What not to do in your garden in December

by AnneWareham on November 30, 2012

Late clematis at Veddw garden, Wales

They say:

When the weather allows, check over any newly planted shrubs, trees and perennials. The exceptionally heavy rainfall this year might have exposed the roots. If so, put a thick layer of garden soil or loam-based compost over the exposed roots to protect them before it gets much colder.

Was this maybe one of the people who was raking up the leaves that might otherwise have done this job for free?

Check garden sundries, such as canes, string, gloves and labels. By January the garden centres will be full of these, so have your list ready.

If you are, perhaps, regarded as the old bore in the family who gardens, your list will be rendered obsolete by your exciting Christmas presents…

Try to tidy the shed.


It is traditional to wipe over all metal tools with a damp, slightly oily cloth. Treat and preserve wooden handles with boiled linseed oil, as it loses its stickiness far more quickly than raw linseed oil.

I think this was before we all got cheap stainless steel  – seen any rust on your trowels lately anyone?? I have several very old wooden handled tools which have come to no harm from total neglect. Ignore this unless you are desperate to find a use for your boiled linseed oil.

If bad weather strikes, turn your attention to your seed catalogues and try to order seeds before Christmas.

Must I? I don’t actually sow any these days –  I find lots of growers cheaply and cheerfully growing and sending them out in spring, having done the looking after over winter all for me! Hurray!

Before making a list, check the use-by dates on old packets. Be very vigilant with lettuce and parsnip seeds, as both have short viability periods. Old or opened packets tend not to germinate, so ditch them. Larger seeds such as peas and beans last well if they’ve been stored in an airtight tin in a dry, cool place. So generally a year or two will not make too much difference.

O, get new ones! Isn’t the point to be trying new and different varieties and generally having fun?? And anyway – what is ‘too much different’? You mean they may not germinate actually and I’d have no BEANS?????

Cotoneaster berries, Veddw copyright Anne Wareham, Veddw garden, Monmouthshire, South Wales, Welsh garden, garden blog. Welsh garden blog

Prune climbing roses now; cutting away diseased or damaged growth and tying in any new shoots to their support. Prune older flowered side shoots back by two thirds of their length.

Or let’s just stop growing anything but ramblers which zoom up a tree, flower cheerfully and generally look after themselves? (they prune Kiftsgate at Kiftsgate like this, do we think?) (Whoops – seems like it: just discovered Val Bourne pruning her ramblers..)

Leave the faded flower heads on your hydrangeas until the spring, as they will provide frost protection to the swelling buds further down the stems.

This is cheating. Telling people not to do things is my job. You are just slacking.

Gather up fallen leaves from around the base of rose bushes which suffered from blackspot or rust this summer, to reduce the chance of infection next year.

They will be diseased and miserable next year whatever you do if they are vulnerable. Throw them away and get something healthy.

Move containers of shrubs or bedding plants to a sheltered spot; clustering them together helps protect the root systems from suffering frost damage.

Don’t delude yourself – one really hard frost will demonstrate what a waste of effort that was. ‘Help to protect’ is not good enough – protection is protection. Or not, in this case.

Take root cuttings of oriental poppies and grow them on in cold frames. Take hardwood cuttings from suitable trees and shrubs.

I wouldn’t mind but this is the stuff that the kind of gardeners who actually only ever plant one of anything do. And how many more shrubs and trees do you want?

Plant some shrubs for winter interest. Sarcoccoca confusa adds colour and fragrance to your garden at this time of year.

No. Do not plant anything in this cold and/or wet. If they don’t suffer, you will.

And Sarcoccoca confusa is wonderfully unpronounceable but it is not colourful. Evergreen with tiny little flowers. Their smelliness is good, true.

Plant up winter containers with hardy cyclamen, ivy, skimmia and evergreen grasses such as Carex comans Amazon Mist to add colour to your garden. Place them in prominent places beside entrances and well used paths to enjoy their winter display.

Oh, here come those dreadful, depressing  containers with 50 different plants in and a dressing of crisp packets and fag ends..

Dig over empty borders and pile manure on top – let the worms and frosts break up the clods of soil.

Don’t be daft. What are you doing with empty borders? And hate to tell you but digging is awfully bad for the soil and the worms. Manure has hardly any value as fertiliser and as a mulch generally offers you entertaining new weeds.

Remove yellowing leaves from your winter brassicas as they are no use to the plant and may harbour pests and diseases.

These are those pests and diseases otherwise called wildlife. They have a right to live as well you know. Hug a slug.

OK, that’s enough. They get paid for this stuff!

Holly berries copyright Anne Wareham, Veddw garden, Monmouthshire, South Wales, Welsh garden, garden blog. Welsh garden blog

Anne Wareham

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{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

James Golden November 30, 2012 at 10:35 pm

Take hardwood cuttings? I’m 67. I don’t have time to wait for a cutting to grow into a decent sized shrub.


AnneWareham November 30, 2012 at 11:12 pm

Good point. And that myth about how people used to plant for their heirs is still alive and well – I heard it this week (I understand that it was more that certain trees were judiciously retained). Such pious nonsense – we want results as soon as possible. We’re human beings.


Clare December 1, 2012 at 6:20 pm

Epic quotes to reply to Anne – straight from Pippa Middleton’s new book on garden making. What a hoot! xxx


AnneWareham December 1, 2012 at 11:24 pm

Eh? (falling down liquid after good rugby by any chance?)


Clare December 2, 2012 at 9:30 am

Maybe it was, a little. But you said it – “THEY get paid for this stuff” and it’s the same old ‘stuff’ that’s churned out year after year in one incarnation or another. Reminded me of brief quotes I read from PM’s book …


AnneWareham December 2, 2012 at 9:43 am

Ah, yes, well, that does make sense. And yes – you could do a Pippa gardening book very easily!


John December 1, 2012 at 6:32 pm

I really hope this will now become a monthly feature and I can stop buying Gardeners World magazine and relax more.

Treatment of wooden tool handles is vital. Only last year, the handles on the trowel and fork I made in metalwork class when I was 11 fell apart. If I had taken the time to properly treat them each year, they would have lasted for a lot longer than 47 years. The annual spend on the treatment and the time taken to do a proper job pales into insignificance compared to the cost (£2.60) of new handles.

Main December job? Remember to fill up the bird feeders and provide a clean and unfrozen water source for feathered friends to bathe and drink. In freezing weather the latter is more important than you think! A few minutes spent each day will deliver entertainment of a variety far greater than SkyTV.


AnneWareham December 1, 2012 at 11:26 pm

Your case is made, John. (rushes off to boil linseed oil)

And sure, I’d always rather watch the birdies than the Killing. Except it gets dark and desperate boredom sets in…


Emily January 7, 2013 at 7:23 pm

I just found your blog and love it! Such a relief after reading too many chirpy “5 ways to improve your compost” and “7 perennials to embrace” magazine articles. I’m hooked.


AnneWareham January 7, 2013 at 7:42 pm

Great! (now try the book? http://veddw.com/bad-tempered-gardener/ !!!) Thank you for telling me.


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