Late December is a great time for tidying - When the festivities are approaching their peak it can be nice to spend a little time in the potting shed or greenhouse sorting out the dahlia tubers, cleaning and preparing tools and checking what netting might need replacing ahead of the growing season.
It’s also a good time to spend a few minutes outside each day to enjoy the birds feasting on seedheads and noticing those hardy plants that burst into flower or fruit in midwinter - often the delicate winter flowers pack the biggest fragrance punch - A few sprigs of winter flowering Viburnum, Honeysuckle, Winter Jasmine or Sarcococca will fill your house with scent.
Whilst in general it is best to stay off lawns and avoid disturbing the garden too much at this time of year there are a few tasks that you can enjoy on a crisp December morning:
Providing the ground is workable, not frozen or waterlogged, you can continue winter digging for new lawns, new beds and borders or a new Kitchen Garden.
Start with the hard landscaping tasks - paths, walls and raised beds - and leave the soil preparation till last - you won’t be planting for a few months yet so that can wait until the soil conditions improve.
Wrap insulation around taps and roll the hose up for storage away in a frost free place to avoid cracking and breaking.
Terracotta and stone pots are at risk of cracking as frozen soil inside expands so wrap them in fleece or insulating fabric to prevent damage. Plants can be protected from really harsh weather with a covering of fleece - Easy Fleece Jackets make the job….easy!
Clear Away Debris
Clear Ivy and any saplings from the bottom of hedges and remove piles of debris that might encourage slugs and snails to congregate - watch out for overwintering hedgehogs when clearing leaves and particularly when lighting bonfires.
Clear the last of the leaves from lawns and borders - using them to make your own leaf mould for mulching and dressing beds makes all the raking worthwhile!
Save the prunings from apples and pears to use as supports in the borders or as peasticks in the Kitchen Garden
Move Deciduous Trees and Shrubs
You can move or plant deciduous shrubs throughout their dormant period - they will establish well ready to get going as soon as the temperature starts to climb.
Renew Shrubs, Climbers and Hedges
Between now and Spring you can prune overgrown shrubs and climbers - tie them on to arches or pergolas to give a neat structure to the growth next year.
Plant Decorative Containers
Although indoor plants and flowers are probably going to be the main features of your festive displays it's worth making a special effort with containers around the front door and porch or out on the patio. you'll be seeing a lot of them over the next few weeks and they make a natural extension to your indoor Christmas decorations.
Garden centres will have plenty of suitable plant - don't worry about using shrubs and other plants that aren't really suitable for growing in containers in the long term as they'll only stay put until spring just plant them out in the garden when their best display is over.
For hanging baskets go for ivys and vibrant berries with cyclamen or polyanthus for a cheerful pop of colour.
In a mixed tub winter flowering heathers go brilliantly with Skimmia- both the pink budded skimmia japonica Rubella and the red berried Skimmia japonica Veitchii look wonderful and the bare red or bright green stems of Dogwood or cornus can create a really dramatic display.
For specimen plants choose Winter Box (Sarcococca) with fragile off-white highly scented flowers or there is viburnum davidii with turquoise berries and big oval leathery leaves.
If you want plants capable of staying in containers for several years go for trained standard Holly, trained Box and Ivy trained around climbing frames.
Fresh Food For The Festive Season
If you plan carefully earlier in the year it's possible to enjoy all your favorite festive vegetables fresh from the garden you can have sprouts, leeks, parsnips and the earliest purple sprouting broccoli tasting all the better after the first serious frost. From the greenhouse or cold frame you can be picking salads such as lamb's lettuce and fresh herbs too.
A frost free shed or garage is a good place to store sacks of carrots, onions and potatoes and a box of apples or citrus fruit will last there for weeks as long as it's not damp and there are no rodents around. Even fresh vegetables with a relatively short-shelf life such as salads, greens and roots keep far better in a cool shed than in a hot kitchen over Christmas.
Plant Fruit Trees & Bushes
If you've ordered bare root trees and bushes than this is half this is when they will be delivered so get them in the ground as soon as you can. if the ground is too wet or frosty to plant them or you simply don't have time to do the job properly heel them in temporarily and plant them later.