December is always busy as we look forward to Christmas and the New Year celebrations. We could be forgiven for sitting back and staying cosy. However, there are plants that are always associated with this festive month.If you have an apple, hawthorn, lime or poplar tree, you might like to try growing your own mistletoe. Collect some berries from a mistletoe plant or branch and rub them into the cracks in the bark of your trees; then let the mistletoe grow and flourish from your tree’s nutrients
Another plant linked to Christmas is the Poinsettia. This house plant is best kept in a draft free room in a light position. They do not like drying out, so keep the compost moist – tip away any excess water that you find in their saucer or pot cover about 15 minutes after watering as they do not like standing in water. Many people ask how to get them to flower again. The trick is to expose them to 10 hours of natural light and no more; this is what triggers them into producing their bright red bracts. Left to their own devices they would flower in autumn, but growers trick them by controlling the light in the greenhouses so that they are ready for the Christmas market.
And then there’s Holly. Holly is a tree we always associate with winter and Christmas, but few people know that the majority of hollies are not hermaphrodites. In plain English this means that they are either male or female plants. One of the best, gold variegated foliage of any of the hollies which produces a great crop of berries is Ilex x altaclerensis, “Golden King”, and despite its name it’s female whereas Ilex aquafolium, ‘Golden Queen’, is a male and therefore does not have berries! Confusing isn’t it! A more unusual coloured Holly is Ilex x meserveae, “Blue Angel”, which has dark green foliage with a hint of purple as it goes into winter – combine the foliage with brilliant red berries and you have a stunning combination. All these female Hollies must be in range of a male to produce berries: with any luck there’s usually one nearby, so they should get pollinated. However, if you’re in doubt about the male’s availability, there is a solution –Ilex aquafolium,“J C Van Tol”, which self-fertilises and has almost spineless glossy green leaves with rich red berries. There is also a variegated Holly, Ilex aquafolium “Golden Van Tol”.
The “Christmas Rose”, Helleborus niger, is another seasonal favourite. It has rich, dark green leaves which provide a wonderful setting for its nodding white blooms. Christmas Roses look great when planted in drifts or under trees as they are shade tolerant. Holly is always closely linked to the Christmas festivities and, if you have space, worth planting for their berries and foliage – but do not forget that Hollies are either male or female and only the female varieties will carry berries.
Happy Christmas and best wishes for 2020 from everyone here at Gardeneer.
Jobs for December
- Beds and borders should be dug over by the New Year so that there is plenty of time for the soil to be weathered by the wind, rain and frost.
- Garden furniture should be thoroughly cleaned and put away. Some quality hardwood furniture benefits from an annual oiling with linseed oil.
- Check all wooden structures such as fences, pergolas and trellis and make any necessary repairs. Where appropriate apply a preservative.
- Ensure that the lawn is kept free of wind blown fallen leaves.
- After a sharp frost check all recently planted shrubs, perennials and spring bedding plants for frost heave. This is the lifting of the soil around the plants. When this happens await the thaw and firm the plants back
- Collect remaining organic matter and add to the compost heap.
- Put out bird seed and fat balls to feed birds through the winter and if the weather is freezing, ensure they have water to drink.
- Stop root rot by placing pots in the rain shadow of a wall or fence and lift them off the ground on pot feet or large stones to let the moisture drain out.