Christmas is nearly upon us, so make sure that your garden is all ready for winter (don’t forget about the poor birds and wildlife!) and make sure that you run through this ‘December Gardening Checklist’ to help you get organized so you don’t have to stay out in the cold for long and can get back inside to a warm log fire and christmas tree decorating! Alternatively, if you’re lucky enough to have a gardener, this makes a good checklist to ensure that they do everything that they should be doing!
General tasks and garden maintenance
- Carry on digging over beds and borders and incorporate as much organic matter as you can
- Protect pots and taps from frost by wrapping insulation around them. Bubble wrap is ideal
- Clear paths of moss and lichen, treat timber with preservative, repair fences, check sheds and walls (but avoid any concreting until there is no chance of frost), clean and insulate greenhouses (that bubble wrap again!) and ensure heaters are working properly
- Clear debris – this is vital to prevent slugs and snails from setting up home in those lovely warm and damp conditions!
- However, a plea for wildlife… an artless pile of sticks and logs will make a wonderful ‘des res’ for hibernating hedgehogs and the like, so please don’t be too ferocious on the tidying front. Make leaf mould out of fallen leaves – they will rot down into fantastically fertile matter after a year (2 for oak leaves). Store wet leaves (they must be wet to rot) in large black plastic sacks forked with holes or piled into a chicken wire container or similar. Failing that, add them to the compost heap
- Take care not to let leaves accumulate around alpines – they will die if left damp for long
- Cover bare patches around clumps with gritty compost to encourage regrowth
- Make sure clean water is available and that after a frost it does not remain frozen
- Buy good quality bird food and fat or suet balls
- ensure feeding stations are well out of the way of cats
Trees, shrubs and climbers
- From now until March is the ideal time to plant bare rooted deciduous hedging – the most economical way to establish a hedge. Beech and hornbeam (similar to beech but more suitable for heavy soils) both keep their leaves over the winter and are therefore good for screening, whilst hawthorn is the ‘country classic’ – perfect for a natural looking yet almost impenetrable barrier.
- Prepare a trench, preferably a week or so before planting to give the soil a chance to settle. Wait until the ground is neither sodden nor frozen and plant away – it’s worth waiting for the right conditions; your plants will be perfectly happy sitting in the pots of compost they came in for weeks!
- Rhododendrons and camellias make excellent Christmas presents – if your soil is unsuitable (alkaline), the centre has a great choice of elegant pots. Don’t forget the ericaceous compost…
- Tidy up trees and shrubs, cutting out any dead, diseased or damaged wood where necessary
- Cut shoots and branches for winter decoration… If you have holly berries net some of them for Christmas otherwise the birds will have the lot. Secure netting firmly to prevent birds becoming trapped in loose folds
- Make a Christmas wreath using evergreen sprigs from your garden, decorations such as berries and fir cones, dried orange slices, cinnamon sticks and wide, wired ribbon
- If the weather allows, repair holes and tatty patches in your lawn
Flowers and Containers
- Put bark chips around hellebores to protect the delicate blooms from rain splashes and cut off any leaves with black spots on them – this is a fungal disease and not to be tolerated!
- Bring in any tender plants that are not already in shelter
- Bulbs – they should really be planted already, but if you haven’t quite got around to it, put them in the ground as soon as you can
- Raise containers onto feet or bricks to protect them from wet and cold and lag them with bubble wrap, hessian or fleece if not frost proof
- Remove debris regularly to prevent pests from taking up residence
- Brighten up dull pots and containers with winter pansies and winter flowering heathers
Fruit trees and bushes
- Plant fruit trees and bushes as long as the soil is neither too wet nor frozen
- Prune established apple and pear trees (not those grown against a wall) – keep the centre of the tree fairly open to allow air to circulate freely which helps avoid disease
- Ensure any crossing and rubbing branches are cut out – open wounds will only encourage disease
- Check stored fruit and throw out any that show the slightest sign of rotting to avoid ruining your entire crop
- Harvest leeks, Brussels sprouts (from the bottom upwards), carrots, parsnips (after a frost) and winter cabbages
- Earth up winter brassicas to help protect them from wind – if your sprouts are very tall it will pay to cane them
- Remove yellow leaves as these encourage fungal disease