In the Garden this Week: December 17, 2010

• The rain earlier this week was welcome for those of us who received it, but hardly sufficient to break the drought. However, it is easier to keep water levels up than to let everything dry out to dust before you start to water again. That said, in our conditions, it should only be necessary to water recent plantings, container plants, fresh sown seed and parts of the vegetable garden. Devotees of roses will water them too. The rest of it can pretty much take care of itself unless you are on fine, sandy soils right on the coast.

• We watched aghast as the Yates representative on Prime TV’s Get Growing programme last Sunday demonstrated the use of Blitzem slug and snail pellets. She poured what must have been half a packet in a carpet of green on a very small area. Don’t copy her. You do not use this poison like fertiliser. You do not need to lay so much that every snail and slug must trip over it. The pellets have an attractant and you only need to use a few – no more than you can count on the fingers of one hand – in each target spot. These pellets can be fatal to pets and poultry and are not great for humans. Use very sparingly.

• If you are a traditionalist with a proper tree (as in one that used to be growing til it was lopped off in its prime to serve as a framework for your lights and decorations), keep the water topped up. If it is on the agenda for this weekend, the best way to extend its life is to re-cut the base as soon as you get it home and then plunge it into a bucket of cold water. Forget the aspirin in the water and the other suggestions – a fresh cut and plenty of fresh water is all that is required to make it last the distance.

• If Christmas dinner this year is at your place and you need to tidy up in a hurry, in order of importance the following steps will have the biggest impact: mowing the grass, removing large debris and rubbish, sweeping paved areas and entranceways, cutting clean edges to lawns and gardens and removing weeds from paved areas (boiling water is the fastest way). You may be surprised how quickly you can give the appearance of sprucing up.

• Give roses a summer feed to encourage them to keep healthy and produce more flowers. Clip off the spent flowers and diseased foliage as you go and remove them to the rubbish, not the compost.

• Give planting brassicas (the cauli, broc, cabbage family) a break over summer unless you are willing to wage constant war on white butterflies. There are many other crops you can grow instead, including most of the leafy greens which mature quickly. It is too late to sow peas now (we have had the best ever crop this year), but you can still be planting sweet corn, green beans, potatoes, carrots, courgettes, pumpkin and beetroot.