Minimum effort, maximum impact in the cold months
Does your garden become a no-go zone until spring? It doesn’t have to be that way – instead of looking like a mudbath, you can have flowers, colours and perfume even on the darkest days.
There are some really useful jobs you can do to make life easier during the growing season and make plants healthier for better displays and harvests.
There’s really nothing like getting well wrapped up on a cold, still day (I’m not advocating battling gales and hailstorms, that’s madness), getting exercise, some winter sun on your face for a real sense of achievement. Good for the body, mind and soul.
So, what are the key tasks you can do in December? I’ve picked out the most fruitful tasks – watch out for more at the start of each month.
Displays in containers
Concentrate on using winter displays in large containers near areas you pass by daily – no good having them tucked away in a dank corner. By your doorways, drives, etc, make seasonal displays that are welcoming to visitors, not just during the festive season but until the end of spring.
The beauty of using large pots – half barrel size or similar – is that you can pack them with layered, multi-performing plants. Start by using easy-to-grow dogwoods (Cornus) with brightly coloured stems in red, yellow, lime or orange-red (Midwinter Fire) at the centre or back. For fragrance, choose a sweet box (Sarcococca confusa), winter honeysuckle (Lonicera fragrantissima) or Chinese witch hazel (Hamamelis mollis) along with the dogwood.
Plant layers of early-flowering dwarf daffodils (Tete a Tete is yellow and scented) and later blooming tulips with a decent trowel.
On top, you can’t beat winter-flowering pansies (keep them to one colour for best effect) which will keep on blooming until late spring, as long as you keep them deadheaded.
Dress up the taller dogwoods with white outdoor LED lights and you’ve got a lovely festive display that will change with each passing month.
Herbs on the windowsill
At such a dark time of the weather, a few decorative but productive pots of herbs on your kitchen windowsill can really cheer you up. It’s a reminder that it won’t be long before the days start to lengthen again. Pot up plants from a garden centre – it’s at this time of year they really need your support.
Plant new roses
It’s a good time to plant new roses, as long as the soil isn’t frozen or waterlogged. However, if there were roses growing there previously, choose a different spot, as they could develop replant diseases (rose sickness).
Go for repeat-flowering, scented varieties. Lightly prune bush roses to prevent wind-rock.
Make a start on winter pruning
Pruning and renovation of many deciduous trees, shrubs, and hedges, such as beech and hazel, can be carried out from now, so invest in new heavy-duty secateurs and gloves. It’s much easier to see what you are doing when the branches have no leaves.
Exceptions are Prunus species (e.g. ornamental cherries, plums, and almonds), as these are vulnerable to silver leaf if pruned in the autumn or winter. Leave evergreens until the spring.
Invest in a weather station
A weather station is really handy if you’re overwintering Pelargoniums (geraniums) under glass or in a porch. They’ve probably put on a spurt of growth after being brought indoors. As the weather gets colder, they can be can be cut right back with a pair of lightweight secateurs and kept relatively dormant and just moist at about 10°C (50°F) while dormant.