Essential tasks for December

Keep your garden looking its best with our guide to essential tasks that need doing in December.

flower garden In the Flower garden

Roses: Prune down tall-growing bush roses by about a half to help prevent wind-rock loosening and damaging their roots and shorten all the branches on standard roses. Plant bare-rooted rose bushes this month.

Shrubs: December is a good time to move evergreens and large shrubs that have outgrown their current position. Try to lift them with as large a rootball as possible and tie them to stakes for extra stability.

Cuttings: Take hardwood cuttings now from a wide range of shrubs, including deutzia, wisteria, dogwood and Virginia creeper.

Forcing bulbs: If you haven't already planted prepared hyacinths in glasses in time for Christmas, try Narcissus papyraceus which will flower in under six weeks if potted now. Check potted bulbs in forcing frames and water them if their compost is dry. Make sure you only bring them into cool, light conditions when their shoots are 5cm (2in) tall.

In the Flower garden

flower point In the Glasshouse

Insulation: Lining the inside of your greenhouse with bubble wrap will keep it warmer and reduce energy costs if you're providing additional heat. Large sheets of white polystyrene can also be used to line the sides below staging level. Make sure you wash the glass inside and out before you start lining to maximise light levels. Remove any debris from guttering.

Watering: Water plants sparingly during the winter months, as they can become waterlogged and prone to rotting. Check plants weekly and only water if their compost has almost dried out and avoid getting water on the leaves.

Pest watch: Be on the lookout for any pests on overwintering plants. Small infestations of whitefly, red spider mite and greenfly can soon spread, storing up more problems for the future. Control pests now by picking them off leaves, spraying or disposing of infected plants.

In the Glasshouse

Kitchen Garden In the Kitchen Garden

Old crops: Clear away the remains of old crops to tidy up the garden and prepare the area for next year. Add the material you gather to your compost heap. Spread a layer of compost over the cleared soil and fork it into the surface.

Apples: Fruits that have been picked but won't be used immediately can be stored in clear plastic bags. Seal the bags, but make a couple of pinprick holes in the sides to release the ethylene produced by the fruits. Only store healthy fruits and keep the bags in a cool place.

Soft fruit: Sideshoots that were shortened to five leaves in early summer should be pruned back a further 5cm to 7.5cm (2in to 3in). Raise extra plants by taking hardwood cuttings from healthy bushes. These shoots should be about 25cm to 30cm (10in to 12in) long and buried to about half their depth. With blackcurrants, leave all the buds intact, but with white and redcurrants remove all but the top four buds. You can also take cuttings from gooseberries.

Rhubarb: Clumps can be lifted and potted up in large boxes for forcing in a greenhouse or shed. Cover their roots with moist compost and place black polythene, supported on a frame, over the top of them to exclude the light.

Chicory: Now is a good time to lift the roots, cut back their tops and pot them up to force them to produce tender, blanched chicons, their whitened leafy shoots. Each 25cm (10in) pot should contain three roots and be covered with an upturned pot to exclude the light.

In the Kitchen Garden

General Care General Care

Winter care: As cold nights bring the final leaves tumbling from the trees, rake lawns, sweep paths and patios, and pick up leaves from borders and rock gardens, where their soggy mass can smother tender alpines. Leaves also provide shelter for slugs and snails, so clear them up without delay, taking care not to disturb any nesting hedgehogs.

Water features: Removing pumps and filters from ponds and water features helps prevent them being damaged by freezing water during the winter. Keep ponds covered with netting to prevent fallen leaves blowing in.

Mail order: Send for the latest catalogues from mail order seed companies or visit your local garden centre. Some new varieties may be in limited supply, so make sure you order early.

Dividing perennials: If conditions are mild and dry, continue to divide hardy perennials. On wet soils, it is best to wait until new shoots appear in the spring.

Soil conditioning: Where areas have been cleared, start digging over and conditioning the soil. It is worth carrying out a soil test now to check its acidity or alkalinity level (pH). Most plants grow best in a neutral soil, so make adjustments if necessary by applying a lime dressing to very acid soils, or sulphur chips to alkaline ones.

Planting shrubs: If the weather conditions remain dry, continue planting evergreen shrubs, conifers and hedging. Even when it's cold, soil still retains a little heat, especially deeper down, which encourages root growth and helps plants get established. Always take time to prepare the soil well when you are planting long-lived shrubs. Be generous with the compost that you dig in to improve the soil.

Repairs: Repair fences, trellises and wooden features. Once annual climbers have died away and perennial ones have lost their leaves, treat timber with wood colour or preservative. Replace loose posts and those rotting at the base before they collapse and cause greater damage.