- This is a good month to re-evaluate the structure of your garden. Leaves should have fallen by now and borders can be tidied up so you can get a better perspective on how your garden looks without all the froth of flowers, seed heads and foliage. Look at dividing the space in your garden using hedges to create rooms and areas of differing interests. Perhaps your existing hedges could become
more bird friendly (and beautiful) by including bird attracting berried hedge plants like Viburnum opulus or the Myrolaban, Prunus cerasifera. You can interplant your hedge with some of these plants to create a patchwork effect. Either way, now is the time to plan and to order your hedging plants if you are thinking about a facelift in your garden. Bare root deciduous hedges can be planted all through the winter.
- Keep an eye on the weather forecast for strong winds if you have planted evergreen hedges this year. Think about putting up a temporary windbreak for the winter to protect them as wind is the most detrimental element to new hedges as it dries them out.
- December (when it is cold enough) is a time of deep dormancy for deciduous hedges so if you want to drastically reduce the size of a hedge, this month is a good moment before the hard frosts set in. While you are at it, remove any diseased or damaged branches which may be entry points for infection. Before you do any pruning, sharpen your pruning saws, secateurs and loppers so that you make good clean cuts.
- With only a few exceptions, you should be able to finish pruning your fruit trees this month.
With successive warm winters, fruit tree diseases are on the increase so it is probably best to burn the prunings or take them to the dump rather than shredding and composting them.
- December is a good time to train fruit trees that are growing against a wall and to perfect your espaliers. Remember that cherries and plums should be trained as fans like while apple trees and pears can be trained so that their branches grow horizontally and therefore parallel with the ground. Click here for videos on how to do this . And of course, whenever the ground is soft you can continue to plant fruit trees all through the winter.
- Use a winter wash based on plant oils, like Vitax Winter Wash to destroy overwintering eggs of many pests. These washes will damage any foliage so it is worth checking that all the leaves on your trees have fallen and protect any surrounding grasses or plants with polythene.
- Order your Christmas tree! A non drop tree, delivered to your door will guarantee
you the least hassled Christmas tree buying experience with beautiful symmetrical trees whose needles actually stay put over the festive season.
- Deciduous trees are most easily pruned when there is no foliage on them so that you can really see how the branches relate to each other and you can easily spot any damaged or diseased branches. Re-shape trees and remove crossing branches to maximise healthy growth for next year.
- Snow can weigh down and damage young, small branches or large evergreen ones so brush off any heavy blankets of snow should they ever occur.
- With Christmas coming you might want to protect some of the berries on your holly bushes from birds so that you can decorate your home with your very own holly sprigs. Use a net or some fleece to keep the hungry birds away, and salve your conscience by planting some bird friendly trees or just filling up the bird feeder more often!
- While on Christmas decorating, Cornus sibirica stems are a wonderful Christmassy red and work well intertwined into Christmas wreaths or arranged with sprayed pine cones. You can take up to a third of the stems now for artistic use and it will save some of the hard pruning you will finish in March.
- Up until the heavy frosts arrive, it is still not too late to plant bare root roses.
- Check that any climbing roses are still tied in to their support structures.
- Cut bush roses back by at least a third so that they cannot be blown around by the wind to cause wind rock. Not only does this make the roots unstable but you can end up with compacted soil around the main stem of the rose where water then collects and causes the stem to rot. You can prune them back more carefully in spring. Just reduce their height for now.
- December is probably the best time to prune any grape vines so if you have not done so already, you should prune hard now by cutting the laterals back to 2-3 buds. Vines will “bleed” sap, weakening the plant if you cut them during the growing season.
- If you have not pruned your black, red and white currants you should do so now. Visit our advice pages for help.
- Check that all the stray, wispy bits that climbers tend to produce remain tied in and have
not been dislodged.
- Should it snow, brush the snow off your climbers to prevent any damage.
- Remember all of those hyacinths and paper whites and amaryllis bulbs that you prepared earlier in the autumn? Now is the time to bring them inside to the warm so that you can force them to flower ready for Christmas.
Olive and Bay
- Keep an eye on the thermometer and if it begins to plummet then move your potted bay trees to a frost free place or wrap them well with horticultural fleece or plastic bubble wrap.
- If you have not already, chock their pots up a bit on blocks of wood, brick or similar (you can buy special terracotta feet to the job as well. This has the twin merits of ensuring the soil in the pot is well drained and baking it easier for predators to get at the slugs which inevitably hide underneath
Other – to include soils, lawns, ponds, terraces
- Ceramic pots are especially vulnerable to frost. If water gets into any small cracks and freezes it will expand and increase the size of the crack so that eventually your pot may break. Check your pots for cracks and even better, keep them indoors if you can.
- Plants in a greenhouse or conservatory can be tidied, while faded flowers and shrivelled leaves should be cleared up so that you do not encourage moulds and fungal diseases by leaving decaying and dead matter lying around. Keeping glasshouse doors open for a few hours on mild days will also help.
- Steer clear of walking over wet or frosted grass in your lawn. Put planks down to distribute the weight of you and/or your wheelbarrow if you have to go back and forth.
- At this time of year ponds, birdbaths and water features may all freeze over at night so try to keep an eye out for this so that thirsty birds have a source of water. Moving water is less like to freeze so keep water features switched on at night if it looks like it might freeze. Frozen ponds can crack liners and will kill fish. Some swear by putting a ball in the pond so that in the morning you can remove it releasing the pressure on the ponds sides and keeping the pond oxygenated. We just chuck a log of wood (that floats) in instead. If your pond freezes over completely and there are fish in it, do not break the ice with a hammer. The vibrations will kill the fish!
- Take the time to enjoy winter scents in the garden; Viburnum Bodnantense Dawn, the Daphnes odora marginata or bholua, Skimmias and Sarcococca (Christmas Box) all smell wonderful. It is worth putting a few sprigs of any of their flowers in a glass of water to scent a room.
- And if it turns cold, don't forget the birds. Seeds, vegetable fats, frozen mealy worms are all more than welcome when the words has suddenly turned hard. Especially important if, like us, you have sparrows raising chicks in December.....
A very Merry Christmas to you all from everyone at Ashridge Nurseries!