Oak Leaf Gardening Monthly Cuttings
Newsletter 31 - December 2013
What to do now

Ornamental plants

  • Continue planting bare rooted hedges, trees, roses and shrubs.
  • Take hardwood cuttings from dogwoods, roses, spireas, deutzias, wisterias, forsythias, Virginia creepers, buddlejas and willows.
  • Pinch out the tips of wallflowers to encourage bushier growth.
  • Deadhead winter pansies to encourage more flowers.
  • Move vulnerable container grown plants to a more sheltered location (eg next to a wall).
  • If it's all looking a bit dreary outside, treat yourself to some winter bedding (eg pansies) in pots.
Fruit and veg
  • Harvest Brussels sprouts, starting with the lower sprouts.
  • Cut down the tops of Jerusalem artichokes.
  • Order shallot/onion sets and seed potatoes.
  • Check on fruit and veg which you stored in the autumn to ensure there are no signs of rot or pests.
  • Prune congested apple and pear trees, removing damaged and diseased growth then any badly positioned branches.
  • Cut down the fruited canes of autumn raspberries and blackberries.
  • Protect bay trees if there’s a particularly cold spell forecast.
General tasks
  • Now's a good time to get your lawn mower serviced so it's ready to mow again in the new year.
  • Move hoses into the shed to prevent them freezing and cover outdoor taps with bubble wrap.
  • Clean pots, cloches and cold frames so they’re ready for the new year.
  • Give your greenhouse a good clean, ready for the spring, if you didn’t do so in the autumn.
  • Regularly check on your greenhouse heater as the temperatures continue to drop.
  • Insulate your greenhouse with bubble wrap.
  • Put a heater or ball in ponds to stop the water freezing completely.
  • Pick off dead leaves and flowers from greenhouse plants as they are susceptible to grey mould.
  • Make sure tree protectors are secure as rabbits may turn to bark as a food source in the winter.
  • We're moving into lean months for birds, so keep any feeders topped up.
  • Clear debris from your beds and borders, including any foliage remains of deciduous plants; revealing hidden slugs and snails to hungry birds!
  • Raise pots off the ground (on bricks or special pot 'feet') to prevent waterlogging.
  • Keep off waterlogged lawns to prevent compaction; put boards on areas you need to access.
Acer griseumPlant of the month

Growing to no more than 12m tall and providing year round interest, Acer griseum is a great tree for a smaller garden. This time of year the leaves have fallen to reveal the orangey bark which peels like paper. Small spring flowers are followed by samara fruit in the summer and in autumn the ageing leaves give a brilliant display of colour. Once established this tree is easy to look after, requiring only minimal pruning. Find out more...

Problem of the monthScale insects

Scale insects appear as static 'bumps' on stems, leaves and fruits. The insects feed on the plant's sap which, in extreme cases, can severely weaken the plant. They can be removed by washing and both biological and chemical controls are also available. Find out more...

In the news

Chelsea gardens announced

The RHS have announced the gardens to be featured in next year's Chelsea Flower Show. These include three gardens which will commemorate the 100th anniversary of the start of World War I. Cleve West will return to Chelsea in the hope of achieving his third consecutive 'Best In Show' award. The show will also welcome its youngest ever professional designer when David Rich, 23, produces the Bord na Mona garden alongside his older brother Harry. Meanwhile the BBC coverage of Chelsea will be without Alan Titchmarsh in 2014. Titchmarsh was dropped from the BBC2 coverage in favour of Monty Don and, as a result, chose to resign from any BBC coverage as he would not be able to present the "in depth coverage of horticulture - my chosen profession and area of expertise". Monty Don will be joined by newsreader Sophie Raworth and Chelsea regular Jo Swift.

Fruit flies found on UK crops

The fruit fly, which has caused widespread damage to crops around the world, has been found on fruit crops in the UK for the first time this summer. The current levels of the pests, which were found in the south of England, are not a threat, but growers are being encouraged to continue monitoring the situation and take steps to control the spread of the flies where necessary.

Homebase launch 'Garden Academy'

Homebase have launched a 'Garden Academy' following a poll of 16 to 25 year olds which revealed that 97% of them think that horticultural careers are 'uncool'. The DIY and gardening store have teamed up with RHS Chelsea gold medallist Adam Frost to train the students to achieve the RHS Level 1 Award, and also assist Frost in creating the Homebase Garden for the Alzheimer's Society at next year's RHS Chelsea Flower Show.


Christmas gifts for wildlife gardeners

Woodpecker on bird feederThe cold winter weather brings plenty of challenges for our garden wildlife. So when you're planning your Christmas gift giving, why not include a few presents which will delight wildlife-lovers, and do a bit to help furry and feathered friends too? Here are some ideas:

Bird food and bird feeders are great gifts, but why not put a bit more thought into it and get something to attract particular birds? The recipient might have a penchant for blackbirds (who prefer ground feeding stations and enjoy treats like suet cakes and mealworms) or might want to attract an elusive long tailed tit (try sunflower hearts or peanuts in a hanging feeder). Sources like the RSPB can help advise on what suits different species.

Many people have thought about bee keeping as a hobby, but haven't taken it any further. So why not get them a beginners course in beekeeping so they can have a go and see if they want to get their own hive? The British Beekeepers Association, for example, lists beginners courses around the UK.

Providing nesting boxes can attract birds to live in the recipient's garden. Different boxes are suitable for different bird species, so research what birds are local to your friend before buying. You could even purchase a bat box if you fancy giving something a little different. Complete the gift by adding a note to let them know that you'll come and put the box up for them (if this is practical!).

You can also provide shelter for a wide range of other creatures, to suit the type of wildlife you want to encourage. Frogs, toads, hedgehogs, ladybirds, lacewings and bees can all be bought plush accommodation.

Encourage children to get interested in garden wildlife by buying them a simple bird identification book and a pen to tick off the ones they've spotted. Or make it more fun by getting the 'Bird Bingo' game by Christine Berrie, which turns bird spotting into a game of bingo. Be warned though, you'll need to go a bit further afield than your garden to get 'Bingo!' unless emus and kingfishers are regular guests!

Help them track their garden visitors with a camera. This is a slightly more expensive gift, but can provide wonderful glimpses of the 'secret life' of garden wildlife. Cameras can be included in nest boxes to watch the chicks grow, positioned next to bird feeders (useful for large gardens when the feeder may not be near a window) or to take 'time lapse' images of the garden at night to see who's been prowling around.

Buy them a plant to help attract wildlife. Rowans, hollies and hawthorns provide food for birds while ivies, buddlejas and Michealmas daisies are great for insects (and encouraging insects will in turn encourage birds and mammals).

A good pair of binoculars is never on hand when you spot something interesting in the garden! So why not give a spare pair that your friend can keep handy by the window. If there are children in the house why not buy them a pair of child's binoculars (a bit less likely to break when dropped!) so they can join in?

Find out more about gardening for wildlife...

Image courtesy of Tina Phillips at FreeDigitalPhotos.net


What's on this month

Why not take some time away from wrapping presents and writing cards to go out for a bracing garden visit this December:

  • 1st December to 5th January - Festive Plants Tour, Kew Royal Botanic Gardens, London.
  • 2nd, 9th & 16th December - Visit The Edible Garden, Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh.
  • 3rd December - Essential Gardening Jobs For The Winter, Ness Botanic Gardens, Ness, near Liverpool.
  • 3rd & 6th December - Christmas Wreath Making Workshops, Merriments Garden and Nursery, Hurst Green, East Sussex.
  • 4th, 11th & 18th December - Early Opening For Photographers, Sheffield Park and Garden, Uckfield, East Sussex.
  • 5th December - Rose Care Workshop, Sissinghurst Castle, near Cranbrook, Kent.
  • 6th December - Under Glass; History Of The Greenhouse Talk, RHS Garden Harlow Carr, Harrogate, North Yorkshire.
  • 6th December - Lantern Walk, Trengwainton Garden, near Penzance, Cornwall.
  • 7th December to 5th January - Christmas Glasshouse Display, RHS Garden Wisley, Woking, Surrey.