We tend to think of December as the start of the snow season in many climate zones – but you can actually get some planting done too.
December is a good month for planting flowers like snapdragons and pansies, vegetables such as lettuce, carrots and cabbage, and herbs like rosemary and oregano. You can also plant bulbs in pots such as garlic. However, as the ground is so hard it’s not a good time to plant fruit trees and shrubs.
Let’s dig down (yes, pun definitely intended!) into what you can and can’t plant in December – and also look at some of those festive jobs you can do in the yard at this happy time of year…
Is December a Good Month For Planting?
Surprisingly, yes: there are quite a few gardening jobs you can do in December. We don’t usually associate December with gardening. Usually, we simply trim our yards with festive decorations and leave it at that. However, there are plenty of gardening jobs you can be getting on with over the winter.
Of course as we all know, there are a lot of different climates across the USA! Gardeners in North Dakota will be shoveling snow from their yards in December, while those in LA will still be dressed in T-shirts. What you can plant in December depends very much on your state’s climate.
Before you plan your winter gardening project, check the USDA plant hardiness zones.This handy map shows the different growing zones across the US, and is a standardized guide to plant hardiness that’s used by all gardeners, garden centers, seed producers etc.
A lot of winter gardening depends on knowing when your first and last frosts are likely to occur, and working around this. The USDA zone guide will help you learn which plants you can work with at this time of year.
We’ll talk about December gardening in general terms here (cold, some frosts, fewer hours of sunshine), so if you live in one of the more extreme zones, please bear with us.
What Flowers Can I Plant in December?
We’re talking indoor gardening here, but you can plant flowers in December. Planting seeds for next spring and summer is a lovely winter job, and you can even get younger kids involved with this task. Here are some of our favorite flowers for winter sowing:
- Geraniums are a beautifully colored flower that look stunning in pots
- Snapdragons also being splashes of color – and are pretty tough flowers
- Sweet peas come in a range of colors. Look out for a scented variety
- Pansies are worth planting for their incredibly long blooming season
- Violas are pretty, and also do well in cooler weather
Pansies and violas may even be planted into the ground in December, if you live in a mild winter climate.
What Fruits Can You Plant in December?
In most hardiness zones, fruit planting isn’t possible in December. Hopefully you had a good fall harvest from your existing crops, and can enjoy lots of delicious preserves over the winter.
However, this doesn’t mean you can forget all about fruit. If you want strawberries next season, you can start enriching the soil now, by digging in compost to the strawberry beds. You can also prune your berry bushes as well as apple and pear trees (don’t prune soft fruit trees in December). After pruning, water the tree well (even in wet weather) and add a good layer of mulch.
What Vegetables Can I Plant in December?
You’ll be really surprised by how many different vegetables you can plant in December! They may need to be grown under cover in a greenhouse, or even started off inside your home. If you live in a warmer climate, you may even be able to plant your young veg straight into the ground. This is why it’s so important to know your hardiness zones.
Generally speaking, here are a few hardy veg that will survive a December planting.
- Lettuce may look delicate, but it can be planted all year
- Carrots can be grown in deep pots, so you can bring them indoors if it gets too cold
- Cabbage can be grown indoors or outdoors, depending on where you live
- Kale is one of those vegetables that tastes better after a frost
- Radishes are super-tough and super-hot in salads
- Garlic can be grown indoors in a pot or outside in warmer zones
- Spinach isn’t fussy about when it’s planted
You can also start an herb garden indoors in December, to make sure you have delicious, fresh flavors for your festive dishes.
Can I Plant Trees & Shrubs in December?
Unless you live in a guaranteed frost-free zone, don’t plant trees and shrubs in December. This is because the tree needs a while to establish its root system underground, which it can’t do if the earth is frozen.
The fall is the best time to plant trees and shrubs. The ground is still warm and yielding, but it’s also moist: young and transplanted trees need plenty of water. There’s an old saying: when the leaves fall, it’s time to plant trees. We stick by this one.
What Herbs Can I Plant in December?
Indoors, you can plant most herbs in December. Indeed, a sunny windowsill can be one of the best places to start your new herb garden, especially in the kitchen. Here are a few handy herbs to grow in the winter:
- Rosemary for a gorgeous, Meditteranean smell
- Oregano also brings that Italian feel to your kitchen
- Cilantro has a distinctive taste in Asian cuisine, and is also good in salad
- Parsley is just so useful in so many recipes
- Sage is perfect for a traditional Christmas dinner
- Thyme is another important holiday seasoning
Here’s a great little film about growing herbs indoors from Daisy Creek Farm.
What Can You Plant in Pots in December?
Provided the pots are deep enough, and you use potting compost, most plants will thrive indoors in containers. Here are a few things you can plant in pots in December:
- Flower bulbs, such as tulips or daffodils
- Some vegetables, including kale, spinach, and carrots
- An herb garden (parsley, rosemary, and oregano are a good starting place)
- Garlic and chillies
Can I Plant Seeds & Bulbs in December?
When it comes to seeds, you can plant all sorts of flowers into pots indoors, or start vegetable seeds germinating ready for next season. We also read about a great method of sowing seeds outdoors in December.
Find a waterproof container with some ventilation: those covered seed trays you can get in garden centers are ideal. Choose some robust seeds (wild flowers are a good choice here) and a fine, seed potting compost. Sow the seeds then put the cover on, and keep it in a sheltered spot outdoors.
The theory behind this winter sowing method is that seeds germinate to their own natural cycle, because they’re outdoors, but they still have some form of protection. You’ll need to water them yourself, of course.
What about planting bulbs in December? Bulbs need time to establish themselves before the ground hardens, so you can’t plant them in the ground once the frosts have started. The fall is generally a good time to plant spring-flowering bulbs.
However, we heard a good tip that the ground is at the perfect temperature for bulb planting when the typical nighttime temperature is around 40-50 degrees fahrenheit. So, if you live in a warmer zone, December could be the ideal time to get those bulbs in the ground.
Bulbs don’t last forever if they’re not planted. If you find a forgotten bag or daffodil or tulip bulbs at the back of the shed, you might as well give them a go. After all, they’ve got nothing to lose, and bulbs are surprisingly resilient.
As we mentioned earlier, you can also plant bulbs in pots indoors, ready for the spring. Smaller varieties of daffodils and crocuses make beautiful container displays.
Conclusion: What Jobs Can I Do in The Garden in December?
In most places, December isn’t the season to be carrying out any major yard projects. The main task at this time of year is to keep on top of things. Regularly check the gutters, the outside pipes and faucets, the shingles and so on. If there’s snow, keep shoveling it off roofs so it doesn’t start weighing them down.
If you’re planning cozy evenings around the fire pit, or even a cold-weather barbecue, make sure that everything you use is cleaned, dried, and covered afterwards.
Of course, one of the main jobs in December is to decorate your home for the holidays. Here’s the Take A Yard guide to hanging outdoor Christmas lights like a pro. Prepare for your decorations in early December by cleaning the house frontage and windows, making sure you have all the fixings in place, and checking your external power supplies.
In terms of actual gardening jobs, as well as all the planting ideas we’ve mentioned, you might like to:
- Harvest any remaining fruit and veg that’s survived this long
- Clear the vegetable beds, and compost any inedible veg and leaves
- Mulch around trees and shrubs, ideally with your home grown compost
- Keep an eye on the weather and any outdoor plants that may need covering or bringing in
- If the ground isn’t too solid, you can start preparing beds for the spring, by raking in compost, mulch, or fertilizer
- Heavy snow or winds forecast? Take a look at anything that may need moving or fastening down
- Any evergreen trees? String some lights around them for an extra festive touch. Who needs to buy an outdoor Christmas tree when you already have some growing in your yard!
Want to know what you can plant in January? Catch the next article in our planting calendar…
Homeowner and property investor Larry James founded Take a Yard in 2020 to bring you the very best outdoor living content, based on his years of experience managing outside spaces. Read more >