Talk of the Month
Whats On in December
STAYING AT HOME – (again!) and anyway, we’re too busy preparing for Christmas!
What to do in the garden this month
- Plant bare root roses in well-prepared soil.
- Harvest holly with berries for making Christmas decorations; stand them in a bucket of water until you are ready to use them.
- Improve soil by incorporating compost.
- Lift and divide large clumps of rhubarb.
- Take hardwood cuttings from healthy fruit bushes, including currants and gooseberries.
- Transplant shrubs and conifers that have outgrown their position.
- Ornamental grasses and bamboos can be cut back this month.
- Raise patio containers onto feet or bricks to avoid them sitting in the wet during winter.
- Leave the faded flower heads on your hydrangeas until the spring as they provide frost protection to the swelling buds further down the stems.
- Protect your Poinsettias from cold draughts and allow them to dry out slightly between watering to make them last for the whole Christmas period.
- Wash and disinfect bird feeders and bird tables. Clean out bird baths too.
Christmas greenery, straight from the garden
What could be more lovely than stepping out on a cold and frosty morning to pick home-grown Christmas greenery, straight from the garden? Graham Rice offers some expert plant suggestions.
It used to be that the only option for holiday greenery in the home was the Christmas tree, along with holly and ivy. Now everything’s changed, and very definitely for the better.
Today an increasing range of attractive evergreen alternatives for decorative foliage is available to use in wreaths, in table decorations and in long-lasting seasonal arrangements. And the great thing about so many of these alternatives is that you can grow them yourself at home. Here are ten options.
Numbers at the end of each entry refer to plant height and RHS hardiness rating.
Edged in gold
Fresh and bright
Holly with a difference
White Christmas pine
Longest lasting evergreen
Did you know?
Poinsettias are part of the Euphorbiaceae or Spurge family. Botanically, the plant is known as Euphorbia pulcherrima. The showy coloured parts of Poinsettias are actually coloured bracts (modified leaves), not flowers. The yellow flowers, or cyathia, are in the centre of the colourful bracts. The plant drops its bracts and leaves soon after those flowers shed their pollen. For the longest-lasting Poinsettias, choose plants with little or no yellow pollen showing.
The colours of the bracts are created through “photoperiodism”, meaning that they require darkness (12 hours at a time for at least five days in a row) to change colour. On the other hand, once Poinsettias finish that process, the plants require abundant light during the day for the brightest colour.
– Poinsettias received their name in the United States in honour of Joel Roberts Poinsett, who introduced the plant into the country in 1828. Poinsett was a botanist, physician and the first United States Ambassador to Mexico. He sent cuttings of the plant he had discovered in Southern Mexico to his home in Charleston, South Carolina. Even though Poinsett had an outstanding career as a United States Congressman and as an ambassador he will always be remembered for introducing the Poinsettia into the United States.
– Poinsettias are native to Mexico, where they can grow 10-15 feet tall. They are found in the wild in deciduous tropical forests at moderate elevations from southern Sinaloa down the entire Pacific coast of Mexico to Chiapas and Guatemala. They are also found in the interior of Mexico in the hot, seasonally dry forests of Gurerro and Oxaca.
– The Aztecs used the Poinsettia bracts to make a reddish purple dye for fabrics, and used the sap medicinally to control fevers.
– Poinsettias are not poisonous but many plants in the Euphorbiaceae family ooze a milky sap and some people with latex allergies have had a skin reaction (most likely to the sap) after touching the leaves. For pets, the Poinsettia sap may cause mild irritation or nausea. Probably best to keep pets away from the plant, especially puppies and kittens.
Source: University of Illinois Extension – The Poinsettia pages http://urbanext.illinois.edu/poinsettia/history.cfm
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Ivy (its official name is ‘Hedera helix’) is a woody, evergreen climber that grows up walls, fences and trees using tiny roots to cling to walls and buildings; in woods it can also carpet the ground. It has glossy, green leaves. It is a valuable plant for insects filling up on nectar before hibernating and for many birds, such as blackbirds and thrushes. Ivy berries ripen in winter, when most other berries have already been eaten.
It grows in any soil and tolerates both deep shade and full sun. However, only shoots in the sun produce flowers. It is poisonous to humans.
Holly (its official name is ‘Ilex aquifolium’) is an excellent evergreen shrub for a wildlife garden. It has tough, prickly, glossy, dark green leaves and can grow into a relatively tall tree.
Male and female flowers are on separate shrubs; for a female shrub to produce berries, it must be pollinated by a male growing nearby. Holly appears frequently in folklore and is commonly associated with Christmas.
It grows in any soil and copes well with full sun or shade. Some of the creatures that benefit from the Holly tree:
• Bees and bumblebees collect its nectar and pollen.
• Caterpillars of the holly blue butterfly eat its buds and flowers.
• Many birds, such as thrushes, robins, dunnocks, finches and goldcrests, use it for nesting as it provides excellent protection.
• Blackbirds, fieldfares, redwings, mistle and song thrushes, among others, eat the berries.
• Hedgehogs, small mammals, toads and slow worms hibernate in the deep leaf litter that builds up beneath it.
Gardens are full of wildlife at all times of the year, even when the weather is cold. Keep an eye on your garden this winter, and see if you can spot any wildlife with this handy worksheet from the Wildlife Trust.