January 22, 2021


Home Improvement

Gardening in December: what to plant and tidy in your garden this month

These are useful for growing a range of edible crops and overwintering young annuals and other plants, or shielding alpines from the rain.

Move shrubs 

If you want to move established deciduous trees or shrubs to another part of the garden, now is a good time. Choose a calm, dull day to help prevent roots from drying out.

Get pruning 

Check recommended times for pruning trees, shrubs and climbers. Prune ornamental and edible grape vines, hornbeam, walnut, mulberry and, if necessary, maple and birch before Christmas to prevent bleeding from pruning cuts.

Choose your mail order plants. Annuals, perennials and summer-flowering bulbs are delivered in spring so seek inspiration now, either online or in catalogues.

Patio pots and containers 

Sow: Broad bean ‘The Sutton’.

Sunny porch, lean-to or unheated greenhouse (mini or large)

Sow: Salad leaf mixtures as cut-and-come-again: ‘Mixed Spicy Salad Leaves’, ‘Mustard Colour and Bite’ or ‘Leaf Salad Winter Mix’.


Sow: Broad bean ‘Valenciana’, mangetout pea ‘Bijou’ (huge pods), oriental greens mibuna and mizuna and salad rocket.

Don’t forget about your vegetable patch

Sow: Broad bean ‘Super Aquadulce’.

Plant: Cloves of autumn planting garlic ‘Messidrome’, ‘Provence Wight’ or ‘Germidour’ and shallots ‘Griselle’ or ‘Yellow Moon’. Place orders for seeds and seed potatoes.

Shrubs to create winter interest

Wintersweet (Chimonanthus praecox) is renowned for its sweet scent, but shrubby honeysuckles such as Lonicera x purpusii and L. fragrantissima and Sarcococca confusa or S. hookeriana are a good match. To enjoy the sweet scent, plant the shrubs close to the front door or paths.

The bright yellow flower spikes of Mahonia x media cultivars such as ‘Charity’, ‘Lionel Fortescue’, ‘Winter Sun’ and ‘Buckland’ will make an impact during dull days. Also the red flushed leaves of Nandina domestica ‘Fire Power’ or golden foliage of Choisya x dewitteana ‘Goldfingers’ could add interest to winterborders.

Algae, lichens and moss on trees and shrubs

Inquiries to the RHS Members’ Advice Service at Wisley are often from gardeners who mistake algae, lichen and moss for fungal diseases on trees and shrubs.

These harmless plantlike organisms are especially obvious on bare branches during winter, and are unjustly blamed for the poor condition of affected plants, because they are often found on those lacking in vigour or already beginning to die.

Although they colonise neglected and overcrowded trees and shrubs, they don’t hinder growth and development, and are good for wildlife and biodiversity.

Algae form green powdery deposits, especially on the shady side of tree trunks and leaves of evergreens and are easily removed if unwanted. To restore dazzling brightness to white-barked birches, for example, scrub off algal deposits with clean water and a soft scrubbing brush.

Mosses can form bright green to yellowish tufts or cushions on trunks or branches.

Lichens are mainly silvery-grey to green crusty patches or hanging and branching growths. Preferring damp, clean air and minimal air movement they are common in rural districts and mature gardens. They can also be found on the side of tree trunks facing prevailing wind and rain and on plants in humid areas, especially western parts of the UK where they form a natural part of the garden ecology.

With no chemical controls, reduce unwanted algae, lichen and moss by improving air circulation. Pruning out congested branches or removing overhanging vegetation should help, too.

Stimulate new vigour in affected plants by mulching with a thick layer of organic matter and using a balanced fertiliser in the spring.

Useful kit of the month

Straysparks provide a range of elegant hand-forged metal products for the garden. If you are still hunting for that perfectly quirky Christmas present for a green-fingered friend, this could be the answer.

Choose from sculptural obelisks, plant supports, decorative garden screens, trellis systems, bird baths (such as the gilded bird bath, pictured above), gates and railings. All are produced in Somerset using traditional and contemporary blacksmithing techniques. Special requirements are catered for in their bespoke range. 

Plant of the month

Prunus serrula AGM

One of the best trees for winter interest, the Tibetan cherry is not grown for the small bowl-shaped white spring flowers but for the peeling colourful bark.

Perfect for the smaller garden, this tree makes a superb specimen on its own or in a border. It takes on exceptional beauty in winter when the low light intensifies the satin finish of the richly polished mahogany-copper bark and stems.

Good in any fertile, well-drained soil in a sunny position. It rarely reaches a height greater than 6m (18ft).


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