Jobs to do in the garden in December – your definitive to-do list

With winter in full-swing, there are plenty of jobs to do in the garden to prepare for next year. Try these simple tips...

Garden shed set up for December
(Image credit: Future PLC/Brent Darby Photography Ltd)

There are plenty of jobs to do in the garden in December, if only you know where to look.

Whether it's perfecting your overwintering skills, sussing out the best fruit and vegetables to grow, or identifying the plants to prune in December, there are countless jobs to check off your list (especially if you check it twice, Santa-style).

With that in mind, then...

Jobs to do in the garden in December

If you're anything like us, you'll undoubtedly prefer knowing exactly what it is you should be doing in your garden each month – and when.

To help you out this December, then, we've compiled your ultimate winter gardening checklist. You are very welcome.

1. Prune overgrown plants

Exterior shot of 5 bed period moated house and garden in Essex. A 16th century house with five bedrooms and a moat, home of Lynsey and Paul Cross and their family in Essex.

(Image credit: Future PLC/Polly Eltes Photography Ltd)

One of the most important jobs to do in the garden in December? Getting to work with your pruning shears, of course!

'Many shrubs and plants will be dormant in the winter and then start growing once temperatures increase in early spring,' says Morris Hankinson, director of Hopes Grove Nurseries. 

Morris Hankinson of Hopes Grove Nurseries
Morris Hankinson

Morris Hankinson is the founder and managing director of Hopes Grove Nurseries Ltd, the UK’s only specialist grower-retailer of hedging plants, which he established after graduating with a Commercial Horticulture Degree from Writtle College, Essex in 1992.

Before they start growing again, Morris continues, you should prune them to remove any overgrown, damaged or diseased growth. 

'Some of the plants that need particular attention in December include wisteria, fruit trees, and climbing roses.'

2. Repair fences, gates, and trellises

Did you know that the winter months present the perfect opportunity for you to do some (literal) damage control around your garden?

'It might seem like a strange task to take on in the winter, but if you have damaged fences, gates or trellises that will have climbing plants all over them come spring/summer, now is the best time to fix them up,' says Craig Wilson, co-founder and in-house gardening expert at Gardeners Dream.

'Whilst your plants are dormant, making these repairs will be less likely to cause any damage.'

3. Plant winter fruit and vegetables

A tabby cat standing near raised beds in an autumn vegetable garden

(Image credit: Future PLC/Polly Eltes Photography)

While you're learning how to prepare your raised beds for winter, it's also a good idea to spend some time figuring out which fruit and vegetables you can plant at this time of year, too.

'One of my favourite jobs to do in the garden in December, now is the perfect time for planting many winter fruits and vegetables, including broad beans, garlic, winter greens, blackberries and rhubarb,' says Morris. 

'Depending on what you plan on planting, you may need to sow some fruits and vegetables indoors until the cold weather has passed (such as onions), while others you can sow straight into the soil (like blackberries).'

Once you've figured out what to sow in December, quite frankly, the world is your oyster, so this is a job that will be well worth tackling in the long-run.

4. Mulch around your plants

Mulching might not be glamorous, but it's one of those must-do jobs to do in the garden in December.

'Now is a good time to apply a thick layer of mulch to your plants,' says Craig, 'as not only will this insulate the soil, but it will also provide your plants with nutrients to keep them going throughout the winter.'

Adding that 'most hardy plants will be fine without mulch,' Craig points out that you will definitely 'want to prioritise perennial plants as these are much more sensitive to frost and colder temperatures.'

5. Plant a feast of berries

red berry plant

(Image credit: TBC)

Berries are the jewels of the December garden, offering a much-needed pop of colour and a festive treat for the garden birds (which is especially ideal if you're tired of figuring out how to protect your bird feeder from rats and squirrels).

To keep your feathered friends well fed throughout the colder months, try planting holly, mistletoe, pyracantha, cotoneaster and hawthorn – many of which are, handily, on the list of best hedging plants for gardens anyway. 

Birds will also appreciate rosehips and crab apples. Remember, though, that many of the berries enjoyed by birds are not suitable for us to eat. If you'd like to share in the feast, however, both birds and humans can feast on aronia (chokeberry) berries. These are a little bitter when eaten raw, but packed with vitamin C.

6. Take hardwood cuttings

If you've already mastered how to take cuttings like Monty Don, now is the time to put your skills to good use, as experts say taking hardwood cuttings is absolutely on the list of jobs to do in the garden in December.

'You should only take hardwood cuttings during the dormant season,' says Morris, 'so December is the ideal time to get to work!'

'Ensure you select the most healthy shoots possible and remove any soft tip growth before cutting into 15-30cm sections,' he continues. 'Then, when cutting into sections, trim just above and just below buds (so that you have one right at the top and right at the bottom of your cutting).'

Once this is done, all you need to do is plant your cuttings in well-drained soil and water regularly, before leaving them for 10-12 months.

7. Create winter interest with bark and stems

paperbark maple plant bark and stems with flower plants

(Image credit: Future PLC/Homes & Gardens)

Anyone who knows how to plant bare root trees will know that now is perfect tree- planting time! So, why not think ahead to next Christmas and prep your garden now with some trees that will provide colour and texture over the winter months?

The acer griseum (paperbark maple) is a great example of this, as the cinnamon-coloured peeling bark looks wonderful all year round. 

The cornus (dogwood) and salix (willow) families are perfect for bright red and golden stems in the winter months, too – particularly cornus sanguinea types are exceptional such as ‘Midwinter Fire’ (shown above) for both red and golden colours. 

And, finally, never dismiss the appeal of fruit trees: they should usually give you blossoms in the springtime, glossy foliage in the summer, a bountiful harvest come autumn, and plenty of shelter for garden birds come winter, too.

8. Clear up debris

Another essential job to do in the garden in December is to tidy up any debris, stat.

'Winter is a good time to keep on top of keep your garden tidy,' says Craig. 'While you might not want to spend time outdoors in the cold raking leaves, you’ll be glad you did come summertime.'

He adds that 'fallen leaves and dead plant material can harbour pests and diseases which could ruin a garden before you even get a chance to enjoy it in the summer. So ensuring that any debris is cleared swiftly, will stand your garden in good stead for the warmer months.

Better still, you can use Monty Don's autumn leaves hack to transform all of those fallen leaves into garden gold: leaf mould is, after all, a clever (and free) way to help your garden thrive in the months ahead.

9. Feed the birds

Robin sitting in bird feeder

(Image credit: Getty Images)

One of the most important jobs to do in the garden in December – particularly if you're working hard on creating a wildlife garden of your own – is to feed the birds.

'Winter can be tough for wildlife, and birds in particular benefit from extra food when the temperatures drop,' says Craig. 

'I’d recommend setting up bird feeders in your garden and keeping them stocked with seeds and nuts. Not only will this help the birds, but it will also bring some life back to your garden, during the dullness of winter.'

Alternatively, you could deck a garden tree with millet, berries, rose hips, dried fruits, fresh apples, nuts and special bird foods. 

10. Plant bare root roses

Roses are one of the most popular flowering plants in the world for a reason; they look every bit as beautiful as they smell. And, while you may think of them as a summer bloom, planting them should actually be on your list of jobs to do in the garden in December.

'Now is the ideal time to plant bare root roses, as long as the ground isn't frozen,' advises Morris. 

'You should plant your bare root roses as soon as you have received them. When planting bare root roses (or any kind of bare root plant for that matter), you need to ensure the holes you dig are deep and wide enough for the roots to spread.'

11. Protect your lawn

garden lawn with surrounding trees

(Image credit: Future PLC/Carole Drake)

Did you know that you should never walk on grass when it’s frosty? Ever?

While lawn care tips will likely be on the bottom of your list of jobs to do in the garden in December, it's still vital to show your grass a little TLC over the colder months. 

Try applying a a granular autumn/winter fertiliser that is high in potassium before any heavy frosts hit, for example, and remember to avoid your lawn mower: Monty Don wants you to let your grass grow long this winter, after all.

And, finally, wait until the frosts have finished before you sow grass seed; you want the soil to be warm and moist for grass seeds to germinate properly.

12. Give tender plants some extra TLC

It's a good idea to spend some time brushing up on our list of expert-approved tips to protect plants from killer frosts this December.

'Tender plants ,such as Cordylines and Passiflora caerulea, need extra care in winter, as they are known for their sensitivity to frost,' says Craig. 

'For potted plants, I’d suggest moving them to more sheltered spots in your garden, or, if you can, them into a greenhouse with working heaters. For those that are in the ground, you can wrap them in fleece as a temporary measure when weather forecasts are looking cold and frosty. Thankfully, temperatures don’t tend to drop too far below freezing in the UK so standard 17g fleece should be suitable.'

If you are someone who enjoys the aesthetic look of Olea europaea (that's olive trees, for anyone not up to date with their latin plant names), then be sure to keep an eye on these too. 

'Whilst they are considered hardy in mild climates, they can struggle in harsh UK winters, especially in colder regions or during particularly cold spells,' adds Craig.

13. Grow Witch Hazel

yellow hazel flower plant

(Image credit: Future PLC/Homes & Gardens)

Again, while not necessarily a must-do on your list of jobs to do in the garden in December, now is a great time to plant witch hazels.

These pretty plants thrive in all free-draining, acid and neutral soils, so they tend to work in the majority of gardens. Buy them in flower, so you can test for scent, and position in full sun. 

You'll want to dig a hole as deep as the container and four times wider, backfilling with soil and firming. After flowering, prune lightly; in spring top-dress the soil under the shrub with a mulch of organic matter, leaving a 20cm circle clear around the trunk. Protect young plants from frosts for the first couple of years.


What can you do in your garden in December?

There's a bumper list of jobs to do in the garden in December, including:

1. Pruning back dormant plants
2. Repairing broken fences, trellises, and outbuildings
3. Clearing garden paths of slippery algae
4. Tidying up debris
5. Planting fruit and vegetables
6. Planting bare root trees, shrubs, and hedges
7. Protecting plants from frost and cold winter climes
8. Feeding the garden birds

What garden jobs can I do in the winter?

It's important to take some time to look after your garden over the winter months. This can look like rain harvesting and winter composting, for example, or preparing your raised beds for the year ahead.

Preventative measures, such as overwintering tender perennials and learning how to improve lawn drainage, too, are brilliant ideas. And don't forget to plant your spring bulbs if you haven't already, either!

With so many jobs to do in the garden in December, it's important to get to work even on the coldest of days. Just be sure to wrap up warm and make yourself a mug of something to take outdoors with you; there's nothing quite like a glug of hot tea in the winter sunshine, we promise!

Deputy Editor

Jennifer is the Deputy Editor (Digital) for Homes & Gardens online. Prior to her current position, she completed various short courses a KLC Design School, and wrote across sister brands Ideal Home, LivingEtc, 25 Beautiful Homes, Country Homes & Interiors, and Style at Home. 

With contributions from