Garden tasks in December

This monthly guide is geared to London gardens and their unique conditions - such as our urban microclimate - and limitations, including lack of time
Camellia Sasanqua
© RHS/Tim Sandall
If you would like a plant that will flower on Christmas Day, pick up a Camellia Sasanqua from your local garden centre

Need to do in your garden this month

* Rabbits and squirrels can be a nuisance as the weather gets colder, gnawing the bark from shrubs and trees. Put tree guards around shrubs and newly planted trees to protect the bark from damage.

* If you want to move your more established deciduous trees (trees that lose their leaves) and shrubs to a different location in the garden, now is the time to do it. Just make sure the ground is not frozen or too soggy.

* Protect newly planted trees, hedges and shrubs from cold winds and frosts, which can loosen and lift the roots. Gently re-firm them in if you notice this problem. Thick dry mulches will protect the roots from the cold, and branches can be covered with fleece, or even packed with dry straw and then covered with fleece, for tender plants.

* The pruning and renovation of many deciduous trees, shrubs and hedges can be carried out from now. It is easier to see what you are doing when the branches have no leaves. Suitable examples are: Fagus (beech), Corylus (hazel), and also roses. Exceptions are evergreens and tender plants (best left until spring), and Prunus species (e.g. ornamental cherries, plums and almonds), as these are vulnerable to silver leaf when pruned in autumn or winter. Ensure any pruning of Acer (maple) and Betula (birch) is completed before the end of the year to avoid bleeding of sap from cuts.

* You can now take hardwood cuttings of ornamental shrubs such as Berberis, Buddleja, Salix, Forsythia, Ligustrum and Rubus. You will need securers, hormone rooting powder and a well-dug trench. For advice on how to take a hardwood cutting visit

* Garden hygiene helps greatly in the prevention of disease carry-over from one year to the next. It is always a good idea to rake up and burn or bury infected leaves.

* Make sure your poinsettias, orchids and other houseplants are well wrapped before you leave the plant centre otherwise the sharp change in temperature, from indoors to out, will make them very unhappy.

* Insulate the garden taps and any outside pipe-work from extremes of the weather. Bubble wrap is ideal.

* For a bumper crop of vegetables next year, prepare your soil now by digging in plenty of organic matter - garden compost, well-rotted horse manure or a soil conditioner.

© Graham Titchmarsh
December is a great month for planting soft fruit, like blackcurrants

Nice to do in your garden this month

* Get the best from your Christmas tree: prevent premature needle drop by choosing a pine (Pinus) or fir (Abies) tree instead of the traditional Norway spruce (Picea abies). The former hold their needles much longer.

* Look after your tree: avoid placing it near sources of heat such as a fire or radiator. Cut trees will last longer if stood in a bucket of water or a stand with a reservoir. Saw 5-7.5cm (2-3in) off the bottom of the trunk to allow the tree to drink freely.

* You may wish to protect a few holly berries from the birds, for use in Christmas decorations; or even to decorate your pudding. Netting should do the job, but do leave some uncovered for your winter wildlife friends.

* Have a look at the colourful red, orange and yellow-stemmed dogwoods (Cornus), Salix and white-stemmed Rubus shrubs when visiting gardens or garden centres. These are easy to grow and will give you a vibrant winter display.

* If you would like a plant that will be in flower on Christmas Day, then head to the garden centre and ask for a Camellia Sasanqua. Plant in a full sun position with a little shelter.

* December is a great month for planting soft fruit. Choose from blackcurrant, loganberry, redcurrant, raspberry or gooseberry plants. Garden centres are likely to have a good deal on at the moment, so keep an eye out.

* Keep reaping your rewards from the vegetable garden and harvest leeks, winter cabbage, sprouts and remaining root crops.

All images provided courtesy of the Royal Horticultural Society. Visit the online print shop at

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