JACKIE POWER’s gardening tips for surviving the cold snaps

News Desk (01 December, 2016) Columnists

Edgeworthia, Viburnum and Chrysantha are ideal winter-flowering shrubs

735Jackie Power

The weather in December can be a lively mix of gales, rain, fog, and frost!

Low temperatures at the start of the month rarely last, but if they arrive just after Christmas that can signal a cold winter ahead. The solstice falls on 21st December and the days will gradually and imperceptibly get lighter!

Work in the garden is more difficult at this time of year as daylight hours are short and weather conditions become more challenging. There are still tasks to be done such as pruning fruit trees, clearing weeds and last season’s plants, plus sweeping up leaves. Be careful not to compact the ground whilst working as this damages the soil structure.

There is time to find Christmas gifts for the gardener. Packets of vegetable seeds are usually appreciated, for example some of the more exotic squash and pumpkin varieties (available at www.organiccatalogue.com) Or find an unusual plant such as Azara microphylla (Boxleaf Azara) which has clusters of fluffy yellow flowers with a hint of vanilla perfume. A pair of good quality secateurs (such as Felco) would be a welcome gift. There are always gardening books available, two I found recently – the RSPB Gardening for Wildlife: A Complete Guide to Nature Friendly Gardening (currently £16.58 at Amazon) or The Container Expert by Dr DG Hessayon; a basic but interesting guide to growing plants in pots.

There are many shrubs which provide winter interest – Viburnum produces clusters of perfumed flowers followed by berries.  Edgeworthia chrysantha is an unusual winter flowering shrub – with nut brown branches and bundles of fragrant, tubular yellow flowers. Christmas box is a seasonal favourite which thrives in most conditions; it has neat tapering shiny leaves, sweetly-fragranced flowers from late November, plus eye-catching shiny blue-black berries.

Celebrate the festive season by decorating your home with fresh herbs such as sprigs of Rosemary, Myrtle and Sage (if growing in the garden). If you have Holly, Ivy or Fir trees cut some foliage to bring inside, place in containers with water (as for cut flowers). Or they can be used to decorate door frames and woven around stair banisters. Without water the foliage will dry out quickly and any berries drop (not to be eaten, keep away from children and pets).

Season’s Greetings and Happy Gardening in 2017.

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