December deadlines

We put wrapping up presents pretty far down the list of essential things to do in December, or at least in daylight hours. It is far more important to keep staggering into the garden and the December focus might well be on fruit trees, and by this we mean fruits without stones and so that mainly means pears and apples. By now their branches should be well and truly bare leaving you able to assess the structure of the tree far more easily. Step back and make a plan: you are looking to encourage an open framework in a goblet shape with branches growing outwards, an open centre with branches that do not cross one another or touch.

Branches that rub together will eventually cause a wound, a potential entry point for disease. Remove any dead, diseased or crossing branches and then look again to see how best to improve the shape of the tree. Use the sharpest pruning knife or secateurs you own, and then sharpen it again! For bigger branches use a pruning saw. A clean cut will heal more quickly. Disinfect your implements with Dettol between cuts to be really belts and braces so that you know you are not transferring infection from one branch or tree to another.

Rake up any cuttings and any rotting leaves and burn them, or take them to the dump. Sadly they are not compost worthy - too many fungal spores and funny diseases lurking there. But the ash from the bonfire can come in handy to mulch around your raspberries or just added to your compost heap as a good source of potash. Next make sure that you have a circle of bare earth of up to 90 cm in diameter around each fruit tree that you can then mulch. Removing weeds and grass prevents pests from reaching your tree and removes the competition for nutrients and water in the growing season.  We have some great videos on exactly how to prune fruit trees at the various different stages. Make sure that tree ties are not too tight and check that your winter greasebands are in place to deter insects crawling up the trunk and laying eggs. And why not have a go with our organic Vitax winter tree wash. Only use this on completely bare trees and bear in mind that it can damage the green parts of any surrounding plants so protect them with polythene if necessary.

While you have your sharp pruning kit out, take a look at your bush roses and make sure that you have pruned them back sufficiently to protect them from windrock over the winter. And, just when you thought you had earned your gold star, have you pruned your soft fruit? That should have been done by now, but if not, consult the advice pages on the website so that you maximise your fruit output for the future.

Finally, winter winds can wreak havoc with climbers that have not been pruned back and tied in sufficiently. They can also take their toll on newly planted evergreen hedges or trees which need a windbreak of hessian or some such to protect them. Of course there is masses more but we don't want to put you off.  Although if you need more then there is a bigger list on our site of December Gardening Jobs. So in you go for an early mince pie and a glass of mulled wine.......and a very, very Merry Christmas to you from all at Ashridge Nurseries.



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