Traditionally, December was a cold month, with frost, snow and often only small amounts of rain. The effects of climate change are leading us away from that weather and into new patterns – mostly mild and wet. In some more northerly parts of the country frost is still a threat to our more tender plants. If you have any still out and unprotected don’t waste any more time – get them into the greenhouse or protected with fleece or straw. Welcome the cold, frosty days when they do come along as a period of frost helps us gardeners by killing off unwanted bugs and also some weeds.
Use fine, dry days to carry out repairs to fences, paths and sheds. Cold, dry weather means less mud so maintenance jobs can be carried out easily and more speedily. Any tools that have not been cleaned and stored should be given attention now. Well-cared for tools last longer and stay sharp.
December also means Christmas and our thoughts turn to creating decorations. Our gardens are great hunting grounds for spectacular ingredients for natural decorations. Holly, Ivy, Mistletoe (if you are lucky) can all be harvested. You may also have cornus for lovely red stems, pine cones for a range of decorations and spruce or conifer branches. All these can be brought into the house and truly you can ‘deck the halls’.
If you have had stormy weather, spare some time to check your shrubs and trees in case there are broken branches. These should be removed with a clean cut to stop disease from entering the plant. Cuttings can be taken from roses and shrubs like forsythia. Also check your borders for damage. Clean up any fallen twigs from beds and borders now, before new growth in the spring makes it a much harder job. It is important to keep plants in good condition during the winter. Don’t allow fallen leaves to settle in the crown of any plant. This can lead to rot setting in.
One of the great joys of December is harvesting the crops you sowed earlier in the year. Dig up parsnips as you need them using a fork to prevent damage. Once cleaned the roots can be stored for up to two weeks if kept in a cool, dry place. Beetroot and carrots can be lifted as required. All root veg that is left in the ground until needed should be protected from hard frosts by a layer of straw.
Climbing roses and late-flowering varieties of clematis can be cut back in December. Tender shrubs can be protected with some straw piled up around the base of each plant. December is also a good month to move shrubs that are too big for their current positions. Make sure the ground is not frozen and that the weather is reasonably mild when you do move any shrubs. Also transfer the shrub with a good ball of soil around its roots.
You can create a colourful display outside your front door quite easily and without too much expense. Use cyclamen planted close together in a container or winter flowering pansies. A small conifer or cornus can add height to the feature. Another way of bringing some colour into the garden is to plant up some hanging baskets. Pansies, cyclamen, ivy and primroses are ideal for a feature of this type. You might also be tempted to include some ‘Tete-a-Tete’ daffodils so you will have some colour later in the winter. It is still not too late to plant some tulips or daffodils. The flowers will appear on shorter stems when planted late, but that’s better than wasting leftover bulbs.
Autumn-sown sweet peas should be checked regularly. If they are getting a bit leggy, just pinch out the growing tips. This will encourage more shoots at the base of the plant. Sweet Peas can be sown in succession from now on.
December is a great month for mulching. The ground tends to be wetter and the mulch will trap that moisture and also keep down weeds. Gooseberries, red, white and black currants can all be propagated by taking cuttings now. Push one-third of the length of a healthy cutting into the soil then leave them a year before moving them to their final positions.
Think about next year by ordering seeds. Choose carefully with your own garden conditions in mind. Most of all, enjoy a restful Christmas and bountiful New Year!