Ornamental and edible gardening adventures.

The Gardener's December Calendar


Without a doubt, the holiday season will look different this year, but gardening-related activities can help keep you grounded. Throughout 2020, growing plants — whether indoors or outdoors — has kept my mind "in the moment." (Even if it means I'm weeding the garden, a task I do not enjoy!)

Caring for a houseplant or tending a garden helps me to focus my energy on the task at hand, and there is still plenty to do while the outside garden has slowed down. Once all the spring bulbs have been planted (I'm still pushing my luck as I write this, since the ground is not yet frozen), I truly focus my attention indoors, to houseplant care, forcing bulbs (like amaryllis) to bloom, and perusing seed catalogs to make plans for next year's garden. 

Here are the garden tasks on my list for December:

  • Keep the songbirds happy. Most of my outdoor responsibilities include keeping bird feeders filled with seed and suet. After having several of my feeders mobbed by starlings ("blackbirds"), the sales team at Wild Bird Unlimited recommended that I temporarily fill my hopper feeder with safflower seed and the suet feeders with unflavored suet. Safflower seed is white and still acceptable to most birds (such as cardinals), but the safflower and the plain suet are not favorites of the starlings. I am testing this out now to see if this menu change at the buffet encourages the starlings to seek food elsewhere. (I do not have a problem with them eating, I just do not want them to throw all the birdseed on the ground and empty my feeders a half hour after I fill them. 🤷‍♀️) I also provide unfrozen water through a heated birdbath. (To clean the birdbath, I use a steel wool pad with soap to gently clean the tray and then replace the water.) 

  • Start amaryllis bulbs — if you haven't already done so. When potting up the amaryllis bulbs, only cover them with soil up to their shoulders. (Do not bury them.) Give them a light watering and then wait for them to start growing leaves and a bud. If you have bulbs that were left over from last year that you let go dormant, now is the time to pull them out, give them a little water and light. (Below is a short video I created for my YouTube channel on potting up amaryllises.)

  • Corm check in. After harvesting caladium corms last month and setting them aside to dry for a few weeks, now is the time to check on them. The corms can be placed in a cardboard box with vermiculite for storage in a cool place until it is time to replant them in the spring. (A darkened closet or hallway works.)

  • Check on dahlia tubers. Last month I shared how I store dahlias tubers over the winter in the Northeast. What's important is that they are not exposed to freezing temperatures, which would happen if I left them in my stand-alone, uninsulated garage. I also check to make sure the tubers do not shrivel up. If it looks like they are beginning to, I periodically mist them with some water, but I try not to overdo it.

  • Milkweed seeds. There's still time to scatter milkweed seeds in the garden so they can be exposed to the changing temperature and moisture throughout the cold season. Next month is when you can start winter sowing or starting them indoors here in the Northeast.

  • Tool maintenance. Clean and then sharpen pruners with a file. Store tools in a bucket of dry sand over the winter (this helps keep water from rusting the tools).

  • Make a list. What worked last year? What would you never grow again? Jot these ideas down to keep in mind as you review those seed catalogs. Also review photos of what the garden looked like this past growing season so you can see if there are any gaps in bloom time or food production. 

  • Begin to purchase seeds. If there is something your really want, order early. It's also time to acquire seeds for pansies and violas, which can be started indoors next month.

Just a reminder: I have started a monthly newsletter which will include the monthly garden chores (the December list is the first one included!), gardening feature stories and news on the upcoming release of "Micro Food Gardening."  You can sign up here.  

I garden in Zone 6b in the Northeast U.S.

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