December To-Do List

Tackle these early winter gardening chores from our editors and contributors and you'll be drinking hot chocolate by the fireplace in no time.
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Let it Snow!

Watch the snow fall on my slumbering gardens.—Melissa Caughey/Osterville, Massachusetts

Make Simmering Potpourri

I'll be whipping up some of my holiday potpourri for gifts and to make the house smell amazing.—Melissa Caughey

Deck the Halls

I'll be decorating the house in holiday style.—Melissa Caughey

Wreath Party

I'll be hosting a wreath-making party with my friends.—Melissa Caughey

Host a Cookie Swap

Why not make garden-inspired lemon bars, lavender biscotti, homemade jam filled cookies or molasses honey cookies to share with friends?—Melissa Caughey

Pick Out a Christmas Tree

I'll visit a local Christmas tree farm and pick out this year's family tree.—Melissa Caughey

Keep an Eye on Bees

Watch my beehives for bees taking cleansing flights. Watch for signs of winter dysentery.—Melissa Caughey

Snow Maintenance

I'll rearrange the garage for easy access to the snow blower and pick up pet-friendly ice melt for the walkways.—Melissa Caughey

Gather Firewood

Bring a small woodpile close to the house for easy access. Cover it with a tarp to keep it dry.—Melissa Caughey

Check on Chickens

Keep an eye on the chickens for frostbite.—Melissa Caughey

Start Planning for Spring

Begin to fill an idea book with plans for the gardens and yard next season. Also research new plantings to add to the garden and create a wish list.—Melissa Caughey

Lay Bermuda

Bermuda sod can be planted if available. Keep it watered to prevent drying out.—Danny Flanders/Atlanta, Georgia

Plan and Create New Beds

Plan garden renovations and new planting beds for next year.—Danny Flanders

Start Pruning

Begin pruning trees and shrubs.—Danny Flanders

Just Add Compost

Remove old mulch and top-dress beds with compost or composted manure.—Danny Flanders

Fertilize Annuals

Continue fertilizing annuals with water-soluble fertilizer containing nitrate bi-weekly.—Danny Flanders

Don't Forget to Water

Water everything well if a hard freeze is expected.—Danny Flanders


Now that my lawn is brown, wild onions are easier to spot. I pull them up on mild weather days—I like to be outdoors and weeding is relaxing. (Well, sometimes.) —Lynn Coulter/Atlanta, Georgia

Monitor Orchids

I’m keeping an eye on my orchids. When I bring them in for the winter, they’re often attacked by mealybugs. I wash them off in the sink, but if they keep coming back, I may resort to spraying.—Lynn Coulter

Grow Paperwhites Indoors

Time to pot up some paperwhite bulbs. I love their sweet fragrance, which reminds me of spring when the weather’s dreary.—Lynn Coulter

Mulch With Fireplace Ashes

When I’m absolutely certain our fireplace ashes are cold and dead, I’ll scatter them around the garden. Our neighbor once started a fire with his, so I’m really careful.—Lynn Coulter

Collect Tree Greenery

I’ve discovered that if you hang around the garden center when people are buying Christmas trees, the employees will often give you extra branches they’re cutting off the trunks. I take them home (the branches, not the employees) to use as mulch, or keep them in water to enjoy the pine scent.—Lynn Coulter

Keep Chickens Watered

Freezing temperatures mean hand-delivering water to the coop a couple times a day.—Mick Telkamp/Raleigh, North Carolina

Feed the Wood Stove

All that firewood we chopped last spring is finally put to good use.—Mick Telkamp

Raid the Pantry

A bountiful summer has left us with plenty of canned produce and a variety of jams and jellies to get us through the winter.—Mick Telkamp


Christmas cookies are my second job this month.—Mick Telkamp

Pick Out a Christmas Tree

North Carolina is one of the largest producers of Christmas trees, with over 50 million Fraser firs growing over 25,000 acres at any given time.—Mick Telkamp

Spread Leaf Mulch

An early winter set me behind on my seasonal garden chore of spreading composted leaf mulch. I will wait for a warmish day and tuck my babies in for the l-o-n-g winter ahead.—Kim Visokey/Winnetka, Illinois

Garden Planning

Gardens are meant to be shared...I hope for visitors to be both inspired and informed after visiting my garden. With that in mind, I'll use December to begin planning for new garden features and updating my plant list for the upcoming garden season. Already on the calendar for end of June: Open Days and Pacific Horticultural Society tours here!—Kim Visokey

Decorate Containers for Christmas

Find the courage to brave the cold and decorate my outdoor containers for the holidays. Always looking for fun and creative ways to dress things up. Last year it was Santa doing a headstand amid a pot of winter greens. This year who knows...—Kim Visokey

Keep Dreaming

Snuggle by the fire and read about gardens I hope to visit someday soon!—Kim Visokey

Take Care of Green Houseguests

Nurture the plants I brought in from the garden to overwinter in my sunny kitchen conservatory.—Kim Visokey

Take a Class

Sign up for one of the many horticultural class offerings the Chicago Botanic Garden has to offer. Check out botanic gardens in your area too.—Kim Visokey

Monitor Birdbath

I keep an eye on the heated birdbath, adding water as needed and cleaning whenever it starts to grow algae.—Julie Martens/Frostburg, Maryland

Protect Trees

I set makeshift chicken-wire cages around my hardy fig and pussywillow to keep rabbits and voles from gnawing the bark through winter.—Julie Martens

Gather Greens and Stems

On a nice day, I gather evergreen boughs and beech stems from the forest to fill pots on my porch and outside my shed. I’d like to add sumac stems, but the deer gobble the red seedheads within a few days.—Julie Martens

Check on Squash and Potatoes

Indoors, I inspect winter squash in storage for signs of soft spots and remove sprouts on stored homegrown potatoes.—Julie Martens

Protect Shrubs From Deer

When the weather cooperates, I spray Plantskyyd deer repellant on shrubs to protect them through winter.—Julie Martens

Tricking the Voles

I’m trying a sprinkle of castor oil to deter voles on the lawn this year. Commercial hosta growers say a castor oil and soap spray works, but since I have castor oil granules on hand, I’ll try that.—Julie Martens

Cut Perennials

We get heavy snows in the mountains, so on unseasonably warm days I cut down more perennials to prevent them from being flattened by snowdrifts.—Julie Martens

Scan Catalogs

Browse through seed catalogs and determine what to order.—Mark and Debbie Wolfe/Atlanta, Georgia

Prune Shrubs for Christmas

We'll lightly prune the evergreens in our yard to use for Christmas decor.—Mark and Debbie Wolfe

Fun With Rosemary

We'll make a rosemary wreath.—Mark and Debbie Wolfe 

Shed Construction

We'll continue building the new shed.—Mark and Debbie Wolfe

Freshen Up the Paths

Add more wood chips to the garden paths.—Mark and Debbie Wolfe

Winter Vegetables

We'll continue to harvest the veggies in our winter garden.—Mark and Debbie Wolfe

Water Winter Annuals

I look crazy to my neighbors as I go out on cold mornings to water winter annuals, which would otherwise dry out in the brisk wind and sun when their roots may not be able to absorb water from cold soils.—Felder Rushing/Jackson, Mississippi

Cover Cool-Weather Greens

My large winter container garden of lettuces, mustard greens and chard is covered when temps drop below the mid-20s, but I always vent it when the sun shines to prevent death by steaming.—Felder Rushing

Bulb Care

I don’t cover the early foliage of daffodils, hyacinth and other spring bulbs, which look delicate but are very cold-hardy.—Felder Rushing

Protect Fountains During Winter

Small water gardens in the South often ice over, but I run a small fountain to keep it from freezing solid—plus I love how ice shapes onto an old iron cattail sculpture in the pond.—Felder Rushing

Winter Potted Plant Care

I usually use less fertilizer on my potted plants in the winter because they are growing more slowly. They need less water as well.—Felder Rushing

Enjoy Hardy Perennials

When hostas, ferns and other summer shade perennials are dormant, it isn’t a problem because of my colorful evergreen heucheras, liriope and ajuga—and an interesting mushroom-covered log.—Felder Rushing

Hunt for Furniture

After almost a year and a half of analyzing, I've finally figured out how I could make a table and chairs fit on my patio. I'll be on the hunt for a tiny iron table and matching chairs. Hopefully I'll be able to catch a good holiday deal!—Jessica Yonker/Atlanta, Georgia

Harvest Greens

Having Swiss chard and kale out on the patio is delightful. So far I've made kale and chard turkey tacos and tossed the greens into salads. (And don't be surprised if you catch me eating them straight out of the garden.)—Jessica Yonker

Pick Up Leaves

It sounds silly at first, but you'd be surprised how many leaves can build up onto the ground floor of a patio apartment.—Jessica Yonker

Mulch and Fertilize

The squirrels are still getting into my containers, and I'm starting to get worried about my bulbs—I'll add another thick layer of mulch (I'm using straw mulch), but first I'll fertilize the plants and put my caffeine-addiction to good use by watering the plants with coffee grounds.—Jessica Yonker

Buy a Small Christmas Tree

I travel during the holidays, but I still want to get a small tree—I love the scent! Maybe I'll even take it with me on my travels...—Jessica Yonker

Overwintering Fig Tree

I'll be moving my night-blooming cereus, lime bush and other outdoor plants indoors and putting my potted fig tree to sleep for the winter in my dark, dry basement.—Felicia Feaster, Atlanta, Georgia

Cutting Pussywillow Branches

I'll be cutting branches from my pussy willow tree, which is budding profusely and even showing catkins in places, and hoping to force some fluffy catkins indoors.—Felicia Feaster

Contemplating Outdoor Lighting

Adding additional outdoor lighting is a maintenance goal, to both spotlight the garden and increase security. I'll be doing a little bit of research into lighting companies and figuring out the spots in my yard most in need of more illumination.—Felicia Feaster

Waiting for Amaryllis and Paperwhites

Nothing says Christmas to me like the beautiful blooms of paper whites and amaryllis.—Felicia Feaster

Planning a Holiday Centerpiece

I'm scouring our own HGTVGardens site and Pinterest for inspiration for the perfect dining room table centerpiece: right now, I'm leaning heavily toward something with moss, which also means I'll be searching for the perfect vessel to display my arrangement.—Felicia Feaster

Visiting Garden Lights

Now in its fourth year, the Atlanta Botanical Garden's Garden Lights exhibition has been a genius way to re-imagine the garden in the off-season. It's proof that just when you think the garden is a no-go, there is a fresh way to get creative outdoors.  You'll find me hanging around the s'mores station!—Felicia Feaster

Ice Skating

I've had some memorable ice skating experiences at Rockefeller Center, the Tower of London and even on the Eiffel Tower. And while Atlanta's ice skating venues tend to be compact along the lines of the popular St. Regis rink, I'll be hitting at least one of them this holiday season.—Felicia Feaster

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