December Lawn & Garden To-Do List
By: Julie Day
I Heard a Bird Sing
I heard a bird sing
In the dark of December,
A magical thing,
And sweet to remember:
“We are nearer to Spring
Than we were in September,”
I heard a bird sing
In the dark of December.
– Oliver Herford
In December, many of us turn our attention to the holidays, to lights and wreaths and cheerful displays that will chase away the darkness of the short, cold days. Late December marks the winter solstice, the longest night of the year, and we officially turn the corner into the season of winter.
Gardeners begin to find some rest in December, and if you’re like me, the fireplace beckons more loudly than the yard. Nonetheless, on sunny days it’s good to get outdoors and to take care of a few gardening chores during the month.
Don’t prune flower buds off of early bloomers like camellias!
Shrubs and Trees
- In zones 8 and higher, protect your tender citrus trees and ornamental shrubs from a surprise frost by covering them with burlap or other fabric. Drape the fabric over wooden stakes or a simple frame to keep it from coming in contact with the leaves of the plant. Remove the covering as soon as the weather warms.
- Prune dormant trees and shrubs, and winter-flowering shrubs after they finish blooming.
- Take cuttings to root indoors.
- In zones 7 and warmer, apply dormant spray to take care of overwintering insect eggs.
- In zones 9 and warmer, you can plant bare-root trees and shrubs, roses, and fruit trees.
- If you planted new trees this fall, inspect the stakes and guy wires to make sure they’re still straight and firm.
- Firmly stake leggy shrubs and saplings to prevent breakage in winter weather.
- Gently remove snow from boughs only if it is heavy enough to threaten breakage – otherwise leave it for insulation. Do not attempt to remove ice.
- Water plants if there has been insufficient rain, or if your plants are protected under eaves or larger trees.
Plant seeds indoors for a head start this spring.
Perennials and Bulbs
- If you’ve been chilling bulbs for winter forcing, they can be brought out once they have plenty of roots and have been chilled for 2-4 months.
- Continue planting spring bulbs as long as the ground isn’t frozen.
- Plant gift bulbs—such as amaryllis and paperwhites—in containers.
- Inspect your stored tender bulbs, and remove any rotten or diseased ones. If they are looking dry or wrinkled, mist the storage medium with a little water.
- Start seeds indoors in a warm window or under a grow light.
Annuals and Containers
- Watch out for pot breakage due to freezing! Keep container plants in protected areas, and move empty pots into storage.
- Add some color and cheer to your containers by tucking in evergreen cuttings or berries.
- Don’t forget to water your containers.
- Even cool-season grasses are going dormant by now. Keep leaves picked up, or mulch some into the lawn. Minimize the stress on your lawn by raking gently.
- Avoid walking or driving on frozen grass.
Grape vine cuttings make nice wreaths and decorations.
Fruits and Vegetables
- Prune grape vines.
- In cold climates, winterize blackberry and raspberry canes by bundling the canes, bending them over to the ground, and covering with soil or mulch.
- Zones 8 and warmer can enjoy planting and tending winter vegetables such as spinach, broccoli, cabbage, and lettuce.
- Prepare beds for planting in the spring.
- Ah, something green to focus on in the winter! Make sure your plants are out of drafts and in the brightest spot possible.
- Increase humidity by sitting groups of plants on trays of pebbles. Add water to the pebbles (but not deep enough to soak into the roots of the plant).
- If, back in September, you started your Christmas cactus and poinsettias on a regime of 14 hours of darkness per day, you can bring them out now into a bright spot. They should be kept relatively cool and away from heat sources and drafts. Don’t over water.
- Keep houseplants free of dust. Wipe glossy-leaved plants gently with a sponge, and lightly rinse other plants in the sink or tub with a fine spray of water.
- Reduce fertilization of houseplants.
- If you receive plants as gifts, poke holes in the gift foil and sit on a tray to allow for drainage.
Cleanup and Maintenance
- Continue adding mulch to trees, shrubs, and planting beds.
- If the ground does not freeze in your climate, you can address drainage issues by burying drainage pipes, routing downspouts, and installing French drains. The winter landscape often makes it easier to spot drainage issues.
- Cold wind and rain can wreak havoc on garden tools. Bring them indoors and be sure to clean and oil them thoroughly.
- Winterize all lawn and garden equipment according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
- If you’ve never ordered plants or seeds before, check out some garden catalogs. Once you see how many beautiful plants are out there, you’ll be hooked!
- Keep bird feeders filled, and make sure the feed doesn’t get moldy or frozen.
- Make sure your garden hoses are drained and put away, and that outdoor faucets are covered and insulated.
- Be careful when installing holiday decorations and lights! Make sure lights and cords are waterproof and approved for exterior use. Also make sure they are firmly secured and out of the way of foot traffic.