gardening in December: tips for a strong 2024

Gardening in December: Tips for Zone 5-7 Gardens

Soil & Margaritas

The garden is tucked in for its long winter's nap here in Central Indiana. What once was a mini jungle with shades of greens, oranges, pinks, reds, whites and plenty of textures, is now a cold- weary sight that brings the winter blues. The annual flowers faded months ago when the first frost hit, leaving behind dried seed pods and stems that rattle in the wind.

It's a quiet time out there, December crept into the garden like an unwanted pest that devoured everything in its path, but the garden deserves its rest after a long warm spring, hot summer, and productive fall. No need to tidy up too much now - the leaves and the random blankets of snow provide insulation and next year's mulch. The empty beds are already dreaming of the first sprouts and shoots, and all the wild volunteers that will wake them up come spring. For now, I'll let the garden sleep, but I can't help starting to browse the seed catalogs for what I might tuck into the thawing ground in just a few short months when winter loosens its grip. The garden is dormant, but plans for the next growing season are already taking root in my mind during these short, gray days.

frost on plants 

The busy sounds of the summer garden are now only a memory—the bees no longer buzzing, the birds having flown south to warmer climates. In their place is the stillness and quiet that winter brings.

At times, I get reminded that I, the gardener, need some rest too, but for the passionate gardener (Or better known as the crazy plant person), when daily chores revolve around checking for pests, weeding, watering, fertilizing, and tending to one’s green leafy children, resting feels almost … impossible! But even when freezing temperatures cover the garden beds and your prized tomato plants and beautiful flower patches are but a memory, the gardening season does not have to end in December. Far from it!

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50ft Retractable Garden Hose Reel Beige

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Charcoal 50ft Retractable Hose Reel against white background

50ft Retractable Hose Reel Charcoal

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Cooler weather provides the perfect opportunity to curl up inside and prepare for next year's gardening season. From paging through the latest seed catalogs to organizing your tools, read on for ways every gardener can make the most of winter hibernation. Don't let dormant gardens limit your green thumb enthusiasm!

Here are a few things you can do to keep your gardening spirit high this season!

birds on plant in winter

Grab those books!

What better topic than gardening! Consider getting some new books to expand your horticultural knowledge. Did you hear about the new tomato variety? How about learning to grow tropicals in your zone? Interested in having your own compost pile? Look for authors offering advice specific to our growing zone and backyard gardening. Brush up on companion planting guides, refreshing proper rotation techniques, or explore trying out new varieties next year. I just picked up an intriguing book on growing roots and leafy greens I can't wait to immerse myself in!


Sign up for a Workshop!

Many local nurseries and gardening centers offer informative winter workshops open to the public this time of year. Check their event listings for topics that inspire you. Nothing there for you? Look online! There are many talented gardeners out there offering workshops in specific subjects like seed starting, growing natives, garden designs, starting your own compost, I signed up for one covering how to grow in raised beds all year long, which in my area is a bit challenging during the winter. Even a creative container design class could spark inspiration for sprucing up the back patio come spring.

new plant in newspaper 

Research New Plants

December is the perfect month to comb through the towering seed catalogs accumulating in our mailboxes. What new vegetables or flowers should I try next year? Kohlrabi? Nasturtiums? Is there a new hydrangea variety or color I want to try? Can I grow watermelons in my zone? The delights are endless! Spending an hour or two a week  to explore options and highlight wish list ideas is a great way to keep that gardening spirit alive.

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Classic Round Sprinkler

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Let’s go Shopping!

Once we've highlighted desired seeds and plants, now is a great opportunity to take stock of tools and supplies. Are the pink pruners holding up for another round of shrub pruning? Do the raised bed corner posts need reinforcing? Should I treat myself to a new pair of gardening boots? Should I invest in a hose reel for my back garden? (If you don’t have one yet, you don’t know what you are missing my gardener friend!) Making a list of everything needed means we can shop sales between the holiday rush and spring frenzy. It feels so satisfying getting a jump on preparations, plus building eager anticipation for the upcoming growing season.

snow on plants

Plan your seed starting calendar!

A seed starting calendar is a crucial bit of planning every gardener should have in place before the first seed packet is opened. Mapping your planting schedule ahead ensures a steady harvest aligned with each crop's ideal maturation rate. Without a calendar reminding you to sow lettuce every 2-3 weeks, bowls of fresh salads risk going empty. Do you know when to start geraniums from seed? How about snapdragons? Track designated transplant times for longer growers like violas or peppers so strong seedlings don't outpace the great outdoors. Mark down follow up dates for successive bean bush and summer squash sowings too.

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Heavy Duty Green Secateurs 8"

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Green 6 Gallon Heavy Duty Planter Bag on a white background

Heavy Duty Planter Bag - Large

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Really, what better wintertime activity for an eager gardener than planning the next gardening season?

As 2023 comes to an end, it also provides us with a chance to reflect back on the garden's gifts this year. My 2023 garden was full of successes, but also failures which keep providing priceless teachings every single year. The heavy freezes soon to come will finally strip the trees bare, but for now a few stubborn leaves cling on, reminding us of the vibrant displays they created not long ago.

As we witness the effects of winter in the gardens, we can find motivation in the promise of renewal the spring always, ALWAYS brings.

Happy gardening friends!

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