Getting your garden in shape for December

Verbena 'Quartz Mix' Picture courtesy Ball StraathofVerbena 'Quartz Mix' Picture courtesy Ball StraathofWhether you’re staying at home or going away in December, it’s time to shape-up your garden for the festive season. Read more below on how to prepare your garden for guests without breaking the bank, and how to prepare your garden to survive and even thrive while you are away.

If you are staying at home in December and are expecting guests, the holiday rush before Christmas can leave one overwhelmed and exhausted, so put aside time early to do all the hard gardening jobs, you will then just need to tidy up a bit before your guests arrive, leaving you feeling more relaxed and able to enjoy the garden with family and friends.

If your budget is limited, there are economical ways to have a sleek and colourful garden which won’t break the bank.

Firstly, a neat garden always leaves a good impression; so if your garden has become a rambling and weedy mess, start by giving it a good ‘spring clean’ and pruning. If you are revamping an old established garden, work with the existing plants in the garden, adding plants that will enhance the design, or removing those that really clash.

Image by Mylene2401 from PixabayImage by Mylene2401 from PixabayA beautiful, healthy lawn goes a long way to creating a chic looking garden, and showcases the rest of the garden. Lawn needs regular attention throughout the growing season, so if you want a good-looking lawn for December, continue to water, and feed regularly with a slow release organic fertiliser for lawns. Try to water in the morning so that the blades can dry off during the day, as this will help prevent fungal diseases. This applies especially to Kikuyu lawns as they are susceptible to a fungal disease called "fade out". On most soils a lawn requires watering to a depth of about 30cm each week, so to save water, measure how much your irrigation system is delivering and adjust as required. For a lovely fine textured lawn with no yellow spots, mow more frequently but do not cut it too short. Also, if possible, mow during the cooler part of the afternoon, and to prevent ridges and uneven growth, periodically change the direction in which you mow your lawn.

Once you garden has been cleaned up and your lawn treated, before you rush out to buy flowering seedlings etc. please bear in mind that no prize-winning flower garden can be created in the first year and a bit of planning beforehand will save you a lot of time and money in the long run. Evaluate what you have to work with in your garden, and take notes on where you need to replace shrubs that were perhaps removed, or where you feel there are gaps in the garden which need to be filled. Note down where they are located and how much sun or shade they will receive.

Salvia 'Victoria Blue' Picture courtesy Ball StraathofSalvia 'Victoria Blue' Picture courtesy Ball StraathofEveryone agrees that colourful flowers are one of the most important facets of a beautiful garden. However, what sets one flower garden apart from another is the structure and design surrounding the flowers. Shrubs and ornamental trees act as a backdrop for the continuous display of colourful flowering plants in the garden like perennials, bulbs, annuals and groundcovers, with the various plants supporting each other visually and creating a rich patchwork of texture and colour. If you try to create a flower garden without first planting this framework of shrubs and trees it can be likened to painting and decorating the interior of your home before it has even been built!

In fact, landscaping the garden is similar to designing and building your own home, starting with the architectural design of the building. Think of the large trees and shrubs as the bare structure of the building, before the walls and interiors are done. These give the home or garden its specific style.

Next, consider hedges, and plantings of smaller shrubs as the walls of the garden; demarcating the various rooms in the design and providing background colour - rather like selecting the textures and colours of your interior walls in the home. These plants will provide year round structure and substance to the garden, providing the perfect backdrop for your flowering perennials, annuals and bulbs, which can be thought of as the interior colours and ornamentation of the home - those final touches which bring the whole design together.

Lastly plant your ground covers - these should tie the whole design together, rather like carpeting or tiles in the home. Stretches of lawn or paving are used in the same way.

Always remember that repetition in the garden, which is achieved by selecting certain plants to scatter throughout the garden, always brings a lovely unity to any garden design, as opposed to planting only one of everything, which can look rather chaotic in the end. This does not mean that you have to repeat plant everything, and yes you can plant just one plant, as long as the overall look is harmonious.   

Once you are happy with your improvements you can think “colour” but remember if you want a peaceful and pleasant end result, do not overdo colours Calibrachoa 'Cabaret Rose' Picture courtesy Ball StraathofCalibrachoa 'Cabaret Rose' Picture courtesy Ball Straathofin your garden, and stick to a simple colour scheme. If used well, colour will help to lead the eye through the garden, drawing attention to focal points and tying together various other landscaping elements like stretches of lawn or background trees and shrubs. Colour will also soften and accentuate low walls and pathways and is used to demarcate various ‘rooms’ in the garden, and leads the eye from one to another.

Click here to find plant lists and articles on how to add colour to the garden.

If strategically placed where they will have the most impact pots will transform any area of your garden. Many bedding plants and perennials grow beautifully in containers, and groupings of flowering pots and hanging baskets will instantly add a warm and welcoming touch to entrances, patios and other areas.

Once you have decided where touches of colour will be most effective in the garden, and noted whether they will be in sun or shade, visit your local garden centre to select annuals and perennials which flower well in December. For the best results, always group your flowering plants together according to their water and sun requirements, and remember, perennials will not only provide colour this season, but even more next year, saving you money in the long run.

Click here to find plant lists and articles on perennials.

At this time of the year choose flower seedlings which are reasonably well developed rather than trying to grow from seed, as it is getting a bit late if you want a display in December. Dig compost into the beds and sprinkle with bone meal before planting out new seedlings. Try to plant in the late afternoon when it is cooler, this gives the small plants time to revive before the morning. Once your seedling are growing well, continually pinch out the dead flower heads to prolong flowering.

With just a little planning you can have a beautiful festive garden which will just grow more enchanting each year.

Image courtesy PixabayImage courtesy PixabayIf you are going away in December and don’t have help like a garden service, try to arrange for a family member or friend to water, mow your lawn and harvest your vegetables and fruit, if necessary, as an overgrown garden is often an indication that you are away.  Also, remind them to empty the post box, as an overflowing post box is a sure indicator to intruders that you are away. Consider investing in some solar powered security lights as this is always a deterrent for thieves.

If you have no help and don’t want to come back to an overgrown jungle of rampant growth, do not fertilise your lawn or garden beds - let your garden rest.  Clean your garden really well removing all weeds and spent flowers, and trimming hedges etc. If you have a vegetable garden, or fruit trees that are bearing, harvest and store as much as you can before you leave.

If you are concerned about watering and have to rely on rainfall, renew the mulch in your beds and water deeply before you leave. If you are lucky enough to have an irrigation system complete with a timer, make sure it is set correctly and all the sprays heads are working efficiently.

Group all your smaller outdoor pot plants together in a shady spot where your watering system will reach them. If you don’t have irrigation, mulch the pots with potting soil to which water retentive granules have been added, mulch with bark chips, and water thoroughly before you leave. This is especially important for large pots which cannot be moved.

Just before you leave, mow your lawn for the last time, but do not be tempted to cut it too short, or it could get scorched by the sun, especially if rainfall is erratic and the days are very hot.

Image by Engin Akyurt from PixabayImage by Engin Akyurt from PixabayBefore you say goodbye to the swimming pool, some preparations beforehand can help prevent a host of problems. Firstly take a water sample to the professionals for a water analysis. They will advise you concerning the balance of your water and provide any chemicals you may need to add, like a shock treatment. Brush all the walls thoroughly and clean the weir and pump baskets. Backwash the filter well, before topping up with water to the highest level. Set the time clock to run your pump and filter for about 12 hours per day. Check and adjust your pH if necessary, the correct pH should be in the range of 7.4 to 7.6; and the free chlorine should be a minimum of 2 to 3ppm. Add a monthly chlorine floater to the pool, and for added protection from algae, apply a dose of algae inhibitor.

A well-groomed garden and lawn, and a clean swimming pool, will leave no obvious indicators to would-be burglars that you are not at home.

Leaving potted indoor plants behind can often be a big problem because they are not cheap anymore, so if there is nobody to water, try grouping some of your smaller pots outdoors in a sheltered, shady spot which will receive natural rainfall, or irrigation.

Grouping your smaller indoor potted plants together on a sink rack, and inserting strips of bidum liner or an old blanket into the individual pots, with the other end of the strip immersed in a sink or container of water, will help keep them watered for a while, as the material allows your plants Image by 5460160 from PixabayImage by 5460160 from Pixabayto draw water as they need it. Plants whose roots reach right to the bottom of the pot can even simply be placed on top of a wet mat, with one end immersed in water. Using this technique, you can make your own watering devices around the house for larger potted plants which cannot be moved. 

You can also make your own watering bottle for indoor or outdoor container plants by punching a few tiny holes in the top of a plastic bottle, filling it with water and inverting it into the topsoil next to the plant to be watered - this allows water to slowly seep into the soil as it is required.

Experiment with various methods before you leave to ensure that they are working correctly. Also leave some curtains or blinds open a bit to allow the natural light to reach your plants.

Now that all is taken care of, relax and enjoy the holidays, but please travel safely.