December jobs and tips for your garden

 

As we approach the shortest day of the year in December you will need work to keep you warm outside, such as digging and tree pruning. Check your winter protection and if you have a greenhouse make sure the heater is working. Hopefully there are not too many jobs left to do this year so you will have time for some fireside garden planning.

 

General:

• Check your winter protection structures are still securely in place

 

• Keep mice away from stored produce

 

• Reduce watering of houseplants

 

• With the colder weather arriving, plus birds who fly south from countries such as Siberia and Northern

Scandinavia who visit our shores due to the relatively mild climate during the winter, why not provide a

supply of bird food and enjoy the pleasure they give.

 

• Please remember to hang bird feeders at a height so that they will be beyond the reach of cats.

 

• Prune acers, birches and vines before Christmas to avoid bleeding

 

• Deciduous trees and shrubs can still be planted and transplanted

 

• Take hardwood cuttings

 

• 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!

 

Flowers:

• Sowings can be made of coleus, cyclamen and geranium provided suitable temperatures can be

maintained.

 

• Taller growing bush roses can be pruned down by about half which will prevent the wind from causing them

to become loose through swaying and in turn damaging the roots.

 

• The branches of standard roses should also be shortened.

 

• Bare-rooted rose bushes can be planted this month.

 

• Flower bulbs that have been potted up and placed in forcing frames should be watered if compost is dry,

and only when their shoots are 5cm (2″) high can they be brought out into light, cool conditions.

 

• 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.

 

• 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.

 

• 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 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.

 

Vegetables:

• Harvest leeks, parsnips, winter cabbage, sprouts and remaining root crops.

 

• Broad Bean Aquadulce Claudia can be sown outdoors and the variety. The Sutton broad bean variey can

be sown under cloches.

 

• For large onions, seed can be sown during December and early January transplanting the young plants

outdoors in spring.

 

• Vacant areas in the vegetable plot can be dug ready for sowing and planting in spring.

 

• Chicory roots can be lifted at this time by cutting back tops and potting up which will force them to produce

blanched, tender chicons with whitened leafy shoots. Three roots should be contained in a 25cm (10″) pot

placing another pot (upturned) on top so that light can’t penetrate.

 

• 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.

 

Fruit:

• Prune open-grown apples and pears (but not those trained against walls)

 

• Soft fruit such as currants, gooseberries, raspberries, blackberries and tayberries can be planted at this

time as they are dormant.

 

• If soil conditions are unsuitable when you receive your plants, plant them in a spare piece of ground or pot

until there is an improvement.

 

• Currants – extra plants can be raised by hardwood cuttings being taken from existing healthy bushes. The

cuttings should be 25-30cm (10-12″) in length, then buried to about half their depth.

 

• Blackcurrants – established plants can now be pruned allowing the young wood, which will bear most of the

fruit, to start putting on growth in spring.

 

• Blackcurrants – all the buds that are intact should remain, but in the case of whitecurrants and redcurrants

only the top four should be left, removing all the others.

 

• Gooseberries – cuttings may also be taken.

 

• Rhubarb – lift clumps, pot up in large boxes for forcing and place either in the greenhouse or shed. The

roots should be covered with moist compost, then with the support of a frame place black polythene over

the top which will exclude light.

 

• Use apple trays for storing picked apples. Fruit that isn’t going to be used immediately in clear plastic bags.

The bags should be sealed but two or three small pinpricks should be made in the sides so as to release

any gasses produced by the fruits. The bags should be kept in a cool place and only healthy fruits stored.

Check the fruit regularly and remove any rotten ones.

 

• 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 grease bands 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.

 

Greenhouses:

• Check that greenhouse heaters are working.

 

• This is the ideal time to clean the greenhouse, pots using a pot brush and trays in readiness for plant

raising.

 

• Also check that greenhouse heaters and propagators are working correctly.

 

• Greenhouses can be kept warmer using a heavy duty greenhouse fan heater and you can also using

bubble film as insulation which is quite easy to fit.

 

• Before starting to line glass below staging level with white polystyrene, was the greenhouse glass inside

and out as this will maximise light levels.

 

• Remember to keep the gutters clear of any leaves or debris.

 

• Pests may overwinter on plants so keep an eye out for them, as small infestations of red spider mite,

greenfly and whitefly can soon spread. This could provide problems in the future so it is best to control now

by either spraying, removing them from the leaves or, if really necessary, disposing of any plants that are

infected.

 

Lawn Care:

• Avoid walking on your lawn when it is blanketed by heavy frost or snow, as this will damage the grass

beneath.

 

• If it's a mild winter, continue to cut the lawn if it's 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.

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