Here are ten things to do in the garden today …
It is funny how we make Christmas the deadline for so many things, putting unnecessary pressure on ourselves to do, see, meet, eat, when January is a perfectly acceptable month in which to socialise (much more enjoyable when you’ve had a good rest too!) as long as you’re not forswearing everything and preparing for a marathon, undertaking a juice cleanse or generally Turning Over A Healthy New Leaf.
If you’re a gardener you might also have used Christmas Eve as a deadline for officially putting your garden to sleep, but in fact the lazier days between Christmas and New Year can be just the right time to get some air, assess the garden and see to a few tasks. It’s a good way to rouse ourselves from the turkey torpor or “Next Episode” syndrome, where darkness falls and you are Still Watching. I’ll be supervising my hens having a run-out and keeping the bird feeders filled, as well as pottering around, protecting tender plants and doing a bit of pruning. And of course we say, putting it to sleep but in fact there is activity underground that we cannot see.
Given the erratic weather we have been having – despite the Big Freeze, there are buds on the camellia and even a few bewildered ladybirds surviving in the shed – it’s hard to know what will happen next. Flooding, more snow, or a blast of that damp gusty muggy mildness that often accompanies the festive season in Ireland? Gently prepare and whatever comes by way of weather, you’ll be covered.
One of the greatest pleasures for gardeners in December is ordering bulbs, creating imagining the displays of spring and summer, even if you only aspire to a couple of pots of frothy pink tulips. The other things we have time for is reading good gardening books which can be the nudge we need to get out there and do something. Whether you want an urban oasis or intend to start your vegetable plot this year, there are tons of brilliant books by Irish gardeners and growers and of course the bibles of Monty Don etc.
The Kitchen Garden at Cliff at Lyons.
Use this time to plan visits to Irish gardens when they open again in spring – consult Shirley Lanigan’s excellent Open Gardens of Ireland or visit www.gardensofireland.ie for more inspiration. If you are planning to travel abroad in the spring, find out if there is a nearby urban botanical gardens, interesting private garden or stately home that you can visit – grand gardens usually reveal a fascinating aspect to the history of place you are visiting and also provide green space respite from the bustle of the streets. Your companions may grumble but are usually pleasantly surprised by the diversion.
Petersham Nurseries Covent Garden.
I like to follow just a handful of some inspiring gardeners on Instagram (we all have vastly different taste in gardens, so search for the style you like and see who/what pops up) and listen to podcasts. Find Fionnuala Fallon’s excellent list of podcasts at www.irishtimes.com.
1. Feed the birds
Stock up on bird seed, hang up your bird feeders and make sure there’s plenty of fresh water for any birds visiting.
2. Protect pots
If you have terracotta pots in the garden that could crack in freezing weather, wrap them in fleece or bubble wrap. If you have pots dotted around the garden, group them together in a sheltered spot.
3. Protect tender plants
Protect any tender or young plants in the garden. Straw provides a wintry blanket or they can be wrapped in protective fleece. Alternatively, bring the inside away from the harsh weather.
4. Stow garden equipment
Store away your hose to stop it freezing and splitting in the cold weather and give your garden tools a good clean down so they’re ready to use in the spring. If you still have garden furniture out, it’s worth storing this away or covering up.
December’s a good time to start pruning fruit trees, although avoid touching stone fruits. These are better pruned in the warmer months. Wisteria and Japanese Maples are also worth pruning now. Some prune their roses in December with good results.
6. Harvest vegetables
Harvest any remaining winter veg and store somewhere cool and away from damp to enjoy during the winter. Leave fruit tree windfalls on the grass for birds and insects.
Lavender ready for potting.
7. Prepare the soil
Dig over the bare soil if you get a chance and clear away any weeds or debris. This important prep will mean your soil’s in the best possible condition when the weather warms up.
8. Take cuttings
Hardwood cuttings are best taken now during the dormant season. Ideal if you want to take cuttings from fruit trees, climbers and shrubs.
9. Look after your lawn
If it’s snowy or frosty, avoid walking on your lawn – this can damage the grass. Try and keep it clear of leaves and spike with a fork to improve drainage.
10. Plan for 2023
If it really is too cold and wet to get out into the garden, December is a great time to start planning and ordering any new plants or bulbs. Check out Mr Middleton at www.mrmiddleton.com.