December Gardening Tips for the South

As you count down the days to holiday fun, set aside a few hours for gardening fun.

Create Festive Holiday Decor

There's nothing like fresh greenery to make holiday gatherings fragrantly festive. Get the longest life from wreaths and garlands by spraying them with an antidesiccant. If you're concerned about them drying out, you can also treat with a flame-retardant product.

Take care when using fresh evergreens indoors; the sap can take the finish off wood. Display greens on colorful cloth or parchment paper to protect your surfaces.

Wreaths last longest when kept cool outdoors. For that reason, it's better to hang a wreath on the outside of an all-glass storm door rather than between your front door and an all-glass door (a lot of heat can build up in that space and dry out your wreath).

Indoors, take care when decorating if you have pets or curious toddlers. Boxwood, holly, Jerusalem cherry, and mistletoe are all poisonous; display these jolly beauties out of reach of young hands and curious animals. And in Florida, take care if you gather red-fruited stems of Brazilian pepper. Many individuals develop allergic reactions to this plant, which is related to poison ivy and sumac.

Plant Bulbs

Tuck spring-flowering bulbs into planting beds. It's okay to dress planting areas with pansies or snapdragons to add color through winter. Forget-me-nots also pair beautifully with bulbs, offering spring blooms.

Larger bulbs produce larger flowers. Always purchase the biggest bulb you can afford.

Look for deals on bulbs at retailers who are clearing inventory. Cull bulbs carefully, tossing any with soft spots. Plant dry, firm bulbs.

Trees and Shrubs

Plant bare-root trees this month. Bare-root trees can be a great bargain; high-quality trees are much less expensive when they're not potted. You may find citrus, fruit, and nut trees now at your local garden center.

You can still plant shrubs in your landscape. Top candidates include hydrangea, Indian hawthorn, mock orange, flowering quince, and spirea.


Look for herbs at local garden centers. Pot up a few favorites for growing on a sunny windowsill indoors. Or save money and plant seeds of your favorite herbs in pots and keep them in a sunny window.

Cold-Weather Strategies

If there's frost predicted in the weather forecast, water your plants thoroughly. Well-watered plants withstand frost better.

Shift cold-sensitive plants in containers under cover when frost threatens. Stash them on a covered porch, beneath a deck, or in a garage or shed.

If you're covering plants for an overnight cold snap, make sure covers extend to the ground. The covers trap radiant heat in soil and hold it around the plant, preventing frost from forming. Fabric covers, such as burlap, agricultural fabrics, or bed sheets, work well.

Slip protective insulating covers over outdoor faucets to protect them from freezing. Be sure to close interior shut-off valves and drain faucets before covering.

December Pruning

Remove any damaged wood from fruit or shade trees. Clip brown fronds on ferns; snip brown tops on perennials. However, avoid pruning any spring-flowering shrubs, such as azalea, spirea, or flowering quince -- they've already made their flowers for next spring.


This is a good time of year to remove seedlings of weedy trees. These are trees that self-sow freely, such as elm, hackberry, privet, and oak. Seedlings are easiest to pull when they're young.


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