Gardening in December
I am writing this article with the sound of gentle rain on our tin roof. Some November rain to cool and nourish the earth. After what was a reasonably good winter rainfall season, we jumped straight into summer. Is it only me or did we skip spring this year? The early heat and accompanying South-Easter challenges and caught me unawares every year. Luckily it is December now – the time to enjoy summer like it should be enjoyed. For those of us lucky enough to go on our annual summer vacation the choices are obvious – you’re probably on the beach already. Those of us staying at home might just end up with some gardening time. I am surely looking forward to that.
December is a month of reflection, relaxation, family time, al fresco dining and enjoying life. If you do go away over the festive days, there are a few things you can do to help ensure that you return to a healthy-looking garden. Water restrictions are still in place and in most areas, it includes a sprinkler system ban. You might have to get someone to come and hand water the garden at least twice a week. Patio pots should be placed in a shady spot where they can easily be watered by your hired helpers. A deep layer of mulch is a good investment, but you do need to really soak the garden after applying this to make sure that the water actually penetrates into the soil. Give your roses a light summer prune to make sure you don’t have too much dead heading to do when you come back. Harvest all vegetables that you can and nip back runner beans and other climbers to keep their vertical growth in check. A healthy plant is a resilient one, so an application of foliar feed just before you leave might go a long way towards ensuring your garden survive your absence.
For those of us staying at home with hands itchy to garden there is plenty to do. Some free time can be spent tackling a project – try building a tree house with the kids, install a hammock, build a fire pit in the bottom of the garden or fix that water feature that has been attracting mosquitoes for the past few years. Walk your garden regularly, keeping a pair of secateurs at hand to deadhead roses, cut wind damaged branches, cut some flowers for the vase and keep topiaries and hedges under control. You will be amazed at how much work this simple act can save you later. It is also very therapeutic when done at the end of a stressful day. There is still time to pretty up a dull looking area with some flowering seedlings – the nurseries are bursting with colour this time of year and you might find some decent special offerings. While planting up pots invest in some moisture retaining granules to save on watering later. Stake standards and young trees against the South-Easter.
Harvest ripening veggies regularly and pick up fallen fruit. Keep up your succession sowings of beans, carrots, beetroot, lettuce and radishes. Stake tomatoes as they grow and pinch back the tips of indeterminate types. Also pinch the tips of runner beans when they reach the top of the poles. I am going to take a chance with some late sowings of pumpkins, squashes, sweetcorn, peppers, tomatoes and even watermelons and sweet melon.
A hot summer day is not the ideal time to spend behind a hot stove cooking jam, but you sure will have plenty of fruit at hand to can or preserve in some way or the other. Try setting up a canning station outside in your braai area – I have found this to be much cooler and it also turns the whole process into a family event – you can even combine it with a braai! This is also the ideal place to cook “smelly” foods like bone broth or to render fats.
Have a blessed Christmas and enjoy the holidays.