The holiday season is here, and we’re feeling winter’s tentacles. As December arrives, it brings the start of winter, the shortest day of the year, and some of the coldest weather. It’s essential to bundle up and take measures to stay warm.
Despite the chilly weather, there’s still plenty to do in the garden. Ensure your plants and crops are protected, check that your greenhouse heaters are functioning correctly, and plan for next year’s growing season.
Before the ground freezes, dig the planting hole for your real Christmas tree. Keep the backfill soil and the planting hole dry and unfrozen by mulching and covering them. When you acquire the tree, keep it outside until the last minute in a cool, shaded, windless location, and mulch the roots to minimize cold harm.
Keep the Christmas tree’s roots wet to prevent moisture loss, and spray the needles with an antiperspirant. Place the tree in the coolest room in your house. Keep the tree indoors for a week before planting it outside.
Each month’s Jobs-to-Do article has a standard format, and this one is no different:
- Garden preparation jobs to do.
- Garden maintenance jobs.
- Vegetable gardening jobs to do.
- Fruit garden jobs to do.
- Indoor and container gardening projects.
- Ornamental garden jobs to do.
- A summary of what gardeners should focus on.
Garden Preparation Jobs for December
Despite the frightful weather outside, now is a great time to plan for the following year. Typically, December and January are the months for ordering seeds. Take some time to sit down with seed catalogs and carefully plan what you want to grow.
The holiday season can be a busy and overwhelming time, especially if you are in a period of recovery. However, spending time in the garden can be a great way to relieve stress if you have a plan of action.
Each month brings its own unique set of tasks and challenges, so it is essential to prioritize and tackle them one at a time. By consistently completing these monthly tasks, you can improve your decision-making skills and keep your garden beautiful all year.
Garden Maintenance Jobs for December
Your hard work throughout the year has paid off! You’ve had a great spring, summer, and autumn season.
Now that winter is upon us, it’s time to focus on a few maintenance tasks to keep your outdoor space in excellent condition for next year. We recommend completing these tasks before moving on to other gardening jobs for the month.
Firstly, start ordering your summer-flowering bulbs, such as lilies and gladioli. Remember to put out fresh water for birds every day during frosty weather. Take advantage of the winter season and clear your shed, organize your tools, and keep them clean.
It’s also the perfect time to scoop fallen leaves and debris from the pond to allow any pondlife to escape. Add the debris to the compost bin. For worms to take down into the soil, order well-rotted manure or mushroom compost and dig it in over winter.
If you have a Christmas tree, stand it in a bucket of water in a sheltered spot outdoors until it’s time to bring it indoors. Ensure your tree ties and stakes are firm enough to withstand winter storms. When blackcurrants are dormant, prune them and remove about a quarter of the old stems.
Lastly, work off those Christmas excesses by digging over bare areas of ground and incorporating garden compost. Bring all watering equipment indoors, including hoses, so they don’t freeze and split.
For optimal growth, it’s essential to maintain a clean and well-lit growing space that is kept warm. By following these three steps, you can achieve better results than the weather outside allows. Here are some tips to help you time your growing efforts perfectly:
During shorter winter days, it’s best to move houseplants to a sunny windowsill to maximize the light they receive.
To extend indoor azaleas’ flowering period, regularly remove dead blooms, water them consistently, and keep them away from radiators that may be too warm.
For more blooms, water florists’ cyclamen from below is recommended to remove dead flowers regularly. Check greenhouse plants for pests, such as red spider mites, and treat them accordingly.
If you want to propagate summer dormant cacti, plant them in moist, loam-based compost and place them in a propagator or on a warm windowsill.
Now is the perfect time to prune greenhouse grapevines while they’re dormant. Pinch out the tips of autumn-sown sweet peas to encourage bushier growth.
Pot a clump of rhubarb for an early crop of sweet stems and place it under a significant bin. Lastly, planting hippeastrum (amaryllis) bulbs can give you spectacular flowers in about eight weeks.
To ensure healthy growth, it’s important to mulch the root zones of azaleas and rhododendrons properly. Organic materials such as oak leaves, shredded oak bark, or pine needles are recommended. Make a clean cut at the tree’s base for longer-lasting needles and submerge the trunk.
If you want holly trees to produce fruit, have a male tree nearby for pollination. Holly trees only bear fruit on female trees. Additionally, now is a great time to trim holly trees and use the clippings for Christmas decorations.
When the ground freezes, it’s beneficial to mulch bulbs, perennials, and other small plants to protect them from the winter weather.
Before storing power equipment for the winter, it’s essential to winterize it. This includes lubricating moving parts and changing the oil. Either empty the gasoline system or add a gas stabilizer to the tank. Additionally, clean and oil any garden hand equipment before storing it for the winter.
If rabbits are a concern for fruit trees, feeding them grain or alfalfa may help to prevent damage to the bark.
During the winter, it is essential to stop feeding and watering indoor plants to avoid uneven irrigation, which can cause edema. Damping the soil can also cause a fungus gnat infestation.
It is essential to check your yard for excess mulch, particularly around the base or trunk of your plants. This extra mulch can resemble a volcano and harm the roots of your plants, so it is better removed.
This will prevent insects, rodents, and diseases from being attracted to your plants. Additionally, mulch can be helpful after a harsh frost when temperatures drop below 20°F.
To prevent annual fungal leaf diseases, it is advised that you remove and dispose of the leaves of plants that are susceptible. These plants include roses, peonies, iris, daylilies, apples, and horse chestnuts.
For those of you with junipers, look out for bagworms and cedar-apple rust galls, which can be found on them and in arborvitae, spruce, crabapples, and oaks. It’s best to remove and dispose of them now.
As winter sets in, caring for indoor plants is essential by avoiding overfeeding and watering them. Overwatering can cause uneven irrigation, edema, and damp soil can attract fungus gnats.
Heavy snowfall can also cause damage to your trees and evergreens, so it’s recommended that you gently remove snow before it melts and refreezes, making removal more difficult. Letting the ice melt is also essential to prevent branches from becoming fragile and breaking.
In the middle of winter, removing diseased branches from apple, pear, pyracantha, and other rose family plants affected by fire blight is safe. If not removed during winter, wait until summer when the weather is dry.
If you’re storing dormant perennials in a garage or basement, keep an eye on the temperature and moisture levels to prevent the soil from freezing, drying out, or decaying.
Vegetable Gardening Jobs to Do in December
Additionally, some hardy vegetables can thrive in cold weather if planted now. To prevent fungal diseases, remove yellowed leaves from brassicas. Brussels sprouts should be tied to a cane for support and earthed up to prevent them from toppling over in strong winds.
Keep kale, winter cabbages, and other brassicas covered with netting to protect them from pigeons. To make harvesting parsnips easier, place straw around their base to prevent the soil from freezing.
Clearing old crops and debris from the veg plot is also important, but only healthy materials should be added to compost.
As mentioned earlier, December is a great time to plan next year’s crops and order seeds.
Fruit Garden Jobs to Do in December
In December, there may not be as much to do when it comes to growing fruits and vegetables, but that doesn’t mean there’s nothing at all. Taking care of existing crops and protecting them from the cold and pests is essential.
For rhubarb, lift and divide large clumps and replant the outer sections in soil enriched with well-rotted manure.
Tie new stems to support wires after weeding and mulching with compost in raspberry and blackberry beds.
Thornless blackberries such as “Loch Ness” are an excellent addition for easy pickings of large, sweet, juicy fruits. Winter pruning of large fruit trees can help control their shape and size and increase productivity.
To make the most of limited space, consider planting fruit trees trained as cordons, fans, or espaliers. Grapevines should be pruned by cutting back side branches to one or two buds from the main stem.
December Indoor and Container Gardening Projects
Bring your potted houseplants indoors after checking for any unwanted insects is essential during freezing temperatures. If you find any, treat them accordingly to avoid surprise guests.
It’s not a good idea to encourage growth during the winter when the days are shorter, so it’s best to reduce your fertilization rate by about half of what you used when the plants were growing outside.
Plant amaryllis or paperwhite narcissus in pots to have beautiful holiday blooms indoors. It takes 6-8 weeks for amaryllis to bloom after planting and around 4-6 weeks for paperwhites.
Now is a great time to propagate rhododendrons and camellias by taking cuttings or using the layering method. When watering houseplants, it’s best to use tepid water to prevent shocking the plants with cold tap water.
If you’ve recently purchased indoor plants, protect them during transport to avoid exposing them to frigid temperatures that could cause harm. Geraniums that overwinter require bright light and cold temperatures, so keep their soil as dry as possible.
Move houseplants away from frosty windows on cold nights to prevent chilling damage.
Ornamental Garden Jobs to Do in December
Winter Tree Care Jobs
Sunscald can affect trees when portions of the bark become elongated, sunken, dried, or cracked, usually on the south or southwest side of the tree. Young or newly planted trees with thin bark are most susceptible, as well as those that have been pruned or transplanted to a sunny location. Older trees are less likely to experience sunscald due to their thicker bark, which provides insulation.
Wrap your tree trunk with white guards to prevent sunscald. Use commercial tree wrap or plastic guards, not brown paper or black guards. Wrap newly planted trees for at least two winters and thin-barked species for five or more winters. Apply in the fall and remove in the spring after the last frost.
In winter, flower buds of deciduous trees and shrubs are most vulnerable to damage. To prevent dieback, place marginally hardy plants in protected areas, avoid pruning and overwatering vigorously growing trees and shrubs in late summer, and fertilize on sandy soil in spring and heavy soil in autumn after the leaves have fallen.
As winter sets in, the roots of trees and shrubs tend to stay active longer than their stems, branches, and buds. However, roots are less resilient than stems and can quickly die when exposed to temperatures ranging from 0 to 10°F (-18 to -12°C).
Despite such harsh conditions, these plants can survive since soil temperatures are usually higher than air temperatures, and the soil gradually cools down. It’s worth noting that the amount of moisture in soil plays a crucial role in determining how cold it gets – dry or sandy soils tend to be colder. To keep soil temperatures warm, it’s advisable to use mulch or snow cover as they act as insulators.
When planting new trees, cracks in the planting hole can let cold air seep into the root area, hindering root growth or even causing newly formed roots to die. It’s best to cover the roots of newly planted trees and shrubs with 3 to 4 inches of shredded wood mulch to prevent this.
When applying the mulch, create a “donut” shape by pulling the mulch away from the trunk about 6 inches. This helps prevent unintended roots from forming and potentially strangling the tree. If the fall season has been dry, water the area heavily before the ground freezes to reduce the risk of frost damage.
Additionally, check new plantings for any soil cracks and fill them with soil. During fall or spring, the repeated freezing and thawing of the soil can cause the soil to expand and contract, which can damage roots and cause shrubs and new plantings to be pushed out of the ground.
To prevent this, applying a 4- to 6-inch layer of mulch is recommended, which helps maintain consistent soil temperatures and prevents heaving.
December Lawn Care Jobs
When the lawn is frozen, it’s best to avoid any work on it. However, if there’s no frost in sight, it’s important to keep brushing off the leaves to prevent diseases from forming. In case of mild weather and active worms, continue removing their castings.
Additionally, cleaning and preparing your lawnmower and other tools and equipment for winter is essential. By staying on top of monthly responsibilities, you can stay ahead of the game, whether caring for a cool-season lawn for the first time or being a seasoned pro.
What Gardeners Should Focus on in December
Remember to care for our feathered friends by regularly cleaning and filling bird feeders and birdbaths. Your tools can also be your good friends, so maintain them by checking their condition for the next growing season.
Taking care of this task during the off-season will save you time during the busy growing season. Additionally, plan to winterize your irrigation setup to prepare for the colder months.
Draining and storing your garden water hoses is essential to prevent freezing damage. It’s also a good idea to consider using an insulated cover for your outdoor water spigot to avoid any potential damage to your water pipes.
It’s crucial to avoid leaving your water spigot exposed and undrained, as this can lead to severe problems, including broken water pipes inside walls. Keeping a garden journal can be incredibly helpful.
On inclement days, take some time to review what you’ve previously written and use your notes to plan your garden. If you have yet to keep a journal, consider purchasing one for the upcoming seasons.
Finally, if you’re growing vegetables this fall, take proper care to ensure a successful harvest.
If you want to prolong the harvest season of your delicate, cool-season veggies like broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, Swiss chard, lettuce, mustard, onions, radishes, and turnips, use cold frames or row covers.
Remember to shield the roots of your strawberries, blackberries, grapes, and blueberries with a new layer of mulch. Additionally, take some time to plan and purchase seeds for next year’s growing seasons by browsing seed catalogs and imagining your future bounty.