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December 2013 Newsletter

December Newsletter

How did it get to December so quickly? I don’t know about you but the summer feels like it has only just finished.
Do you remember as a child how it seemed an eternity between Christmases? It was matched only by the seemingly endless August summer holidays... Those were the days.

But like it or not December (and Christmas) is here. ( Don’t forget to order your Christmas gifts in good time for them to be delivered for the big day)!

Whether we love this time of year for its cosy nights in and promise of festivities or wish the spring and summer would simply follow on from autumn, there are still some gardening jobs to do and some fun to be had from the garden.
Gardeners with a greenhouse can get on with seed sowing indoors and there are usually plenty of berries and greenery to collect for Christmas decorations with even a few flowers in bloom to fill vases. Our winter interest shrubs will definitely lift the spirits.

My advice is to get out and about on the clear, crisp days, hunker down on the dull and dreary ones and do a bit of planning too; because let’s face it, warm spring weather and hot summer days will be here before we know it!

Happy gardening and a Happy Christmas too, from everyone here at Unwins!

Last chance to plant bulbs
If you haven’t already planted tulips and daffodils there is still time to do it- but be quick. I f you leave it any later than this month there’s the risk of any bulbs you’ve already bought but not planted,  starting to sprout in the warmth of the house, or worse still, rotting away in storage.  Mice are also partial to a nice plump tulip or daffodil bulb so get any remaining bulbs planted as soon as possible.
I know it’s obvious but worth mentioning that the ground gets harder as frosts get harsher so choose a day when you can actually get your trowel into the soil! If the ground has frozen solid consider planting your bulbs into containers instead. There’s a step by step guide in the November newsletter if you need reminding how to do it.
Of all the spring bulbs, tulips will stand being planted later than most- they actually need a cold spell to flower well.

Protect tender plants.
Talking of frosts it’s really worth protecting tender plants from cold. They are expensive to buy and a long term investment so if you’re growing them in containers it’s worth moving them in to a porch or greenhouse to keep them safe. Tender plants and shrubs such as palms, bay trees and citrus can all be killed by cold and severe frost. Young plants may need special cosseting.
Wrap tender plants with fleece and protect the crowns with a layer of newspaper or straw. If you use bubble wrap make sure to check regularly for any signs of mould or rot. 
Salad crops can be covered with cloches. Think about heating the greenhouse too.
Investing in a cold frame makes good sense if you need somewhere to over winter sweet peas or any young  hardy plants. It will protect them from frost damage and help prevent rodents and other pests from damaging them.
Plants in containers are particularly vulnerable to frost damage if they’re left outside. Wet soil freezes and this can damage or kill plant roots - it may also cause damage to the pots as the water in the soil freezes and expands. This is more of a risk if the containers are made of terracotta or ceramics.
Lift pots off the ground with bricks or pot feet to aid drainage and take care not to over water.

Carry on planting dormant perennials and shrubs.
Just like us, plants are ready for a good long rest come the close of the year. Although we may feel the cold underground the soil is still relatively warm so it’s the ideal time to plant any bare root perennials, roses and trees, shrubs and hedges will also be keen to get their feet into the soil.
Plants may not look as if they are doing much during the winter but underground they are making strong roots to ensure a head start next spring.

Winter and spring rains will keep the roots moist while any winter sunshine helps to ripen the wood. Hold moisture in the soil and avoid competition from weeds by mulching and clear a space around any newly planted trees or shrubs to keep the soil weed free.

Order seeds for next season
There’s nothing better on a wet and dreary December day than sitting down with pen and paper to plan your spring and summer garden and container displays to grow from seed. It’s a job I love!
My first task is always to write a list of ‘must have’ plants, followed by another of plants and vegetables I’m longing to try.
Letting my imagination run riot I can easily fill a few pages of notepad. Then it’s usually back down to earth as I realise I don’t garden on a huge country estate with lots of beds and borders to fill!

Several cups of coffee (and slices of hot buttered toast) later I have a reasonable working document and a good idea of what needs ordering and when!
Next step is sorting through the seed packets I already have - this is guaranteed to focus the mind. Chucking out seeds is hard for me and I suspect it’s the same for most gardeners. But keeping seed that is years out of date is not a good idea, germination rates from stale seed are bound to be lower and in some cases none of the seed will be viable.
Sowing seed that won’t germinate is a waste of time, resources and money, so I try not to feel guilty as I throw half used or donkey’s years-old packets away.
Any seeds I can buy online I add to my wish-list and then I wait for the January catalogues to drop through the door before making my final choices. Of course working for Unwins gives me a head start – because I know in advance what our buyers are getting excited about!
So believe me when I say there are some great offers and lots of different seeds and plants to whet your appetite- Enough said!  You’ll discover them for yourself when YOUR new Unwins 2014 catalogue arrives. Until then get online, make notes and let your imagination run riot.
(And if you promise to ditch all those out of date seed packets, I promise I will too!)


Tips for the garden...

Keep winter bedding displays looking good. Autumn and winter containers have to work hard to stay looking good in the coldest months of the year. Follow these tips to keep them interesting.
Even though hardy bedding plants such as winter pansies, bellis and primroses are slower to flower than their summer counterparts they still need deadheading. It’s a vital job to keep bedding plants in flower for the longest time.
If gaps are appearing in containers fill them with foliage plants such as ivies or heucheras that will cope with winter cold and still look good.
Winter containers can lack height and look a bit flat so make the most of winter flowering plants by adding some decorative touches. One of the nicest ways to add temporary height and colour is to push cut stems of cornus into containers. They’ll look wonderful in low winter sunshine and, if the soil is to their liking they may even take root over winter, giving you some plants for free!

Keep dahlia tubers safe over winter.
It’s been a very good year for dahlias; they’ve loved the warm sunny weather and unusually warm weather later in the year. In my garden at home I’ve enjoyed their late colour for months and they were still in flower right up to mid November, but now they’ve been well and truly felled by the frosts.
It's definitely time to protect Dahlia tubers from harsh winter weather and keep them safe over winter.
If you garden in a warm part of the UK and have light, free draining soil you'll probably be able to get away with keeping your Dahlia tubers in the ground.
But if you have heavy, wet soil and live in a cold part of Britain or you have dahlias and any other tender tuberous plants outside that you really don't want to risk losing, the best way to keep them is to lift and store the tubers.

How to keep Dahlia tubers safe in the ground
Cut off the spent stems and foliage, (in very mild areas you may even be able to rescue any remaining flowers for a vase).  Then cover the crowns of the plants with a dry mulch; straw, bracken or leaf mould all work well. You need to cover them with quite a thick layer to act as an insulating blanket to keep the tubers snug underground.

How to lift and store Dahlia tubers:Dahlias
Carefully lift the dahlias with a garden fork and shake off as much soil as possible.
If the weather is wet let them dry off a bit before you store them. Try to keep the finger shaped clumps intact but don't panic if a few tubers get detached. They'll still be viable plants next summer.
Cut off the stems and allow any moisture to drain out of them, laying the tubers upside down is a good way of doing this. You'll also see plenty of plump new tubers as well as the mature dahlia tubers that were originally planted.
Store the dahlia tubers in pots, deep seed trays or boxes of vermiculite or old potting compost; both work well.
Keep the dahlia tubers barely moist to keep the tubers plump and viable until you're ready to plant them next spring and summer. Store the tubers somewhere cool but frost free and out of the reach of mice and other rodents.
You can also treat other tuberous plants such as cannas in the same way.

Clean slippery paths and decking. Choose a dry but cloudy day for this important maintenance job! Mossy, stone paths and algae-covered decking are lethally slippery.
I talk from experience. When I was a professional gardener I slipped on the top step of a tall flight of wooden steps, I had a rake and a pair of secateurs in my hand-it was a terrifying and painful experience.
 It could have been a complete disaster; I’d told my fellow gardeners I wouldn’t be in for tea break so not to worry if they didn’t see me! I now view any wooden surface as potentially lethal when wet!
Clear blue skies and sunshine may seem like the ideal weather to wash down paths and decking but beware- if the night stays cloudless and you’ve drenched surfaces with water you’ll have a layer of ice to contend with; and possibly more dangerous than the slippery path you were tackling.
Use a stiff brush to get rid of moss and algae on paving and to brush down decking. Use a proprietary deck cleaner if the wood is really grubby.

Mulch and improve soil
It’s time to put some of the garden to bed! Keep any plants that stay in the ground over winter nice and snug with a good thick layer of mulch. You can use a nutritious layer of garden compost or well rotted manure or a dry mulch of leaves or straw  depending on whether you want plants to stay moist and warm(Roses, trees and shrubs) or dry and warm(tubers and bulbs etc)
Keep the soil in beds, borders and vegetable plots fertile and full of humus rich organic matter by mulching and digging in soil improver as you clear away spent crops and annual plants.
If you love growing peas and beans and sweet peas start digging a bean trench. It is a great way of getting the rich fertile soil that all members of the bean family need to thrive.
Simply fill the bottom of the trench with wet newspaper and layer up with peelings and vegetable waste. When the trench is full cover with soil and allow it all to rot down over winter. Come the spring  you’ll have a rich, fertile soil ready for sowing and planting.


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