What to Do in The Garden in December

December has finally arrived! A very merry Christmas to you all. 

Here’s hoping we can spend some time with family this year, although I’ll be honest, I did rather enjoy my 2020 Christmas at home with a few bottles of mulled wine and a buttery pile of sprouts!

So how is your garden looking? Mine is wet, the grass is too long and there are leaves everywhere, but that’s OK. It suits the wildlife. 

winter leaves

What To Do With Veggies In December

I sowed broad beans on 11th November and they are yet to appear. I’m hoping they will soon pop up, although I suspect the mild weather we had in November led to a snail attack. 

There’s also the possibility the small brown wood mouse I spotted under my bird feeder has encountered this free luncheon. 

I’ll give it one more week before planting again and securing the cover firmly. You can still pop some broad beans in now. My favourite is tried and reliable Aquadulce.

Winter lettuce and greens can be bought as plug plants from a nursery or online stores. If you have a greenhouse, winter greens are a good use of space. 

You can also grow winter lettuce outdoors covered with a cloche to protect against the worst of our wet weather.

Brassicas might need some help now. Sprouts blow around in the winds, so stake them and pull off any yellowing leaves. 

Rhubarb is a very easy crop to grow. Buy yourself a crown and pop it in a container. Leave some of the crown above ground to prevent rot and cover it with a bucket (or you can buy a terracotta rhubarb forcer). 

This encourages the rhubarb to grow, and you’ll have fresh tender stems in January. It’s called ‘forcing’ and produces a few sweet stems for a New Year crumble. 

What To Do With Shrubs In December

Pruning

Lots of shrubs need pruning in the dormant winter months. 

Overgrown shrubs can be cut back now according to their requirements, and climbing roses benefit from a December prune. 

You can wait another month or so, but do have shrub pruning done by early March.  

While pruning is important in the winter months, watering is not!

Your main task in December is making sure plants don’t rot in damp conditions, freeze, or get blown to pieces. 

Raise containers up on feet out of the puddles, and hold off soaking your border plants. This is especially important for hardy herbs like lavender, rosemary, and thyme.

What To Do With Flowers In December

Winter gardens are very special places. If you have dogwood stems on display they fill the garden with colour. Pot-grown plants can be moved around to create displays in dull corners of the garden too.

Use hellebores, witch hazels, viburnum, brightly stemmed acers, ivy, holly, and winter pansies to boost garden colour in December.

holly

A word of warning though – if frost is forecast, move containers against the house or swathe them in fleece or bubble wrap

Some summer display pots will be empty at this point. Use the compost as mulch around your border shrubs and begin thinking about spring’s display.

Roses, young trees, and other tall shrubs are prone to wind rock in December. Stake them where you can. Wind rock prevents roots from absorbing water and nutrients, so the plant performs poorly. 

What To Plant In December

Bare Roots

You can still take advantage of bare root season to buy lots of plants for a few pounds. 

They’ll need planting quickly, but it’s best to wait until the ground isn’t frozen. If it’s frosty, temporarily plant them in a container of compost until temperatures rise a bit. It doesn’t have to be warm, just not frozen. 

Lots of plants can cope with winter plants – here are a few suggestions.

Rhubarb, currants, raspberries, witch hazel, wintersweet, hellebores, and Daphne Odora are all excellent winter buys. 

Now is also a good time to think about fruit producers for next autumn such as fan trained or espaliered fruit trees which are grown against a fence or wall. 

They take up little space and provide lots of tasty fruit. If you have a small garden, espaliers are a great way to grow fruit. 

If temperatures are set to fall very low, it’s a good idea to pack straw, bracken, or other mulch around the roots of new or young shrubs. This gives them an extra layer against the cold and helps protect their roots. 

How to Tend to Your Lawn And Hedges in December

If you were more organised than me and got in a final cut before the wet weather descended you could apply a winter lawn feed. This will help your lawn look green and healthy in spring. 

Keep raking up the leaves to make leaf mold. Put the leaves in a container or a bag with holes in the base and let them rot down ready for spring. Leaf mold is the best compost/mulch/seedling starter around. 

Once the leaves are up, aerate the lawn with a fork or a purpose-built aerator

That said – please do leave a bit of your garden untouched for overwintering butterflies, hedgehogs, frogs, and toads.

wildlife corner with log pile

How to Help Out Wildlife in December

It’s the time of year when wildlife really does need a helping hand. 

The No. 1 help you can provide is a clean, fresh water supply every day. Make it a ground bowl so small mammals can drink too. 

Winter is often windy which dries out puddles, so a bowl of water is lifesaving. 

Here are a few other ways to help our winter wildlife:

Make a cone feeder – children love this task!

You’ll need:

  • a cone 
  • string 
  • peanut butter or lard
  • bird seed

And the instructions:

  • Tie string to the cone 
  • Mix equal parts peanut butter or lard with birdseed
  • Take a spatula and wipe the mixture over the cone, pressing the mixture into the nooks and crannies 
  • Then put it in the freezer overnight

Small garden birds cannot resist a mix of fat and seed. Make it and they will come! 

If you prefer, buy half coconuts instead, but don’t buy fat balls in net bags as small bird feet get trapped. 

You could also make or buy a hedgehog house, a birdhouse, and some wicker roosting pouches to encourage wildlife to your friendly space. 

If your garden is fenced off, dig a 15cm by 15 cms hole beneath the fence to let hedgehogs in. They have a great sense of smell and will detect your fresh water and Go Cat offerings without a problem. 

Here’s a quick peek at one of my residents. This resourceful hog has used litter as a waterproof bed topping.

hog nest

Tending to Patios, Decks, and Garden Furniture in December

With not much going on elsewhere it’s time to turn your attention to equipment. 

First up – the greenhouse.

Greenhouses can be used throughout the winter months to overwinter tender plants or grow winter salad crops. 

Wash it all down with disinfectant and buy a big roll of UV-resistant triple-ply bubble wrap for the windows. This traps heat and encourages your winter crops to grow.  

Keen greenhouse gardeners might want to invest in greenhouse heating. Tube heaters are an excellent choice as are oil-filled radiators. A sunny warm winter greenhouse is an attractive spot for a cuppa and a book!

Decks

The deck is likely looking a mess and feeling slippery, so keep cleaning it through the winter months. 

Use a brush to remove fallen leaves and debris, then oil it up on dry days. 

You could invest in stick-on strips to prevent slips in the frost, but don’t use rock salt as this dries out the deck boards and causes damage. 

Mould and algae can be removed from stone surfaces on dry days using a hard surface cleaner or a power washer. Your future Spring self will thank you for doing this now!

The Most Important Job in December?!

December Garden Christmas Presents

Gardeners love receiving garden-themed presents on the 25th. Good items to buy are ones that have worn out over summer, such as a shredder or a lawnmower

Or if your loved one mentioned a difficult task, such as digging weeds from the driveway, you could buy them a low-cost weed burner

Weedburner

If they admire wildlife how about a birdbox cam, hedgehog house, or a birdbath?

Veggie enthusiasts might like cloches, covers, and new gardening gloves – you can never have enough of those – and flower lovers appreciate new containers with a winter flowering plant like Wintersweet.

Here’s wishing you a very happy Christmas. The next time we meet will be 2022 – how has that happened?!

Christmas tree

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