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Gardening Tips

Gardening tips for early December


The festive season is upon us, and we must brace ourselves for browsing the shop-shelves while listening to Slade, Mariah Carey and Wizzard once again.  Because so much of Christmas was cancelled last year, I wonder if we’ll welcome the Yuletide Muzak a little more this year than normal? No, me neither, but I’ll be humming along happily by December 20, no doubt. If you’d rather listen than read while you’re on the go, there’s a link to the podcast of this blog at the end – you may catch a little purring in the background – Lulu the kitten was sitting on my shoulder while I was recording – to be fair, she was good as gold, for once!

There are some handy jobs to get on with in the garden to take our minds off ‘Mistletoe and Wine’ for a short while, like pinching out the sweet peas, seeking out the hibernating snails, and sorting your seed-packets…………..

Sweet pea seedlings

Did you sow some sweet pea seeds in September or October? Top of the class, if you did – your reward will be good strong plants to put out in the garden next spring, bearing flowers early enough to give you plenty of bragging rights! So, what to do with them now? Here’s what I’ve found out:

POSITION: These seedlings need a cool, bright, frost-free place in which to grow slowly throughout the winter – an unheated greenhouse or a cold-frame is ideal, or how about a bright enclosed porch? I’ve got mine on the window-sill of an unheated little conservatory. You want them to concentrate on good root-development, rather than masses of top-growth.  If it’s a bit gloomy in there, their stems become elongated and weak, as they search for the light.  And if it’s too warm, they start piling on masses of fast, lush growth that will never cope with harsher realities outside next spring.

WATERING: Be careful about this – they really won’t need a lot of water during the winter because they are growing so slowly.  If they sit in wet soil for any length of time, your seedlings could actually rot which would be a crying shame after all your efforts thus far.  Just check the soil every so often and water it when it feels dry.  Then no more until it feels dry again.

Look after your sweet pea babies through the winter for early bragging rights next year………

PINCHING OUT:  Only specialist growers who are after huge blooms for the show-bench would let their sweet peas grow on a single cordon stem. The rest of us would much prefer to have a mass of flowers from multi-stemmed plants.  The way to make them branch is to wait until your seedlings have developed 3-4 tiny leaflets, and then use your thumb and forefinger to pinch out the top main tip.  More sideshoots will then come from those leaflets.

ONE MORE THING: Did you actually forget to sow some sweet peas this autumn? Well, I reckon it’s still worth a go, if you can germinate them somewhere warm.  Don’t use all your sweet pea seeds though because a) the ones you sow now might not come up and b) you want a few more to sow in the spring, so that once your early ones peter out, the later-sown flowers can take over! And who wouldn’t want beautiful scented blooms as in our feature pic, in flower all summer long……

Seed sort-out

Here’s a confession – I loathe chucking away plant seeds, whatever their provenance, and no matter how old, non-viable or inappropriate they are. All that potential wasted! (Much like the sort of thing that the teachers used to write in Caroline’s school reports).   I have serried ranks of them in shoeboxes, and I bet I’m not the only person to have rows of unnamed saucerfuls of seeds along the windowsill. I, and you, MUST sort through them, nay, scythe through them, and bin the useless ones. Grow Them or Throw Them!

Can you be ruthless with those old seed packets? I’m trying to be……….

I rarely sow all the seeds in a new packet, and I know that you can often use them with quite a bit of success the following year, but after that, the chance of germination success falls away dramatically, and you can waste a lot of time, compost and space on them for almost zilch return.  I know all this, so why am I dithering about a packet of Cerinthe seed from 2015? Enough. Away with them.  I’ll add the names of the throw-outs to my burgeoning Christmas list…………………..

Seed tin
Instead of rooting around in her broken shoe boxes Elaine needs to treat herself to one of the lovely Burgon and Ball seed tin available from our on-line shop

On the subject of seeds, though, I was very pleased with my little collection of free ‘Red and white collection’ seeds in the Christmas edition of ‘Garden Answers’ (link to magazine at the end of this blog)– Cosmos, Mallow, Amaranthus and Poppy. And soon I’ll have room for them in my seed-box!

Oooh, lovely! Free seeds to add to my large seed-box………,

Gardening shorts

  • If you’ve got cabbages, broccoli or cauliflowers growing outside, it’s a good idea to pull the earth up around the stems with a hoe or trowel, to stop them rocking around in winter winds.  Take off any yellowing leaves too, and tie the stems of brussels sprouts to canes .
Pull the earth around the stems of cabbages to lessen the windsock
  • Snails are starting to congregate in little corners like seed-trays and under pots to hibernate. Seek them out and deal with them, before they wreak more havoc in your garden next spring. Please don’t use pesticide on them though; sprinkling with salt, vinegar or baking soda will kill them,  if that’s what you want to do. Though don’t use these things if the snails are actually on your plants – the plants will die too!
Seek out snails while they hibernate among your pots and trays
  • The roses are losing their leaves, and if they have been affected by blackspot, they may fall earlier than usual anyway.  This is when dark unsightly blobs appear on the foliage and it can reduce the vigour of your rose bush in severe cases.  It’s a bit of a drag, but try to be fastidious about picking marked leaves off and picking up the ones that have already fallen – it’s the best way of lessening the likelihood of a bad infestation next year. Remember not to put them on the compost heap, though!
Pick off the leaves affected by blackspot to lessen the chance of the disease overwintering on your rose
  • Amongst our gardening friends, there is one who always plants out his broad beans in the third week in November – he is a very good gardener, so I thought I’d pass the message on!

NB If you are planning on gardening outdoors through the winter you could do what Laura has done and invest in a pair of Genus ‘Warm and Dry’ gardening trousers. Having been given a pair of their popular ‘3-Season’ trousers to trial over spring, summer and autumn she was impressed enough to ask for a pair of their winter trousers as a birthday present and reports that they make that trip outside for gardening or dog walking now the weather has turned nippy positively enjoyable. If you’re dropping hints to your significant other about Christmas approaching you might also mention that Genus are offering a 10% discount at the moment to anyone who signs up to their newsletter.

Genus winter gardening trousers
Laura loves her cosy new Genus gardening trousers. Fleeced lined, waterproof, with padded knees, loads of pockets and made from a technical fabric that even she has failed to rip or damage.

More NB Here is the link to a podcast of this blog.

More NB If you fancy a giggle at our choice of Christmas gifts from a couple of years ago, check out this blog. Even then, Laura was raving about the Razor Hoe that we’ve got in our shop!

Even more NB Here is the link to Garden Answers magazine

Final 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.

18 replies on “Gardening tips for early December”

Why not send you unwanted seeds to the Lemon Tree Trust . A charity which provide seeds to refuges around the world. Their mission statement is “Gardening has the power to bring dignity, hope and beauty to survivors of war.”

Now that is a really great idea, Gail! Elaine here. We all know the power of gardening to ‘bring dignity, hope and beauty’ to all of us actually, but especially to those who have suffered so terribly in the war-torn areas of the world.

Hi Gail, Elaine here again. I’ve been looking at the Lemon Tree Trust website and they don’t actually want any more seeds at the moment:
‘Update: October 2021 – For the moment we have enough seeds and are pausing on accepting donations. This is thanks to the incredible response we’ve had to our appeal to date. We’ve been overwhelmed by people’s generosity and are still busy redistributing fruit, flower and vegetable seeds to refugee gardening projects. Instead, if you are able to do so, we welcome a monetary donation to further support our gardening activities. Thank you.’
Still a hugely worthy cause to contribute donations to, though.

David Austin roses removes all leaves from roses at this time of year. We attended a training course a couple of years ago. Starts the year clean and fresh.

Thanks for writing in, Eileen. Elaine here. That’s really interesting that they strip all the leaves off – I suppose it does make sense if you’ve got the time and the manpower to do it, so that, as you say, all the new shoots come out clean in the spring. Might go round the garden and do it myself later!

Yes, I love Genus trousers I had some three seasons ones for my birthday but don’t think I’ll be out in winter so much as my hands get sooo cold. Any suggestions for really warm gardening gloves?

Hi Maggie, Elaine here. Yes, the problem with really warm gardening gloves is that they can be so padded and waterproofed that you then lose all the flexibility and cant’t do any of the tasks that you were going to do in the first place! I don’t have any properly cosy ones, but a gardening friend of mine suffers from Raynaud’s disease (where your hands turn blue), and says that she has some thermal gloves by Benchmark which really help her. I might put some on my Christmas Wish list myself, actually! I don’t know if Laura or Caroline have got any other ideas?

Hold onto all the old flower seeds till spring, (in a shoe box labelled old seeds?!) then get them all out, drop into shallow pots of water, remove and throw the floaters, the ones that sink are likely to be still viable and worth sowing/scattering…astonishing what comes up.

Hi Frances, Elaine here. Ah yes, I have tried that trick once or twice, with old seeds that I couldn’t bring myself to chuck. My problem was that there were so few seeds that sunk that it wasn’t worth the bother of compost, space and time to coax them to germinate! Lots of people might be luckier, though, so thank you very much for writing in with the tip.

Apart from taking off all the old rose leaves, try and collect up any lying on the surrounding soil. Then in Feb/March give the roses a thick 5″ min mulch of manure. Apart from feeding them this ‘suffocates’ any overwintering blackspot spores on the soil – stopping them from rising up to infect new Spring growth. In the Spring cut off the tips of all new growth, as that is where the trouble starts! I gave up spraying roses at least 25 years ago, having watched baby tits devour all the greenfly. The only downside being hoards of lady birds overwintering down the top folds of our curtains!
Wonderful tip from Frances on sorting out old seeds!

Susie, Caroline here, this sounds absolutely authoritative advice. As the most inexpert of the3Growbags, it’s going to take courage for me to remove all my rose leaves but bolstered by your knowledge, I’m going to forge ahead and make a note to mulch them in early spring. Thank you so much. Sharing informed advice like this is the real value of a gardening blog!

There is a useful YouTube film on the David Austen website about rose pruning, and indeed he recommends taking all the leaves off. I did this in spring (I only have half a dozen plants), and it really seems to have made a difference. I lifted all fallen leaves too, as always recommended.

Barbara, Caroline here, I’m off to watch this video. Im so grateful to you and Susie for this advice. I feel I’m about to adopt a new rose-husbandry habit that will last me the rest of my life!

Thanks for that comprehensive rundown on growing sweet peas from seed. Really clear and what I need to get ’em going, both now (late again!) and next spring. Well done and yes, away with those ‘really’ outdated seed packets.

It’s easier said than done isn’t it Scott. I still almost throw them away but then can’t resist keeping them ‘just in case’ (in case of what!). Kindest regards as always, Caroline

I have received my first order from the Growbag shop and absolutely love everything! Bought for presents but probably will have to reorder as I want to keep most of the things for myself. The Burgon and Ball items are all practical, are such good quality in eye catching packaging – and they are made in the UK. Well done Growbags – it all arrived really well packaged in and in pretty short order. If you haven’t done so already – have a look and treat yourself or treat someone else!

Liz what a great review! Thank you so much for those lovely comments. We’re so thrilled to hear you were pleased with the things you bought. And thank you so much for being a Growbags customer – we hugely appreciate the support of our subscribers! Xxx

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