Gardening jobs for December
December is one of the coldest and darkest months of the year, so you’re forgiven for being reluctant to go out in the garden. It’s a chance to catch up on gardening jobs you haven’t had time for during the summer. Tools need maintaining and sheds and greenhouses cleaned out this winter before making plans for next year’s garden.
Gardening jobs in the veg garden
Prune apple trees
Winter is the ideal time to prune the apple trees. Once all the leaves have fallen it’s easy to see the tree’s structure. Start by removing any dead, disease or damaged wood. Try to create an ‘open’ structure by removing any old unproductive branches from the centre of the tree. You can now shorten back the long shoots from last summer, but take care not to cut off any fruiting buds. You can distinguish these from vegetative (growth) buds, as they will be much shorter and fatter.
Once beds in the veg garden have been cleared of the summer crops, it’s time to start planning for next year. You could try sowing green manure. By sowing a nitrogen fixing crop in the soil that covers the ground through the winter, then digging it in in the spring you can help boost soil vitality. Alternatively, cover beds disused through the winter with a thick later of well rotted compost, or a landscape fabric to prevent the winter rain leaching out nutrients and eroding the valuable topsoil
Check stored fruit
There is a saying, “One bad apple can spoil the bunch.” This is especially true for your stored apples. Check them periodically and discard any bad one before the rot spreads to the rest.
Order seeds and plan for next year
While there is less work to be done outside, one of the best winter jobs is planning for next year. Spend a few hours thinking what grew well this year and what you would like more of next year. Try not to get too excited by the catalogues and order too much. It’s best to plan carefully and only buy exactly what you need.
Shorten the new growth on gooseberries and thin out any congested areas to give a well-spaced bush . This will increase air circulation and reduce the chance of mildew appearing next year.
Gardening jobs: Ornamentals
Plant bare-root shrubs
Through the winter you’ll be able to plant shrubs and trees bought as bare-root plants. These are often grown in fields and lifted when they go dormant in the winter. It is the cheapest way to start re-planting a hedge or a new rose bed. The ground should be prepared beforehand by incorporating lots of well rotted compost, and remember to soak the roots in a bucket of water before planting as it will ensure a better contact with the soil and help them to establish.
Cut back hellebore leaves to prevent black death
Hellebores are prone to a fungal pathogen called black death. It is easily recognisable as the leaves will turn black and curl up. If left untreated this can kill plants, so remove all the foliage from plants now to reduce the chance of infection. This also means the flowers will be easier to see when they start to appear in a few weeks.
Plant a winter pot
Winter can be striking time with dramatic scenes in the garden, but more often than not it is damp, cold and dark. It’s a good idea to have a few brightly planted pots with winter interest plants near the house to cheer you up. Use strong foliage plants like ivy, plants with berries like gaultheria, and scented plants like sarcococca alongside stalwarts like pansies, violas and cyclamen.
Take hardwood cuttings
Taking hardwood cuttings is an easy way to increase your plants. Take a 20-30cm shoot of hard wood from shrubs such as callicarpa, salix, or viburnum and simply plant them at half their depth in a pot, or a quiet corner of the veg patch. Some of them will form roots next summer and you can transplant them back into the garden next winter.
If you need to move a shrub, the best time to do it is during the winter while it is dormant. Dig a narrow trench around the shrub just outside of the canopy then cut underneath to retain as many of the fibrous roots as possible.
Plant winter-scented shrubs
Whilst it’s a quiet time of the year at the garden centre, there is a great selection of shrubs that flower in the winter. These often have a strong scent to attract any insects that are braving the cold on a sunny winters day. Witch hazels, viburnums, scented honey suckles and sarcococca all have great scents. Plant them near to the house or path, so you will be able to smell them, even if you are getting back from work after it gets dark.
Remove perennial weeds
Winter is a great time to spot any perennial weeds like nettles, docks or buttercups that have managed to weave themselves into the borders over the summer. Moist soils means it will be easier to get them out along with their roots intact to prevent them coming back next year.
Gardening jobs for the lawn
Keep off the lawn
When the temperature drops in December the grass will almost stop growing. There isn’t a lot to be done at this time of year so the best advice is to try to stay off the lawn as much as possible. Walking on it when it is frosted can damage the grass, and when it is cold and wet foot traffic will quickly turn a green lawn into a mud bath.
Gardening jobs for the pond
Defrost the pond
Use the bottom of a pan filled with hot water to gently melt a hole in the ice. Whilst most aquatic life will be almost hibernating from the cold, if it stays frozen for long, this should help fish to get to more oxygenated water if they need .
Gardening jobs in the greenhouse
It might not be the most exciting of tasks, but winter provides a bit of respite to focus on those cleaning tasks that may have been neglected during the busy periods. Washing your pots should reduce the chance of problems when you next need them. Rinse off any excess compost then give them a soak in a suitable disinfectant to kill off any pathogens. Leave them to dry before stacking them ready for next spring. We all keep more pots than we need. This is a good opportunity to clean, sort and dispose of the excess. Some garden centres offer a recycling service. Check with yours, and if they don’t, suggest it.
Insulate outside taps
Whilst January and February are often the coldest and frostiest months, there’s no guarantee it won’t freeze in December. It’s a good idea to insulate any outside taps to prevent damage. Cover exposed water pipes in foam lagging. Wrap the tap itself with bubble wrap. Alternatively, cover it with a polystyrene insulating cover to reduce the chance of it freezing and splitting.
Gardening jobs: Pests and diseases
Whilst the first frosts appears in November, the hardest frosts of the year will always be in the winter months. Make sure tender plants are in the greenhouse. Or wrap them up warm under fleece away from the worst of the weather.
Gardening jobs in the shed
Tidy the shed
It’s cold, it’s damp and it’s dark. Therefore, the shed is your refuge from the harsh weather of winter. Take advantage of this quieter period in the garden to get organised in the shed. Clean tools, sharpen them and put them back on the racks so you know where they are when you need them next year.