Your December Garden

As feverish talk about the odds of a white Christmas give way to the premature shattering of New Year’s resolutions, it would be fair to say that in winter gardeners have an excuse to sit back, snooze and dream of spring. With the lowest light levels of the year, impending snow warnings and reports on how local councils are running out of grit, winter is usually bottom of any favourite season of the year poll.

But there is plenty to be doing in the garden and that all-important spring is approaching, and work done now will pay dividends in a few weeks time. Of course, a little hibernation is OK for some, it undoubtedly recharges the batteries, but a gardening activity every day will keep you ahead of the game.

Winter, miserable? Not a chance.

Introduction to the season – winter

Wet and mild, followed by frost and wind. That’s winter!

A real mixed bag is to be expected and to be honest, plants are relatively OK with anything that the weather deals out. Primroses are well into flower and will look a little bit bashed about by prolonged cold, but come bouncing back with their promise of spring. The odd rose here and there is still in flower and the blooms aren’t usually big and bold compared to summer, but it shows plants will produce the goods even when up against the odds.

Some plants, however, will not tolerate the cold, and a greenhouse, cold frame or cosy conditions of a windowsill or porch is required. But a quick word to the wise – often it is the damp and wet that kills as opposed to the usual suspect - the cold. That’s because fungal diseases enjoy the damp and relative warmth under cover and will get to work on your dahlia tubers, gladioli corms and overwintering pelargoniums. The trick is to keep a close eye on ventilation and try and keep things as dry as possible (but not desert-like if the plants need water!).

Winter isn't everyone’s favourite, but snowdrop shoots, early narcissi and the sheer beauty of the faux-fur lining to magnolia buds will surely gladden the gardening heart.

Activity / garden planning guide

Protection is the priority in winter, and I don't just mean the liberal application of lip salve to areas prone to cold (although it is to be recommended). Plants, structures and wildlife need our help in the next couple of months to keep everything looking great in the garden.

Plants in pots could become waterlogged if the drainage holes aren't running free and the base is clogged up with seasonal detritus. And water logging leads to root rot, which in turn ends up in dead plants. Raise pots off the ground with bricks, blocks or pot feet from your local garden retailer. Some are even prone to frost damage so may need carefully removing to a warmer position. Walls give some protection to wind, rain and cold.

Fences and other structures in the garden have to sit and take whatever weather is thrown at them. Most wood carries a guarantee against rot, but after 15 years plus of sitting in soggy soil damage can start to affect its performance. Best to do an annual check before panels fall, posts crack and sheds collapse.

Wildlife, and, in particular, birds, need a helping hand in winter. Maintain bird feeders and birdbaths (clean the water every day to ensure no diseases build up) to ensure great displays and an overall balanced garden. Some of your feathered friends will be devouring the slugs and snails in a few months time. They won't forget your help now.

Season highlights & events

Planning is often seen as a cop out from 'real' work but in the garden it can be a real time, money and effort saver.

Take your veg patch as an example. It's easy to forget about it until spring but sow seeds like there's no tomorrow at Easter and either have failing crops, gluts of crops or nothing at all. In spring, time passes more quickly (it doesn't but I think you know what I mean!) so winter is the best time to get geeky and write up a detailed plan. It's so easy to miss a sowing date when everything is happening, but not if you arrange your newly bought seeds into a simple cardboard box complete with dividers according to the sowing week.

Seeds filed alphabetically, or simply bunged into an empty Roses chocolate tins after Christmas will not get sown. And plan the actual plot into what is going to go where, which crops should follow last year's runner beans (anything leafy so they get the benefit of the free fertiliser the beans have made – brassicas love a bit of pre-beaned soil) and try not to grow the same crop in the same place. It will reduce the problems of pests and diseases.

Key actions for winter

  • Check pots over to avoid frost damage and water logging. .
  • Check and replace any fence posts and panels before rots cause more damage.
  • Feed and provide water for the birds.
  • Plan your plot ( and garden) before the distracting frenzy of spring.
  • Look out for winter treasures such as snowdrops, early narcissi and primroses.

If you want to learn more about seasonal gardening, be sure to check out our other garden news!