What to do in the garden in December

What to do in the garden in December

John, Passionate gardener, Cambridge

Guide written by:

John, Passionate gardener, Cambridge

83 guides

In December, the amount of jobs you can do around the garden will be quite limited. While there's still time to overwinter plants, plant trees and shrubs, and clean up your outdoor space, most of your time will be spent doing things like repairing and cleaning tools or perhaps setting up a greenhouse.

Important features

  • Planting trees
  • Maintaining gardening equipment
  • Overwintering power tools
  • Ornamental plants
  • Cuttings
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First things first, don't attempt to work on your soil or plants if the ground is frozen or covered in snow. This kind of work can only be done when the ground thaws. It's especially important to follow this advice when it comes to bare root trees; these trees can be planted all winter as long as the ground is not frozen. Here are a few things you can do over the winter:

  • Make the most of the dormant period to clean and check all your garden power tools including your lawnmower, scarifier, cultivator and tiller.
  • Do the same with your shears, hoes, spades, fork hoes, rakes and other hand tools.
  • Check that the tool blades are firmly attached to the handles and change handles as required.
  • Continue to clean up your vegetable garden as you pick the last of your crops. Pull out any exhausted plants that are still in place such as aubergine, cucumber or tomato plants.
  • Apply a basal dressing to your soil or an organic fertiliser before the first frost.
  • Cover up your cold frame with a heavy door mat if the temperatures get really low. If you put strawberry plants in the ground at the start of autumn, cover them up with horticultural fleece.
  • Continue to harvest your vegetables – carrots, cabbages, leeks, Jerusalem artichokes, salsify and so on – as you need them.
  • Remember to mulch your vegetable garden or set up tunnel cloches. This will prevent the soil from freezing and help you to pull out your vegetables more easily.
  • Blanch your endives, chicory and cardoons as needed.
  • You can earth up your leeks and, to a lesser degree, broad beans and peas.
  • Air out your tunnels, cold frames or greenhouse on any rare sunny days!
  • In milder weather, plant your grey shallots and white and purple garlic.
  • You can also try sowing cauliflower seeds indoors in seedling trays. They can then be transplanted into a tunnel cloche at the start of spring for a summer harvest.

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Horticultural fleeces

Remove any dead or diseased branches from trees and burn them alongside dry leaves or any old fallen fruit. If you didn't do so in November, give your trees a preventive fungal treatment.

Preferably, your bare root trees and shrubs should go in the ground at the start of the month. Bare root trees and shrubs are much less expensive than potted varieties which can mean big savings if you're looking to form a hedge or just plant a lot of trees at once. What's more, they usually do better once they're in the soil.

If you can't plant your bare root trees or shrubs immediately after purchase (due to frost, for example), put the root ball in a mixture of peat and sand. If you're looking to move a shrub, now is the best time to do it.

If the ground hasn't yet frozen, plant your deciduous trees and shrubs and bare root rose bushes.

Earth up any recently planted roses and cold-sensitive varieties up to the top of the graft union. You can then uncover them come spring.

As flowers are rare at this time of year, consider forcing some bulbs and you might just get some beautiful flowers in time for Christmas! All spring-flowering bulbs can be forced. Hyacinths do particularly well but crocuses, grape hyacinths and other varieties will also work. This technique involves keeping the bulbs in complete darkness for about 12 weeks at some point before the end of November. They can then be planted in the ground or in pots in a sunny location. They will then flower after about three or four weeks regardless of their normal flowering season.

Around this time of year, you'll find specially prepared bulbs. Pick the biggest ones as they are usually better quality and their flowers will be bigger.

Generally speaking, household potted plants only need a moderate amount of water over the winter. However, if the air is dry – from your central heating system, for example – they might need regular misting.

Hardwood cuttings are often taken from old rose bushes, but this technique works for any deciduous trees or shrubs including dogwoods, cotoneaster, forsythia mock orange, spirea, buddleia and small fruit plants like blackcurrants, raspberries or gooseberries.

Take around 20 cm from the middle part of shoots from the current year. Insert the cuttings into containers filled with a mixture of soil, compost and sand, either individually or spaced evenly apart. Place your containers away from direct sunlight. Better still, they can be planted against a north-facing wall if you add some sand to your earth first. The cuttings must have at least three buds above the soil.

In the springtime, you can plant your cuttings in a nursery or in pots. They'll be ready to go in their permanent spot in the garden by the following autumn.

Whether you have an orchard, an ornamental garden or a vegetable garden, every outdoor space needs care across the months and seasons. From maintaining your flowerbeds to sowing flowers, planting vegetable crops or trimming... it doesn't happen on its own! For more information, check out our gardening guides.

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Guide written by:

John, Passionate gardener, Cambridge, 83 guides

John, Passionate gardener, Cambridge

When I was young, I was already working in the family garden. Perhaps that is where my interest in plants and gardening came from. So, it was logical for me to study both plant biology and agronomy.   At the request of various publishers I have, over twenty-five years, written many books on the subject of plants and mushrooms (a subject that is close to my heart).They were mostly identification guides at first, but shortly after they were about gardening, thus renewing the first passion of my childhood.   I have also regularly collaborated with several magazines specializing in the field of gardening or more generally in nature. There is no gardener without a garden, I have cultivated mine in a small corner of Cambridge for the last thirty years and this is where I put into practice the methods of cultivation that will I advise you in as well.

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