December Gardening Activities - Region 3

Gardening Tips for December

Northeast, Midwest and Central Plains Gardens

Learn2Grow Region 3 Map

States in the region:

Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire, New York, Massachusetts, Rhode Island
Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia, Kentucky, Indiana, Illinois,
Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, Iowa
South Dakota, North Dakota, Montana

Key Issues for December

  • Delight children this holiday season with the gift of gardening! Growums garden kits are designed to show kids and adults alike how awesome and easy it is to grow their own vegetables and herbs – and they encourage kids to eat healthy foods! Six fun garden themes are available (Herb, Pizza, Ratatouille, Salad, Stir-Fry and Taco), as well as three mini kits (Fruit Cup, Melon Blast and Pumpkin Patch). Visit to learn more!
  • Help your cut Christmas tree last through the holidays: Keep it moist and choose a spot away from drying air ducts and any heat sources, including TVs, radiators and fireplaces. (Remember, dry plant material is a fire hazard! Keep your trees watered and fresh.)
  • Enliven your dull winter garden or patio: Fill outdoor planters with cut greens. (Branch cuttings of holly, pine, spruce, juniper and other greens and berries may even increase bird activity on your deck or balcony.) Just be sure that the containers and urns you use are winter-hardy – ones that won’t crack or shatter in freezing temperatures.
  • Help your houseplants in winter by allowing them to “rest” for a few months. Avoid fertilizing until late February.
  • If you can still dig in the soil, finish planting your bulbs now (or wish you had come spring)! Unless the ground is already frozen, this is absolutely the last call for planting those spring-flowering beauties. Daffodils, tulips, crocuses and hyacinths need to be in place now, so they can ready themselves for their blooming spectacular. Worried about pests digging up all your hard work? You can protect bulbs from animal pests by creating a wire barrier around your plantings.
  • Deck the halls with a traditional holiday favorite: the poinsettia. Today’s beauties come in a variety of colors, including the classic red, as well as shades of white, pink, purple and mottled/spotted. (Fun fact: The poinsettia is actually a medium-sized deciduous shrub native to western Mexico!)
  • Buy cyclamen, amaryllis (in bud) and other holiday plants early, so you’ll have weeks – not days – of enjoyment.
  • Give a personalized, inexpensive gift for the holidays that keeps on growing: seeds from your garden! Homemade holiday cards and ornaments containing seeds are as fun to make as they are to give – and grow!
  • Consider buying a balled-and-burlapped or container Christmas tree that you can enjoy inside your home, then make a permanent part of your landscape after the holidays. Keep the tree outside until you’re ready to bring it indoors (7-10 days inside). Plant it after the New Year – and remember to water!
  • Get a compost keeper for the kitchen. (Consider adding it to your holiday “wish list.”) Some produce scraps you’d otherwise throw away can be used to make great compost for your spring garden.
  • Try the Norfolk Island pine as a containerized Christmas tree. This tropical plant is native to Norfolk Island east of Australia. (A bright-light indoor spot is a must for this beauty!)
  • Take care of our feathered friends. A source of fresh water and food will encourage them to your landscape. Keep feeders stocked so birds don’t have to search for food. If you have a birdbath, consider getting a birdbath heater to avoid frozen water in the colder areas of your region. If you’ve never tried feeding birds before, go the festive route: Creating a holiday bird-feeding tree is a fun way to get started!
  • Cut back unsightly perennials to about 3-4 inches tall and mulch your planting beds to prevent frost-heaving. Leave some of those dried perennial seed heads alone, though – they’ll help feed the songbirds. Coneflowers, black-eyed Susans and blackberry lilies are just a few great natural seed sources for birds.
  • Take some preventative winter care in the garden to avoid ice and snow loads that can damage multistemmed evergreens like upright arborvitae, yews, boxwoods and junipers. Gather all branches together with twine, so wet snows and ice can’t bend and separate them, causing them to split.
  • Cage or wrap the trunks of young trees and vines to keep rabbits from gnawing at the bark. Make sure the protection is tall enough to thwart rabbits standing on their hind legs in the snow (about 20 inches should do the trick).
  • Continue to water trees and shrubs, as long as the ground isn’t frozen. When it starts getting to that freezing point, drain your garden hoses and store them (coiled compactly) in the garage or basement. Take note of any that need replacement or repair. Keep at least one hose handy for watering during any periods of warmer weather this winter. If there’s a thaw, you should water – especially evergreens.
  • Bring all your outdoor terra-cotta pots back indoors (or to another sheltered location) so they won’t crack and break in winter’s cold. Empty those that are filled with spent, dead plants and clean containers with 9 parts water to 1 part bleach. Let the pots soak in this solution for at least an hour (or even overnight) to remove any stubborn residue. Rinse, dry and store them away for winter, so you’ll be ready to plant come spring.
  • Winterize your lawn equipment. After that final mow of the season, run your lawn mower dry of any remaining fuel, hose off grass clippings, pull the spark plugs, then park the mower in the shed or garage for a well-deserved winter’s nap. (You’ll be a step ahead next spring if you have the blades sharpened over winter, too.)
  • Walk around your garden (while the weather’s still acceptable) and make any final notations about this year’s gardening successes and failures. By the time spring rolls around, you’ll have forgotten about the good, the bad and the ugly! Keep your pictures and notes in one accessible location – like in a garden journal. (You’ll be thankful you did when gardening catalogs start appearing in your mailbox.)
  • Care for your roses: Apply protective mulch to them once the soil is frozen. Consider a light, airy mulch (like pine needles) to protect your plants from alternating periods of freezing and thawing. Roses with long canes that can whip around in winter winds can be pruned back 1/3 of their length, but avoid the urge to do any hard pruning just yet. (That work is better done in early spring, before bud break.)