Garden and grounds maintenance throughout the year.


  1. Winter frost

    As we approach the shortest day of the year in December you will need work to keep you warm outside, such as digging and tree pruning. Check your winter protection and if you have a greenhouse make sure the heater is working. Hopefully there are not too many jobs left to do this year so you will have time for some fireside garden planning.


Sowing and planting

seed tray under glassAlpines can be sown from seed this month. They need a period of cold to break the seed dormancy. A sheet of glass can be positioned over the sown area to protect it from excessive wet. Alternatively, the seeds can be stratified in the fridge, for sowing next spring.

over-wintering ladybirdsCutting back, pruning and dividing

Continue to cut back faded herbaceous perennials and add them to the compost heap or alternatively leave these until spring so that they can be used as winter homes for insects.

In mild areas, and during dry spells, you can still lift and divide herbaceous perennials. This will increase stocks, and revive tired or poorly flowering clumps.

Papaver orientale 'Beauty Queen'Propagation

Root cuttings can be taken from now. Papaver (perennial poppies), Verbascum (mullein) and Phlox are suitable examples.

Helleborus nigerGeneral maintenance

Helleborus niger (Christmas rose) blooms can look unsightly when splashed with muddy raindrops. Bark chip mulch will reduce this splashing effect, and cloches can always be used where practical.

Clear up weedy beds ready for spring mulching. Order bulky organic matter (e.g. well-rotted farmyard manure or mushroom compost) for use as a soil improver or mulch.

Protect for the winter

Check on tender plants outdoors to ensure winter protection is still in place, especially after storms. Raise patio containers onto feet or bricks to avoid them sitting in the winter wet.

Large tubs that are at risk of cracking in the frost should be covered with bubblewrap, hessian or fleece, to insulate them over the winter. Tender plants and pots can be brought into the greenhouse or conservatory if not done so already. Even in mild areas, the winter usually gets much harder after December.

Apply a mulch to protect plants that are borderline hardy.

Tidying up

Finish the autumn tidy-up of leaves from beds and borders if you have not already done so. It is especially important to clear leaves and debris from alpines, as they will die off if covered in damp for any length of time. Bare patches can be covered with gritty compost to encourage the re-growth of surrounding clumps into that area.

Keep tubs and containers tidy too, cutting back and removing debris regularly. They can be mulched with compost.

diggingPlanning ahead

Improve the drainage of heavy clay soils by working in plenty of bulky organic matter, such as composted bark.

Order seed catalogues, if you have not done so already, to select next year’s bedding and perennial choices. You will have more chance of finding all your choices in stock if you order well before the spring.

Members can order seed from the RHS Seed Scheme between 1 November and 31 March.

pansy leaf spotPest and disease watch

Look out for Botrytis (grey mould) on spent herbaceous plants, and remove affected growth. Otherwise there is a risk that fungal problems could spread to healthy plants.

Hellebores can be at risk of diseases such as hellebore leaf spot.

Watch out for downy mildew and leaf spot on winter pansies.

Sometimes daffodils can come up very early, even before Christmas. Enjoy them, but be aware that they too can succumb to fungal problems, such as narcissus leaf scorch.

Look out for crown rot and brown rots (sclerotinia) on died down perennials, especially if you are on a clay or poorly drained soil.

Antirrhinum rust and delphinium black blotch, as well as sclerotinia, will lay dormant and re-infect plants when they come up the following year. It may be necessary to replant new specimens in another place if the problem is severe.

Be aware that many diseases will overwinter in the soil, or on plant debris.


frosty lawns in Seven Acres at WisleyWinter repair and maintenance

Avoid walking on lawns on frosty mornings. It can damage the grass and often leads to brown footprint-shaped marks.

Continue to remove fallen leaves from lawns before they block out light and moisture to the grass.

Grass will continue to grow in temperatures above 5°C (41°F), so if the weather remains mild it may be necessary to use the mower to keep the lawn in trim. Ensure the cut is 3-5mm higher than during the summer to prevent turf stress. On average, this means a cutting height of around 2-4cm (1-1.5in) for a utility lawn.

Repair damaged lawn edges or patches with turves cut from other areas of the garden. Re-cut all lawn edges to crisp up the appearance of the garden, and save work next season.

waterlogging in the lawnToo much water

Watch your lawn for signs of waterlogging, as the weather gets wetter. You may be able to remedy this with some maintenance - either now, next spring, or the following autumn.

If your lawn suffers dieback from treading during the wet, muddy season, then you may wish to lay stepping-stones through it to allow easy access across it without causing damage. Stones can be laid at a low enough level to avoid interference with mowing.

Fusarium patch (snow mould) may be a problem in wet weather, particularly on overfed and lush lawns that have been left a bit too long.

Algae can be a problem on lawns where there is poor drainage, excessive shade, or under the drip-line of trees.