December jobs

With the end of the year fast approaching, December is a month when you can start to slow down in your garden and look forward to taking a well earned, relaxing break during the festive season. Many parts of the country have had their first heavy frosts of winter and some areas may even have seen snow, so it is difficult sometimes to get the motivation and energy to spend time outdoors.

Very cold weather can be the gardeners’ friend, as it is great for killing bugs, diseases, slugs and other over-wintering pests in your garden. However, cold winter winds and heavy snowfalls have a tendency to damage evergreen and tender plants. Therefore, it is important to protect these plants with a fibre fleece material and be sure to tie up the leaves and stems of plants such as Conifers and Cordylines, which can be damaged by the weight of snow on their branches.

If you have an allotment or vegetable garden, you can now start winter digging. Wrap up well and ease yourself into some outdoor exercise by taking advantage of milder spells in the weather. Start at one end of the area that you wish to dig and using a spade or fork turn over the soil, incorporating organic matter such as kitchen waste, well rotted manure or old garden compost as you go.

There is no need to break down large clods of soil at this stage, as the frosts throughout the winter will do this job for you. By spring, you will have a good friable soil ready for planting. Continue to harvest any sprouts, carrots, leeks, parsnips, swedes and winter cabbage as required.

During mild, dry spells you may occasionally need to mow your lawn, but be sure to keep off your grass when it is frosty or very wet. As your fruit trees are now dormant, you can start to prune apples and pears. Thin out overcrowded, weak, diseased and crossing branches to leave an open centre. Soft fruit such as blackcurrants, gooseberries and red currants can also be pruned now.

If you have any crowns of rhubarb in your garden you may wish to insulate with straw and cover with an upturned dustbin to exclude light. This will force new shoots into growth, ideal for an early spring crop.

Aim to repair and maintain any arches or trellis work, as access will be made easier by the dormant plants. If required you should treat with suitable preservatives, although be careful not to splash evergreen plants as this may cause damage and will look unsightly.

As Christmas is fast approaching, look around your garden for suitable foliage that you can use to decorate your home during the festive period.

Holly and Ivy are classic examples of plants that can be used to create attractive natural wreaths and table decorations.