December To-Do List and Garden Tips

by Ken Lain, the mountain gardener

The differences in altitude of our Northern Arizona gardens dictate the garden tasks for December. At higher elevations like Flagstaff, Williams, and the White Mountains there are few December gardens.  December at these elevations is more about decorating our gardens and nurturing what is left after the leaves drop. However, in the central highlands of Arizona (Prescott, Kingman, Payson, Sedona, and the Verde Valley) we can hardly wait for fall vegetable crops and cold season flowers.  Even if your garden already is covered in snow, there still are some tasks to be accomplished:   last minute bulbs to plant, leaves that should not go to waste, roses that need some TLC, and checking insect pests that are much hardier than their tiny size would suggest.

On a more positive side, winter is a great time to evaluate your garden layout. Without the camouflage of foliage, you clearly can see the architecture and the bones of your garden. If the structure of your garden is less than inspiring or non-existent in winter, you should make some notes to add more definition involving evergreens or other architectural elements.  Winter is an ideal time to plant evergreens in the yard, add to privacy screens, or to finally add that new living Christmas tree you’ve wanted all these years.

Take a look at what you could be doing in your December garden and try to schedule a few sessions outdoors before holiday festivities claim your time.

December Garden Care

~ Keep weeding.  It’s easier to see weeds once the garden plants die back. Now is a great time to get rid of perennial weeds that stay green year around. Try using Vinegar to kill them. 

~ Rake leaves and add them to the compost pile.  Top dress flower beds with chopped leaves to promote beneficial leaf mold.

~ Clean, sharpen, and oil garden tools.

~ Winterize your pond and water gardens.

~ Add organic composted materials to all beds.

~ Cover compost piles so winter rain and snow do not leach out nutrients.

~ Divide perennials now through February.

~ Good time to plant more evergreens to fill blank spots in the yard and add privacy.

~ Harvest vegetables, like Brussels sprouts and carrots, that can handle frost.

~ Protect your climbing roses by tying down canes to protect them from cold winds and snow damage.

~ Cut back and remove any diseased or infested foliage. Clean up all garden debris.

~ Protect evergreens from deer damage by circling plants with stakes and burlap or spraying with a deterrent.

~ Protect the bark of young trees from mice and porcupine damage by wrapping wire fencing around the bottom portion of their trunks. Use something with small 1/4” openings, like hardware cloth.

~ Protect plants from vole damage by not mounding mulch too closely to the plant.

~ Get those spring bulbs into the ground NOW!

~ Water the landscape twice per month to keep it hydrated. Pay particular attention to anything you planted late summer and/or during autumn.  Winter water is critical for evergreens planted in winter. Water two times per month.

~ Drain hoses and disconnect them from the hose bib.  Use a quick connector for easier use through March.  Make sure to use brass fittings.  Here’s what to look for on Amazon

~ If you’re planning on getting a living Christmas tree with the intention of planting it this winter, dig the hole now before the ground freezes. Remember to keep the excavated soil covered, so that it too does not freeze and can be shoveled easily back into the planting hole.

~ Care for Indoor Plants in Winter.  Take special care to notice pesky black gnats around houseplants.

~ Although many indoor plants go dormant in winter, watch for signs that they are not getting enough light (yellowing leaves, straggly stems) and move them to a brighter spot, if necessary.

~ Start forcing bulbs  (paperwhites, hyacinths, and amaryllises) for a holiday show.

Until next week, I’ll be helping friends pick the freshest cut Christmas trees in town here at Watters Garden Center.

Ken Lain can be found throughout the week at Watters Garden Center, 1815 W. Iron Springs Rd in Prescott, or contacted through his web site at or .