The Gardening Tasks You Should Do Now to Get Ready for Spring
There's still tons to do outside, but at least this month, it's mostly optional.
Credit: Natalia Lebedinskaia/Shutterstock
Welcome to December, garden friends. For some lucky folks in the deep Southeast or Southwest, there’s still some sunshine and tomatoes to be had. For the rest of us, it’s sleet city. While it’s a decent time to take a finally take a breath from the summer and fall push, there’s still plenty you could be doing, if you’d like.
If the ground is workable, it’s still a great time for bulbs
Yes, it’s cold, but so long as you can work the ground, you’re safe. Bulbs love this weather. Once you have consistent freezes, that should get much harder, so take advantage of the breathtaking sales that my favorite bulb houses are having now. Eden Brothers, whom I adore for their colorways, is offering up to 50% off for their fall bulbs. Holland Bulb Farm has a slew of different discounts and is great for buying in bulk. Breck’s end of season sale has all those new pink and pale daffodils and some great deals on alliums.
This also means it’s not too late to plant garlic and shallots and onions. If your garden center doesn’t have garlic anymore, lots of people have success with store-bought garlic, and although it’s usually said you should buy organic for this purpose, my non-organic garlic is constantly sprouting in my kitchen. Same for shallots. If you can get ahold of onion starts, get them in. Since they’re often sold in sets, check your garden groups—someone always has too many.
Let the rain do the work
You know how germinating carrots is miserable most of the summer? It’s not in the fall, because the rain handles your light work. Throw carrot seeds into your beds just before it starts raining for a few days, and then stand back and watch germination take off. Same for radishes, including daikon and onion seeds. Since onion seeds (all alliums) have such a short seed viability time, usually only a year, you might as well. If they germinate, great, and if they don’t, no loss.
You should also be thinking about cold stratification right now. All those flower seeds that need cold stratification, they could go outside now to be planted, and after winter is over, they may take. You can also just stick them in the fridge now and take them out in six to eight weeks.
It’s tool time
Now is when I finally put my tools away for the winter, out of the elements. It’s also the perfect time to take a good look at each of them, and see what might need tending to. Sharpen the edges that need it, including chainsaws and the rest of your saws. Check your hose ends, and examine shovels for rust. Make sure tools are clean when they go into storage. This is when I take out my snow shovel and ice scraper from storage and relocate them to my front door.
Sleepy trees and shrubs
Not all plants hibernate in winter, they tend to do so just after their fruiting season. But an awful lot of your trees and shrubs are now settled in for winter, so it is time to do that pruning you’ve put off. Shrub trimmings will make some nice kindling for this year, and larger tree limbs can be cut down and seasoned for next winter. Pay attention to limbs that are going to be problematic in snow and rain, anything overhanging your home or the street, or over your car. You can now google how to prune absolutely any plant or tree, and I advise you do so on plants that matter to you. How you prune a lilac can affect next year’s fruiting.
You might also have more fragile shrubs and young trees that would benefit from being shrouded for winter, which just means tucking them in with some burlap and leaves and insulation. Your nursery will know what might need this shrouding in your yard, but young fruit trees might benefit, or fig trees, if you have extreme temperatures in winter. You can get burlap at your garden center for this purpose.
Seeds, seeds, glorious seeds
In about six weeks, it’ll be time to start seeds for next year. Seed houses are producing catalogs right now and most places have put next year’s new varieties online. Get your orders in before New Year's to get the best selection—they go fast these days. If you kept empty seed packets from this past year, you should have a blueprint of what you need to order.