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Your First Garden: 10 Things to Do in the Garden in December

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Your First Garden: 10 Things to Do in the Garden in December

December 15, 2020

Considering how much I truly love the sight of a healthy, lush garden, it’s shocking how much I look forward to the winter months. That’s because when plants look brown and scraggly in the cold season, it’s not my fault. (Blame Mother Nature!) Just as baseball players take winter off to relax before spring training, gardeners also should be able to have an off season. No planting, no weeding, no watering, no stressing.

At least that’s what I thought. Michelle recently burst my bubble. She told me there actually are quite a few things I can do to in the cold season to ensure a healthier landscape come spring. She’s right, unfortunately.

Here, 10 things to do in the garden in December:

1. Prune and trim.

Photograph by Jim Powell for Gardenista, from The Secret History: A Master Class in Gothic Pruning.
Above: Photograph by Jim Powell for Gardenista, from The Secret History: A Master Class in Gothic Pruning.

If you have fruit trees, bushes, shrubs, or roses, now’s the time to cut off dead branches and trim for shape. It’s easier to see what and where to prune in the winter, when there’s less foliage. See 10 Easy Pieces: Garden Pruners for some of our favorite pruning tools. Got a pine tree that could use a trim? See DIY: Pruning Pine Trees in Winter.

2. Clear the gutters.

 Mesh Gutter Leaf Guards snap into place on existing vinyl gutters and prevent a buildup of leaves and debris in your gutters. See 5 Favorites: Gutter Guards.
Above: Mesh Gutter Leaf Guards snap into place on existing vinyl gutters and prevent a buildup of leaves and debris in your gutters. See 5 Favorites: Gutter Guards.

After all the leaves have fallen from the trees, be sure to have your gutters cleared. They are likely filled with dead foliage and twigs, clogging and preventing them from doing their job. See Hardscaping 101: Rain Gutters for more information.

3. Feed the birds.

Photograph by Liv Unni Sødem via Flickr.
Above: Photograph by Liv Unni Sødem via Flickr.

Birds can’t rely on worms and fruits in the winter for food. Instead they turn to seeds, and that’s something you as their human neighbor can help them stock up on. Make sure to place the bird feeder in a spot that’s sheltered from strong winds. See 10 Easy Pieces: Bird Feeders.

4. Protect fragile plants.

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Above: A 12-foot-long Burlap Plant Cover with a width of 40 inches is $11.99 from Clever Brand via Etsy.

Most plants can weather the colder months just fine, but some need a layer of added protection. Spring-blooming shrubs such as azaleas and rhododendron, fragile blooms including dahlias, and citrus trees are some plants that could use an extra layer in the winter. See Garden Hacks: 10 Genius Ideas to Keep Plants Warm in Winter.

5. Mulch with straw.

 Photograph by Matthew Williams for Gardenista, from Straw Mulch, the Ultimate Winter Garden Blanket.
Above: Photograph by Matthew Williams for Gardenista, from Straw Mulch, the Ultimate Winter Garden Blanket.

Gardeners add mulch in the spring to prevent weeds and lock in moisture, but mulch is also important in the winter. A layer of straw as mulch protects the soil from temperature fluctuations, so that the ground stays frozen—and the plants dormant.

6. Continue to compost.

Chef Alice Waters keeps a compost bucket handy in her kitchen sink in Berkeley, California. Photograph by Daniel Dent for Gardenista, from  Things Nobody Tells You About Compost.
Above: Chef Alice Waters keeps a compost bucket handy in her kitchen sink in Berkeley, California. Photograph by Daniel Dent for Gardenista, from 10 Things Nobody Tells You About Compost.

Yes, decomposition slows down in winter, but there’s no reason to stop composting. When warm weather rolls around, your compost will start cooking again.

7. Remove snow.

 Photograph by Joseph Valentine, from Garden Visit: At Home at Juniper Hill Farm in New Hampshire.
Above: Photograph by Joseph Valentine, from Garden Visit: At Home at Juniper Hill Farm in New Hampshire.

Go ahead and admire the all-white pristine landscape after a snowfall. Then head outside and brush the snow off tree branches, shrubs, and bushes; the added weight can bend and contort plants. (But do keep the snow on the ground as it acts as an insulator.)

8. Turn off sprinklers.

A smart irrigation controller from Rachio. Photograph courtesy of Rachio, from Hardware data-src=
Above: A smart irrigation controller from Rachio. Photograph courtesy of Rachio, from Hardware 101: Smart Irrigation Controllers.

To prevent frozen pipes, shut off the water supply to the sprinklers. If you have an automatic irrigation system, shut down the controller. Make sure to empty and store hoses so they don’t crack from freezing temperatures.

9. Order seeds.

A seed collection from Floret Flowers. See Seed Collections for Adventurous Gardeners.
Above: A seed collection from Floret Flowers. See Seed Collections for Adventurous Gardeners.

Seed catalogs start coming out in early winter—just in time for some prime armchair gardening. Spend time planning your spring garden, then get a head start by actually ordering the seeds before they run out.

10. Prepare your tools.

Photograph by Erin Boyle for Gardenista, from DIY: How to Clean and Care for Garden Pruners.
Above: Photograph by Erin Boyle for Gardenista, from DIY: How to Clean and Care for Garden Pruners.

Take inventory of all your gardening tools. Replace or fix broken items, clean tools, and sharpen blades. When warmer weather rolls around, you’ll be ready to roll. No excuses.

For more in the Your First Garden series, see:

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