What to do in the garden in December
There's always something to be doing in the garden, whether it's pruning, tidying or sowing, so we've put together our top gardening tasks for December.
In the flower garden
- Start to winter-prune your Wisteria, cutting back summer side-shoots to 2 or 3 buds.
- Prune climbing roses now; cutting away diseased or damaged growth and tying in any new shoots to their support. Prune older flowered side shoots back by two thirds of their length.
- Prune Japanese Maples (Acers) and vines now if needed, as they will bleed sap if pruning is done any later.
- Leave the faded flower heads on your hydrangeas until the spring, as they will provide frost protection to the swelling buds further down the stems.
- Gather up fallen leaves from around the base of rose bushes which suffered from blackspot or rust this summer, to reduce the chance of infection next year.
- Move containers of shrubs or bedding plants to a sheltered spot; clustering them together helps protect the root systems from suffering frost damage.
- Lift and store dahlia tubers once their leaves are blackened by frost.
- Check climbers are securely attached with plant ties to their supports.
- Harvest holly with berries for making Christmas garlands and Christmas wreaths; stand them in a bucket of water until you're ready to use them.
- Take root cuttings of oriental poppies and grow them on in cold frames.
- Take hardwood cuttings from suitable trees and shrubs.
- Plant up winter containers with hardy cyclamen, ivy, skimmia and evergreen grasses such as Carex to add colour to your garden. Place them in prominent places beside entrances and well used paths to enjoy their winter display.
- Plant some shrubs for winter interest. Sarcococca confusa adds colour and fragrance to your garden at this time of year.
- If you still haven't planted your tulip bulbs there is still time, provided the ground isn't frozen.
- Spread fresh gravel or grit around alpine plants.
In the vegetable garden
- Lift the last of your leeks and parsnips before the soil becomes frozen, and heel them in to a trench beside a convenient path. They will keep well for several months like this and can be easily brought indoors when required.
- 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.
- Remove yellowing leaves from your winter brassicas as they are 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. Order your asparagus crowns now for planting in spring.
- Dig over empty borders and pile manure on top - let the worms and frosts break up the clods of soil.
- Try digging a trench where you will be growing your beans next year - fill it with compostable kitchen waste (not cooked food) and cover with soil again. This will rot down and improve the growing conditions for your beans.
- If you're looking for something to grow at this time of year try mushroom growing kits for a more unusual addition to the garden.
- Cover winter brassicas with netting to protect them from pigeons.
- Keep fleece to hand to protect hardy salad crops such as Lettuce 'Winter Gem', winter land cress, purslane, and corn salad on cold nights.
- 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.
- While many parts of the garden and allotment are cleared, use this opportunity to install a permanent network of hard wearing paths.
In the fruit garden
- Now is the perfect time to prune fruit trees to maintain an open, balanced structure and encourage quality fruit production. However plums, cherries and other stone fruits should not be pruned until the summer as winter pruning will make them susceptible to silver leaf fungus. Make sure you use clean, sharp secateurs to avoid damaging your trees.
- Prune grape vines.
- Protect wall trained peaches and nectarines from wet winter weather which spreads the peach leaf curl fungus. Construct a screen of clear polythene positioned over the plant but not touching it.
- Protect the tips of fig tree branches as these will carry the fruits for next year and are susceptible to frost. Cover with fleece or straw.
- Apply glue bands or greasebands to the trunks of fruit trees to prevent wingless female winter moths climbing the trunks and laying their eggs in the branches.
- If you'd like to grow your own delicious raspberries next year, plant raspberry canes now whilst they are dormant.
- If your strawberry plants are over 3 years old, order some new strawberry runners to replace them. Old strawberry plants can harbour diseases and tend to lose vigour and productivity.
- Plant blueberries this winter for an attractive addition to the fruit garden. With pretty white flowers, delicious berries and fiery autumn foliage, these acid loving plants provide constant interest.
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.
- Brush heavy snow off the tops of greenhouses and coldframes to prevent the glass being damaged.
- Insulate outdoor taps or turn them off at the mains. Also pack away hoses that are not required.
- Ventilate the greenhouse on warmer days to reduce humidity and the risk of disease.
- Prepare greenhouse borders for next spring by working in some manure. Leave enough space to add compost later on.
- Propagate perennials from root cuttings including phlox, Oriental poppies and mint.
- Plant bulbs in large pots of compost ready to fill any gaps in spring borders.
- Water plants sparingly to maintain as dry an atmosphere as possible.
- Keep an eye out for aphids over-wintering on your plants, remove them by hand or use a pesticide.
- Protect your Poinsettias from cold draughts and allow them to dry out slightly between waterings to make them last for the whole Christmas period and well into January.
Looking after your lawn
- Avoid walking on your lawn when it is blanketed by heavy frost or snow, as this will damage the grass beneath.
- If its a mild winter, continue to cut the lawn if its growing, but raise the height of the mower blades.
- Spike lawns with a garden fork to improve drainage and aeration.
- Keep clearing leaves off the lawn to let the light in and prevent dead patches appearing.
- Send your lawnmower and shears to be serviced and sharpened while they are in less demand.
From your armchair
- Carefully plan your vegetable garden for next year so that you ensure good crop rotation to avoid a build up of pests and diseases.
- Think about ordering your flower seeds and vegetable seeds for next year - reflect on what worked well this year and what didn't.
- Take an inventory of tools and equipment that you need for next year. Add them to your Christmas list!
- Order your apple trees now for planting in early spring. If space is limited in your garden try growing dwarf fruit trees.
Other jobs about 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.
- Choose a dry day to clear out the garden shed in preparation for the spring.
- 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 is still time to clean out water butts before they fill with fresh rain water over winter.
- Get rid of slimy patches on the patio and paving by scrubbing with a broom or blasting with a pressure washer. For an easy alternative try a liquid patio cleaner.
- Group potted plants together in a sheltered spot in the garden to give them some protection from the winter weather.
- Check tree ties and stakes to ensure that trees are still secure following strong autumn winds. Tighten or loosen ties if necessary.
- Wash and disinfect bird feeders and bird tables. Clean out bird baths too.
- Hang fat balls and keep bird feeders topped up to attract birds, who will in turn eat pests in your garden.
- Build or buy a compost bin.
- Continue to collect fallen leaves and add to leaf bins or compost bins to rot down.
- After pruning your fruit trees use the twigs for pea sticks or shred them and add them to your compost bin.
- Turn your compost heaps to mix the ingredients and help the contents to decompose.
- Cover compost bins with a piece of old carpet or some plastic sheeting to prevent the compost becoming too cold and wet to rot down.
- Plant bareroot native hedges to encourage wildlife and create attractive boundaries around your garden.
- Make a pile of old logs in an undisturbed corner of the garden to provide shelter for toads and other wildlife.
- Collect brightly coloured stems and berries for your Christmas decorations.
- Did you know the colourful wrappers of Quality Street sweets are compostable? They are made from cellulose, derived from wood pulp, so rather than chuck them in the bin with your Christmas wrapping paper place them on your compost heap!