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Don't delay winter prep: A guide to December garden tasks

a backyard greenhouse with a lighted holiday tree and wreath

I thought I was doing better this holiday season. I made a list, checked it twice, and then awaited Cyber Monday deals. Here’s the problem about Cyber Monday, I had to work that day! Not only was I at work, but I also had a calendar full of boring work stuff that kept me away from online shopping. Despite a busy schedule, I recall deal “days” of Cyber Monday or Black Friday truly lasted a week or more. I felt confident by the time I got back to the computer that evening, the sales would be waiting. Boy was I wrong! The sales were there, but the gifts were gone!

Did the Grinch strike again? I knew which online stores to visit, but late was the hour and every website I came to was met with “Sold Out” or “Out of Stock.” Yikes! Now it’s back to the drawing board and I am out of gift ideas. At least gifts that don’t cost an arm and a leg.

Just like waiting too long to buy gifts, there are garden tasks that can cause ruin if delayed. And others that just help to stay on top of things to be prepared for spring.

December Garden Tasks

Detach your garden hose. 

Yes, we’ve already had a short bout of freezing temperatures, and hopefully, the hose came off the spigot then. However, it has also been a very dry autumn and I know many gardeners are still watering trees and shrubs even after our brief freeze. If you know someone who leaves their hose out during the winter, perhaps a gift idea is a new hose. And if they leave it connected to the home's spigot, a gift certificate to a local plumber may come in handy.

Winterize your gas-powered engines.

Drain fuel lines or run your equipment until it is out of gas. For equipment you may reach for during the winter, plus any stored fuel canisters, be sure to mix in a fuel stabilizer. As fuel sits it can go bad. Stabilizer slows the process of oxidation and limits gunk build-up inside engines. Run your engine for the time specified in the product directions to ensure the treated fuel has made it through your engine.

Sharpen those blades.

While we’re talking about mowers, take those blades off and get them sharpened. I would wager the local small engine repair store welcomes business in the winter and will gladly sharpen mower blades. With sharp blades, the lawn will thank you come spring.

Get your garden list ready.

A new garden catalog shows up almost every day now. Make your list and budget out what you want to try. For parents, allow kids to look at the catalogs and let them pick out a fun and unique crop to try next year. My kids added pumpkin seeds and an ATV to their wish lists.

Put Pencil to Paper. 

Use this time to doodle, or rather, design. Sketch out plans for next year's garden and landscape. A valuable exercise even if the paper ends up in the trash.

Don't let your pots freeze.

It never fails that a flower pot gets left outside somewhere in my yard. A container still holding leftover potting soil holds water and what does water do when it freezes? It expands! This leads to cracked pots. Clay and ceramic are particularly susceptible to cracking, but it happens with plastic too. 

Hopefully, these December garden tasks are checked off your list, and if not this serves as a good reminder. Possibly even inspiration for some gift ideas for you or the gardener in your life. It’s time for me to reformulate gift ideas, but I am confident that come Christmas morning in my house, there will be joy and happiness no matter what present is found under the tree. Because it definitely won’t be an ATV!

Good Growing Tip of the Week: Sand wooden tool handles and rub them with linseed oil. Be sure metal tools are clean of dirt and not resting on the concrete floor where condensation often causes rust to develop.

Thank you for reading!

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Chris Enroth is a horticulture educator with University of Illinois Extension, serving Henderson, McDonough, Knox, and Warren counties since 2012. Chris provides horticulture programming with an emphasis on the home gardener, landscape maintenance personnel, and commercial landscapers. Additional responsibilities include coordinating local county Master Gardener and Master Naturalist volunteers - providing their training, continuing education, advanced training, seasonal events, and organizing community outreach programs for horticulture and conservation assistance/education. In his spare time, Chris enjoys the outdoors, lounging in the garden among the flowers (weeds to most).