December in the vegetable garden, advice from Geoff Hodge and Miracle-Gro

growing veg

There seems to be much debate from the weather experts on what conditions we can expect through December. These range from average temperatures and rainfall, through extensive bands of rain, sleet and snow through to severe cold! Which just goes to show – there’s nothing more unpredictable than the UK weather. All we can say is – stay alert and, like any good Scout, be prepared and keep an eye on your garden and plants! December in the veg garden is not necessarily a time to be complacent.

Vegetables

 Now is a good time to dig over vacant areas of vegetable plots on clay soil, as the cold weather will help to improve the soil structure by breaking down large clumps into crumbly particles. Light, sandy soils are best left until spring, but you can help improve soil structure by putting a thick layer of organic matter over the soil now.

Thoroughly dig over any bare areas of soil, incorporate plenty of well-rotted organic matter, such as Levington Organic Blend Soil Conditioner and, at the same time, remove any weeds. Winter digging not only helps improve soil structure, it also exposes soil pests to frost and bird predators.

Once the soil has been dug over and any large clumps broken down, you can cover it with thick black polythene, weed control membrane or similar coverings. This will keep the soil in good condition until spring, when it will be easier to prepare for planting and sowing and keep weeds down.

Clear away crops as they go over and put them on the compost heap or, if they are suffering from severe disease, dispose of them. Check overwintering crops and remove any yellowing or damaged leaves. Crop and other plant debris left lying around will become a home and breeding place for pests and diseases.

Topical tip

If you’re growing crops in the greenhouse, make sure you water carefully, and don’t overwater them. Excess water sitting around plants at this time of year can lead to botrytis disease.

Fruit

 It’s time to get the secateurs busy, as there are plenty of pruning jobs to get on with during winter.

If necessary, you can winter prune established, free-standing apple and pear trees; the main pruning of cordons and espaliers should be left until summer. Don’t prune cherries, plums and peaches, as pruning of all stone fruit must be carried out in late spring or summer.Make sure you have a plan of attack and don’t just prune for the sake of it. You should be thinking about removing the following:

  • The four Ds – any growth that is dead, dying, damaged or diseased (such as infected by canker).
  • Growth that is crossing from one side of the tree to the other, as this can reduce airflow and increase disease problems.
  • Any branches that are rubbing, as this can cause damage.
  • Any branches that are growing too low and any that are growing too tall.

Currants and gooseberries can be pruned now. Start by thinning out very old, very thin and diseased growth.

Prune red and white currants and gooseberries by cutting back main branches by half to three-quarters and sideshoots on these branches to one to three buds from their base.

For blackcurrants, cut back up to one-third to a half of all the older branches to their base to give plenty of room for young, vigorous growth.

Grape vines can be pruned now; major pruning at other times can lead to severe bleeding, which will weaken the vine and may even kill it. This year’s sideshoots should be hard pruned to one or two buds.

Topical tip

Carefully rubbing off the old, loose bark of grape vines can help prevent problems with overwintering pests.

 
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