Garden jobs for December

General garden maintenance

  • Check fences and trellis and repair as necessary.
  • Protect tender plants from cold temperatures, either by moving them to a sheltered spot or into a greenhouse, or by mulching and fleecing plants which can’t be moved.
  • Put away outside furniture, pots, tools etc which you won’t be using during the winter months.
  • Make sure climbers are tied in and trees are stable to protect against wind damage.
  • Sweep and wash patios and paths to create clean bright surfaces.
  • Have a look for pretty seedheads and cones to bring into the house, and holly and ivy for festive decorations. Stand holly in a bucket of water until you’re ready to use it.

Frost and snow

  • Frosts will improve the structure of previously dug soil but take care not to walk on or work the soil when it is waterlogged as this will do more damage than good.
  • Frosts and freezing temperatures will help to kill off pests and disease, so enjoy the cold weather knowing it’s doing good work outside.
  • If snow is forecast, tie up cordylines, phormiums, conifers and other plants which may be damaged by the weight of snow.
  • When freezing temperatures are forecast, a ball left floating on the pond will leave an air hole. This is especially important if there are fish in the pond.

Container gardening

  • Have you got an empty pot, begging to be filled? It doesn’t take much time and effort to plant something to brighten the view from inside, or the approach to the front door to welcome seasonal visitors.
  • Choose an evergreen shrub such as Skimmia and under-plant with Cyclamen, Viola or Pansies. Winter flowering heather will give a splash of colour over the months ahead and provide nectar for pollinators when food is scarce, or try a Hellebore to give months of colour and leaf interest.
  • Put a winter scented shrub such as Sarcococca or Daphne in a container which you walk pass regularly – the sweet scent will lift your spirits.
  • Reduce watering of container plants, but don’t let them dry out completely - remember that the rain won’t penetrate densely planted pots.
  • Move containers to a sheltered, dry spot, grouped together for mutual protection. Stand pots on feet or bricks to prevent waterlogging. Pots and plants are vulnerable to prolonged freezing temperatures. Wrap pots with bubble wrap, hessian or fleece to protect roots and prevent the pots cracking.
  • Bulbs can be planted in containers if you haven’t got round to it yet – they may flower a little later but they will work. It’s a quick job and well worth a little effort.


  • Start to winter prune Wisteria, cutting summer side shoots back to 2 or 3 buds. Check our notes for guidance: Wisteria pruning
  • Prune Acers, birches (Betula) and vines where needed; if left longer into the winter months, they will bleed from the pruning cut.
  • If ferns are looking a bit tatty, give them a Christmas haircut, close to the crown, just as the new growth is coming through. A drop of liquid fertiliser will give them a boost too.
  • Prune open grown apple and pear trees during the winter months, but not those trained against walls, which should be pruned in summer. Take time to check the pruning methods and needs of the fruit and form you are growing. There’s no hurry - this can be done right through the winter months.
  • Remove large unripe figs from trees, they won’t ripen now. Leave the tiny new fruits to develop next spring.
  • Prune tall bush roses, to reduce wind rock - tall branches catch the wind and can loosen the plant.


  • Plant deciduous trees and shrubs.
  • Plant Hellebores which are raring to go with bud and flower in a wide range of colours; Camellias, full of bud, will brighten any garden; the scent of Sarcococca - Christmas Box - is hard to beat when planted near a path or door; brightly coloured dogwoods - Cornus - and other plants with attractive stems make a good addition to the winter garden. There are many winter interest shrubs and plants to brighten the cold months ahead.
  • For height in borders or containers try a Camellia standard, a berry laden holly or a classic bay tree.
  • Keep an eye on recently planted trees and shrubs to make sure they haven’t moved in the wind. Heel them in again if necessary
  • Finish planting tulips, alliums and other bulbs for colour in the spring.


  • Indoor bulbs such as Hyacinths, Narcissi and Amaryllis will last longer if kept in cooler conditions of 13-15C. The same applies to indoor plants such as Cyclamen and Azalea - they don’t appreciate central heating. Poinsettia hate draughts and cold rooms, and should be watered only when the compost feels dry, allowing it to drain before returning to a saucer or pot.
  • Once the heating is on houseplants may suffer. Spray foliage plants with a fine mister and think about grouping plants together to create their own microclimate, perhaps sitting them on a tray of gravel which can be watered to increase the humidity.


  • Throughout the winter months, avoid walking on waterlogged or frozen grass.


  • Birds need regular supplies of food and water through the winter months, so keep the feeders topped up with high calorie offerings. In cold weather, keep the water supply fresh.
  • Now is a good time to clean out bird baths and feeders.

Gift lists

  • Write yourself a Christmas wish list.
  • Plants make lovely gifts - a Camellia, large or small, a deliciously scented Daphne, an Olive tree or shrub, a pot of scented narcissi, or an elegant amaryllis to grow - there are many options. For those without a garden, a houseplant could be the answer.
  • For new gardeners a flower pot filled with useful bits and pieces such as string, plant labels, a trowel and hand fork can make a lovely gift. There are lots of garden oriented ideas, which make really useful presents.