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Gardening in December 2008
by
Pam Pickard

Christmas decoration - photo by Pam Pickard

Welcome to this column, it is designed to help to encourage and inspire you in your gardening endeavours.

You will definitely be forgiven this month if you prefer to focus on ‘indoor’ gardening involving Christmas decorations in the form of trees, flowers and foliage! See plant profile for tips on choosing your real Christmas tree and Christmas plant care. However there are some jobs to do outside. In greener gardening this month we look at alternative methods for driveways.

December 1 – 7 is National Tree Week, marking the start of the winter tree planting season.

Jobs to do this month
One way to keep warm is by digging small areas of the vegetable patch, unless very wet. Improve the soil by adding organic matter. Harvest winter brassicas and remember to pick Brussel sprouts from the bottom of the plant upwards.

Plant new fruit trees and bushes as long as the soil is not frozen or very wet. Also it’s a good time to plant shrubs for winter colour; Dogwoods, Willow and Rubus all have brightly coloured stems.

Ensure tender plants are protected from frost with horticultural fleece and collect fallen leaves from the borders. Add extra colour with hardy Cyclamens in containers or in partially shaded areas under trees or shrubs in well drained soil.

Gather foliage for indoor decorations; Holly, Ivy, conifer branches, Laurel and other evergreens.

Plant Profile
Snow covered trees in Austria - photo by Pam Pickard
Christmas trees became popular after a photograph of Queen Victoria, Prince Albert and their children admiring a decorated tree was published. The preferred choice was the Norway spruce which was popular in Germany at the time.

Did you know? 95% of the trees sold in the UK are homegrown? And the Normann fir accounts for 50% of Christmas tree sales in the UK replacing the ever popular Norway spruce which tends to drop its needles before twelfth night.

Choosing your live Christmas tree
Normann firs don’t drop their needles, even if neglected although they survive better if they can take up water. Other popular tree types are Blue spruce, although prickly they have an attractive blue sheen and keep fresh if watered. Fraser fir has a narrower shape than Normann fir with dark green scented needles. Scots pine is a native conifer. Although difficult to dress it does retain its needles and has a pleasant pine aroma. Serbian spruce, also known as Osmorika has a narrow shape with upward pointing shoots, often with cones. However, the soft scented needles do drop readily.

Looking after your tree
Buy it at least a few days before Christmas; look for freshly delivered stock. Soak well in water before bringing into the house. Stand in a cool part of the room and keep topped up with water.

So now you’ve chosen the type of fir, what is best? Cut, container grown or containerised?

Cut trees are the cheapest option, usually field grown, sawn off at ground level. Stand into a plastic stand with a water reservoir. Should last at least three weeks if treated like a cut flower. Choose one with at least 30cm of clear trunk at the base and saw at least 3cm off when you get home to help it to take up water. Don’t forget to recycle it.

Container grown trees are the most expensive option; they’ve spent their lives in the pot. Will need to be kept watered and could be kept in the garden for two or three years.

Containerised trees are hard to look after; they’ve been dug up and placed into a pot, often cutting the roots off. They tend to dry out quickly and lose their needles as they can’t take up water very well.

Christmas Plant Care
Popular plants include; Poinsettia, Christmas flowering Cacti, Azaleas, Cyclamens and Orchids. When choosing indoor plants for Christmas choose plants that are stored indoors; they’ll survive better. Pick plants with plenty of buds and avoid drooping or plants with yellowing leaves.

Place in a well-lit spot away from draughts and avoid dropping temperatures. Definitely do not place on a window sill behind curtains as the cold from the window will be trapped. Keep plants evenly moist but not wet, deadhead regularly and if kept in a room with central heating, spray the air around the plant to increase humidity.

Greener Gardening
Over the past few years, with the ever increasing need to park cars safely and off the street, it has become popular to make front gardens into driveways. However it has also become apparent that by choosing block paving, tarmac and concrete, materials that are non-porous, these driveways have created a serious increase to the risk of flooding. Added to the threat of climate change there is no doubt that the water table is rising.

So what’s the alternative? In recent times there are a lot more porous materials available on the market which will help to prevent flooding.

  • Permeable block paving – looking like standard block paving but with clever interlinking shapes which allow for the rain to run through. These bricks need to laid on a special sub-base to ensure sufficient drainage, so need to be laid by specialists.
  • Reinforced grass – giving the look of a lawn and a strong enough surface to park a car. Will need to be mown regularly and treated like a lawn. There are four types of reinforcement available on the market; Hopsack paving ordinary pavers are laid with pockets of soil which can be seeded with grass. Concrete cellular paving – sold as pre-formed blocks, the holes can be filled with grass or gravel. Plastic cellular paving – several types are made from recycled plastic. Interlocking cell pavers are laid on a bedding layer and pegged in place. The cells can then be filled with soil and grass seed.
    Plastic mesh
    – Only suitable for firm, well-drained ground. Tough mesh is laid over an area of turf or grass and pegged down. Can be laid over existing turf. Mow the lawn before laying the mesh and let the grass grow through it.
  • Gravel – available in a variety of colours which can be matched to the surroundings. Needs a firm base and laying on a permeable membrane to avoid problems with weeds. Useful for security as gravel gives a distinctive crunching sound.
All items mentioned are available in most garden centres or specialist builders

Photographs are taken by Pam Pickard.

© Pam Pickard 1/12/2008

 

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