December Garden Chores

With folks cleaning up from a blizzard in Duluth and a two-day snowstorm in parts of the rest of the state, it’s hard to imagine there are a lot of December garden chores for northern gardeners. And, while this is one of the two most relaxing months for gardeners, there are still a few things you can do to keep your gardening juices flowing.

Did I forget anything? Start with a quick check to make sure you have cleaned up and put away what you can from the past season. Any fragile pots (terra cotta or ceramic) should be cleaned and stowed. Have you cleaned your tools? Are all the outside faucets turned off? Or worse yet, is there a hose still attached to a faucet?

Oh-oh. Rabbits got at this arborvitae. Adding protection would prevent this damage.

Make notes for next year. All the successes and challenges of the past season are fresh in your mind. Now is a great time to sit down and make some notes about plants you want to move, which seeds worked and didn’t and where you want to add some shrubs or trees for winter interest. (Hint: What window do you look out most?) Stash your notes somewhere you are sure to find them and set a reminder on your phone or calendar to look at them in April.

Set seed catalogs aside for January. My first seed catalogs arrived shortly after Halloween, but I’m old school about when I shop for seeds. Save the fun until after the holidays.

Install plant protection. Is there a tree or shrub the bunnies, squirrels or other pests love to destroy? If you have not already, consider giving it extra protection with a ring of chicken wire. Add this to your list of December garden chores.

Harvest boughs for decor. If you have good sized evergreens or dogwood or willow shrubs, consider harvesting a few boughs for your holiday decor. It’s a great way to save money on decorations.


For some winter color, grow an amaryllis or other bulb.

Houseplant health check.  In winter, houseplants generally need less water and no food (or very little). Make sure your plants are in the best light you have for them and periodically monitor for pests, such as mites or scale. If you find a diseased plant, keep it away from the other plants and treat the disease or best immediately. Our homes are very dry so even though plants need less water, succulents and other thick-leaved plants do best if you wash dust off their leaves from time to time. Many plants (but not African violets) like to be misted with room-temperature water form time to time. Also, if it is super cold, move houseplants away from freezing cold windows.

Buy a winter bulb. I started doing this about five years ago, and nothing takes the edge off of January (other than a trip south) like amaryllis or narcissus (paperwhite) bulbs. These are very easy to grow. You pot them up, put them in a sunny window and wait 4 to 6 weeks. Soon you have a stalk growing and then a beautiful, sometimes fragrant flower. Now that’s a December garden chore we can all enjoy!



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