Making the most of your Christmas Tree
Many garden centres have brought in cut Spruce and Pine trees a week earlier than normal this year and have seen early demand from customers who want to begin Christmas ahead of schedule. However with the weather turning colder outside, trees will be stressed indoors so should be kept in the garden as late as possible before bringing them into a warm environment as should wreaths for your doors. After talking to our usual suppliers at New Covent Garden this week, I have been told that ‘it’s almost certainly a waste of money if anyone puts a tree inside before this weekend. We have seen an uplift in tree sales and festive related items in the past week or so and we are keen to stress the correct after care to customers to ensure that live plant items last till the end of the year’. British Christmas Tree Growers Association have offered some good advice for tree selection and care for home:-
- Before you go shopping, decide where your tree will go and measure the space beforehand – many people buy a tree that is too wide and even too tall then spend the next few weeks knocking needles off the tree each time they pass it.
- Select a healthy-looking tree – it should have a good shape, and bright, shiny needles – then pick it up. The heavier it feels, the fresher it will be, as it will have lost less moisture since being cut. Tap the base of the tree on the ground to check for needle retention – if it drops a lot of needles, don’t buy it.
- Net wrapping will protect the tree while you transport it. If it has to travel on your car roof, make sure the base faces forward to protect the foliage from any more moisture loss. If possible protect the tree with plastic if you are transporting it further than a few streets away.
Once you get your tree home, here are four easy steps to caring for it:-
- Retain the netting cover while you saw the trunk off level for it to stand upright. Keep the tree in a bucket of water outside for a day or two to absorb water. A fresh cut base will also allow more absorption of water to move through the tree and keep it in good condition longer.
- After leaving outside for a few days, secure the tree in a water-retaining stand in your chosen location in the home, then release the branches from the netting. Fill the stand with water and keep the needles fresh by topping up the water every couple of days.
- Place the tree away from direct heat, such as an open fire or a radiator for the longest possible display of fresh, scented needles. Give it plenty of space so that air can circulate around it, too.
After the festive celebrations:-
- Many councils will collect Christmas trees for recycling, check your local authorities website for guidance on the issue. Alternatively, make good use of the tree long after Christmas by shredding the branches and collecting the shreddings to spread under shrubs in the garden, where it will act as a weed-suppressing mulch. Pine needles are very good for acidifying the ground around rhododendrons and azaleas bushes and other acid loving plants
Now is a good point of the gardening year, if you have time on your hands, to have a good clean up outdoors before retreating to the fireside during December. There are two schools of thought to herbaceous and grasses pruning. Take most things down to the ground now and blitz the pruning, or leave it until after February when old vegetation will protect the crown and allow new growth to come out of the winter stronger. At the Club, we have to take the opportunity and fit in with which projects we are completing at any one time. In general I would prune hardy shrubs now and the softer growth in the new year, not knowing what the weather would bring in January. Apples and pear trees can be pruned to remove dead branches and remove thin twiggy shoots that are not productive at all. Cut back all strong side shoots to three to four buds from the base short stubby branches or ‘spurs’ will carry the blossoms for next year and should be left in place. Roses can now be reduced by half to help prevent wind rock. Both bush and climbing roses should be cut back further, in late February or early March to three or four buds from the base. You can certainly prune rambling roses now, by cutting out old flowering shoots and tying in the vigorous growth from the past season. Hazel and other nut trees can be tidied up by pruning out thick stems that are four year old wood, leaving younger stems to replace them and carry the crop for the new year. Having a variety of growth in the crown will help maintain the tree as a small multi-stemmed tree. Forms of sambucus that are grown for their foliage can be cut down to the ground or cropped every year. Use a sturdy lopper to cut through chunky steams, rather than grabbling with secateurs. Deciduous hedges, once bare of foliage, are good tasks to tackle now, by pruning back to two or three buds from the base of the current seasons growth. For best results follow this up with a summer prune, taking care to check for birds’ nests first. Young deciduous hedges respond well to winter pruning as it will encourage vigorous branching in the spring.
Secateurs, loppers and pruning saws should be well maintained after each cycle of use. Many plants will bleed out sap when cutting stems and this will harden on blades if not removed. Use a wire brush and or wire wool to remove sappy deposits and smear a layer of light oil on the surface of the blades after cleaning. Even a kitchen oil is better than nothing for this purpose and prevents oxidation on the surface of the metal. Blunt tools will damage plants and create poor cuts to plant stems that do not heal as well. A good garden centre will stock sharpening stones and files as part of the range of stock items in the tools sections. A good quality set of loppers and secateurs will also allow for blades to be replaced and again a good supplier will have stock available or will source them for you. My own secateurs are now over thirty years old and had several new blade replacements over the years, quality does last given good care and attention. Happy gardening for the season.
Peter Bradburn | Course and Grounds Manager