10 Outdoor Garden Chores for December

Who says you can’t garden in December? Give your green thumb a work-out with these early winter garden tasks.

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Remove Leaves

Keep dealing with leaves throughout winter any time you can. Be especially vigilant with leaves that pile up on the lawn—they can actually harm grass. Also remove leaves from walks, driveways or decks. Wet leaves pose a safety hazard and may stain surfaces. Ignore leaves in planting beds and beneath shrubs. These leaves help provide winter shelter to beneficial insects.

Plant Bulbs

Whether you snagged a great bargain at an end-of-season bulb sale or simply forgot to plant a few bulbs, it’s okay to tuck bulbs into soil as long it’s not frozen solid. Ideally, bulbs need four to six weeks to grow roots before the ground freezes, but it’s okay to take your chances with year-end planting. Add a 3- to 4-inch-thick mulch layer over bulbs to help soil stay warmer while bulbs sink roots.

Transplant Herbs

Dig herbs from your garden and transfer them to pots for winter enjoyment indoors. Transplant small clumps of established herbs like lemon thyme, rosemary, sage, mint or oregano. Use clay pots to help prevent overwatering, and display pots on a cool, bright windowsill for best growth.

Keep Composting

Continue to add food scraps to the compost pile until it freezes solid. Use a trowel or contractor’s shovel to dig a small hole in the compost to bury kitchen waste and hide it from foraging critters. It’s also a good idea to tuck kitchen waste into the part of the vegetable garden where you’ll be growing beans next year to help prep and enrich soil.

Prune Trees

It’s a bad idea to do heavy pruning on trees in late fall, but it’s wise to remove any dead or diseased branches. Dead branches can become dangerous in snow- and ice-prone regions where they’re more likely to fall during winter storms. Early winter is also a good time to drop dead branches onto dormant planting beds without harming plantings.

Make Your Own Mulch

Rent or buy a chipper shredder to transform small branches and thick woody perennial stems into mulch that’s perfect for planting beds. If purchasing, read machine reviews carefully to learn what kinds of plant material the model you’re considering can handle. In general, electric models handle smaller diameter material better than gas-powered.

Cut Back Perennials

Use pleasant days in early December to prune perennials—you’ll be saving yourself work come spring. In planting beds, consider using a chop and drop pruning method, where you chop pruned stems and drop them in the bed to decompose and nourish soil.

Edge Planting Beds

As long as soil isn’t frozen, refresh bed edges. Squeezing this task in at the end of the year helps save time in spring, when frequent rains make it tricky to find a window for working with soil. If you’re removing sod slivers as you edge, toss the grass clumps—upside down—onto the compost pile.

Sow Cool-Season Crops

Sow seeds for early spring crops of cool-season plants, including lettuce, chard and other greens, along with flowers such as bachelor’s buttons, dame’s rocket and sweet peas. Plant seeds according to seed packet instructions. Lettuce seed is especially easy, since it needs light to germinate. Toss seed onto snow drifts covering planting areas and let nature do the rest.

Weed Lawn And Garden

Continue to tackle garden weeds while soil isn’t frozen. Focus on perennial weeds, like dandelion, creeping oxalis, plantain or thistle. If left alone, these weeds will grow healthier root systems over winter and take off when spring arrives. During cold weather weeding, try a stand-up weeder to keep hands and knees away from cold soil.

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