December is a great time to reflect on what has happened over the year in the garden. What has worked well, what has been a challenge and what adaptations can we make? Most gardens have been affected by the summer heat. Perhaps look into ways to conserve water in the future? We can do this by mulching, collecting rainwater, and considering plant choices.
There are a lot of options about what to do about fallen leaves.
1.) Some say remove all the fallen leaves for fear of physical hazards, breeding slugs and snails, ruining lawns, squashing perennials and general untidiness, which we all must sympathise with. This is quite laborious in terms of needing time and equipment and can need to be done weekly depending on the amount of foliage you have falling. So this may not be for you.
2.) Others say to mow/strim leaves down to use as mulch to suppress weeds, feed the soil and maintain moisture. The risk is the same always when strimming, as it could affect hibernation and pollinators, ultimately unbalancing the ecosystem.
3.)The most natural gardeners are the most observant. They don’t have set rules. They generally say unless they are directly causing harm, then leave them. You could try raking them off the lawn into a pile out of sight, which will break down into mulch later (but as a longer process). This gives wildlife and the lawn the best benefits; the downside is larger, thicker leaves, such as oak, will take longer to break down than your typical Acer.
They will watch for sensitive plants being squished and simply remove them as necessary. If the area isn’t needed over winter, it can be left until spring clean up, whether that’s a spot behind a shed or a greenhouse; anywhere you can just let be will make a difference.
The choice is yours.
Planning change as mentioned earlier, since the garden is quieter this time of year in terms of growth, it’s good to get out a notepad and jot down what the highlights were and what you intend to work on next year. This will give you a clearer picture so that when the next season is upon us, we don’t end up filling up our trolleys too often with impulsive ideas.
If you can brave the cold, some seeds are worth sowing at this time of year, such as broad beans, sweetpeas, onions, lambs, lettuce, and poppies. We love to hear stories about what you are working on, so please feel free to share them with us.
Numerous deciduous shrubs, trees, hedging plants, and some evergreens are available as bare-root plants. They are dormant between November and March.
Despite this weather, the roots will quietly grow below ground, ready to display flowers and foliage once the soil warms up in the spring.
We promote these as more sustainable since they’re shipped without plastic pots.
Also, although smaller to start with, trees planted bare root often take better, and grow better as being uprooted later in life can cause it to have a little trauma.
Bare root plants are also usually a lot cheaper if you’re budget conscious.
This is simpler than it may look when written down, so if you are unsure, please just ask, and we’ll gladly assist.
Keep the roots moist before planting.
Remove any obvious damage from the plant.
Dig a hole that is deeper and wider than the roots to avoid bending the roots when planting.
Water the hole to ensure that water can freely drain.
You want to plant so that the bottom of the trunks bulge where the roots start is in line with the ground. Consider where you’ll insert the stake or even place it now.
Fill back up the hole. Personally, I avoid altering the original compost unless necessary to encourage the roots to explore rather than live off the convenient feed in fresh compost.
Once covered, firm down the soil to help secure the plant against wind and create ice pockets.
Add bone meal around the shrub.
Give a generous watering.
Add a generous layer of mulch (decaying leaves, woodchips etc.)
Stake into place (allowing a bit of distance for growth ) if it’s a top-heavy or a large specimen. Use a mallet to get it deep enough, then buckle the trunk to the stake.
Water every couple of days when it doesn’t rain and wait. Within a few months, when spring arrives, you should start to see new growth. Every few months, check if the stake is holding up, replace it every few years with a bigger size and add feed/mulch or add a slow-release feeder.
Young trees will generally need more water in the first year, particularly with these hot summers, and then after a while, they will be fine with rainwater.
As the days are shorter and the weather is hostile many of our wildlife residents, like hedgehogs, should be tucked up until spring.
However, you may notice the opposite on your bird feeders and hedgerows. This is partially because the leaves have fallen, giving us a clearer picture, and the need to feed is greater to keep up energy levels.
Look out for Robins, Blackbirds, Wren, Brambling, Siskin, Chaffinches, bluetits, great tits, red wings and fieldfayre, and if you’re really lucky, you may spot a barn owl out hunting.
Red squirrels, for example, do not hibernate, so maybe take a little trip up to Formby and see if they’re out and about.
Kingfishers can be seen hunting along the canals with their electric blue brilliance.
If it snows, see how many different footprints you can find and send them to us, as we love a good snow print.
There are many flowers to look out for, such as viburnum, hellebore, camellia and mahonia, all specially adapted to keep the scenes alive.
Dogwood / Cornus also sheds its leaves, leaving bold and beautiful stalks all winter.
There are evergreen climbers and berry producers such as holly, flowering ivy, and so many more to explore. So don’t despair this winter; there is still much to look for and songs to hear.
If you have bird feeders or put out seed, please keep restocking your feeders. Birds become reliant on them particularly in winter and early spring. Breaking the ice on water sources will also help wildlife to, and just helping wherever you can to be kind to nature.
If you want to help Improve where you live in Wigan, for your own well-being and for wildlife, see how you can get involved, we'd love to hear from you.