December Gardening Advice

Two pale green enamel mugs containing mulled wine, orange slices and star anise

The smell of a winter spruce, the warming taste of a spiced mulled wine and a seasonal wreath on your front door. Without a doubt, the festive season is upon us.

But if you’re hoping to spend the month partying, or wanting nothing more than a cosying up in front of a warm fire, make sure you take time out to reflect on what you’ve achieved in the garden and on the allotment this year – what worked, what didn’t, and what you’re hoping to achieve in 2020. We may be restricted on what we can do in the garden this time of year, but our minds should be filled with creative, wonderful ambitions for the new growing season ahead. Look through seed catalogues, write lists and draw garden plans. Read gardening websites and talk to garden bloggers. This is an exciting time for gardeners, so there’s plenty to get inspired by. And with the promise of spring on the horizon, this should spearhead us into the new year.

In the flower garden

Protection

There’s still time to move your outdoor pots and containers, as we generally don’t get exposed to the extreme weather until January. If you don’t have a greenhouse, polytunnel or shed, group them together in a protected area of the garden. Keep them raised and off the frozen ground, as this will not only help the drainage for excess rain and melting snow, but prevent ground frost from cracking your pots. If your containers are too heavy, wrap horticultural fleece around your exposed shrub. Bubble plastic is another option. A wrapped potted plant will not only benefit from the added warmth but your expensive pot won’t crack from the frost.

A gardener sowing seeds into a seed tray filled with soil by handSowing

If waiting for spring to sow seeds seems too far away, there are seeds you can sow right now. Ensure they have somewhere warm and bright, such as a heated greenhouse or propagator, otherwise shorter daylight hours and cold temperatures will quickly put a stop to any possible germination. Seeds to consider are sweet peas, snapdragons and cyclamen.

Pruning

With leaves now fallen, a tree’s structure is clearly visible. Think about the three ‘Ds’: dead, damaged and diseased. Prune any deciduous tree branches that fall under these categories, but remember the overall structure and try not to prune too hard. As winter is a time of dormancy, many ‘sap’ based shrubs and trees, such as vines and acers, can also be pruned. Finally, start winter pruning wisteria. Ensure you cut summer side shoots back to no more than three buds.

Roses

Another plant that will benefit from pruning are bush roses. Bare-root varieties can now be planted up. Ensure all climbing roses are sufficiently tied-back, as winter winds can cause damage. A fresh supply of mulch around your garden plants will help protect them from the cold.

Root cuttings

Consider taking root cuttings from herbaceous perennials. This will increase your flower border supplies, and save you the expense of having to buy new plants next season.

An interior shot of composting leaf mulch leaf mould in a wooden compost bin

Leaf mould

Continue to keep borders and paths clear – debris and foliage can make paths slippery as well as harbouring slugs, snails and other pests. If you have the space why not create a large bin for leaves to break down naturally.  Four posts forming a square, pegged into the ground and surrounded with chicken wire is an easy and cheap solution. Twelve months from now, you’ll be spreading your own rich leaf mould across your garden beds.

Soil

If your beds are of heavy soil, dig over any bare areas. Try to do this when the ground isn’t waterlogged or in the midst of a frost. By leaving them as freshly turned clods winter will go to work on them, break them down and help to make your soil more manageable come spring. You could also consider adding organic matter to help lighten your soil. However, if you have a light soil avoid digging until spring as the free-draining soil will be prone to moisture loss.

Christmas trees

Many of us will be looking to purchase a Christmas tree over the coming weeks. With so many varieties to choose from, it’s worth thinking about a pot grown tree. Once the season is over, they can be moved outside to continue growing, and not thrown out like so many are in the new year. A one-off purchase from a reputable grower or nursery could have you enjoying your tree all year round. When it becomes too big to bring inside for the Christmas season, why not permanently plant it out into your garden? Not only will this one tree continue giving you and your family years of enjoyment, but it will also benefit the garden wildlife.

Failing that, if you do buy a pre-cut tree, don’t be so quick to throw it away in the new year. It can be chopped up and used as mulch for acidic plants such as blueberries, and the branches could find also find use as support canes for growing peas on your allotment.Christmas wresth making materials laid out on a table, including pliers and pinecones

Christmas wreath

If you’ve been growing ivy or holly then you might want to consider creating your very own Christmas wreath. By using cuttings of evergreen, or branches of crab apples and pyracantha berries, this is the time to let your creativity go wild.

Garden wildlife

Ensure all bird-feeding stations are clean and replenished regularly. A fresh water supply will also help our feathered friends at this time of year. Check all water features, including ponds, don’t freeze over, as this can damage the structures as well as being harmful to the fish and garden wildlife.

Freezing temperatures

Keep an eye on the weather reports and overnight temperatures. If you have plants in the greenhouse, then a heater might make all the difference on a cold night. If there is a snowfall, ensure all snow is removed from the greenhouse exterior, as any plants growing in the greenhouse will need all the warmth they can get. However, a warm greenhouse does increase the risk of pests and diseases, so regularly check all plants, pots and trays.

On the veg patch

Winter veg

It’s time for your winter veg to play their part on the Christmas day menu. Continue to check crops for pests and diseases, removing any fallen, yellowing or rotten foliage. The later you can leave digging up the veg, the fresher it’ll be on the big day. However, take into account the possibility of the ground being hard or frozen.

Primary cultivation

As winter veg gets dug up and plots start becoming bare, remove old debris and add to the compost heap. If the ground’s not too hard, turn over the soil to expose dozing pests and to aerate the soil. If you can, spread a thick layer of compost, or well-rotted manure over the plot.

If you have a compost heap then turn it over, as this will help it break down.

A gloved gardener's hand taking hardwood cuttings of a gooseberry bush with a pair of red pruners in winterFruit

If you’re growing currants or gooseberries, take hardwood cuttings. If you’ve been growing rhubarb for some years, dig up the crowns. Split them, top to bottom with a spade, and then re-plant. If you’ve purchased new varieties, plant them directly into the ground or large containers. Remember, leave a newly planted crown untouched for a year, that way it can become established, and produce quality stalks.

This is a good time of the year to plant bare-root fruit bushes and trees. Again, if you have established fruit trees, these can now be pruned. Again, think about the three ‘Ds’ and act accordingly. Check all staked fruit trees. If not securely tied-in, wind rock can cause damage and potentially kill the plant.

Winter salad

Continue to successional sow winter salads and check leaves for any slugs and pests. If they are grown outside and not in a greenhouse, ensure they are protected with a cold frame, cloche or horticultural fleece.

Other crops you can now sow in a heated greenhouse are leeks, broad beans and radish.

Prepping tools

If the weather has taken a turn for the worse, retreat to the potting shed. Once warm, set about cleaning and sharpening all hand tools. Service all power tools, including the lawnmower. Thoroughly clean all empty pots and trays in hot water with diluted washing up liquid. Carrying out these tasks now will ensure your tools last for years to come.

Other jobs

  • Add colour to the home with poinsettias, hyacinths or cyclamen persicum. However, keep watering to a minimum and place them in a draught-free environment, out of direct sunlight.
  • Start ordering seeds for the 2020 growing season.
  • Cuttings of evergreen, mistletoe and sprigs of holly can make excellent mantle and table displays.

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