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Thrifty tasks – Grow How tips for early December

Elaine

How can it be December again! Cliché alert, but where did that year go?  It feels as if it was just last week that we took down the Christmas tinsel. Never mind, we can do this.

Let’s just make sure our festive to-do lists include some gardening tasks like planting tulips, bringing plants in for decoration and pruning a few shrubs…

Winter shrub-pruning

There are lots of shrubs that you shouldn’t touch in winter, because they flowered early in the summer and then made new growth on which they will flower this COMING spring/summer.  You don’t want to cut that off! The time to prune those is just after the flowers are finished.

But there are some which flower later on new wood made the same year, and you can cut these back now, to get fabulous strong shoots on a neater and less overgrown bush. Cotinus (smoke bush), Berberis and Sambucus (elder) fall into this category, and I have been pruning my beloved Sambucus nigra ‘Black Lace’ bushes this week.  These are fast-growing plants and can quickly become very tall and out-of-proportion.

I cut my lovely Sambucus nigra ‘Black Lace’ bushes back in winter

I take out any congested or thin shoots with secateurs and get out the little pruning saw for thicker branches.  The idea is to cut it back to a strong basic woody framework, from which the gloriously-coloured shoots will emerge triumphantly in spring.  

I cut the stems right back to the woody framework

This pruning can be done right up to very early spring, and it might be advisable to leave the job until then if you live in a very cold area and think that when the new shoots DO emerge, they still risk getting badly frosted.

An ornamental cut-leaved elder cut back to a strong woody framework

Waste not, want not – you can use some of the prunings to make crazily-easy free new plants by using them as hardwood cuttings – see below!

Blackcurrants, gooseberries and redcurrants can also be pruned now, cutting away old stems to leave a goblet-framework of new ones.  And wisteria should have all its sideshoots cut down to three or four buds.

Hardwood cuttings

Here is a very satisfying and simple way to make more of your favourite shrubs, to keep or give away.  You do need a bit of patience because these cuttings are unlikely to create a decent root system in less than a year, but honestly, it’s a doddle. If you have never dared to take cuttings before, THESE are the ones to have a go at.

Oh my goodness, there are so many candidates for your attention: for example dogwood, willow, Abelia, Euonymus, ornamental vines, honeysuckle, jasmine, willow, Philadelphus, Physocarpus, Berberis, Deutzia, Weigela, Hydrangea, Sambucus, Ribes (flowering currant)… (a little aside here – Louise has written a piece about a beautiful variety of Ribes – the link to it is at the bottom. The article is also included in her lovely book ‘A Plant for each week of the year’ – it’s in our shop, and now on its fourth reprint!). Don’t forget that rose stems make good hardwood cuttings as well. Experiment with all sorts of things, including trees.

Weigela – a great subject for taking some hardwood cuttings

In December, the plants have entered dormancy and it’s the perfect time to find stems of pencil thickness, cut them cleanly at a slant above a bud, and straight across below a bud at the bottom. The ideal length is about 30 cm. You can even make several cuttings from one stem.

Taking hardwood cuttings from the lovely shrub Physocarpus “Lady in Red’

No twiddling about with basal heat, adjusting the humidity etc. with these cuttings – put them (right way up!) into a trench in the soil, with only about a third of the cutting above the soil, or in a large pot of sandy compost, several in a pot, and leave it out of the way somewhere. Here’s an important thing – LABEL THEM! That way you won’t stumble across them sometime next spring and have no idea what the little sticks are……ahem, who would do such a thing…….

Take some nice easy cuttings

Make sure that they don’t dry out, but otherwise that’s it. You won’t get a shrub from every cutting, but some will magically grow roots at the bottom of the unpromising-looking stick, and you will be able to tell that from the new shoots from the top. You will be able to transplant them carefully next autumn. I’ve got lots of my black-leaved elder bushes – and they all came from one original plant!
Surely that’s worth half an hour of your time?

Happy houseplants

Lots of people will be using plants to beautify their homes for Christmas.  There are a few tips to remember, when using the familiar favourites:

  • Don’t overwater Christmas cacti but do keep them in a warm bright place out of direct sunlight.
  • The same bright spot will be fine for indoor cyclamen.  Water them when the compost feels dry and remember to deadhead them.  Stop watering when the plant goes dormant for the summer, and start watering again when you seen new shoots appearing.
Stop watering potted cyclamen as they go dormant for the summer
  • Indoor azaleas like things cool and very moist, but only use rainwater or cold water that’s been boiled in a kettle. 
  • Poinsettias loathe the cold so only a light warm spot will do for them, free from draughts and with the pot sitting on a tray of pebbles.  They don’t need a lot of water.
Poinsettias, like me, really hate icy draughts
  • Hyacinths, paperwhite Narcissi etc. need to stay moist and be near a sunny window.
  • Amaryllis (hippeastrum), as in our feature pic this week, like a windowsill in good light.  Water them only sparingly until the leaves and flower-stems are starting to shoot upwards when they will need more water plus a feed.  If you cut off the spent stem after flowering, but continue to feed your plant, it should flower again happily next year. 
Water and feed your Amaryllis more as the leaves and flower bud start to shoot upwards

Gardening shorts

  • Little decorative pots planted with pretty alpines, herbs, small foliage plants or simply stems of seedheads and berries pushed into compost or moss, make wonderful Christmas gifts.  Do have a look at the ones we have in our online shop – we are not surprised they are popular at this time of year (and we’ve got an offer on at the moment – you’ll find it at the end of this)
Little pots and saucers filled with dainty plants make wonderful gifts
  • I told you a few weeks ago that I was very taken with the idea with trying to grow a little ‘prairie’ meadow and had bought and sown some perennial seeds for it. The Rudbeckia triloba, Echinacea pallida and Coreopsis lanceolata seeds germinated well, so this week I have been dibbing them out into modules. I will keep them in these to grow on slowly in a cold greenhouse until spring when I hope they will be ready to be planted into the area I’ve assigned for this experiment. Exciting!
Excited to be pricking out my little perennial seedlings
  • There is still time to plant tulips, and you can be very canny.  Most outlets are selling them off cheaply now and it’s possible to pick up some real bargains. I did just that, and planted some out into pots a couple of days ago.  There is a link to a short video at the bottom of this blog, showing you what I did. 
Buy some bargain bulbs and plant them out for beauty next spring
  • Even in our comparatively sheltered neck of the woods, we’ve had some rough weather recently.  If you are growing Brussels sprouts ready for the Christmas table, it’s a good idea to stake the stems to stop them breaking in high winds or tipping sideways into the mud.

This is the link to a video of me planting some tulip bulbs.

Here is the link to Louise’s article on Ribes sanguineum ‘White Icicle’.

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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.

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