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Time to Tidy and Prepare for 2024

Shorter daylight hours, combined with these cold frosty nights, mean time spent in the garden needs to be quite focused on practical jobs now. The early cold snap of below zero temperatures was an early wake-up call that we need to ensure our weather protection is in place for our less hardy plants, pots and water pipes/taps.

Most of us are probably still clearing leaves of our lawns, borders and paths. Some trees have really held onto their autumn colours which has provided great joy during sunny afternoons. Brave the cold and get those hedges and trees planted and provide some much-needed colour during the winter by planting up some pots with bulbs or early flowering perennials such as hellebores.


Other jobs for this month include:


Perennials, Shrubs and Trees

●      Continue to plant bare root hedges and trees when the weather permits.  Bare rooted hedging plants are generally good value and can provide a wonderful screen and haven for wildlife in a short time frame.


●      Winter prune open-grown apple and pear trees to ensure a healthy, productive cycle of fruiting wood. The aim is to create a framework that is an open goblet shape, with four to five main branches. Always make sure you use sharp secateurs or loppers for the job. Watch out for diseases such as canker and remove those bits to a healthy stem.


●      Prune Acers, birches, and grape vines before Christmas. Waiting until late winter or early spring can lead to bleeding, as the sap will have started to rise in anticipation of spring.

Lift and divide overcrowded herbaceous perennials. Those that you don’t get round to can be done in the spring. Now is also a good time to lift those perennials that didn’t perform well, leaving space for new plants in the spring. Try to compost these areas to put more goodness back into the soil for new plants.


●      Prune climbing and shrub roses to prevent leggy stems from being damaged by winter winds. You should also cut away dead, diseased or damaged growth and tie in any new shoots.


●      Prune plants such as Buddleia, Abutilon, Hibiscus and Lavatera, which are prone to wind rock by reducing their stems by one-third.



Kitchen Garden


●      Harvest leeks, hardy salads, parsnips, sprouts, winter cabbage and any remaining root crops.


●      Be prepared to apply frost protection to any remaining outdoor crops.


●      Kales, chard and other brassicas might also need protection from birds once there is little else for them to eat!


●      Mulch vegetable beds with organic matter (apart from the beds you plan to grow root vegetables in next season!) provided the soil isn’t too wet or frozen. This will help prevent weeds but also protect and nourish the soil during the winter months.


●      Prune established blackcurrant plants to allow the young wood to start putting on growth in spring. Cut out a third of the oldest, woody stems, plus any that are weak or damaged.


●      Check on any fruit or vegetables such as apples, squash, onions, etc.  that are already in storage for signs of deterioration and dispose of any affected fruit or vegetable to limit spread.


●      If you have a heated greenhouse or propagator, sow some salad seeds. With adequate light and some warmth, they will soon begin to grow albeit more slowly.


Other jobs


●      Plant tulip bulbs. Now that soil temperatures are lowering, it’s the perfect time. Remember, they need a site with good drainage so, if your soil conditions don’t suit tulips, plant them in pots or containers. You can always add some grit to the bottom of the planting hole to increase drainage and prevent rot.


●      If weather permits, do weed your borders to ensure more persistent weeds haven’t taken hold.


●      Tidy and organise sheds, putting away growing supports and protection nets so they don’t suffer unnecessary damage over the winter months. Clean, dry and store any used pots, seed trays or other containers to reduce the risk of overwintering pests and diseases.

Check that greenhouse heaters are working, or insulation is in place before the cold weather truly hits. Efforts to garden more sustainably and high fuel costs mean you may wish to consider how greenhouses can be heated more efficiently. Depending on your greenhouse, used bubblewrap can be an effective way of insulating your greenhouse.


●      Clean greenhouses, cold frames, and cloches to ensure maximum light during these shorter daylight hours. Garlic spray or vinegar spray are great alternatives to strong chemicals.


●      Make sure any outside taps or pipes are well insulated. Remove hoses, any sprinklers or spray guns and put them inside to stop them from freezing and to extend their life.


●      Don’t forget to feed the birds! Once the temperatures drop it is much harder for the birds to stay warm and find food.


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