This Month in Your Garden- December 2023

Coastal Region- Brad Fowler

  • Unexpected temperature drops in early winter may cause cold damage to plants, but wait to do corrective pruning until the damage can be fully assessed in late winter or early spring. Additionally, make sure to prune based on the needs of each specific plant.
  • Consider leaving perennials through the winter. This will help avoid some cold damage and preserve the habitat of many beneficial insects.
  • Vegetable gardens can be viable throughout winter by utilizing a well-thought-out planting and harvesting plan.
  • Many spring flowering bulbs like tulips and hyacinths can be planted in December.
  • The Coastal Region may experience quite a bit of temperature variation in December, creating a situation where warm and cool season weeds may be problematic at the same time. Make sure to have a good weed management program in place to keep weeds at bay. When treating weeds with herbicides, always follow all label instructions.
  • Always be on the lookout for new plants that can provide winter interest through blooming, unique form, or attractive foliage. Camelias, Paperbush, and many Holly species are just a few additions that could spice up the winter landscape.
Rutabaga and Mustard ready to be harvested.

Rutabaga and Mustard ready to be harvested.
Brad Fowler, ©2023, Clemson Extension

Winter annual weeds like Hairy Bittercress may be present at the same time as warm season weeds.

Winter annual weeds like Hairy Bittercress may be present at the same time as warm season weeds.
Brad Fowler, ©2023, Clemson Extension

Midlands Region- Jackie Jordan

December is all about indoor gardening. There is a plethora of holiday plants to choose from.

  • Poinsettia is the quintessential holiday plant.
  • Thanksgiving and Christmas cacti can bloom for several weeks.
  • Florist cyclamen comes in shades of red, pink, and white.
  • Paperwhite daffodils and amaryllis bulbs can be forced indoors without pre-chilling.
  • Kalanchoe is a low-maintenance option available in single and double varieties that bloom in shades of yellow, white, red, orange, pink and magenta.
  • A living Christmas tree can be a great option, but it should only be kept indoors for around ten days.
  • If you celebrate with a live cut Christmas tree, remember to check water levels often.
  • Greenery from boxwoods, magnolias, nandinas, smilax, juniper and many other evergreens can be used to make a garland, a wreath, or a kissing ball. Berries and pinecones can also be used in holiday décor.
  • Indoor plants typically need more water once the heat is turned on. Also, be careful not to place plants near drafts or too close to windows, where they might suffer cold damage.


  • Early December is still a great time to plant garden peas.
  • Don’t forget to water your lawn and evergreen trees and shrubs if we haven’t received rain for a few weeks.
  • Plant later spring blooming bulbs if you haven’t already.
  • Maintain a 3-inch layer of mulch to insulate plant roots and limit winter weeds in landscape beds.
  • Garden peas (Pisum sativum) are cool-season crops.
    Garden peas (Pisum sativum) are cool-season crops. Barbara H. Smith, ©2017 HGIC, Clemson Extension

Upstate Region- Barbara Smith

  • The first Friday of December is designated as Arbor Day in South Carolina. Celebrate by planting a tree in your landscape. (Expert Tip: Call 811 to mark utility lines before you dig!)
  • The cold days of December are a perfect time to plan what you want to grow in your spring vegetable garden. By this time of year, we’re all dreaming of fresh vegetables. Make a list of what grew well last year and what didn’t. The seed catalogs for 2024 will soon be arriving in mailboxes and your email inbox; drooling over the choices is allowed.
  • If you have a fescue lawn, keep it free of falling leaves. The mower height should be set at 3 inches. Remember only to cut one-third of the leaf blade at each mowing. Check the leaf blades to make sure your mower blades are sharp. The leaf tips should have a clean cut and not ragged on the ends.
  • Many Upstate tree farms offer fresh Christmas trees, wreaths, and garlands. When choosing a tree that’s already been cut, shake it to make sure it doesn’t shed too many needles. You can also pull lightly on a branch; if needles come off in your hands, the tree is too dry. When you bring your tree home, cut a new slice off the bottom of the trunk before putting it in the tree stand so the tree can absorb water. Check the tree stand daily to make sure the tree has adequate water. Before decorating, check all the light strands to make sure they’re working properly, and that there are no worn or damaged electrical wires.
  • Collect greens, berries, dried flowers, seed pods, and pine cones to make a beautiful Christmas wreath for your front door. Create a friendly holiday gnome to greet your guests at the front door. Creative decorating ideas using fresh greenery will brighten the holiday season. Involve family members and create a new holiday tradition. When gathering greenery, remember that you’re pruning the plant. Make clean cuts just above a leaf node and maintain the correct shape of the plant.
  • This year, start a new holiday tradition with your family by making orange pomander balls to create a festive centerpiece
  • Due to the poisonous effects of mistletoe when ingested, consider making a boxwood kissing ball to decorate an entrance or doorway.
  • December 12th is National Poinsettia Day. It was created in 2002 to mark the death of Joel Robert Poinsett, who brought the first poinsettias to South Carolina from Mexico in the 1820s. Poinsettias have become a Christmas standard throughout the country. Select a healthy plant that has dark green leaves. Caring for a poinsettia is easy. They do best in temperatures between 65 to 75 °F in well-lit, east-facing windows. Never let the plant sit in water, as this will lead to wilted, yellow leaves and root rot.
  • For a different holiday look, amaryllis, orchids, and cyclamens will add a sophisticated look to your home. My favorites are white Phalaenopsis orchids and cyclamens. If cared for properly, they will provide months of enjoyment.
  • Local Christmas tree farms offer fresh trees, wreaths, and garlands.
    Local Christmas tree farms offer fresh trees, wreaths, and garlands. Barbara H. Smith, ©2019 HGIC, Clemson Extension

If this document didn’t answer your questions, please contact HGIC at or 1-888-656-9988.

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