December can be a quiet month in the garden, but there are more things to take care of than you might think. With limited daylight hours as we approach the shortest day of the year, this month’s crisp wintery weather can be strikingly beautiful and bitterly cold in equal measure.
- Dig over empty borders and prepare your soil for next year’s planting.
- Group potted plants together in a sheltered spot in the garden to protect them from the harshest winter weather.
- Get pruning – wisteria, fruit trees, roses and Japanese maples are just some of the plants that benefit from a winter prune.
- Look after the birds – clean feeders, stock up on suet cakes or suet fat balls and make sure they have access to fresh water.
In the Flower Garden:
- Time to prune! You can prune: wisteria, cutting back summer side-shoots to 2 or 3 buds, climbing roses, pruning older flowered side shoots back by 2/3rds their length, and removing diseased or damaged growth and tying in any new shoots to their support, and Japanese maples (Acers) and vines if needed, as they will bleed sap if pruning is done any later.
- Leave the faded flower heads on your hydrangeas until spring, as they provide frost protection to the swelling buds further down the stems.
- If any of your rose bushes suffered from blackspot or rust this summer, gather up and remove any fallen leaves to reduce the chance of infection next year.
- Harvest holly with berries for making Holiday garlands and wreaths! Stand them in a bucket of water until you're ready to use them.
In the Vegetable Garden:
- Remove yellowing leaves from your winter brassicas – they’re no use to the plant and may harbour pests and diseases.
- If you haven't already, cut down dead asparagus foliage and the top growth of Jerusalem artichokes.
- Lift your last leeks and parsnips before the soil becomes frozen, and heel them into a trench beside a convenient path. They’ll keep for several months like this and can be easily brought indoors when required.
- Cover winter brassicas with netting to protect them from birds.
- Protect any remaining celery plants left in the soil by covering with straw or fleece.
- Cover heavy clay soil with polythene to keep it drier and allow winter digging.
In the Fruit Garden:
- Now is the perfect time to prune fruit trees to maintain an open, balanced structure and encourage quality fruit production. The exception is plums, cherries and other stone fruits that should not be pruned until the summer to prevent silver leaf fungus. Use clean, sharp secateurs to avoid damaging your trees.
- Prune grape vines.
- Lift and divide established clumps of rhubarb to renew the plant's vigour. Sections taken from the outside of the plant are better than those from the centre.
In the Greenhouse:
- If you haven't already done so, clean out the greenhouse thoroughly. Wash the glass, the floor, and the staging with horticultural disinfectant to kill any overwintering pests and diseases.
- Wash and disinfect capillary matting before storing it away.
- Insulate outdoor taps or turn them off at the mains. Pack away hoses that are not required.
- Work in some manure to greenhouse borders to prepare them for next spring. Leave enough space to add compost later on.
- Propagate perennials from root cuttings including phlox, oriental poppies and mint.
Other Jobs in the Garden:
- Wash down all of your garden tools and give them a wipe of linseed oil on the wooden and metal areas to help prevent rusting.
- Check the security of your shed! This is particularly important in winter when you visit it less often.
- Repair fences and apply a wood preservative to prevent them from rotting.
- There’s still time to clean out water barrels before they fill with fresh rain water over winter.
- Wash and disinfect bird feeders and bird tables. Clean out bird baths, too.
- Continue to collect fallen leaves and add to leaf bins or compost bins to rot down.
- After pruning fruit trees, use the twigs for pea sticks or shred them for your compost bin.
- Build or buy a compost bin.
- Collect brightly colored stems and berries for your winter holiday decorations.