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Deck the halls – Gardening Tips for December

Elaine

Not long to the big day now! Lots of lists to be written, lots of decisions to be made about catering, cards, decorations, what gifts to buy and for whom…….Stay calm, you’ve got this. And even if you haven’t, a few hours spent doing some quiet garden jobs will put things in perspective…………………..

Lifting the crown

No, I don’t mean something that Prince Charles dreams about; this is a hugely useful activity for giving access to the ground beneath a tree, allowing light to penetrate to this area, and giving you more planting space beneath. Crown-lifting involves cutting the lower branches of an established tree, while retaining the top (‘crown’).

The received wisdom is to leave at least two-thirds the total height of the tree, but to take off those annoying lower limbs that you have to bend double to walk or mow beneath – you frequently see it being done during the winter on street or park trees to allow greater access.  I think this treatment makes a tree look much more…….tree-like, and gives it a satisfying, even noble, shape. And I love the fact that it gives me a chance to plant all sorts of bulbs underneath it, with a greater possibility of success. I’ve done it with all sorts of trees, including evergreens.

Crown-lifting can give shape and elegance, as well as letting in light down below.

The basic technique is simple – use a sharp pruning saw, loppers or secateurs to cut branches and stems flush with the main trunk or big upright-pointing lower branches.  Don’t paint ‘wound-paint’ on the cut areas – this is a discredited idea these days, more likely to seal in infection rather than discourage it. The only major caveat is that if you want to take off some really major stuff, don’t do it all in one hit.  That can cause decay in the main trunk which could be a disaster. Take some of the branches off, but leave the rest on for at least another year before carrying on with the job.

Bringing the outside inside

We just love to decorate the house with greenery over Christmas. Besides the fir-tree (and as you can see from the feature pic, Laura is getting hers sorted!) , we drape ivy round the shelves and the plate rails. And other evergreens look fabulous as well – 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. And by the way, do check out the comments that came in after last week’s Growbag blog on festive decorations from the garden – lots of folk had plenty of great ideas and tips! Link is at the end.

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. 

Give your evergreen foliage a chance of surviving the rigours of indoor life until New Year’s Eve…….

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.

Lilies for loveliness next year

If the ground isn’t frozen, now is a good time to plant some lilies in a sunny place (though it’s even better if their roots are in shade, and their heads are in the sun), to bring beauty and scent next year. First of all, don’t buy dried-out bulbs – they should be plump and luscious. They are happiest in a neutral to acid, free-draining soil, so dig in some grit or sharp sand if the earth is inclined to be heavy and damp.

Time to think about planting lovely lilies for NEXT year……

Now, planting depth. Stem-rooting lilies like the Turk’s Cap Lily (L. martagon) or (my absolute favourite) L. regale must be planted deeply – at least three times the height of the actual bulb. Oriental lilies root from the base of their bulb but also like to have at least twice their height of soil above them, while the Madonna lilies (L. candidum)  or L. testaceum, can be planted at a more shallow depth – really just under the surface of the soil. A rough guide to the distance between them is three times their diameter, but the Oriental kinds can tolerate being planted much more closely together, and that’s why they are the best lilies for pots.  Label the spot, and cover it with another layer of grit, to deter those wretched slugs and snails a bit.

Gardening shorts

  • Still wondering what to buy your gardening friends? Here’s an idea – buy little potted cyclamen, primulas, small evergreens, ivies etc. and put them in one of the Liberté pots from our shop. After being enjoyed inside on a cool windowsill over the festive season, the plants can put out in the garden in early spring, and your friend will have a lovely pot to use for another plant or two!
Fill our pretty pots with flowers and foliage plants like these
  • If you are planning to plant some blackcurrant bushes this winter, (and who wouldn’t want to? Such delicious fruit!), it’s a good tip to plant them 2″ (5cm) lower than the soil mark of where they were growing before, because you are likely to encourage more shoots coming up from the base. Take out a third of the old stems on established bushes.
  • 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.
Blackcurrant pruning
Take out 1 in 3 of the old blackcurrant stems now

Don’t despair about the depths of dark winter. You can now be thinking about stocking up on seeds such as sweet pea and broad bean seeds to sow indoors after Christmas. Caroline sent me this photo of her broad beans sown outdoors in Scotland just a few weeks ago – makes you feel quite spring-like doesn’t it!

Caroline’s broad bean babies shrugging off a North Sea chill in Scotland this week – such a great veg!

Here’s the link to our blog last week on festive decorations from the garden.

NB If you’d like a bit more gardening chitchat from the3growbags, please type your email address here and we’ll send you a new post every Saturday morning.

By the3growbags

We're three sisters who love gardening, plants and even the science of horticulture but we're not all experts. We'd love everyone even remotely interested in their gardens to be part of our blogsite.

4 replies on “Deck the halls – Gardening Tips for December”

And absolutely wishing the same for you Scott – Heavens above it’s going on and on…mask on, mask off, getting jabbed, staying in, shoving sticks up our noses. Thank goodness our gardens just go on as usual and soon the days will start to get longer again! Hope you’re going to have a bash at our crossword next week! All the best from all of us X

Re. Deck the halls. My lovely daughter Carole is our table trimmer. She brings in everything from the garden on Christmas morning and our festive meal is always joined by a selection of tiny bewildered bugs woken by the warmth and fun! My grandson is chief rescuer and carefully saves them in a pot to release back to the wild. Merry Christmas to you all and a good safe and Happy New Year. Sue Churches

Susan that sounds so lovely and what a wonderful job your grandson has at Christmas. This must be how ecologists start their careers! Truly in our house Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas unless the candles set fire to the holly and the fire alarm goes off and we all have to evacuate to the garden because we can’t stand the noise. Wishing you a lovely Christmas and New YearX

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