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Gardener's Diary

December


In association with the Royal Horticultural Society

The Royal Horticultural Society

The Royal Horticultural Society is the UK's leading gardening charity dedicated to advancing horticulture and promoting good gardening.

Their goal is to help people share a passion for plants, to encourage excellence in horticulture and inspire all those with an interest in gardening.

In this section on Laterlife they share their expertise to provide your Jobs for the Month - making sure that your garden is ready for the season ahead.

Find out more about how to become a member of the RHS

Jobs to do in December

Winter frost

Top 10 jobs this month

As we approach the shortest day of the year in December you will need work to keep you warm outside, such as digging and tree pruning. Check your winter protection and if you have a greenhouse make sure the heater is working. Hopefully there are not too many jobs left to do this year so you will have time for some fireside garden planning.

 

  • Check your winter protection structures are still securely in place
  • Check that greenhouse heaters are working
  • Insulate outdoor taps and prevent ponds from freezing
  • Prune open-grown apples and pears (but not those trained against walls)
  • Prune acers, birches and vines before Christmas to avoid bleeding
  • Harvest leeks, parsnips, winter cabbage, sprouts and remaining root crops
  • Deciduous trees and shrubs can still be planted and transplanted
  • Take hardwood cuttings
  • Keep mice away from stored produce
  • Reduce watering of houseplants


Preventing winter damage

Cold, wet, windy winter weather can damage trees, shrubs and garden structures such as trellis. Improving shelter, staking plants, mulching, wrapping pots and careful matching of plants to places will help to prevent this kind of damage.

 

Quick facts

  • Suitable for Trees, shrubs, tender plants, garden structures
  • Timing Mainly in autumn, before the winter
  • Difficulty Easy to moderate

Suitable for...

In mild areas, tender plants can be overwintered outside with appropriate protective coverings.

In cold or exposed areas, even hardy plants may need some protection from the elements.

Evergreen plants and pot plants are at particular risk, so require special attention.

When to protect plants

Protective wrappings should be put in place at the first sign of frosts.

Cultivation practices can be altered from mid-summer onwards to protect plants later in the season. Long-term planning for planting shelter belts or positioning new plants can be done at any time.

How to prevent winter damage

Protection through cultivation

  • Feeding: Avoid applications of nitrogen-rich fertilisers late in the season, as they stimulate sappy growth
  • Soil cover: Soil exposure, particularly in the vegetable patch, can result in leaching of nutrients. Green manure, such as mustard, sown in September reduces this leaching. Juvenile plants will retain nutrients until dug back into the soil in spring
  • Mulching: This can reduce compaction and soil erosion that can commonly follow heavy rain
  • Overwinter plants by wrapping: Plants can be protected from cold, wet weather by wrapping with horticultural fleece. For more on overwintering plants, see the links below
  • Plant in a sheltered spot: Your garden is a microclimate in itself. You will have warm spots, at the base of a south-facing wall, and cold or wet spots on the north side of the house. Choose plants carefully for each of these positions. Site early-flowering plants such as magnolias and camellias so that they are not exposed to the morning sun, as rapid thawing of frozen buds can result in blackening and bud drop
  • Containers: Keep containers in dry, sheltered areas, grouped together for mutual protection. Prevent roots freezing in containers by wrapping with bubble polythene or straw. Alternatively plunge (bury with the rim just showing) the pot into the ground

Other measures

  • Structures: Before the start of winter, check all garden structures and replace or re-attach loose panels, roofs, posts and fences. Replace solid fences with ones that are 50 percent wind permeable to avoid gusting, turbulence and shaking
  • Plant windbreaks: A cold and windy site will often require windbreaks of additional planting such as hedges. Strategic placing of temporary woven hurdles, netting or similar materials on deeply embedded stout posts can help in the short-term
  • Drainage: Deal with drainage problems promptly, as wet soils can make young or shallow rooted trees more likely to uproot in the wind

Climate change

Gardening in a changing climate brings uncertainty and the potential for more extreme weather.

Milder winters are not necessarily good news for gardeners as they may prevent the protective deep dormancy common in many trees and shrubs. This increases their susceptibility to frost and scorch caused by cold winds or sudden cold snaps.

However, on the plus side the mild winters experienced in recent years have led to better survival of more tender plants, increasing the range of species available to gardeners.

Problems

If snow sits on hedges or the crowns of trees there is a danger of branches breaking. Shake off excess snow as it starts to build up on branches, and prune hedges to taper at the top to minimise snow damage.

The Royal Horticultural Society

Want more Gardening tips?
Why not view the Royal Horticultural Society's website.



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