December is upon us, and with it the contrast of bleak cold landscapes, bare trees and cold mornings, with the brimming anticipation of Christmas, along with its beautiful garlands, light and warmth of spirit. We know that popping into the garden is probably at the bottom of everyone’s list this month, but when all gets too hectic- there really is no better cure than an hour or two completing a few chores here and there, tidying and making sure our wild and feathered friends are also catered for this festive season…

Maintain & Protect…

With the wind being a constant reality in the Winter, it’s a great idea to check all climbing and tall plants are secured to supports. This will make sure they are not damaged by wind rock, and no cases or snapped stalks occur- the plants really do have enough to contend with this time of year, and its such a simple task that should only take up to half an hour. Another top tip is to insulate the greenhouse with left over bubble wrap from any over packaged online shopping ( which is very much a reality these days). Put it to good use by insulating your tender plants through the worst of the weather. Once again, food and fresh water for birds is vital – they really will appreciate every morsel you leave out for them, whether it be in a simple feeder, or a festive creation. A great alternative to animal fat feeders, would be to take an old tea cup, melt coconut oil, mix with a good assortment of seeds and pour into the cup. Pop a stick or branch in the warm oil and leave outside to harden . This can then be hung in a tree, and the feasting will shortly begin. A great way to keep ponds and water baths frost free, is by placing a floating ball to reduce the chances of it freezing over, and this will help our amphibian friends who need oxygen in their water habitat.

Be sure to drop a floating plastic ball into your pond or bird bath to stop it from freezing

Monitor night time temperatures for citrus, as they aren’t great lovers of frost. If potted move inside if you know the temperature is going to plummet- or wrap in left over bubble wrap or horticultural fleece. Now is a great time to stake Brussel Sprouts and tall brassicas. Take the time to treat timber with preservative and wrap insulation around outside taps to prevent from freezing and the hassle that comes with trying to defrost the, when you need water access. Don’t forget to bring in those Christmas bulbs for forcing, ready for flowering, and a beautiful festive display.

Prune & Cut Back…

Prune woody ornamentals now- such as cherry and silver birch. This helps keep disease at bay, and creates a good shape. Find a guide here. Now is also the time to prune fruit trees such as apples, pears and also bushes. This keeps the trees productive for next years growing season, and if cared for properly ensures your trees will perform to the best of their ability for many years to come.

Remove any yellowed hellebore foliage to keep the beautiful Lenten Rose looking it’s best

Prune ornamental vines and grape vines now- guide here– and also tall rose bushes to prevent wind rock and subsequent disease. Deciduous hedges, such as hornbeam and beech, can be renovated in this and the next couple of months. Hellebore foliage that has yellowed of diseased can be removed now, to keep the beautiful Lenten roses looking their best, as can any yellowed brassica foliage.

Increase your stock…

Continue to take hardwood cuttings,like forsythia and cornus. This is a brilliant, eco friendly way of increasing the plants you love in your garden, meaning no plastic, non existent ‘plant miles’ and it’s really easy to boot. A guide can be found here. Planting deciduous trees and hedges are excellent for wildlife. As their natural environment diminishes with more development, it’s important we provide a refuge for them and a rich food source too. Holly, rowan and hawthorn are excellent for this, and can all be planted bare root now, for a good price. Planting shrubs and trees rich in berries attracts a myriad of animals to your garden, which can only be a good thing!

Planting deciduous bare root shrubs and trees rich in berries now will help wildlife in years to come

You can begin to take root cuttings from perennials – plants that are ideal for this are those with long fleshy roots such as Japanese anemones, oriental poppies, verbascum and acanthus. Dig up the plant, wash off the soil to expose the roots and make a diagonal cut across the bottom ( so you know which part of the plant is furthest from the top and which way up to plant them). Cut roots with the thickness of a pencil, and then cut these in 5cm sections. Insert the cuttings upright into the compost mixed with vermiculite- cover with grit and water well. You can now put these in a frost free cold frame or a heated propagation for faster rooting, but it’s not essential. New growth should appear in the spring – at which point you can separate each plant into its own pot ready for planting out in the Autumn. You can also plant blueberry, raspberry, strawberry, gooseberry, blackberry and blueberry plants now for a fruit bonanza next year.

Sow & Harvest…

Sow alpine seeds now, along with Pelargoniums. Sweet peas, garlic, lambs lettuce, mustard greens, micro greens, cyclamen, begonia, broad beans, and rhubarb crowns can all be planted and sown now. Microgreens are a fabulous crop that can be grown on the windowsill in colder months providing a nutritional powerhouse in the form of cotyledon chlorophyll and the nutrients that are present in the first shoots a seed puts out upon growth. Eating these regularly with meals really ups the vitamins and minerals in your diet , and what’s more they are incredibly cheap and easy to grow. You can use old mushroom packets, spent compost and plant any variety you fancy- from baby carrot greens, to purple sprouting Brocolli or coriander. Find a great guide to growing them here.

Microgreens are a fantastic way to get a blast of vitamins and minerals into your daily diet, from your windowsill

Keep harvesting those brassicas, carrots, leeks and not to forget Brussels sprouts for the Christmas table! We wish you all a wonderful Christmas and festive season.