Monday, 15 December 2014



A lot of people are under the impression that, as the days get shorter and colder with frequent frosty mornings, it is now time to forget about the garden till next spring. Unfortunately, the dormant season is a time to catch up on numerous tasks that seem to keep us outdoors on most sunny days and even those days when the ground is frozen or covered in snow.
The dormant season from November to March was traditionally the time to do all the new planting of trees, shrubs, roses, and many other plants that came as bare root plants. Today most plants are in pots so planting can be done just about all year round. However this time of year is best for soil cultivations incorporating manure or compost ahead of planting. This will also give the new planting a better chance of establishment as weeds will have been removed or dug in, then a mulch applied to retain moisture and prevent weeds from growing.

This is about the latest time for planting fresh strawberry runners for cropping next year.
I have always chosen a frosty day when the ground was frozen to carry out some tree, shrub and rose pruning. It never seems to do any harm. With bush roses I remove most wood except the strongest young shoots which get pruned by about half their length. Shrub roses just get straggling untidy shoots removed. Climbing roses get removal of all weak shoots, and some older wood and any shoots growing away from the wall or fences. Other shoots are lightly tipped and tied in.
With apple trees I try a bit of crown reduction on my mature trees to reduce the height so I don’t have to climb so high at harvesting time, as Anna’s nerves just can’t take it any more. I keep telling her good gardeners, well trained in fruit growing just don’t fall out of trees.
Well at least not very often. I only do a modest amount of spur pruning in winter as I prefer to regulate the balance of growth to fruiting wood, by removing the occasional large branch provided I can replace it with another younger shoot to take up its place.
Up on the allotment the autumn rasps and brambles have been pruned as well as my outdoor vine Phoenix, Solaris, Polo Muscat and Muscat Bleu. Prune greenhouse grapes in December to January.
Digging in compost continues as I try to complete all my soil cultivations by the end of this month.
Next year’s rotation plan is now completed, so I know where all the main crops will be going. That way I can add compost as digging proceeds according to the needs of each crop.
Land allocated for late planted crops such as sweet corn, courgettes, French beans and pumpkins will get sown down with a clover green manure crop in March, then dug in before planting.
I keep an eye on the weather forecast as my last row of beetroot is still perfect outdoors after getting some earthing up,
but if any severe frost threatens then I will lift them and store them indoors.
Outdoor water supplies have been turned off and drained and the pipes lagged for frost protection.
Keep a watch over stored apples and potatoes. Remove any apples going bad and keep shoots off stored potatoes. Gladioli and begonias should now be quite dry so they can be cleaned up and stored in some dry sand or soil in a frost free place till spring.
Now is a good time to complete taking of hardwood cuttings of shrubs and fruit bushes. They can be lined out in a prepared bed in a cold frame or in pots of well drained compost.
Put out bird feeders now, as once they have devoured all our berried trees and shrubs and the ground starts to freeze up their food source gets a wee bit restricted.

Plant of the week

Salix britzensis is a favourite willow for the coloured stem winter garden, where it is grown as a stooled bush. It has bright orange red stems all winter from leaf fall till the following March. It will start to grow then, but to keep it a bush it gets cut back to ground level. It will grow up to about eight foot tall. After cutting back in March I use the tall stems on the allotment to support my rows of peas.


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