December 2010 Newsletter

Remove any yellow  leaves from over wintering brassicas

Remove any yellow leaves from over wintering brassicas to avoid any spread of disease and get rid of any pests that may be hiding in the old foliage. Clear away the remains of any other old crops in the veg garden and add to the compost heap. Slugs in particular can still be a threat and they love to hide under fallen leaves and plant debris so tidy up dead leaves or old plant material to remove any pests that might be lurking there.

Keep harvesting brussels sprouts, leeks, parsnips, celery, kale and winter lettuce.  Carry on with winter digging when the weather allows and preparation of new beds to give the soil chance to break down and settle over winter before spring planting. Digging may also bring to the surface any lurking soil pests, which will soon be picked off by hungry birds!

Carrying out winter pruning

Carry out winter pruning of apple and pear trees if you haven't already done so. Always use a sharp, clean pair of secateurs and begin by removing any branches that cross or are rubbing look for any that are weak, dead, diseased or damaged. Branches that are growing into the centre of the tree can also be removed to allow light and airflow through the branches of your fruit trees. Reduce the height and spread of any branches that have grown too large by cutting them back to strong a vigorous lower branch.

Prune grapevines

Prune Grapevines before Christmas (or very early in the New Year) to avoid bleeding of stems as the sap starts to rise in the spring. Shorten the new growth by half and cut back some side shoots back to one bud from the leading stem and others to two buds, these will form the fruiting spurs. Cut back developing main stems by half their new growth, and established stems to a single new bud. Later in the summer you can shorten non-flowering laterals to four or five leaves and any side shoots growing from these, to one leaf.

Finish pruning

Finish pruning soft fruit bushes (blackcurrants, redcurrants and gooseberries) to promote new wood, which will carry the most fruit. Remove a third of the oldest stems, cutting back to ground level, and shorten the new growth from this years leading stems, by half. Remove any dead or diseased wood and open up the centre of the bush to allow good air circulation to will help prevent spread of disease.

Over wintering

If you are over-wintering tender plants such as geraniums or fuchsias strip all remaining leaves and reduce the stems by two thirds. Remove all debris to reduce risk of fungal diseases. Try to keep plenty of air flowing around the plants. Wrap pots with fleece or newspaper to help prevent roots freezing.  They can be rejuvenated by hard pruning in early spring. Tender plants will often recover from frost damaged stems by shooting from the base, but are unlikely to regenerate if the roots have been frozen. If appropriate line your greenhouse with bubble-wrap to help protect vulnerable plants.

Gardening Tips
Make sure trees

Make sure tree guards are intact around the base of young apple, pear and other fruit trees. Rabbits can wreak havoc at this time of year and they love a bit of tender bark to nibble on! Remove any mummified fruit, from fruit bushes and fruit trees to reduce any risk of infection. Check any stored top fruit regularly and remove any that are beginning to go mouldy or rotten - you can add these to your bird table, the birds will be very grateful! If there has been a heavy fall of snow, take a bit of time to knock the snow from the branches of fruit trees and bushes to prevent them breaking under the weight.

Pidgeons

Pigeons will be on the look out for food now, and your cabbages, cauliflower and kale plants make suitably tasty winter meal! So if you haven’t already done so net your brassicas to keep them well away. If you use insect netting it will also give a bit of extra protection from the worst of the weather. Remove any yellow leaves from winter brassicas before netting they are doing no good and only encourage diseases such as botrytis.

If you are still clearing

If you are still clearing fallen leaves from your garden remember they are a free and very useful garden resource. You don’t have to do anything other than put them into a bin liner or garden refuse sack, poke a few drainage holes in the bottom, put them somewhere out of the way and forget about them! Depending on the type of leaves and whether or not they were chopped a bit before bagging you could have wonderfully crumbly leafmould in a couple of years. It is an invaluable soil improver and makes an excellent mulch for vegetables, fruit trees and bushes.

A good thick layer over borderline hardy perennials such as some Penstemons will help keep them cosy over the winter. It is a good cover for bare winter soil, especially on the veg plot, where it will be gradually worked into the soil by the ever industrious earthworm. Running a mower over fallen leaves will chop them up and when mixed with a few grass clippings it speeds up the composting process to one year instead of two. But if you still have fallen leaves on borders around shrubs and hedges, leave these for the time being as they may be hiding hibernating animals such as hedgehogs, frogs and toads.

When tidying up

When tidying up your borders don’t be in too much of a rush to cut everything back before the onset of bad weather. Hardy Fuchsias and perennials such as Penstemons will benefit from having the stems left on over winter to give some protection to the crown of the plant. Cut these stems hard back in early spring once you see the first new buds breaking from the base of the plants. Plants with decorative seed pods such as Love in a Mist look really attractive during winter and help feed the birds too and many grasses look spectacular when it’s frosty, especially the taller varieties.