December Tips and Tasks

— Written By and last updated by Kate Holt


  • If you are planning on making new garden beds, or expanding current ones, why not do it now and save yourself some work during the hectic spring season? You can make a “lasagna bed” or cover an area of grass with thick newspapers and mulch. In the spring you will have an area ready to amend and plant — without having to remove sod!
  • Continue to clean up! Remove old plants, as well as any foliage that has fallen on the soil and compost them. If any plants had insect or disease problems, carefully clean up leaves and debris and remove them from the yard (don’t compost insect or disease-laden plant material!). Collect leaves and debris from healthy plants and compost them.


  • If you didn’t mow the lawn one last time in November, do so as soon as possible. You can mulch leaves with your lawn mower and spread a light layer over the yard to add organic matter to the soil. Warm season grasses do not grow during late fall and don’t require any fertilizer before spring. Fertilizing at this time will encourage weed growth and disease problems like large patch and winterkill.

Trees and Shrubs

  • As perennial beds go dormant, cut dead stems back to ground level. Seed heads may be left for winter interest or to feed the birds. Most ornamental grasses hold up to the winter weather so leave them, if you like. If they look messy, just cut them back.
  • You can prune shrubs and trees to remove dead, diseased or broken limbs but save significant pruning for the dormant season (Feb/Mar) and spring blooming shrubs shouldn’t be pruned until after they flower (or you will lose next spring’s blooms).
  • Once all of the leaves have fallen, give your landscape plantings a layer of mulch over top. Three to four inches of mulch is good but excessive mulch can also cause problems so check the thickness of your mulch first. Old mulch can be freshened by raking. Don’t let mulch lie against the trunks of trees and shrubs or it will encourage pest and disease problems. You can spread a 2-3 inch layer of mulch over dormant perennials but don’t cover the foliage of evergreen perennials like hellebores.
  • Remember to bring in any pots that can’t take a freeze — terra cotta, ceramic, and many plastic pots.