December Gardening To-Do List

Monthly Chores for Each Region

a plant covered in a snow

The Spruce 

In the North, the ground will have become frozen by some point in December. If you have not already done so, you will need to afford winter protection to any plants that you think need it: You may not get another chance once a deep layer of snow forms.

It is a different matter altogether in the South, where December brings welcome relief from the heat to plants and gardeners alike. Take advantage by growing plants that you can't grow for most of the year and by undertaking tasks requiring vigorous physical activity.

Here are regional gardening tasks to perform to get the winter off on the right foot.

All Regions

  • You are at the end of another gardening year. This is a great time to take stock of your garden to determine which aspects of it you love most and which aspects you do not care for so much. You may wish to make changes for the next gardening year that give you more of the former and less of the latter. Hopefully, you have been taking photos of your garden and recording your thoughts about it in a journal all year long, so that the process of evaluation does not rely solely on memory.
  • If you have been storing bulbs, corms, or tubers, check them to make sure that they are neither rotting nor totally drying out.

Mid-Atlantic

December can be rather mild in the Mid-Atlantic, allowing you an extended fall in the garden. But even in those years when December is not mild, there is plenty to do.

Midwest

December can be a frigid month in the Midwest. Maintenance and inspection are your primary chores.

  • Inspect windbreak fences for damage. Repair any damage promptly.
  • Inspect trees and shrubs for bark damage. If you find any, you most likely have a problem with voles, rabbits, or deer and need to take action.
  • Spray the foliage of broadleaf, evergreen shrubs with an anti-desiccant to prevent dehydration.
  • Once snow falls, remove it from paths to the garden. This gives you better access to the winter garden, enabling you to clear away fallen limbs, inspect shrubs for damage, etc.

Northeast

Some years, December weather in the Northeast allows you a bit more time to tie up loose ends in the garden, but you should never count on it.

  • If you live near the ocean, this is a great time to assess how well your trees and shrubs are holding up to the salt spray. Plan on replacing plants performing poorly with salt-tolerant plants next year.
  • Inspect trees and shrubs for bark damage. If you find any, you most likely have a problem with voles, rabbits, or deer and need to take action.
  • Spray the foliage of broadleaf, evergreen shrubs with an anti-desiccant to prevent dehydration.
  • Bring in any gardening tools that are still outside, storing them for the winter. Make sure they are clean, rust-free, oiled, and properly sharpened.

Pacific Northwest

The soil is likely to be wet in the Pacific Northwest in December. Temperatures are likely to be moderate enough that you can work outside without being too uncomfortable.You can take advantage on both scores.

Pacific Coast

This is the wet season in Northern California. While Southern Californians may dislike the cold that you in the North can experience during this month, they may envy you your moisture. But moisture can also bring problems.

Northern Californians should:

  • Check for snails on your plants. Snails like moist conditions.
  • Fertilize their winter-flowering shrubs.
  • Be prepared for cold snaps and frosts; they can come out of nowhere in December. Be ready to apply row covers over your plants to protect them.

Southern Californians should:

Hawaii

December offers a period with moisture and relatively cool temperatures. Take advantage by improving your soil and by growing plants that you can't grow for most of the year.

Southwest

The desert weather in December is unpredictable. If you live in a mountainous region, you have to be prepared for anything. But the low desert is more garden-friendly (as long as your water supply is reliable).

  • Be ready to protect tender plants with row covers.
  • Cut back asparagus once it dies back to the ground (or the soil freezes).
  • In the low desert, grow cool-season vegetables such as broccoli, cabbage, kale, peas, and swiss chard.

Southeast

Many a Northerner would rather be in the Southeast in December. But that does not mean gardeners in the Southeast can totally let their guards down. Sudden temperature drops do occasionally occur.

  • Shelter tender plants with row covers when temperatures take a dip.
  • Add compost to the garden.
    Plant trees and shrubs.
  • Prune wisteria, starting with the longest vines.

Florida

As a convenience to predict weather, Florida is divided into three areas: North Florida, Central Florida, and South Florida. If you live outside of South Florida (USDA zones 10 and 11), especially, you still must be ready for temperature swings, in spite of the generally favorable weather.

  • Stop fertilizing plants: New growth becomes damaged during sudden cold snaps.
  • Take advantage of the more moderate weather to grow cool-weather crops such as spinachlettuce or peas.
  • During cold snaps, cover tender plants with row covers.