December Garden Checklist

    Potting up amaryllis and paperwhites for winter forcing.  Photo: Barb Rosen/HometalkHard to believe it, but yes, November is almost over, and it's time to start thinking about garden chores for December. While the weather may be ramping up, that doesn't mean you can slack around the house and admire your newly-installed Chicago foyer tile -- but fortunately, you don't need to do a whole lot in the garden to get it locked down for winter. Just make sure to budget a bit of time every week so you can take care of things before the snow or rains roll in.

    Take stock

    December is a good month for internal reflection, but it's also the time to think about the garden. What worked or didn't work this year? What did you learn? Hopefully you've been keeping a gardening notebook or journal so you have information about what you planted, when, and how it fared. Think ahead about plants that need to be moved -- or removed -- and consider what you might want to try next year. Inspect your stock of saved seeds to confirm that they're dry and secure.

    Pot forced bulbs

    If you're planning on indoor color this winter, it's time to pot up those bulbs you've been chilling. Get them moved into a warm and cozy area of the house so they'll be tricked into thinking that spring has arrived. They'll start putting out leaves and developing buds so you'll have a rush of beautiful color later this month. To keep the color coming, stagger your potting cycle so everything doesn't bloom at once.

    Take root and hardwood cuttings

    If you're planning to propagate from cuttings, now is the time. Select sturdy, healthy stock and in the case of root cuttings, bury it in rich soil and mulch. Hardwood cuttings should be set upright in compost and mulched. Depending on your winter weather, as many as half will take root, and you can plant them out next year. If conditions are extremely cold, nurture cuttings in a cold frame or in the greenhouse.

    Last chance on bare root plantings like roses and fruit trees

    Hopefully you did this last month, but if you didn't, now's your chance. Be aware that nurseries may have limited stock at this point, so move fast to get the bare root stock you want. Dig out planting areas well, enrich with compost and nutrients, establish your plants, and water them in thoroughly. Over the winter, they'll take root and get going so they'll be ready to roll come spring. 

    Speaking of watering...

    December can be surprisingly dry. Don't forget to irrigate, even if it feels odd. Plants are especially vulnerable to drought and frost damage right now, and they need your help.

    Prune hardy trees and established stone fruits

    Don't prune evergreens, young plantings, roses, and fragile plants, but the early winter can be a good time for pruning. Help plants avoid energy loss and develop a strong framework for spring by getting to it with the clipper. Need a tutorial for pruning trees or hedges?

    Lawn care

    Mow the lawn for the last time to eliminate stragglers, and dethatch it if necessary to remove any dead grass. Apply a final coat of fertilizer to tuck it in for winter. Or leave it, and start researching lawn alternatives to install in the spring: your choice!

    Trim greenery for the holidays

    Many people love greenery around the house for wreaths, table decor, and more. Evergreens, late-blooming plants, and other garden residents can be a great free source of material, and you'll have the benefit of getting some pruning done while you're at it. Clip judiciously, though, because you don't want to ruin any plants with overenthusiastic trimming!

    Catalog time!

    Check out those gardening catalogs and consider experimenting with new plants and techniques. Take advantage of those grim days when you don't want to be outside to make big plans for your garden's future, and talk with staff at the nursery or your landscaper about what you might need to take things to the next level, like building your own water feature or greenhouse.

    Katie Marks writes for

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