December In The Garden….Sit Back And Relax

holiday season

With all of the hustle and bustle of the holiday season, it as a blessing that our desert gardens need little, if any attention during this month, letting us have more time for all of our numerous holiday activities.

holiday season

I realize it is hard to believe that in our year-round gardening climate, that not having to do anything in your garden this month, can be a little hard to swallow. To put your minds at ease, I will get a little more specific….

Do Not Prune

(if you’re desperate, you can prune your deciduous trees)

Do Not FertilizeDo

Not Plant

For those of you “Type A” personalities who just have to find something to do in the garden, you can plant annuals or deciduous trees if you desire.  You can even deadhead spent rose blooms.  But, THAT IS ALL that should be done, and again, only if you are desperate to do something.

holiday season

I have had many people ask me if they can prune their plants now.  The truth is, you can actually do more damage to your plants if you decide to prune them during the cold winter months.  The reason is that pruning stimulates new growth that is very susceptible to cold temperatures and can even lead to the death of your plant.  

Although the frost damaged growth is brown and ugly and it takes all of your willpower to abstain from pruning it, do whatever it takes to keep your hands off!  Go shopping, bake cookies, volunteer, take the kids to visit Santa or any of the other things on your Christmas to-do list.

holiday season

Believe it or not, the ugly brown frost-damaged growth actually protects the branches and leaves underneath.  Some of the dead looking branches are not dead and will produce new growth in the spring.  Hang in there until early March and then you can prune back the ugly growth.

If you just can’t stand the frost-damaged “look”, you can work to prevent it by covering your plants on nights when freezing temperatures will occur.  Materials found around your home that are suitable for coverings, include sheets, towels or even newspaper.  These materials will provide protection of a few degrees.  

For more reliable protection, you can use frost cloth (available at your local nursery), which can protect plants from even lower temperatures when used as directed on the packaging.  Be sure to remove the coverings in the daytime to allow the surrounding area to warm up again.

For more information of frost damage, how to manage it and how to prevent it, please visit The University of Arizona’s Frost Protection Publication.

In the meantime, kick up your feet, drink more eggnog and relax by the fire.  We will have some work to do next month….planting bare-root roses!

holiday season
Noelle Johnson, aka, 'AZ Plant Lady' is a author, horticulturist, and landscape consultant who helps people learn how to create, grow, and maintain beautiful desert gardens that thrive in a hot, dry climate. She does this through her consulting services, her online class Desert Gardening 101, and her monthly membership club, Through the Garden Gate. As she likes to tell desert-dwellers, "Gardening in the desert isn't hard, but it is different."
25 replies
  1. Carol
    Carol says:

    Noelle this is so interesting as this is the time of year … well a bit later I suppose … we prune in New England… but no self respecting shrub or tree here would think of sprouting any growth. Here life is withdrawn so deep it will not creep up and sprout unless there were days and days and days of unseasonal warmth. Lovely images! Carol

  2. fairegarden
    fairegarden says:

    What a relevant and timely post, Noelle! It is nice to not have any gardening chores here than must be done either since it is quite cold! Mulching needs doing, but it can wait until after the holidays. I like that eggnog idea! 🙂

  3. janie
    janie says:

    You are absolutely right, Noelle. I cringe when I see folks rush out to clean up the garden after a freeze. I know it's not pretty, but it has a chance to come back if you just leave it alone.

  4. Autumn Belle
    Autumn Belle says:

    Noelle, I am always amazed by the amount of greenery I see in you desert garden blog and I love your great tips and pictures. My latest post on UFO's is dedicated to you.

  5. Amy
    Amy says:

    Good post, Noelle! It is nice to relax from the garden and do other stuff … like blog! 🙂 I think I like blogging way too much! -Amy

  6. aplantfanatic
    aplantfanatic says:

    great tips noelle…but what do i do here when the weeds are still growing and the lawn needs to be mowed and the plants still need to be trimmed and the pot bound plants need to be transplanted…..waaaaaaa i need a break toooo!
    (some down sides to not having a break here in hawaii…theres also alot of good 🙂 )


  7. Catherine@AGardenerinProgress
    Catherine@AGardenerinProgress says:

    I love the part "just have to find something to do in the garden". That's definitely me 🙂 You're right that keeping busy with the other holiday activities help to keep our minds off the need to garden.
    I think we probably all need a break every so often and that is a good thing about winter, it forces us to.

  8. Kate
    Kate says:

    Hi, AZ;
    Great post and thanks for supporting my non-efforts. 🙂 My neighbors think I'm messy for not pruning in autumn. I think it helps in our SW climates. The tall plants create snowdrifts around the base so they get a little bit of moisture throughout the 'dead season.'

  9. Grace Peterson
    Grace Peterson says:

    Hi Noelle, Your gardens are lovely. Such eye candy for us northerners who are swathed in muck and yuk at present. I'd like to know the identity of the plant in the corner too.

  10. Pomona Belvedere
    Pomona Belvedere says:

    This is my first time at your blog and I'm interested to see what you have to say. I don't garden in the desert but water is an issue and I've developed an interest in low-water plants and their ways.

    I'm also feeling very vindicated in my natural tendency to leave damaged parts on my plants for…well…quite a while.

  11. Kanak Hagjer
    Kanak Hagjer says:

    I love reading your tips on gardening and everything related to it. Your pictures are gorgeous and I'm amazed that there's so much beauty in the desert. Thanks for sharing.

  12. Christine B.
    Christine B. says:

    Great post. I need to steer my sister-in-law to your blog. She lives in AZ as well and keeps asking me about gardening things. I try to tell her gardening in Alaska is a bit different as far as timing for things like pruning but now I can just refer her to your site! We don't prune in the winter either unless the snow is tearing branches with its weight.


  13. Joanne
    Joanne says:

    I needed something to look at to warm me up and the rose was especially lovely.
    I must have missed so many lovely posts being away and so slow catching up.

  14. Balisha
    Balisha says:

    It seems that Mother Nature is giving you time off to get Christmas things done. As usual your pictures are stunning. Have fun "relaxing" this month.

  15. says:


    I apologize for not responding sooner. Getting ready for Christmas had me busy 🙂

    Thank you all for your thoughtful comments. The tree is called an Ironwood tree (Olneya tesota). It is native to the desert and has very hard wood. I will be posting more about it in February when it flowers.

    I will be posting tomorrow and trying to catch up with my correspondence tomorrow. Have a great day!


  16. Monica the Garden Faerie
    Monica the Garden Faerie says:

    I live in Michigan but love arid-type plants. The difference in our climates is staggering. Your roses bloom all winter? Does the lawn (lawn? Was not expecting it in AZ!) stay green all winter? Do you plants go dormant by turning brown? So interesting!

  17. Flower of the Desert
    Flower of the Desert says:

    One idea for those of us that must do something is to check your irrigation if you have it. Do all the yearly checks in the winter, cleaning filters, checking valves for leaks, make sure all emitters are working and placed properly and move/add emitters for trees that have grown.

    I like your page and will be returning. I am in Tucson and am just starting to post online.

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