December is officially the first month of winter. It’s also an admittedly lean time in the garden, but the bright side is that there is an even leaner to-do list! Learn what December gardening chores you should be doing this month to ensure that your garden is ready to live it’s best life next spring.
December is cold and wet here on the farmstead, but not snowy. It’s both a blessing and a curse to live in a temperate rain forest. We rarely get snow or ice, but we trade that for what can seem like never-ending rain. Instead of frozen ground, we get mud. Instead of snow, we get mud. I guess it’s just the price I must pay for the privilege of starting my planting season outside in early March (if it’s not too muddy).
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In between rainstorms, Jasper and I are slowly working our way through putting the garden to bed for the year. We’ve been adding layers of newspaper and cardboard, and topping with poultry manure, compost and straw. We had to buy a truckload of manure/compost mix this year, since the chickens and ducks just don’t produce enough for our needs. Maybe when we add goats and pigs to the farm we’ll have enough in-house manure to spread without having to buy any. A girl can dream, right?
December Gardening Chores + Tasks List
Please keep in mind that these December gardening chores are examples of tasks I do in my northwest maritime garden (zone 8). Every garden is different, and you may need to adapt your chores based on climate, growing zone and conditions, among other things.
Please take what I do as inspiration for your own gardening tasks, and grow your own roots with it!
Here are the most important December gardening chores to get done before the month ends!
Maintenance and Clean Up
There’s really not a big to-do list this month. Mostly I just wander around and check to make sure all is in order. Despite writing these lists of tasks, I somehow always find empty pots or coils of hose lying about in the weather. Friends, make sure to do as I say; not as I do!
- Check your soil for pH levels and any nutrient deficiencies
- Spread wood ash throughout the garden
- Add mulch, such as straw or leaves, to any exposed soil
- Dig a trench where you’ll grow peas next season, and add your food scraps directly to it
- Look for drainage problems in your garden
- Cover faucets with insulated covers
- Turn the compost pile
- Drain your garden hoses and bring them inside so they don’t crack during cold weather
- Check and water plants in covered areas
- Make sure all clay pots are moved inside (cold weather will crack them)
- Cover garden beds with silage tarp (I use this kind) to kill weeds and warm soil
- Keep your woodpile stocked up and your ax sharpened
- Empty the gas from lawn mowers
Planting and Pruning
This is without a doubt a very quiet month for sowing and planting. However, if the ground where you live isn’t frozen solid or a muddy wet mess, there are still a few things you can plant out now.
Plant this month:
- Rhubarb sets
- Garlic cloves
- Landscape shrubs
- Bare-root trees (make sure to stake them so the wind doesn’t blow them over)
- Spring-flowering bulbs
Prune this month:
- Ever-bearing raspberries
- Marionberry canes
- Apple, pear and peach trees
Winter pruning can continue until it isn’t winter anymore. If it’s very cold and frozen where you are though, you might skip pruning for now. Use your best judgement!
If you live in a warmer or more temperate zone like I do, you might still have crops to harvest this month! Heck, even if it’s covered in snow where you live, you might have a row or two of especially hardy vegetables still out in the garden. Here are the cold-hardy plants you could still be harvesting this month.
Cold-tolerant plants // harvest as needed:
- Brussels sprouts
- Rutabagas and turnips
- Winter radishes
If more than a frost threatens, I would go ahead and cover your plants with cloches or fleece row covers (this is what I use), just to be on the safe side. Also, if you’re leaving carrots in the ground to harvest throughout the winter (I am this year!) give them a nice, thick mulch with straw to keep their tops from freezing.
Pests and Diseases
December is a great time to root out and prevent pests and diseases from taking hold in your garden.
- Check any remaining crops for yellow leaves and remove them
- Burn diseased and mildewed leaves, branches and foliage
- Cover new apple trees with net to keep starlings and crows from eating the new buds
- Look for rodent damage and holes, and use traps as necessary
- Renew the grease bands around the base of fruit trees if necessary
- Rake over the top layer of soil (or let your chickens do it!) to expose hibernating grubs
Houseplants and Indoor Starts
Having houseplants to take care of makes the winter a little more bearable, in my opinion. Make sure to give them some love and attention this time of year, too.
- Give ferns a deep watering and mist them to prevent them drying out
- Check, water, and fertilize indoor plant starts (like your scented geraniums)
- Pot up amaryllis and paper whites
Inspect your Root Cellar
Be sure to inspect your stored food every month! Get rid of anything that is starting to show signs of rot or that just isn’t keeping well, and make sure to use the smaller, damaged produce first.
And, finally, one of my favorite December gardening chores is — to start planning for next year! Throughout the growing season I’ve been jotting down things I want to do differently, and now is no different. Emptied of all growth, it’s easy to see now how best to shape the garden beds for next year, where to put the paths, and where to add new growing spaces. Stand in the window (or wherever you best like to look at your garden) and think about what you’d like to see there next year. And make sure to write it all down; it’s much easier to remember while the garden’s still fresh in your memory
What are some of your must-do December gardening chores?
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