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If you want vegetables to plant in December, you’re sure to be inspired with our top picks. You might be thinking there’s little to do except keep tabs on Brussels sprout harvests – but take it from us, there’s plenty to keep you busy! And since this is the season of goodwill, we’ve compiled the must-grow veggies you need to focus on.
Even on the shortest day of the year (21st December), planting traditions ensure the finest harvests in coming months. Winter sowing means you can enjoy a succession of harvests from the same crops. Indoor sowings made with heated propagators accelerate germination for some, while others thrive in cool conditions, unheated greenhouses and cold frames. Make the most of natural light, create more with grow lamps – and even grow some crops without any light at all.
This is such an exciting time for our kitchen garden ideas as we look ahead to longer days and the new calendar year – so make the most of these weeks to get a head start on key crops whilst filling up on nutritious treats. From pink oyster mushrooms to undercover greens that provide nourishment and variety in the heart of winter, our vegetables to plant in December give you ample plate and palate pleasers.
Be inspired with the top vegetables to plant in December
Look no further if you need the key vegetables to plant in December. Whether you’re after quick croppers, bulky bulbs or interesting new colors, this must-grow winter guide is sure to inspire.
1. Wild rocket
Snappy, peppery and resilient, if there’s one leafy plant guaranteed to be the life and soul of the salad bar this winter, it’s wild rocket (arugula). As a cut-and-come-again cropper, it has a short life but makes the most of it and crams in a belly-full of flavor. Our recommendation is ‘Dragon’s Tongue’, a feisty purple and green rocket that grows well in winter and is loaded with potassium and vitamin C.
If you want quick returns to keep you fed in these chilly days, wild rocket delivers – and it doesn’t skimp on heat! Sow batches in an unheated greenhouse or a cloche every two weeks, or keep on a windowsill for bursts of continuous growth. Knowing how to create a herb garden means you can grow rocket and other herbs together in pots. Growing in shallow containers allows you to cultivate clumps in successive harvests, picking a few leaves from each plant when needed.
Fans of companion planting should try growing with spinach and mustard leaves for a punchy mixed salad. Younger leaves are milder and more delicate, while older leaves will be hotter. You can also eat flower buds and shoots, but pinching them out will prolong cropping.
2. Elephant garlic
They say an elephant never forgets. Well, do remember elephant garlic in your must-have vegetables to plant in December. Also called wild leek (Allium ampeloprasum), this garlic develops gargantuan bulbs. As Chris Bonnett of Gardening Express (opens in new tab) notes, if soil is moist and free draining, these chunky croppers appreciate a winter planting. Plant in situ, giving each one an 8in (20cm) space on all sides – or start under a cold frame.
Big on character but gentle on the tongue, elephant garlic is unfussy about wet winters – as long as you avoid waterlogging. If your soil holds water, add sand to the planting hole and top with fine compost to assist with drainage and keep your elephants happy. Garlic benefits from this period of dormancy, and traditionally gardeners are encouraged to plant on the shortest day of the year (21 December).
The planted clove swells to a monobulb, but plant now for a long season and this will split into more. This garlic grows flower spikes that reach 1.5m tall. When learning how to grow garlic, remember to eat the stems (scapes) so energy is directed towards developing these gorgeous garden whoppers, then lift in June. And don't forget about including companion plants for garlic in your plot so you are rewarded with a massive bounty.
3. Curled parsley
Once dismissed as a papery garnish, curled leaf parsley is enjoying a gardening Renaissance, thanks to its unique piquancy and robust growing habit. Although seeds take a little while longer to germinate in winter (four-six weeks), it is one of the best vegetables to plant in December, as it thrives in the cool shelter of a cloche as well as potted on in a warm greenhouse or windowsill.
Anyone looking to find out how to grow parsley will find this plant low-maintenance and winter-hardy, as well as being a rich source of iron and vitamin C. Great curled leaf varieties to try include tightly packed ‘Champion Moss Curled’; lovely large ‘Krausa’; and pleasantly tactile crimped types such as ‘Extra Triple Curled’, ‘Frisca’ and ‘Aphrodite’. Keep compost moist while growing, and ensure your parsley receives at least six hours of sunlight per day so it grows well.
This pretty and fragrant edible plant is fine being transplanted into generous modules or bigger pots when the plants are large enough to handle. If you choose to move them out in summer, curled leaf parsley is one of the best companion plants for carrots and can also grow happily with garlic and onions.
4. Chicory and chicons
This entry into our top vegetables to grow in December offers a generous two-for-one offer! Grow chicory to eat over the coming weeks as a quick leafy treat – or let it develop in the ground and then make a delicacy known as ‘chicons’. Leaving the plant to build up a long tap root, you use that root in December to sprout torpedo-shaped chicons using a technique known as ‘forcing’. Intrigued? You should be!
Sown in December on heat mats under glass, varieties such as ‘Palla Rossa’ and ‘Sugar Loaf’ make a snappy, flavorsome cut-and-come-again option. As Amateur Gardening’s Lucy Chamberlain points out: ‘Just give them ample light by placing them on a bright windowsill or on greenhouse staging.’ But if you’re feeling like developing a variety for forcing over winter, we recommend ‘Witloof’ or ‘Witloof Zoom’.
Grown in raised garden beds in warmer months, the thick tap roots that develop can be forced the following December. Cover with a forcing jar or bucket, or place roots in sandy compost in large pots and leave in a dark place. This coaxes them into early growth, resulting in chicons; a crisp, creamy delicacy that can be enjoyed raw with citrus fruits or braised in white wine and thyme.
5. Sea kale
You might not fancy the thought of eating ‘sea-colewort’ or ‘scurvy grass’. But trust us, the sea cabbage (or sea kale) is well worth including in your vegetables to plant in December. Sea kale (Crambe maritima) is both a pretty ornamental and a unique edible – and just like chicory, it presents you with the chance to force shoots into early growth from root cuttings for an ocean-soaked delicacy.
If you don’t have sea kale, start some indoors. A variety like ‘Lily White’ is ideal. When they are ready to transplant, grow out in slightly alkaline soil, full sun or partial shade. Like all of the best coastal plants, it is happy in wind, rain and salt spray, and is drought-tolerant and frost-hardy. Once your plant is a couple of years old, it is ready for forcing in December.
Pack root cuttings in big containers of sand or soil in the dark, or cover with a black bucket or rhubarb forcer (you can force rhubarb in the same way – find out how to grow rhubarb for more tips). In five weeks, these maritime marvels will be delicious raw or steamed with butter. Their succulent shoots with purple tips are likened to an oceanic asparagus!
Don’t let anyone tell you cress is boring: it’s a veritable dynamo of vitamins and minerals such as iron and calcium. The best thing about cress (Lepidium sativum) is how easy it is to grow it. As Amateur Gardening’s organic veg expert Bob Flowerdew says: ‘You can sow cress in shallow trays with moist paper towels and grow in a windowsill: the perfect accompaniment for all those turkey sandwiches!’
Its distinctive signature is summed up in its other names: peppergrass, pepperwort and pepper cress. You can grow common and watercress varieties, and curled, frilly types. It’s also easy to grow these punchy microgreens in pots in a greenhouse or cold frame. Just keep cress growing in moist conditions, whether on paper or in seed compost. Boost moisture by covering seeds with cling film: germination takes place in 48 hours, and you can harvest within a week.
Because it’s quick-growing, cress is an ideal choice for interplanting with tomato seedlings. It also works well as a companion plant for herbs such as chive and mint. Our guide on how to grow mint will show you how to add another dimension of fresh flavor to your winter salads.
7. Globe onions
If you’re learning how to grow onions and want to cultivate some impressively sized ones, start off some globe (or exhibition) onions pronto. Traditionally, exhibition onions are sown on Boxing Day, but it’s fine as long as you start this month so they can make the most of the longer growing period.
Great globe onions to try for big and beautiful specimens include the aptly named ‘Exhibition’, ‘Globo’ and ‘Ailsa Craig’ (a British heirloom variety from Suttons (opens in new tab)). Sow under glass at 65-70°F (18-21°C), using seed compost in module trays. Transplant outside in spring into a raised bed when seedlings are pencil-thick. You can also use a cold frame if they can be kept frost-free and well-ventilated, says Chris Bonnett. With fertile, well-drained soil and nitrogen feed, globes as heavy as 6lbs are possible.
If you’re keen to add some prize-winning onion rings to the best BBQ, these massive globes certainly hold their own in chargrilled dishes. Plus, they add mouth-watering crunch and sweetness to salads and sandwiches.
8. Purple asparagus
Homegrown asparagus is a luxury we can all enjoy – and winter is your time to plant crowns in light, well-drained soil. There’s something so indulgent about knowing how to grow asparagus, so we couldn’t resist including them in our rundown of vegetables to plant in December. But while you may picture classic green spears with tinted tips, seared and dripping in butter, there is another option. Purple asparagus is nuttier, and also sweeter, with 20 per cent more sugar in its stalks.
Although the fluffy foliage is usually green, the spears are distinguished by intense violet hues and plumper tips. They are also less fibrous (so more tender) than other types and loaded with antioxidants. Have we convinced you yet? Mouth-watering beauties include: ‘Pacific Purple’, a two-tone crop; crunchy ‘Burgundine’, an easy-going hybrid; and ‘Purple Passion’, cold-hardy with tinted fronds as well as crops.
Planted now during dormancy, they have time to settle before the growing season begins in earnest. It takes three years for plants to fully establish, but with the right space and sunshine, these purple beauties are well worth the wait. Just remember after harvesting to give the ground a good mulching and let plants get their beauty sleep, so those succulent spears rise year after year.
9. Lamb’s lettuce
Rapunzel, Mache, Valentin: the dreamy names associated with these glossy spoon-shaped leaves indicates a delicate crop, but make no mistake. Lamb’s lettuce (Valerianella locusta) is a robust winter-hardy stalwart, and one of our top picks for vegetables to plant in December.
Also known as corn salad, this fresh nutty leaf crop is capable of high yields – the Louviers types, in particular, are perfect for winter growing. Its soft, distinctive lobes are a seasonal salad staple, so if you’re growing lettuce in winter it perfectly offsets tangy crops like mustard and rocket.
Lamb’s lettuce is great to grow this month, as it prefers cool, moist conditions. As long as there’s sun, it’s fine starting this salad green off in shallow trays in a cold frame or unheated greenhouse; growing in pots under glass or on a windowsill is also possible. Cloches can help speed growth. This is a classic cut-and-come-again (abundant, easy, nutritious), so sow densely and repeat every two weeks. Cut while young and lush, and use sharp scissors so you don’t damage the main stem.
Tasty corn salad varieties to try include: mildew-tolerant ‘Elan’ and ‘Favor’; ‘Vit’ for vigorous baby leaves; and ‘Dark Green Fully Hearted’ (Louviers) for its dainty but frost-hardy oval leaves.
10. Pink oyster mushrooms
Do not adjust your screens, folks: these coral-colored fungi really are as vibrant as they look. Those who don’t know how to grow mushrooms would be right in thinking you’re already spoiled for choice, but pink oysters are especially well-suited to indoor growing this month. Native to tropical climes, they thrive in temperatures between 64°F and 80°F (18°C and 27°C). They also grow quickly, producing fruits in three weeks, so they should definitely be on your shortlist of vegetables to plant in December.
These vigorous, heavy-yielding edibles have a firm texture and a meaty quality. Rich in flavor, the pink oyster (Pleurotus djamor) is a striking addition to stir-fries and soups, and can be cut and fried for a convincing bacon substitute. Pink oysters are not fussy and will grow on a range of substrates: straw, sawdust blocks, paper, hardwood and coffee grounds. We recommend straw for your first attempts.
Moisture and humidity are key to success. Spray the walls of the greenhouse or surrounding interior twice a day to help with this. Harvest before caps turn up. Pinks are prolific bloomers, so a plentiful harvest is assured if they are treated well.
What else can I do on the plot in December?
- Now is the time to protect all potted exotic fruits. Prevent waterlogging by standing outdoor pots on pot feet. If you are growing fruit in pots you should also make sure that your exotics are moved to a frost-free place now. A greenhouse or conservatory is ideal, but a shed or garage will suffice. If your pots are too large to move, cloak them in a tent of horticultural fleece and cap the top with bubble wrap.
- Create bean trenches: if you want to know how to grow runner beans that crop from July to November, they need care from the roots up. To help beans develop an extensive system once planted, start now with the planting bed. Lucy Chamberlain recommends digging a trench 10-12in (25-30cm) deep and (for a row) 3ft/90cm wide and 8ft/2.4m long, or (for a circle) 4ft/1.2m wide. Tip well-rotted compost into the base and cover with soil.
- Continue checking stored apples and pears. If any are on the turn, don’t throw them on the compost heap: put fruit spoils to good use. Ground-feeding birds like blackbirds and song thrushes will love to feed on these spoils – and in the depths of winter, they might attract redwings and fieldfares, says Lucy. So as well as knowing how to make bird feeders, make sure any spoils get picked up by your feathered friends.
- For those with allotments and plots, check your soil is in top condition. Understanding about soil types is a good starting point, then you can take steps to boost soil health. Using a pH meter or kit, measure your plot’s pH, adding lime or sulphur chips and ericaceous compost to adjust levels to suit your crops. Both heavy clay and light sandy soils also benefit from a layer of garden compost or well-rotted manure.
- Keep your redcurrant bushes dripping in berries with some winter pruning. Assess the plant for dead or diseased growth. Grab your best secateurs and remove this as a priority. Then identify the fruit buds: the tiny cone-shaped buds that stick out at right angles to the main stems. Your pruning objective is to keep a good amount of stems bearing these buds. Remove congested growth and shorten over-long new growth.