December Gardening

December Gardening by Ewshot Gardener

Most leaves of deciduous trees have fallen by now and you tidy gardeners will have swept
them up and started the leaf mould process – you cannot buy leaf mould. Beech hedges will
retain their dead leaves until Spring. Oak trees will continue to lose leaves and you can
watch as ‘herds’ of leaves skitter like mice along paths to hide in corners throughout the
Winter.
This is the time of year when structure in the garden is important. Deciduous tree and
shrubs present skeletons of branches; you can improve their appearance by pruning out
crossing or crowded branches. If they are providing too much shade, then perhaps you
could lift the canopy.
All that hard work in the summer clipping evergreen shrubs and hedges into shape can be
appreciated now; the crisp green outlines you created look wonderful all the way to Spring
Not all colour has gone: stems of dogwoods, willows and some maples are colourful both
outside, and as part of your Christmas decorations indoors. (Something I found worked well,
in Spring, when you have to cut back dogwoods to get new colourful shoots, use the old
shoots as decorative plant supports.)
Birch bark can light up the winter garden on dark days. Some varieties are better than
others. Betula albo-sinensis has orange bark, B.papyrifera has white bark that peels off in
strips.
Mahonia, Hellebores, Daphne and Viburnum are good shrubs for winter colour and often
scent. The very early Iris unguicularis (stilosa) flowers in the dead of winter, clear blue
flowers that you can cut and admire in a vase.
Jobs to do
Kitchen garden
For fresh mint and chives, pot up some roots for the kitchen windowsill.
Cover rhubarb crowns with straw and cover with a bucket or clay rhubarb pot.
Prune grape vines and continue to prune apples, pears, currants and gooseberries. If you
have a neglected fruit tree, now is the time to renovate by removing some larger branches.
Be warned, though, that if you cut off more than a third, the roots and top will be unbalanced
and you will get vigorous ‘water shoots’ that look like witches’ broomsticks. Smaller fruit
trees can be sprayed with winter tree wash to reduce early aphid damage.
Ornamental garden
Dry mulch tender perennials such as agapanthus and phygelius to protect their crowns.
Prune Acer and Betula before mid-December to avoid sap bleeding.
Enjoy the patterned leaves of cyclamens; these will remain until Spring. I forgot to mention
holly, ivy and mistletoe!
Where there is heavy soil, avoid walking on your lawn when it is wet or frosty. This prevents
slipperiness and soil compaction.
Unless you have a cat, keep feeding the birds … except feeding pigeons or rabbits with your
winter greens (net them).
Last year, snow collected on my netting and crushed the broccoli, so a redesign is needed
using more rigid net and sturdier posts – you learn more through mistakes, I suppose.

This is Clematis tangutica. Seed heads can be decorative at this time of year

Indoors
Plant Amaryllis, Narcissi and Hyacinths for scent and colour.
I hope that you have a very happy, plant enriched, Christmas time.

Rose hips