Peter’s Gardening tips for December

The weather up north has been a continuous conveyor belt of rain and wind. My heart goes out to all affected by the atrocious flooding and devastation caused by storm Desmond and yet still more rain just before Christmas. The weather can be so cruel.

The exceptionally mild weather in the south is really confusing the plants – many strange things are happening- Daffodils flowering, first time ever at RHS Wisley this early and in private gardens! Mock orange, Spirea, Rhododendron, Daphne bholua alba, Ragged Robin and many, many more in flower! I’m sure someone will have frog spawn already too. I’m still feeding hedgehogs and bats are still flying feeding on gnats….

The grass continues to grow. Ray a gardener/farm contractor who has worked on one estate for 50 years said to me “I’ve never cut grass with the tractor in December before!” – with his Sussex accent.

Jobs to do if you can find time!

I’ve still got daffodils, narcissus and alliums to plant! They will flower a bit late. Plant only firm bulbs.

Cut berried foliage now and push stems into the ground, cover with fleece or netting to have berries for Christmas before the birds strip them all!

Cut hazel over the coming weeks for pea and bean sticks. Silver Birch makes fabulous plant supports.

Planting any trees and shrubs on any wet or heavy  soil needs to be on a mound, raise the rootball slightly above the surrounding ground. I come across many plants planted too deep that eventually die some years later.

Let’s hope for some cold dry weather soon!

Jobs to do in the garden:

  • If you can wrap up, take a close look at your garden with pen and pad. Check all ties on climbers, tree ties, stakes and trellis. Loosen off or re-secure. Too much movement around young trees will loosen root balls and stop roots growing leading to a tree blowing over or dying. Anticipate winds to come and make secure. Make sure that the soil is pressed firmly around newly planted trees and shrubs.
  • Pressure wash decking, patios and paths and get rid of the algae, sprinkle coarse sand on top to give grip.
  • Empty gutters and gullies.
  • Clean pots, plastic and terracotta with warm soapy water and rinse off. Stubborn stains use a jet wash, dress up appropriately it’s a messy job this one. Whilst in cleaning mode tackle washing bird-feeders and bird baths, rinse well. Empty nest boxes don’t be surprised to find a mouse inside!
  • There is always the shed to sort out, garage and greenhouse too! Tools to clean, oil and sharpen, and machines to put in for service for next year.
  • Put up trellis, posts or an arch, brace any loose fence panels.
Fruit tree pruning

Fruit tree pruning

Pruning – Grape vines outside, cut back all side shoots to two buds, this is an important job to get done in December/January before the sap starts to rise, tie in securely all stems.

Apples and pears – if a bush or standard tree think of the tree as a wine glass. The middle of the tree should be fairly open in shape, goblet shaped, to allow light and air into the centre of the tree. Prune out long water shoots. Create spurs, short side shoots. Flower buds are now visible, try to leave as many as possible, this helps to regulate the growth of the trees.

Frost protection – Plants in containers need packing together, close to buildings for shelter. Raise off the ground to stop drainage hole getting blocked. Be prepared to place fleece over the top of more sensitive plants. Take down netting over fruit cages to stop snow getting trapped and your fruit cage collapsing under the weight.

Wash the stems/trunks of Silver birches and snake bark maples, you might think Pete you’ve gone too far, but on a dull day your trunks will stand out from all the others!!! No green slime just glistening stems.

Keep bird feeders topped up and fresh water, plenty of winter migrants coming into the gardens to feed on pyracantha, holly, cotoneaster, hawthorn berries etc. Lots of redwings, fieldfares, blackbirds and thrushes and if you are really lucky waxwings.

Bare Root Plants:

Don’t forget to order bare root fruit trees, hedging and roses. If your ground is too wet to plant them in their final position, either heel them in or pot them up as soon as you receive them. Do not allow the roots to dry out!

Stored bulbs, vegetables and fruit, check for damaged or rotten items, remove and discard. Do not put on the compost heap if fungal – onions. Rotten apples and pears put out for the birds.

Check sweet peas for mouse damage.

Greenhouse, conservatory and houseplants need to be checked for bugs and beasties, greenfly, mealybugs, whitefly and even caterpillars on overwintering plants in the greenhouse.

Ventilation on warmer days is very important, this reduces fungal diseases, stops plants getting sweaty and mouldy.

If you use a heater in your greenhouse check it is working. Insulate as best as you can, bubble wrap and several layers of fleece work very well. Water plants sparingly.

Go through seed packets, peas, beans and tomatoes will last several years if kept cool and dry past their sell by dates. Seeds still in their hermetically sealed packets will last years too. Throw away packets that are open and two or more years old.

Manuring and mulching if the ground isn’t too wet. Use scaffold boards to get around with a wheelbarrow over lawns or ground to stop compaction. Dig over heavy soil and leave in clods for the frost to break down. Do not attempt if the ground is saturated.

Wood ash from open fires or wood burners can be sprinkled around fruit trees, roses and shrubs or mixed in with your own compost.

Many shrubs flowering now are scented, Viburnum x bodnantense , fragrans, Mahonia, Daphne, Chimonathus praecox (wintersweet), hamamellis mollis( witch hazels)….

Christmas present ideas :


If you want an unusual present for someone or simply yourself then check out two very good websites – Burncoose Nurseries and Habitat Aid.

Make up your own present from a garden centre or nursery – a gardening hamper

Seed trays, inserts, cell trays, pots, seeds –flowers, vegetables, herbs, wildflowers, dibber, gloves……

Tools, a good spade/fork, spring tine rake, and secateurs, or more for the animals, a bird bath, feeder, nestbox, bug house, hedgehog house. Garden centre vouchers for next years purchases always go down well, pots of spring bulbs, house plants or camellias.

The Garden Experience from me, Peter Mills, for a discerning gardener if you live in the South-East of England, check out my website,

Fresh cut Christmas trees

Fresh cut Christmas trees

Christmas Trees – here are some tips to keeping a cut tree looking good.

  1. Buy a Christmas tree stand that holds water.
  2. When you get home with your tree, saw two inches off the stem.
  3. Put your tree up in the stand and fill with water, the tree will draw up at least a pint of water so replenish each day
  4. Keep the tree away from hot radiators.


‘A warm Christmas, a cold Easter’

‘A green Christmas, a white Easter’

‘If the ice bears before Christmas, it won’t bear a goose after’

‘It will be a wet month when there are two full moons in it’

‘A good winter brings a good summer’


I wish you all a very Merry Christmas and Happy Armchair Gardening, Peter Mills


P.S  I am happy to answer any of your gardening questions too, so feel free to leave them below and I will do my best to reply! 

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Peter Mills

I love everything to do with natural history, wildlife, biodiversity and of course horticulture - basically the big outdoors. I grew up with very good teachers namely my parents and my French grandfather who was a superb grower of vegetables. At Hadlow College I studied a three year OND in Horticulture. I had a market stall selling plants. Went onto wholesaling house plants to florists and garden centres across southern England. In 1986 I joined Clandon Park Garden Centre as manager. Whilst there I started my career as a gardening radio presenter with the BBC Southern Counties Radio. This continued for 15 years, building up valuable contacts with the RHS Wisley, live broadcasts from Chelsea & Hampton Court Flower shows, South of England & Surrey County shows etc. Since 1998 I have been self-employed, working as a Head Gardener and in private gardens . Through the RHS Advisory Department at Wisley I advise on horticultural problems in members gardens, including pest & disease problems, lawn-care advice, pruning of wisterias, fruit trees, roses, wildlife gardening, growing fruit & vegetables, creating wildflower meadows, identifying plants and control of pernicious weeds. I am an extremely lucky guy who loves what I do and the trade called Horticulture!

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1st Dec 2015
Thanks for voting!
Peter when is a good time to scarify your lawn?
Peter Mills
5th Dec 2015
Thanks for voting!
Hi Archiebald,
Autumn and spring are regarded as the best time to clarify but the weather plays a very important part. Lawn needs to be dryish, not water logged, no frost forecast. If you live in the south of England then you can get away with scarifying. Aeration in a lawn is even more important, reducing moss, improving root growth, decompaction produces better grass growth and drainage.
Kind regards

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