Robin in snow

December

The bare branches of winter make it easier to see the birds active in your garden. You might spot a blackcap hopping among shrubs looking for berries. They are traditionally summer visitors, but are now over-wintering as well.

Encouraging robins

Robins are one of the first species to start singing in earnest, with the males marking out their territories in readiness for the coming breeding season. They are also fiercely territorial, and tend to drive away any rivals from their chosen patch. In contrast, other species, such as finches are much more gregarious and will happily feed together in a flock.

If you want to encourage a robin to breed in your garden try putting up an open-fronted nest box. You will need to protect it with chicken-wire to stop cats climbing in.

Planting in winter

You can plant trees, shrubs or even a mixed shrub hedgerow to provide berries for birds any time in the winter, provided the ground isn't frozen or waterlogged. If you live in the north, or in an exposed location, the best time is autumn or early spring.

Buying plants in pots is expensive, and if you are planting a hedge, you can buy bare-rooted plants. Trees and shrubs also come as balled or root-wrapped plants, where their roots are wrapped in a fabric, such as hessian. These should be planted out as soon as you buy them.

Another way of saving money is to grow shrubs from cuttings. You can also divide perennials. Any established flowers that come back year after year, such as asters and sedums, can be lifted out of the ground and split carefully into two or three smaller plants before replanting.

You can enjoy scent in the garden even in December and January with shrubs such as Viburnum x bodnantense and Lonicera fragrantissima. Christmas box (Sarcococca hookeriana) is an evergreen shrub that will tolerate dense shade, while producing wonderful winter scent.

Jobs for this month

  • Plant trees, hedges, and shrubs but only in milder weather
  • Plan and dig new borders and beds
  • Plant a rugosa rose to provide hips next year
  • Prune later flowering shrubs if they have become untidy 
  • Prune apple trees
  • Plant ground cover perennials and winter flowering pansies to fill gaps in the border in milder weather
  • Mend and replace fences, arches and other garden structures
  • Tidy up greenhouses, but be careful of any hibernating creatures 
  • Protect new seedlings and cuttings with bubble wrap
  • Bring tender plants inside when the weather starts getting cold
  • Ensure climbing plants are well tied in to survive winter gales
  • Winter dig the vegetable plot  

How you can help

Snow bunting Plectrophenax nivalis, male perched on snow mound, Cairngorms National Park, Scotland

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