December is a great time to re-evaluate the structure of your garden. Deciduous leaves should have fallen by now and the herbaceous borders will need to be tidied up so you can gain a proper perspective on how your garden looks without all the froth of flowers, seed heads and distracting foliage. Think about dividing the space in your garden using hedging to create rooms and areas of special interest. Perhaps your existing hedges could become more bird friendly (and beautiful) by including interesting berried hedge plants like Viburnum opulus, Guelder Rose, or the wild plum tree, Prunus cerasifera. You can intersperse your hedge with some of these plants to create a tapestry effect. Either way, now is the time to plan and to order your hedging plants for a garden facelift. Bare root deciduous hedges can be planted all through the winter.
If you have been busy planting evergreen hedges this year, keep an eye on the weather forecast for strong winds. Wind is the most detrimental element to new hedges so consider putting up a temporary windbreak for the winter to protect them.
December is a time of deep dormancy for deciduous hedges so if you want to drastically reduce the size of a hedge, December 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.
After you have pruned your fruit trees, try to shred any prunings as useful additions to your compost heap, or leave them in a pile for a year after which time they can be used as a mulch around the bottom of the tree to keep weeds at bay and to put back into the soil all the nutrients they took out.
December is a good time to train fruit trees that are growing against a wall and to perfect your espaliers. Remember that cherry and plums should be trained to look more fan-like while apples and pears can be trained so that their branches grow horizontally and therefore parallel with the ground. There are videos to help you do this here. And of course, until the ground is frozen, you can continue to plant fruit trees.
Once the leaves have all fallen, any frost free day between now and February is an ideal time to prune the fruit trees with pips not stones, i.e. apples, pears, figs etc but not cherries and plums.
Use a winter wash based on plant oils, to destroy overwintering eggs of many pests. These washes can damage 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! Non drop christmas trees 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 growth. 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 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.
Prune bush roses to reduce their height 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.
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 it during the growing season.
If you have not pruned your black, red and white currants you should do so now. There are advice pages on the website which will help you to do this.
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.
The cooks amongst you may balk at paying the eye-watering amounts necessary to buy saffron in this country. So, why not grow your own? Order your Crocus sativus bulbs now so that you will have them ready to plant for next spring, and they make a great Christmas present for foodie gardeners.
Olive and Bay
Keep an eye on the thermometer and if it begins to plummet then move your pots with bay trees to a frost free place or wrap them well with horticultural fleece.
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. Otherwise invest in a pond heater. 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, Lonicera purpussii, 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.
Go indoors and have another nice cup of tea and a slice of light fluffy Christmas Cake.....