December at The Reigate Garden Centre Plant Department

Plant of the Month

Cornus

Key Plant Benefits
•    Hardy and reliable
•    Thrives well in moisture retentive soil and damp sites.
•    Great value with attractive features throughout the year.
Interesting facts
•    Cornus is an extremely varied genus. They are native of wide parts of Europe, Asia & also North America.
•    Cornus cultivars will provide a show throughout the year with green, gold or variegated foliage which displays autumn colour before falling to reveal showy bright red, green or golden stems throughout the winter months.
•    The ornamental winter bark varieties such as Cornus alba Elegantissima and Westonbirt are vigorous upright growing deciduous shrubs commonly known as Dogwoods. The Origin of this name appears to be derived from the old English ‘Dagwood’, as the plant’s supple yet strong stems were often used to make small daggers, skewers & cattle prods.
•    In the Canterbury Tales, Chaucer refers to Dogwoods by their old name, Whipple Tree. This refers to the use of Cornus stems to link the draw pole of a cart to the harness of horses pulling it.
•    The term ‘Dogwood winter’ is used in the South East USA to describe a cold snap in spring which refers to them flowering more profusely following a hard winter.
Gardening Tips
•    Cornus species can be planted in full sun or partial shade in any moderately fertile soil.
•    When planting, dig in plenty of organic matter as Cornus will thrive well in moisture retentive soils.
•    Apply garden mulch around the base of plants to assist with moisture retention in the soil and to ensure the brightly coloured stems are properly highlighted in winter.
•    The bright colour of the stems will gradually be lost as the stems age. It is therefore important to encourage fresh basal shots each year. This can be achieved by pruning the older shoots back to within 15cm of ground level each year in February or March before the new spring growth starts.

In Your Garden

A wonderful month with Christmas to look forward to and decorating inside and out to enjoy.  Use lots of berries and foliage for a really festive feel – plus don’t forget outside too.  You can also create a winter arrangement of garden plants in a nice tub, give it a ‘Christmassy’ decoration and then place it outdoors - by the front door, on the garden table or on the balcony - or in a cool spot in the home. A poinsettia will create an instant Christmas atmosphere in your living room.
Pruning together
•    In the dark days before Christmas it’s fun to tackle the garden together.
•    If you are going to be pruning trees it is also handy if there are two of you. As one prunes, the other can keep an eye on the shape the plant retains.
•    If you have a privet hedge now is a good time to give it a vigorous pruning - when spring comes it should come back with strong growth.
Outdoors inspiration
There’s lots of inspiration for outside decorations.  Here are a few ideas to get you going:
 •    Lights on trees – perfect if you have a Christmas-style tree in the garden but can look great too on bare branches and around coloured bark.
•    Doorstep decs are great – a pair of standard hollies, a skimmia and an flowering erica in a pot or what about an attractive mini fir in a red container.
•    Plus, of course evergreens and their attractive foliage come into their own in the garden now – look out for different members of the elaeagnus family with their bright colourful leaves – eye-catching colour to add to your border or winter at this time of year!

Prune now

Shaping trees
It is important to keep a close eye on the overall shape of a tree when pruning. If you do it on your own, you will have to keep walking backwards and forwards to judge the effect. It is much easier to do it with two of you: one prunes and the other stands back to assess the effect and gives instructions.
Heavy branches
Traditionally a lot of corrective pruning takes place in the winter. If heavy branches are being sawn off its important not to tear the bark off the tree.
Sawing in two stages helps with this:
Saw into the bottom of the branch some distance from the trunk, and then saw through the branch from the top a little further from the trunk.
The ‘hook’ that is left can then be sawn a little closer to the trunk, but leave the ‘collar’ alongside the trunk. The tree will seal the wound from that collar. For branches with a diameter of more than two centimetres it is advisable to cover the wound with wound dressing.
Exception: pruning privet
You can still do some heavy pruning on a overgrown privet hedge which has become bare at the bottom. Although it will look a little bear for the rest of winter, it will shoot healthily in the spring.
Plant Now
Provided the ground is not waterlogged or frozen, it is still a great time to plant bare rooted hedging plants. Beech, Privet, Hornbeam & Hawthorn will make a great screen in your garden. You can plant them either on their own or as a mixed hedge. They will also be great for wildlife and easy on the pocket.

Maintenance

Frozen grass
If the soil underneath grass is frozen, it can ‘break’ if you walk on it and kill off the grass. You see the effect of this in spring when the damaged patches become brown and bare. If possible it’s best to stay off the lawn when it is freezing.
Hoeing
A lot of weed seedlings are already germinating in the soil. If the soil is not frozen, it is a good idea to do some hoeing. The sun and subsequent frost will dry them up and kill them off.  A good sharp hoe will help and don’t forget to watch out for bulbs!