December Gardening To-Do List for a Winter-Ready Garden

As winter sets in, it's time to prepare your garden for the colder months. Here's a comprehensive December gardening to-do list to ensure your plants and tools are ready for the winter chill.

1. Tool Maintenance: 

Start by giving your garden tools some TLC. Clean them with a wire brush, and apply a light coat of oil to protect them from rust. Sharpen the edges of hoes and spades. Clean, readjust, and sharpen the blades of pruning tools. Don't forget to lightly sand handles and apply linseed oil or paint them in bright colors for easy spotting in the grass.

2. Lawn Equipment Care:

Prepare your lawn mower or tiller for winter by draining the fuel tank or using a stabilizer. If you can't drain the fuel, consider taking the equipment for service now to avoid the spring rush. Store the equipment without gas in the tank by running it dry.

3. Mulching and Protection:

Apply a layer of mulch to all planting beds, especially around perennials. For root crops like potatoes, parsnips, carrots, parsley, and leeks, add a thick layer of straw to protect them during winter, allowing for a staggered harvest.

4. Bird Feeder Maintenance:

Clean bird feeders with hot soapy water (avoid bleach). High oil content seeds like Black Oily Sunflowers and Safflower Seed provide excellent nourishment. Ensure a non-frozen water source, like a bird bath heater or regular water filling, to support winter bird species.

5. Ice Melt Alternatives:

Avoid rock salt (sodium chloride) for melting ice on sidewalks and driveways. Choose products made of calcium chloride or potassium chloride to minimize plant damage. For traction, use sand, kitty litter, or wood ashes sparingly.

6. Garden Planning:

Start reviewing and expanding your garden notes for next year. Use this time to plan for the upcoming growing season while the memories of the current one are fresh.

7. Tree and Shrub Protection:

  • Water fall-planted woody plants until the ground freezes. 
  • Cover the root zone with 3-4 inches of organic mulch to keep the soil frozen and prevent premature waking. 
  • Use tree guards, wraps, or hardware cloth to protect against animal damage (rabbits, deer). 
  • Prune weak branches to prevent snow damage. 
  • Be cautious with mulching around newly planted trees to prevent vole damage.

8. Sun and Wind Protection:

  • Guard against sun scald by wrapping trunks with light-colored material, reflecting the sun's rays. 
  • Be mindful of winter burn on evergreens caused by winter sun and wind. Plant them in protected areas or create windbreaks.

By following this December gardening to-do list, you'll set the stage for a successful winter and a thriving garden in the coming spring.

Jennifer Brennan

Jennifer Brennan is the Horticulture Information Specialist, advising and coaching gardeners at Chalet for over 30 years.