need a period of cold in order to germinate (the clue’s in the name really, isn’t it?) Sow the seed finely into free-draining compost and then cover the surface with grit. Put the pot or tray outside in a cold frame or covered with a sheet of glass.
- In cold areas of the country, wrap up Yucca stems and the trunks and canopies of bay with some horticultural fleece – they would appreciate some protection from the horrible icy winds that we are bound to get sooner or later.
- Plant blackcurrant bushes now with a good mulch of rotted manure. If you already have blackcurrants, cut back about a third of the oldest wood to ground level or to a strong side shoot.
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