Snow People Garden Guardians

Zone 8b, Willamette Valley, Oregon

🍪When I need to take a break from the munching cookies, I head out into the garden and just observe. Life in the garden is apparent everywhere. Calendula flowers shine their sunny faces at me. Tiny birds flit here and there kicking mulch around and swinging on flower stalks while plucking seeds. The brassicas are still standing tall like the protectors at the green gate of Argonath. 

Oregon Dark Eyed Junco on an echinacea seed head.
Oregon Dark Eyed Junco on an echinacea seed head.

Although I enjoy the quiet moments in the garden, there is still plenty to dream and do in December.

Soil Testing

Soil testing has transformed the way I apply nutrients and amendments. Fertilizers list their NPK rating. N=Nitrogen P=Phosphorus K=Potassium. Because I have a lot of organic matter (compost) in my raised beds, my levels of phosphorus, potassium, and other minerals and micronutrients tested very high. (Read, too high.) Soil pH was well into the neutral zone. 

So last two seasons, I have only supplemented nitrogen in the form of feather meal to prevent further build up of those nutrients. I have also dialed back the addition of compost to my beds. Saving us $$! Upon re-reading my A & L Labs results I should have added sulfur as well. 

Read more about Soil Testing and don’t miss my video to help you get started. 

Our honeycrisp apple tree is ready for leaf clean-up and pruning.
Our honeycrisp apple tree is ready for leaf clean-up and pruning.

Fruit Tree Care

  • Prune all fruit trees except cherries.
  • Remove any lingering fruit tree leaves and fallen fruit from your property to prevent pests and disease from over-wintering.
  • Inspect trunk base for rodent chewing damage.
  • Ensure that the trunk does not have any mulch touching the bark to prevent trunk rot and to discourage rodents.
  • Pull weeds and top off mulch. 
  • Evaluate and refine your IPM plan for next year.

Wait to Prune

  • Grapes: Wait until after a hard frost in January.
  • Blueberries, Elderberries, and Roses: Wait for February.

Check your Stored Vegetables 🥔🥕🧄🧅

Peek in on your potatoes and knock off any eyes and remove any that have soft spots or black spots. Check the rest of your root vegetables and squash, and remove any that are looking sketchy. 

There’s still time to…

Lawn Care  

Avoid walking on your lawn when it’s frozen. If you walk a regular path, consider building a permanent pathway. Pathways are my favorite way to add charm to my landscape. If you haven’t already, be sure to winterize your lawn mower by removing ethanol gas and cleaning grass from under the chassis. 

Tool Care

It’s a good time to clean and sharpen your tools. I use steel wool or a scouring pad to scrub off any rust. For stubborn rust soak overnight in 5% acid white vinegar. Then I spray a bit of WD-40 on my tools and rub it in with paper towels. I also scrub out garden buckets with a scrub brush and water. 

Hose Bibs

Disconnect garden hoses. Secure insulating covers over your hose bibs. 

House Plants

December is when our succulents start dropping off like flies. Move succulents to the warmest and sunniest place in your house for the winter. Water them sparingly with room temperature water. Many of our foliage plants are tropical under-story plants. They will be fine in the low light, but appreciate being misted to compensate for the dry winter air. 

🐦🦋Wildlife Care🐞🐝

Watch for sick birds. Salmonella spreads quickly at busy feeders. If you find any sick birds, take down your feeders and bird baths for a couple weeks. Sanitize before setting up again. 

Birdbaths: Continue to clean once a week. The cooler weather will inhibit algae growth, but to keep it from spreading sickness it should be flushed out and scrubbed regularly.


  • Suet provides energy and is tidy so as not to encourage rodents. 
  • Rodent Control: If using a seed feeder get the good stuff. Birds are choosy and will fling out the seeds they don’t like. Then mice and rats will clean up the discards. I use black sunflower seeds in a tight mesh cylinder feeder. The birds have to work the seeds out individually. I also bring my feeders in at night.
  • Thistle socks are a favorite of goldfinches. Be sure to wash between fillings.
  • Leave seed heads and overwintering vegetables. Don’t cut back your dead flower and herb stalks, goldfinches and juncos will snack on them all winter. Also, I watch goldfinches tearing off pieces of chard, broccoli, kale, and cauliflower greens. It may look a tad messy, but watching the birds feast on it all makes it worth it. 

Hummingbirds: Some of our Anna’s hummingbirds choose to overwinter and rely on nectar feeders to supplement their diet. Clean and refill at least once a week. I have a glass feeder and like to pour the nectar in while it is still very hot to help sanitize the feeder. Then I let it cool on my counter. Bring it in at night to prevent freezing. Read more about hummingbirds.

Bugs & other critters: 🍂Leave the leaves, wherever you can. (Except in the orchard—those have to go.) Use them to cover your beds and bare soil. Leave flower stalks and seed heads and such until early spring. 🐞 🐛🦋Our insect friends overwinter as larvae, eggs, or in their adult form. They need shelter and will thank you by coming back in large numbers in the spring. I always leave spider egg sacs too. 🕷Spiders are voracious consumers of pest species, and they are an important food source for hummingbirds. Hummingbirds also use spider webs for nest building material. 🕸

Project Idea – Rainwater Harvesting 

Infiltration trench near our blueberry patch

Rainwater Harvesting and other forms of stormwater management! Not only is it legal in Oregon—it’s encouraged. We get about 38” of rain a year in the Willamette Valley, Oregon. Learn some ways to catch and use this water for the benefit of the local watershed, pollinators, and most importantly—you.


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