The December Garden

This is the month when you wished that you hadn't got carried away in spring. Large dug patches are full of weeds (well I said you should try no dig gardens); those six zuchinni plants you put in are threatening to flood the neighbourhood and the air is full of the sound of bees sipping at ripe apricots or nuzzling into young zuchinni flowers.


This is a month for minimising work. There are too many other things happening in December to concentrate on the garden. Just make sure you keep up successive planting- beans and corn in particular- and that the garden doesn't quite disappear in the undergrowth. Don't bother weeding- just cut the tips off, or bury them under mulch.


Planting
Keep up successions of corn, beans and lettuce- but otherwise wait till Christmas is over and you have a chance to breathe.

 

Harvests
Pick everything as soon as it's ripe- or a bit before- to keep down fruit fly. Never leave fallen fruit on the ground- and fruit fly or codlin moth fruit often do fall earlier. Call in the geese or chooks or do it yourself. many pests- not just fruit fly- are attracted by the scent of overripe fruit- so keep harvesting.
What to do in December
. scoop out weed from ponds before it chokes them
. watch out for suckers or watershoots on trees and roses. Pull them off- if you snip them neatly they'll regrow
. snip off dead blooms
. water pots OFTEN- dry pots become water repellent
. drape shade cloth over salad veg in the veggie garden- it'll stop them wilting and turning bitter
. pick a few baskets of summer veg and flowers if you've been following previous garden tips!

 

PS Remember pets need cool water at Christmas too! Make sure their water bowls aren't in the sun and change the water often. A rock in large containers helps stop them from being knocked over. (Bryan has glued a wide sheet of plywood to the wombat's bowl to stop her knocking that over too.)

 

How to keep your cool in December.
. Don't fill your garden beds in a last minute panic with bloomers: they'll wilt in the heat and so will you. If you feel like a touch of Christmas colour buy a two giant baskets or pots and fill them with bloomers, for either side of the front door. Easy to water, and you get a faceful of colour. 
. Feeling humid? Tall trees will shade you from the sun, but too much greenery around the house can also block breezes and add to the humidity. Sometimes a little thinning of the jungle can greatly add to summer comfort.
. dry soil can repel moisture. If your soil is still dry just under the surface after you've watered, use a wetting agent like Wettasoil so that the next lot of water can really penetrate
.raise the height of your lawn mower. Slightly longer lawns tolerate heat and dryness better than shaved lawns, and you'll still be chopping the heads off the weeds and leaving the grass neat and even.
. Water crystals expand and store water when wet. Add them to pots or even around young plants and seedlings. But do keep them out of reach of kids and pets, and make sure that the soil covers them completely, even when swollen - in dry times birds will eat them and, even though they may not be toxic, they probably are not good for their diet.
. When you are away on holiday see if a neighbour will water your garden for you; water indoor plants them cover with a plastic bag, and place in a cool spot - the bath is excellent.
. Mulch - but don't mulch dry soil in hot weather. Water well first.
. Cut dead blooms off agapanthus, roses, hydrangeas, daylilies etc to encourage them to keep blooming and to avoid a dead scrappy look at Christmas.
'Green' plates
If you want REAL: recyclable plates this Christmas, go for:
. Banana leaves trimmed to plate shape with pinking shears.
.baskets lined with grape , nasturtium, lime or lemon leaves
. bread and cakes used to be baked in the big outer leaves of cabbages- try it! They won't taste of cabbage- and will have a gorgeous rounded shape!
PS grape, lavender, rosemary, lemon, lime and orange prunings make great skewers for kebabs...but don't try other woods in case they are poisonous!

 

Useful tip
. freeze a few rose petals, thinly sliced limes or mint leaves in ice blocks to add zest to summer drinks or cold soups.


How to Rescue a Wilted Hanging Basket
Soak the basket in a dish of water overnight, then trim of any bits that are still wilted. Now much with coconut fibre. (diagram might be easier here!)

 

What to plant in December
As little as possible; more lettuce, beans, corn and zucchini; seeds of autumn and winter bloomers - but basically all planting can be left to January, when life isn't so hectic.
PS If you REALLY want to plant now, there is very little that can't be planted- see November. Just remember that seedlings that get too hot - or dry - can go to seed prematurely, and some plants like lettuce won't germinate in very hot weather. In tropical humid areas many veg planted now will be affected by root rot or mildew; this is a great time to plant shrubs and fruit trees though - if you have the energy!

 

Other jobs
.The spring weeds you pulled up and flung in a bucket of water should be decomposing now- just tip the brown water onto celery silverbeet and anything else that needs a nudge.
.Hurry tomatoes and corn along by mulching them heavily- both will form more roots on their stems under the mulch and bear earlier. Add some phosphorous rich hen manure to encourage flowering- though compost fed plants won't need it.

 

Watering
Gardens can bake if you go away even for a few days. Cover them up- they won't die in a few days- and while they may go yellow in a week they'll soon green up again. Staple together newspaper and drape it over a few stakes in the centre of the garden. If it rains the paper will decay, but then the garden won't need shelter anyway- or use old sheets, blankets, whatever is to hand. The sheets shouldn't get dirty as long as they don't touch the ground.
The longest I've ever left a covered garden is two weeks. Be wary when you take the top off- the longer you've left it the weaker the plants will be- you'll probably have to water every day for a week till they toughen up again.
If you want to keep watering your plants fill up every bottle you can lay your hands on; place a little hole in the top- as small as you can- and thrust it neck downwards into the soil. The water will gradually seep into the garden, watering it.
If you go away often it may be worthwhile installing a drip system and leaving it on- or placing drums around your garden what you can easily fill with a hose- or that will fill in a rain storm, and seep out slowly. One friend in a dry area connected such a drum system to the down pipe on the house- the buckets were filled even with a small shower of rain from the accumulation on the roof.

 

Pests
See November, but with Christmas- and picking fruit and harvesting your garden- you probably won't have time. Concentrate on growing things, and picking things - and enjoy the bounty of your garden.

© Jackie French