The first of the winter months is here, bringing with it the shortest day of the year. With colder temperatures and less daylight hours, this is a month often best spent cosying inside, dreaming about your New Year gardening plans.
There are, however, plants to enjoy outside and inside the home plus delicious vegetables to harvest for warming soups and casseroles.
What to Enjoy Now
The rich red berries of skimmia, brightening up the winter garden
Gardening is as much about appreciating the beautiful now as planning and planting for the future. Enjoy these plants in your garden and home this month:
- Cyclamen – both the showy, bedding varieties and the hardy perennial types, like garden jewels
- Winter-flowering Hellebore varieties, like Helleborus niger HGC ‘Wintergold’, Helleborus x ericsmithii HGC ‘Shooting Star’ and Helleborus x ballardiae HGC ‘Merlin’
- Winter-flowering shrubs: Sarcococca confusa (Christmas Box), Hamamelis x intermedia (Witch Hazel), Skimmia japonica varieties (colourful buds throughout autumn, opening in late winter), Viburnum tinus varieties
- If the weather is mild, you may be lucky enough to see an early Snowdrop or two!
Fantastic Foliage and Architectural Stems
- Ornamental grasses
- Key shrubs and trees: Cornus, Acer palmatum varieties, Euphorbia, Corylus avellana ‘Contorta’ (fantastic twisted stems that look amazing when frosted)
- Conifers, such as Juniper, Spruce and Fir varieties
Fruit and Berries
- Ilex (Holly), Pyracantha (Firethorn), Gaultheria, some Skimmia varieties
- Schlumbergera (Christmas Cactus), Poinsettia, Azaleas, Indoor Cyclamen, Amaryllis
What to Plant Now
Brilliant winter stems: Cornus ‘Anny’s Winter Orange’
So long as the ground isn’t completely frozen, there are a number of winter shrubs that can be planted now – or, planted into pots. In fact, weather permitting, planting deciduous shrubs now gives the roots a chance to get started while the plants are mostly dormant.
What to Plant for Instant Impact
Gardening is often about the patient process of growing from seed, bulb or small plant and nurturing it over time. If you want to balance this out with immediate colour, foliage and scale in your garden, you can always find larger plants or those in bloom right now for instant impact. Be sure to water newly planted gardens often.
Simply browse the ‘what to enjoy now’ list above. Many of these plants will be available from the Garden Centre for immediate enjoyment and, once planted, should continue to develop year after year.
What to Plant for Future Interest
- Rhododendrons, Forsythia, Prunus ‘Kojo no mai’
Hillier Tip: Variegated varieties of Rhododendron such as ‘Goldflimmer’ give all year-round interest.
Grow Your Own
December is a quiet month for sowing in your allotment or vegetable patch, but a number of delicious vegetables should be ready to harvest.
- Leeks, Parsnips, Kale, Rocket, Pumpkins and Squash
- Maincrop potatoes
- And don’t forget the Brussels Sprouts for Christmas!
What to Do in the Garden
Cold weather may limit time in the garden this month, but there are still a few enjoyable jobs you can do if opportunity presents itself.
Plants to Prune
- Prune your Wisteria, cutting back any new shoots from the summer to two or three buds
- Prune Apple and Pear trees
- Cut back dead stems on your perennials if you haven’t’ already and apply a layer of mulch such as garden compost, manure or bark
Hillier Tip: Avoid pruning the seed heads on your Hydrangea. It’s better to leave them until the spring – not only do they look attractive, but they protect the newly forming buds.
Plants to Move
- If you have lifted and stored plants in your greenhouse, check that the greenhouse heaters are working
Plants to Protect
- A number of plants, including Tree ferns, Cordyline and Olives really need extra protection in very cold weather. It is worth having horticultural fleece on standby in December. Fasten it on with clothes pegs for temporary insulation when it turns very cold. Specially designed fleece bags with drawstrings are available in different sizes and are a great option for single specimens, especially in pots
Hillier tip: If horticultural fleece is left on for the whole of the winter, it will likely come undone in gales. It may be detrimental to the plant’s health if it soaks up rainwater, as the moist micro-climate created can encourage fungal growth
- If you haven’t done already, standing pots on pot feet will protect them from frost damage and stop the roots becoming waterlogged. Be aware that plants in pots are more susceptible to cold weather and may need fleecing even if they wouldn’t ordinarily when growing in the ground
- Wrap grease bands around fruit trees to prevent overwintering winter moth
Lawncare & Gardencare
- There may still be patches of fallen leaves to clear up across your lawn and borders – but leave your grass longer now to reduce moss build up
Hillier tip: Raking up leaves is good for your lawn health. But, in your flower beds, you will need to decide whether to keep them leaf free or leave some. Raking up leaves is good for plant health, but is not so good for overwintering insects and birds like thrushes and blackbirds
- To prevent garden taps freezing over, we recommend insulated tap protectors.
- Bubble wrap is also useful for outdoor pipes and insulating your greenhouse
- Keep your paths and driveway safe by having some de-icing salt stored away, ready to sprinkle over any persistent icy patches.
Birds and Wildlife
In the winter months, it is important to offer extra food for birds and a fresh water supply:
- Frequently top up bird food and choose feed with a high fat content, like suet fat snax. Specially formulated, high energy seed mixes are available as well as specific Robin feed for our winter friends
- Put fresh water out daily, as it freezes over easily in winter
- Put up a nest box for added winter shelter, if you didn’t do so already in autumn
Hillier tip: Read more about looking after our winged friends in our guide to year-round bird care
Monthly Tool Checklist
Some of the essential garden tools and products we recommend to have ready in your shed.
For winter pruning:
- Pruning shears, loppers, pruning saw
For frost protection:
- Pot feet, bark chips, Coldframe, Mulch, Greenhouse bubble insulation, Horticultural fleece, Sulphate of potash, Tree grease bands
Get ready for spring!
Now is the ideal time to make sure your tools are cleaned, sharpened and oiled ready for the spring. Putting a new edge on secateurs, shears and even spades will give you a head start come March.