December 20th is the official beginning of winter. For most of the norther hemisphere, this means a round of cold weather, shorter days and generally a slow garden. Here are some tips for what you can do in the garden in December.
We are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites. We are also affiliates for others and only endorse products we support. You can read more about our disclosure policy here.
Garden tasks for December
While most of the garden might be winding down, there is still some you can do in December. Although not necessarily, for those of us, including myself, that live in zones 8 and above you can continue to grow throughout the year. You can see more on gardening in the south here.
However, no matter where you live, there are a few things you can do this December to help your garden blossom in the spring. December 21st is the beginning of winter. This is the perfect time to shut down if you are in the northern areas that will soon experience heavy snows, limited daytime hours.
Early in December, hopefully before any really thick permanent snows, you can continue to gather leaves. In fact, of the deciduous trees of North America, drop leaves around early to mid December. I leave the leaves that fall on the garden or yard. I rake up and compost all the leaves that fall on the cement driveway or sidewalk.
It will be harder in the winter as temperatures drop but you can continue to compost kitchen scraps and other household items. These will take longer to decompose in the cold. It might be able to heat up well with a solid layer of snow or other cover. December is a time to top off your compost pile and rotate before the big heavy snows or cold.
The best time to prune your trees is usually in the winter. Generally around December and January is a good goal. For deciduous fruit tree, this is definitely the best time because they have lost their leaves.
There are different methods of pruning for different plants. Some plants need aggressive pruning while others just need a light maintenance prune. You definitely need a few tools for this such as pruning shears, hand saw, loppers and scissors depending on the trees and shrubs you are going to cut back. For basics on pruning, see Joe Gardener’s post on Pruning 101.
If you live in zones 7 and below, you should plant your perrenials earlier, generally in November. However, if you live in 8 and higher you may have to wait for the heat to subside and plant in December. If you are interested in growing perennials for food such as berry bushes, grape vines and most fruit trees (except citrus and other evergreen fruit trees), November and December are the best times because the tree is dormant and will focus on root growth.
This applies to blueberries, blackberries, grape vines, hardy kiwi, muscadine, peach trees, plum trees, apple, pear, cherry and many more. You should aim for this time for them to go into the ground. Look up the general instructions for fertilizing, planting and protecting new saplings going into the harsh of winter in January and February.
Mulch has many different benefits in the garden. From keeping the soil warm, to providing nutrients through the winter to keep the bed clear of weeds/pests, you may want to lay down mulch in December.
Before snow settles in completely or before the ground gets too frozen, go head and much. Pick a good mulch that will protect the soil as well as break down over the winter. There are lots of different kinds and they each have benefits and drawbacks. Mulch includes composted manure, hay, pine straw, wood chips, fallen leaves, bark, sawdust and lawn clippings.
Sow cool weather crops
No matter what zone you live in, there are several species of plants that can be planted before the worst of winter that will stay dormant and pop up in the spring. These include the brassicas, aliums, some flowers such as foxgloves, cosmos, etc. This is a technique called overwinter sowing.
The concept is pretty old and is used all over the world. The idea is that the seeds are planted knowing they will be covered in cold throughout the winter. These seeds go dormant throughout the winter and will be ready to grow as soon as thaw.
Its a riskier technique that can lead to failure because of late first frosts. This is definitely a solid way to keep the seeds in ground you know will do best as soon as spring arrives and don’t mind a little cold in the beginning.
Don’t clean up
One of the most interesting pieces of advice is to not clean up your dead or dying garden. This is a bit controversial because it can be unpleasant to look at all the dead and decaying material around. But before you do clean up, consider what your garden would appreciate from all the detritus.
The biggest reason is not to clean up is beneficial insects. There are lots of butterflies, ladybugs, and native bees rely on some of the flowers, decaying fruits, general break down to feed them through the winter. I saw bumble bees and mason bees getting pollen from flowers right through to the beginning of December. Leaving the garden to decay on its own also helps the predatory insects like praying mantis.
Another reason is to allow for different things in the garden to go to seed. During this time, I let my loofahs stay on the vine and even freeze. I cut off one end to facilitate drying out and getting the seeds. This is really the best way to process them if they are not able to dry prior to December.
Shop and Plan Spring Garden
Usually starting in December seed catalog companies begin to send out catalogues for people to start planning. I have some great seed catalogs for you to check out HERE.
Also you might want a plan. If you plan to add raised beds, containers, etc. now is the time to plan and implement those, especially if you want them to be ready as soon as the last frost. You can find out how I plan for my garden.
What tasks do you try to do in December?
Pin for later: