As we move into December it is not all doom and gloom, you can still find many colourful surprises in the winter garden.
Foliage fades, the last of the leaves drop and seed heads take centre stage.
The milder than usual weather has certainly confused many plants and so there has been an abundance of late flowering colour and second flushes. Roses, daisies, osteospermum, antirrhinums, hibiscus, calendula, cosmos and even my zinnias have finally put in an appearance! Better late than never.
There are tremendous amount of stunning shrubs and trees in full flower or berry at the moment. Berries are a great source of food for birds and other wildlife so try to introduce a berry-laden new tree or shrub into your winter garden.
So many shrubs can light up your fading garden with colour and scent. Some of my favourites include: winter jasmine, Solanum laxum 'Album' potato vine, mahonia, Ilex x altaclerensis 'Golden King,' Cotoneaster lacteus, Fatsia japonica, Hylotelephium spectabile formerly known as sedum, Abutilon and the highly scented Viburnum x bodnantense ‘Dawn’.
And with the mild weather there are still a surprising number of bumble bees out foraging so your choice of garden plants can really help make a difference to their survival over winter.
Wind rock prune roses by a third to prevent stems breaking in windy winter weather.
Finish pruning climbing and rambling roses. Climbers flower on the coming year's new growth whereas ramblers flower on the previous year's growth.
Clear away any old or dead plant material in borders. Herbaceous perennials have finally died back. But leave some seed heads for winter interest, they look great in a frost and provide a habitat for wildlife over winter.
Keep ponds leaf free. Add a net if necessary.
Bring hoses indoors (shed or greenhouse) so they do not freeze and split.
Rake up fallen leaves as these provide an ideal winter home for fungal spores. Break the cycle so fungal diseases are not taken up by plant roots. Bag leaves up to make precious leaf mould!
Wildlife are grateful of leaf piles though so try and leave an area or two where leaves can 'run a mock!' Ensure wildlife has a winter refuge.
Be aware spring bulbs are popping through the soil now so take care not to damage emerging shoots whilst raking and weeding.
Monitor over-wintering plants under protection i.e. Pelargoniums. Minimal watering required. If over-watered they are prone to rot. Grey mould caused by Botrytis cinerea fungus is very common whilst over-wintering in a greenhouse. Do not crowd plants, leave spaces between pots, lower humidity and remove any decayed material to stop the spread of fungal spores.
And keep an eye on over-wintering tubers. Check dahlia tubers are damp but equally not too wet or dry. Like many things it is a fine balance of moisture levels but worth the effort for future blooms.
Prune apple, pear and acer trees from now to February when dormant. Cut out all dead, diseased or damaged material. Thin branches to form an open goblet framework which will improve air flow and decrease the possibility of fungal diseases.
Plant bare-root roses, trees, shrubs and perennials. Ideal time whilst the soil is still warm and easily dug.
Add a splash of colour with filling spare pots with winter violas / pansies. Huge selection of colours to choose from. They certainly brighten up the dullest of days.
Cyclamen also make fantastic colourful containers, as do heuchera.
Check if your pots are frost proof. Bring terracotta pots indoors or wrap to prevent cracking in frost.
In lots of ways our allotment plots and kitchen gardens are winding down now but there is still plenty of life to be found and jobs to be done. I still have lots of brightly coloured chard gracing my patch as well as Redbor kale although that is rather tough now. If you have not already done so, sow your broad beans. I am excited to say mine are already popping through!
Great opportunity for a big veg patch tidy up. Clear up all the dead, spent veg plants and old stems. Prepare ground with mulch or manure and think about your next sowing and growing adventure.
Start planning your spring and summer garden! If you have collected seed from your own garden this year make sure you store them well over winter. Separate out the seed from the chaff and place in paper envelops clearly labelled ready for sowing next year. Store in a cool, dark, moisture-free place. Have fun looking through your seed brochures and getting ordering.
After all the challenges everyone has faced this year, sit back, relax and enjoy a very happy Christmas! Here's to a positive 2021.
All photos taken by Debi Holland © 2020