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Greater Brisbane region
Hot weather combined with distractions on the social front means that December tends to be a month of general maintenance and enjoying the results of your previous work, rather than major garden projects.
If it's been dry, watering may comsume a fair amount of time and effort, especially if you want the garden looking good for holiday entertaining. (Consult your local authority for current watering restrictions. Check the Regional pages for links to many council websites in Qld).
Don't forget the pot plants - light rains might freshen up the garden but does little if any rain will reach the potting mix of container plants. In hot windy weather they'll especially prone to water loss, so check regularly. Remember that once dried out, the potting mix may require some effort to re-wet thoroughly.
See also: Container gardening, Potting mixes, Watering Issues, Watering Aids & Irrigation Equipment
As it gets hotter and wetter, many Pests and Diseases will be very active, so be vigilant with control to prevent buildup of pest populations. (When the rains come, don't forget to check around the yard for mosssie-breeding sites, too.
Poinsettia and Snowflake can be given a second post-flowering prune to promote bushiness and so, eventually, more flowers. If you're given a blooming Poinsettia for Christmas, remember they must be artificially manipulated to bloom for a southern hemisphere Christmas. They naturally bloom in the short days of winter, and will reveret to that habit if you plant them in the garden. It's also possible that they've been treated with chemicals to produce a compact potted plant, which will wear off eventually. Unless you have a genetically dwarf plant, the resultant shrub may grow much larger than you expect.
Know someone with good, tough old azaleas? Try taking some cuttings now to get one for yourself.
If you're having guests over the Christmas or New Year period, or just want to enjoy a relaxing "staycation", hurry to get as many garden tidy and repair jobs as you can done early in the month to avoid stress later.
Visitors on the way? Quick spruce-up tips for the garden
Of course, removing or fixing safety hazards (overhanging branches, slippery or loose paving etc.) are your first priority, but if you're pressed for time, here are some tricks to improve the look of the garden in a hurry:
1. Remove dead and yellowing leaves from plants.
2. Remove as much visible weed growth as you can (do the job more thoroughly or spray when there's time)
3. Lay a fresh layer of an attractive mulch over garden beds. However, it's hot sweaty work - definitely not something you want to do the morning guests arrive (freshly laid mulch can be a bit smelly, too). If you're not up to doing the job yourself, consider a engaging mulching service that employs a blower applicator.
4. Crisp, clean edges on gardens and lawns.
5. Lightly trim hedges and other foliage shrubs (cut back too hard and they might not regrow in time for the party)
If you have a little extra time, create some feature container displays for high-visibility spots like the front door or patio area. blooming annuals ("potted colour") can be purchased from the garden centre. You might even tuck in potted plants you might already have as accents (e.g. cordylines, succulents, bromeliads) in a mixed arrangement.
Scrambling for last-minute Christmas gifts? Don't battle the shopping mall crowds, pull into your local garden centre and enjoy the relaxed atmosphere while you shop. Remember, gardening gifts aren't just for keen gardeners, because kids and newbies have to start somewhere! For apartment dwellers, think indoor plants and decorative pots. More ideas for garden-related gifts here: Garden Gift Ideas. Of course, many larger garden centres also stock homewares and more conventional gift lines, too. Meanwhile, if you want something for the garden, start dropping some big hints, ASAP!
December and January are generally "go slow" months in the vegetable garden, given the extreme weather and the family commitments that many people have at this time of the year. You may choose to put at least part of vegetable garden to bed for the summer under a good layer of mulch and wait out the heat, humidity, pests and diseases.
If there has been enough rain, you might like to try sowing a cover crop of "green manure". The easiest source is bird seed from the supermarket, but you might use leftover or saved seeds, or specialty cover crops from a seed supplier. They should germinate readily and grow like mad with all moisture about, and will help capture some of the valuable soil nutrients that might otherwise be leached away. Leguminous cover crops can also increase your soil fertility by fixing nitrogen from the air, (provided they nodulate successfuly).
If you want to have a go at veggies (and there's enough water available), try tomatoes, capsicums and eggplants; lettuce; sweetcorn; radish; beetroot and silverbeet; beans and snake beans; cucurbits (cucumber, melons, pumpkins zucchini and relatives); okra and rosella; sweet potato.
If growing lettuce, be sure to select the more heat-tolerant varieties (check your seed packet or catalogue).
Many people avoid the traditional large-fruited tomato varieties at this time of year and stick to cherry-types, which tend to be more pest and disease resistant.
Try to avoid walking on beds at all times, but especially when the soil is sodden. Raised veggie beds come into their own in wet conditions - you can avoid walking on the soil and drainage is improved. And no muddy feet! Instead of of cheap junk that will be soon broken or forgotten, how about investing in a prefabricated raised garden bed for the family this Christmas?
See also: Vegetables, Seed raising.
Sorry, I haven't prepared any monthly notes for fruit trees yet. In the meantime, you can try the main page dealing with this subject and check the links for the type of fruit tree you're interested in, here: Fruit Trees
Garden shows, open gardens
Although you won't find a lot of public events over the Christmas and New year period, see what's included in the Events Diary for December. Submissions for 2016 are welcome now, so if you're organising a garden show, workshop, gardening opening or similar event in Qld next year and you have dates settled, please get in touch if you would like to have your event publicised for free on that page.
With Christmas and New Year out of the way, you might have some holiday time left to think about garden improvements over the coming year. This is an especially good time to consider where you might need more summer shade (whether trees or shade structures) or privacy for your outdoor living area. You can research your options now and be ready to take action when temperatures are cooler. Don't forget to consider how these might affect sun access in winter, as well underground and overhead services, neighbours etc. See also Garden Ideas
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NB: These notes are under development. At present, the following applies to the greater Brisbane region only. It's hoped to expand these notes further in future updates, adding more information and eventually, more regions.
Naturally, this is a general guide only and will vary depending on local conditions, weather, plant variety etc.
Ongoing water availability is also a big concern these days, so take this into consideration too, especially if planning new gardens.
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Ipomoea horsfalliae (December 2012, Sunnybank, Brisbane)
More information: Ornamental Ipomoea
Gardenia as a hedge. It appears pruning at the wrong time has removed most of the flowers (December 2012, Sunnybank, Brisbane)