I mentioned improving your soil in my last blogs; well if you haven't had time for that now is the time to go for it. Compost will help improve the 'structure' of the soil ( how easy it is to work and how well it retains moisture and nutrients ) but the king of soil improvers is horse manure!
Make sure you have well-rotted manure or it will be too'strong' for the garden and the acids may affect the plants. The darker the manure the better. It takes several months for the 'goodness' to be released which is why a spring spreading of manure only brings real benefits in late autumn and why doing it now will bring benefits in spring.
The other advantage of well-rotted manure is that it contains all the micro-nutrients that won't be found in your compost heap and these are of particular value in poorer soils where there is a lack of 'humus' ( see earlier blog).
As soon as the leaves have fallen you can start pruning the trees, shrubs and climbers - including the fruit trees. Don't do this too early as you will encourage 'bleeding' of sap in plants such as vines.
Getting the garden 'tidy' before Christmas is always a pleasing thing to do but try to be aware that 'tidyness' is not always compatible with good ecological practice. I once lost a number of slightly tender herbaceous plants by being too enthusiastic with cutting back perennial geraniums that were giving some Agapanthus valuable protection from the frost!
I have also lost plants because I have been taken by surprise at the harshness of an early December frost. So if you have any Mediterranean plants or semi-tropical plants that are slightly tender ( Abutilon for example ), then it is a good idea to get them covered or get them into the glasshouse. Garden centres offer a range of products from fleeces to gauze as protection; the most economical one I saw was in a Friary where one of the brothers used to put the old plastic vegetable sacks over his tender Rhododendrons!
Now is the time to get your orders in for bare-root stock ( plants that are 'lifted' from the ground and transported bare-rooted in bags to the nurseries for sales). These can be trees or two year old plants called 'whips'.
Did you know that a 45cms (18")'whip' will eventually outgrow a 180cm (6') tree? The younger the plant is transplanted, the less 'trauma' the plant experiences in being re-located. They also need a good deal less care such as watering and feeding because whips adapt better to their new conditions. The older plants are used to the pampering of a nursery so find adapting harder.
Whips are also a fraction of the price of trees!
Now there is a good reason to get those orders in!
An ideal Christmas present???