December To-Do List – What To Do In December Gardens

Sunflower Garden Covered In Snow
(Image credit: Jedraszak)

Gardening in December doesn’t look the same from one region of the country to another. While those in the Rockies might be gazing into a backyard thick with snow, gardeners in the Pacific Northwest might be experiencing mild, rainy weather. What to do in December in the garden depends largely on where you live. That makes it a little more complicated to write up your December garden chores.

Regional Gardening in December

Here are some tips to help you put together a December to-do list with an eye on regional gardening.


The Pacific Northwest is likely to be mild and wet with rainfall, but that makes some of your December garden chores easier. Be sure to wear rain boots when you go out.

  • Planting is still possible for lucky Pacific Northwest gardeners, so put in new trees and shrubs to your heart’s content. It’s also the ideal time to put in bulbs for spring flowers.
  • Weeding is easy in wet soil, so take out any remaining weeds by the roots now. Do not put them in the compost!
  • Watch for snails and slugs who love the rain even more than gardeners do. 


California and Nevada make up the western region. While northern California is likely to be wet, Nevada might be cooler and southern California warmer. The December gardening chores are slightly different.

  • Gardeners in northern California need to keep an eye out for snails. They love the rain even more than you do and are likely to be out looking for a snack.
  • Winter flowering plants need fertilizing now.
  • If your area gets freezes, prepare for them with row covers. Stop pruning rose bushes to allow them to harden off.
  • Plant new bare-root roses if your December is mild.
  • In southern California, put in cool-season vegetable gardens.

Northern Rockies

So, we mentioned that some regions will be colder than others, and when you are talking about regional gardening, the northern Rockies area can get mighty chilly. In fact, December can be downright frigid, so planting is not on your December to-do list. Instead, focus on inspecting your property and fixing issues.

  • Keep garden paths clear of snow to allow you to get around easily. You can’t fix problems if you can’t get to them. Inspect your fences for damage and fix them as quickly as possible to keep hungry critters out.
  • Put out birdfeeders and keep them stocked. Any birds that stick around have a hard time getting through the winter.


What to do in December in the Southwest? That depends on whether you live in the mountains or the lowlands, which are predictably warm.

  • For mountainous regions, the most important of your December garden chores is to stock up on row covers to protect your plants in case of a freeze.
  • Planting makes the December to-do list in low desert areas. Put in cool-season veggies like peas and cabbage.

Upper Midwest

The Upper Midwest is another area where it can get quite cold in December.

  • Make sure your trees and shrubs are safe. Check your trees for bark damage from the gnawing of hungry critters. Protect damaged trees by fencing or plastic tubing.
  • Broadleaf evergreen shrubs can dry out all too easily in cold weather. Spay on anti-desiccant to keep them plump and healthy. 

Central Ohio Valley

You may have snow in this area in December, and you may not. The holidays in the Central Ohio Valley can be quite mild, giving you additional garden time.

  • Snow is coming so get ready for it. Make sure your snowblower is in tip-top shape.
  • Prepare your garden and landscaping for the cold to come by applying mulch.
  • Keep right on watering newly planted trees and bushes. Only stop when the ground freezes.

South Central

The South-Central states includes areas where it never freezes, as well as some with lower hardiness zones. Regional gardening will look different depending on where you are.

  • In USDA zones 9, 10, and 11, it never freezes. This is a good time to plant new trees or shrubs in your landscape. Be sure your trees get adequate irrigation.
  • In other zones, be ready for temperature swings even when the sky is clear and keep row covers on hand. Don’t fertilize plants since new growth is the most vulnerable in a cold snap.
  • Everywhere in the South Central is a great time to plan your garden for spring and order the seeds you need. Put bright annuals in your yard or window boxes. Pansies or petunias grow well now. You can also put in cool-weather crops like lettuce or spinach.


Birds head south for the winter for good reason, and those living in the Southeast will have a more pleasant garden experience than those farther north. Temperatures are generally moderate, and snow is highly unlikely.

  • Although cool weather is infrequent, temperatures sometimes take a dive. Be on the lookout in December for these dips and have row covers on hand to protect tender plants.
  • Southern gardeners are still planting in December. If you are thinking of adding trees or shrubs, add it to your December garden chores.
  • It’s a good time to add a new layer of compost to the garden beds too. Speaking of compost, add those fallen leaves to your compost pile. Alternatively, use them as a natural mulch for your garden crops.


Although we’d like to give definitive answers about what to do in December in the Northeast, that isn’t possible. Some years December can be mild, but most years it isn’t in this region.

Teo Spengler

Teo Spengler has been gardening for 30 years. She is a docent at the San Francisco Botanical Garden. Her passion is trees, 250 of which she has planted on her land in France.