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Your gardening calendar: Top tasks for December!

Our monthly calendar guides focus on what we do: Wildflowers, edible crops and wildlife. Here, we'll take you step-by-step through the most important sowing, growing and nature-friendly tasks for December.

Sowing and growing wildflowers

Buy your wildflower seeds for spring sowing

It might seem a little early, but December is a good time to source wildflower seeds ready for sowing in the spring.

The year's harvest has been completed (which means many of the seed mixes on sale will be fresh) and if you buy now, you can avoid the 'spring rush' when some wildflower species may sell out.

Sowing and growing fruit, vegetables and herbs

Prune fruit trees and shrubs

Free-standing apple and pear trees should both be pruned during the winter, between leaf fall and bud burst when they're fully dormant.

This RHS guide to pruning apple and pear trees has all the info you need to get started.

Just remember that plum trees *shouldn't* be pruned in the winter! To avoid the spread of silver leaf disease, they should instead be tackled in early spring or mid-summer.

Harvest your Christmas veg

If you're already growing parsnips, sprouts, leeks or winter cabbage, pick them in December for the Christmas dinner table.

Parsnips really do taste sweeter once they've been exposed to frost - so wait for one to hit if possible.

And when you're getting your parsnips up, dig around and under each one thoroughly first. Just pulling risks breakage and leaving half a parsnip in the ground.

You can also continue to plant soft fruit bushes and rhubarb crowns during December - check out our November calendar guide for more on this.

Prepare your beds for spring

December is the perfect time to prepare planting beds for the spring. Dig over the soil, remove weeds and stones, and dig in manure.

Doing this now (rather than just before you sow spring seeds) allows that manure to fully rot down over winter, creating a really good growing environment.

Give your tools some love

These days, there are so many places you can buy cheap tools and single-use plastic items for the garden. While they cost less in the short-term, this throwaway culture is pretty terrible for the environment.

Here at Seeds of Hope Scotland, we try to focus on sustainability and reuse whenever possible. It's much better to maintain and repair tools if you can, and winter is a good time to get everything sorted.

Wire wool is great for removing rust, and a whetstone can used to sharpen the edges of hoes and the dull blades of shears.

Wooden tool handles should be scrubbed clean of dirt, dried and then oiled to protect them from water ingress. We use linseed oil, but several other oils (including coconut and walnut) seem to work just fine too.

Lots of folk use permanent marker pens to write species names on plastic plant labels. These can easily be reused too - just use nail varnish remover on a piece of kitchen towel to wipe the old name away!

This guide from Gardens Illustrated has lots more useful tool maintenance tips.

Top tips to help wildlife

Back in November, we talked about feeding the garden birds over winter, building a log pile to provide shelter for mammals, amphibians and insects, and planting a bare root native hedgerow. All these tasks can still be completed in December.

Here are some more wildlife-friendly tips for winter:

Put up nest boxes

December is a good time to put up nest boxes. They'll give small birds another spot to shelter on cold winter nights, and gets everything in place in good time for the spring nesting season.

Different birds need nest boxes with different types of openings - for example open-fronted for robins, and small, round entrance holes for tits.

We've seen some really badly-made nest boxes on sale (really long screws poking right inside the box, for example!) so we recommend either buying one from a conservation charity/specialist supplier, or making your own.

This RSPB guide shows you both how to make your own box, and where to put it up.

Make a Christmas wreath for the birds

This is a great activity for families at Christmas, doesn't cost much, and is much more environmentally-friendly than a shop-bought plastic wreath.

The Wildlife Trusts has put together this step-by-step guide to creating a Christmas food wreath for your garden birds.

Take steps to stop your birdbath freezing

You may think birds wouldn't fancy a dip in icy weather - but winter bathing is actually really important for their health. That's because it helps them keep their feathers clean and in good condition, allowing them to act as an effective insulating layer against the cold.

To prevent your bird bath from freezing, try floating a light ball (for example a ping pong ball) on the surface. The movement of the ball may be enough to keep a layer of ice forming.

If this doesn't work, you can try pouring hot water into the bath to melt the ice. Don't use boiling water though, as this may crack ceramic baths and melt plastic ones!

Leave your lawn alone

If you have an overgrown lawn or meadow area, please resist the temptation to mow or strim it during the winter.

Long grass makes the perfect hibernation spot for overwintering insects like ladybirds.

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