Planting by USDA Zone is a good starting point to get a handle on what you should be thinking of planting and when. If you pair this overview of gardening tasks by zone with experience, local knowledge and good year on year note taking then you should have a pretty good annual gardening calendar!
- Watch for and brush off ice and snow from tree and shrub limbs to prevent breakage.
- Use tree wrap on trunks of newly planted trees as well as those species with thin bark like linden, ash, mountain ash, and maple.
- Use this time to give your indoor houseplants a good cleaning. Dust settles on leaves and clogs "pores", hindering light penetration as well as gas and moisture exchange.
- Make plans for the coming seasons garden. Decide where your crops will rotate from last year, and start carpentry projects like cold frames, trellises, and indoor lighting set-ups if possible. Sometimes smaller is better and you may in return get fewer weeds and insects with more produce.
- Start stratifying perennial seeds that need this treatment.
- Look over last year's planting, fertilizing and spraying records. Make notes to reorder successful varieties as well as those you wish to try again.
- Check all house plants closely for insect infestations. Quarantine holiday gift plants until you determine that they are not harboring any pests.
- Add garden record keeping to the list of New Year's resolutions. Make a note of which varieties of flowers and vegetables do best and which do poorly in your garden.
- Give your tools a good cleaning and sharpening.
- Get your seed orders in if you haven’t already to ensure you get what you want. This year plan to grow at least one new vegetable that you've never grown before; it may be better than what you are already growing.
- Resist the urge to work in the garden! Warm spring days can be deceiving, and unpacking perennials too early can spell disaster when the weather inevitably turns again.
- Collect all of your seed starting equipment together so you’ll be ready to go. You will need lights, heat mats, sterile medium, and your preferred pot type.
- Start your first seeds inside for broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, celery, eggplant, head lettuce, onions, and parsley. Most perennial flowers should be started inside by the end of the month as well. You can also start inside flowers and herbs that have a long germination period, like rosemary, snapdragons, and begonias.
- If you aren’t a carpenter, now is a good time to try a straw bale cold frame.
- When deciding on landscape plants, consider ordering trees and shrubs which provide cover and small fruits for our feathered friends. Consider species such as crabapple and hawthorn which can help lure hungry birds from cultivated fruits, if planted on the opposite side of the yard.
- If you haven’t already, now is a great time to prune your fruit trees, berry bushes, and other woody ornamentals on your property. You want to complete this while still dormant and before spring growth begins.
- Direct sow outdoors seeds like Nigella, Poppy, and Larkspur so they get a few weeks of cold temps which will aid in their germination.
- The longer days and shorter nights will stimulate your houseplants to start growing again. Now is a good time to repot them if needed and give them a good feeding.
- Start transplants indoors of tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant.
- Avoid the spring rush and take your lawn mower and any other mechanized tools you use in for service.
- On nice days, turn your compost pile. Resist working your garden soil! Working soil when it is still too cold and wet creates compacted clots.
- Clean up any leftover dried debris from garden beds and toss in the compost pile.
- Buy a notebook and use it to keep all your gardening information. List what you plant in the garden. Include the name of seed companies, plant name, variety, planting date, and harvest date. During the growing season keep notes on how well the plant does. If the variety is susceptible to disease, record what was used to treat any problems. All this information will be helpful in planning future gardens.
- Place birdhouses built this winter outdoors this month. Birds will begin looking for nesting sites soon.
- The second or third week of April should be safe to start the process of hardening off for transplant outside of your onions, parsley, and any other cool season crops that are at least 5 weeks old. Select smaller rather than larger plants of the cole crops (broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, Brussels sprouts) since overly mature plants exposed to low temperatures early in the season tend to bolt into flower too early.
- Scatter annual poppy seeds in flower borders. The fine seeds need no covering. The plants grow rapidly and provide colorful flowers in early summer.
- Fertilize grapes, raspberries, and blueberries before growth resumes.
- If you haven't already done so, sow seeds indoors for eggplant, peppers, and tomatoes.
- Now is a great time to get your soil tested to prep for the coming season. Check with your local Extension Agency for instructions.
- Sow seeds outdoors for the following crops: asparagus, beets, carrots, chard, kohlrabi, leaf lettuce, mustard, onion sets, parsnips, peas, potatoes, radish, spinach, and turnip.
- Establish new plantings of grapes, strawberries, raspberries, asparagus, and rhubarb as soon as the ground can be worked.
- Raspberry canes that will produce this year's crop should be pruned back by 1/4 before growth resumes. Last year's fruiting canes should have been cut down to the ground after harvest last year but if not, do it now.
- Measure the rainfall with a rain gauge posted near the garden so you can tell when to water. The garden needs about one inch of rain per week from April/May to September.
- Plan new landscaping projects on paper first. Do not over plant. Be sure you know the mature size of each plant and allow for growth.
- You can still start seeds indoors of okra, pumpkin, cucumber, winter squash, melons, eggplant, pepper, and tomato. Sow vine crops in individual peat pots since these do not transplant well if roots are disturbed.
- Outdoors you can sow seeds directly into the garden for beets, carrots, chard, kohlrabi, late cabbage, leaf lettuce, mustard, collards, turnips, radish, spinach, onion sets, onion seeds for bunching onions, and peas.
- Keep “hilling up” potatoes.
- Have a trellis system in place for your tomato patch before the plants begin to sprawl.
- Plant new trees and shrubs now.
- Begin hardening-off frost tender plants now including vegetables, herbs, perennial and annual flowers that have been started indoors.
- Fertilize perennial flowers now as growth is beginning. Most will only need fertilizing every three years and only at this time of year.
- If the forecast looks good, sow seeds outdoors of beans, okra, pumpkin, sweet corn, and watermelon. Plant only partial rows of beans and sweet corn so that successive plantings can be done every week or two. Sweet corn should be planted in paired rows or blocks for good pollination.
- By the end of this month, it should be safe to plant almost everything outdoors -tender annual flowers like impatiens as well as tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants. Houseplants, too, can be moved to a shady spot in the yard for their summer vacations.
- Newly transplanted vegetable plants should be protected from cutworms with collars. Cut strips of cardboard two inches wide by eight inches long, staple them into circles and place them around the plants. Press the collar about one inch into the soil. These collars will fence out the cutworms and protect the stems of the vegetable plants.
- In a sunny location with poor soil, plant nasturtiums for a colorful show. They require warm soil to sprout and start blooming in about 50 days. Too much water and fertilizer produces excess leaves and few flowers.
- Cover Brassica crops with floating row cover to protect from cabbage moth and flea beetle damage if these little critters have been a problem in the past.
- Colorado potato beetle adults, eggs and larvae can be hand-picked to remove or sprayed with an organic insecticide, spinosid if infestation is bad. Adults are yellow and black striped beetles. The eggs are yellow and laid in groups on the undersides of leaves. The larvae are humpbacked and red. Look for them on the stem tips. They are present almost all season.
- Also keep an eye out for Striped and spotted cucumber beetles transmit a bacterial wilt to squashes and melons. Adults and eggs can be hand-picked throughout the season.
- Watch for Mexican bean beetle. To be on the safe side you can cover the entire crop with floating row cover as soon as seedlings emerge.
- Aphids of all types show up on a range of host plants as soon as the warm weather arrives. Look for them in newly unfurling foliage and sticky leaves are also a sign of their presence since they secrete a ‘honeydew’. Black sooty bold may also in this sticky substance and while alarming looking does little to no damage since it does not penetrate the leaves. Aphids, however, do damage the plant. Spray leaves with a strong jet of water to dislodge most of them. Insecticidal soap is an organic approved product that provides pretty good control as long as the insects are wetted well. A second and third treatment to kill newly hatched eggs may be needed in 5-7 days.
- Squash vine borer adults are 1 inch long, orange and green day-flying moths that are emerging from the soil now. They lay brown, button-shaped, 1/16 inch eggs at the base of the vines of summer and winter squashes. Examine stems daily and remove eggs by hand to prevent burrowing of larvae as they hatch. Wrap lower 6 –12 inches of stem with aluminum foil or floating row cover to prevent egg laying.
- Mid to late June is an excellent time to take softwood cuttings of shrubs to start new plants. Some shrubs which can be propagated in this way are spirea, lilac and viburnum.
- Stay out of the garden when the vegetable plant leaves are wet. Walking through a wet garden spreads disease from one plant to another.
- After your vegetable garden is well established, it is best to water it thoroughly once a week rather than giving it a light watering every day. That way, a deeper root system is encouraged to develop, which will later help the plants tolerate dry weather.
- Keep a close eye on the quality of your spring crops. Hot weather causes lettuce to bolt and become bitter. Plant a warm season crop as soon as the spring vegetables are harvested.
- In most cases, blossom-end rot on tomatoes, peppers, squash and watermelons can be prevented. Do this by maintaining uniform soil moisture by mulching and watering correctly, planting in well drained soil and not cultivating deeper than one inch within one foot of the plant. Also avoid the use of high nitrogen fertilizers.
- Continue planting direct-seeded, warm season vegetable crops such as beans, summer squash and cucumbers.
- Start seeds indoors for heading cole crops for your fall garden now. Direct sow, radish, carrots, beets, turnips, and kale, in late July through August.
- Watch the leaves of your tomato plants for signs of leaf spot diseases.
- Continue monitoring for pest insects talked about in the June task list.
- Garden flowers, whether annuals or perennials, benefit from "deadheading" after flowering. By removing the spent flower heads, energy is used to produce more flowers or foliage and roots. Many will produce another flush of blooms.
- Flowering requires lots of energy so it can be quite helpful to fertilize flowering annual plants once flowering begins. Fertilize one more time before the end of the season.
- Seeds can continue to be sown throughout July for late crops of beets, bush beans, carrots, chard, Chinese cabbage, cucumbers, summer squash, and corn. Cover with pre-moistened potting soil mix which will not be so likely to crust and crack. To hold in the moisture, cover the rows with a very thin layer of mulch or floating row cover fabric.
- Divide and transplant bearded iris using the vigorous ends of the rhizomes. Discard the old center portion. Cut the leaves back to about six inches.
- Control mosquitoes by eliminating all sources of stagnant water. Consider installing a bat house to encourage bat habitat, they eat mosquitoes!
- A garden needs one inch of rain or water each week. Early morning is the best time to water. Evening watering is less desirable because plant leaves that remain wet through the night are more susceptible to fungus diseases. Mulch plants to reduce water losses and improve yields.
- Check the soil moisture of container grown vegetables and flowers daily. As the temperature rises, some plants may need water twice a day.
- Sow peas in mid to late August for a fall crop.
- Continue your bug removal pest damage inspections! Remove and treat as needed.
- After the last raspberry harvest for the year, prepare for next year while also avoiding diseases by pruning out old flowering canes leaving only 3-4 young canes per foot of row. Wait until spring to prune back shoot tips.
- Avoid pruning trees and shrubs since doing so this late in the season can stimulate new growth that will not harden off in time for the cold winter weather ahead. Delay pruning until the end of the dormant season early next spring.
- Harvest onions and garlic as the tops dry and fall over. Braid garlic tops and hang in a cool, dry place. Cut onion tops back to 1" and dry thoroughly before storing. Use any damaged produce immediately.
- This is a good time to order and plant spring flowering bulbs for next year's early flower display. Plan for different flowering times to extend the season.
- Seeds can again be sown for a late crop of leaf lettuce, mustard greens, Swiss chard and spinach.
- Continue deadheading flowers which will allow plants to use energy reserves for a final flower display.
- Some perennial flowers and bulbs will start to go dormant this month. Marking their location with a painted popsicle stick or drawing out a map of your bed is helpful come spring so you don’t forget where things are.
- Check moisture of hanging baskets and container plantings daily.
- Pick summer squash and zucchini every day or two to keep the plants producing.
- Remove old plants which have stopped producing to eliminate a shelter for insects and disease organisms.
- Every weed that produces seed means more trouble next year. Control weeds before they go to seed.
- Leaf lettuce, chard, spinach and radishes can still be planted for harvest this fall.
- Keep up your inspecting for pests, particularly bean beetles can make a second strong showing this time of year.
- Houseplants that have been "vacationing" in the backyard this summer should be brought in. Give them a good blast of water all over before bringing them in to help remove freeloading insects. Insects in the soil are probably not damaging but more of a nuisance when brought indoors. For the first couple of weeks after the move inspect your plants daily for any emergent insects and treat as needed.
- Make preparations for mulching your beds for the winter. Bagged mulch is always available, but getting a truckload delivered is very economical. If you don’t think you can use a whole truckload, ask your neighbors if you can split a load.
- Many fibrous rooted perennials should be transplanted every 3 -5 years as a general rule. Fall is the time to divide and transplant plants that flower in the spring while fall flowering ones like chrysanthemums should be done in the spring. Cut back tops to 4 -6" to reduce transplant stress. Thoroughly prepare the new planting site.
- Pumpkins, summer squashes, and gourds to be stored should be harvested before the first frost. Pumpkins that have begun showing color will continue to ripen after harvest. Use great care not to nick the rind during harvest since this will lead to more rapid deterioration.
- Keep harvesting second plantings of the cool season vegetables including radishes, lettuce, Chinese cabbage, chard, spinach, broccoli, and the other cole crops. Some such as parsnips, peas, Brussels sprouts, and kale actually have enhanced flavor after a frost.
- Allow plants to finish the summer growth cycle in a normal manner. Never encourage growth with heavy applications of fertilizer or excessive pruning. Plants will delay their dormancy process that has already begun in anticipation of winter in the months ahead. New growth can be injured by an early freeze.
- Fall is a good time for improving your garden soil. Add manure, compost and leaves to increase the organic matter content. Wood ashes contain phosphorous, potassium and calcium. They can be placed on vegetable gardens and flower beds as a top dressing that will feed into the soil all winter.
- Be sure to keep strawberry beds weed free. Every weed you pull now will help make weeding much easier next spring.
- Plant garlic, shallots, and perennial onions.
- Plant spring flowering bulbs.
- Drain the hoses and empty the bird baths before a hard frost.
- Potted perennials can be buried in an empty part of the vegetable garden or surrounded with a thick layer of straw to get them through the winter.
- Collect soil samples now for testing to prepare for next year’s fertilization of the lawn, the vegetable garden, the shrub border and flower beds. Submit separate samples for distinct areas used to grow different types of plants and where growing conditions are different for the same plants. A shady lawn area on a slope should be a different sample than a sunny lawn area.
- Dig and divide spring and summer flowering perennials now. Late summer and fall flowering ones can be done in the spring. Cut foliage back, replant and water well. Wait until winter is in full-swing to add new mulch for winter protection during their first winter.
- Keep an eye on the weather and harvest any remaining summer produce like beans, eggplant, peppers, and tomatoes before a hard frost rolls in.
- Cut and dry or freeze remaining herbs.
- Remove, chop, and compost asparagus tops after they have yellowed and died for the season. Wait until the ground has frozen to mulch.
- Save seeds from favorite self-pollinating, non-hybrid flowers such as marigolds by allowing the flower heads to mature. Lay seeds on newspaper and turn them often to dry. Store the dry seeds in glass jars or envelopes in a cool, dry, dark place.
- Make a note of any particular productive or unsatisfactory varieties of vegetables that you planted this year. Such information can be very useful when planning next years' garden.
- If you haven’t already, get your new spring flowering bulbs planted now.
- Empty, clean and store planters where they will be dry for the winter.
- If you are using a rain barrel or two to conserve water and reduce storm water runoff, they should be emptied and turned over to keep them dry during the winter months. Reconnect your downspout to direct the snowmelt and winter rain away from your foundation.
- Cole crops like Brussels sprouts, cabbage, broccoli, collards and kale are made sweeter by frost so don’t pull them out yet. Harvest them as long as possible. You can also put up a low-tunnel to extend the season.
- Instead of harvesting less hardy late season crops, leave them in the garden and tuck them in with a thick layer of straw so they don’t freeze as early. This includes carrots, beets, leeks, rutabagas, turnips, winter radishes, chard, Chinese cabbage and leaf lettuce. Cover the leaf lettuce first with floating row cover fabric which breathes but will keep the straw out of your salad.
- Spread manure, rotted sawdust, rotted straw, and shredded leaves over the garden and plow them under; you'll be surprised at the difference this organic matter will make in the fertility, physical structure and water-holding capacity of the soil.
- Continue to check houseplants for insects that may have come indoors as you brought the plants inside.
- If your soil has frozen to at least an inch thick, now is the time to start applying a 2-4” layer of protective mulch.
- Oil and store gas powered equipment like lawn mowers and leaf blowers. Repair shops are in a slow period (at least until the snow flies and snow blowers need repair) so arrange for a tune-up and blade sharpening now.
- Order seed catalogs now for garden planning in January. For variety, consider companies that specialize in old and rare varieties or wild flowers.
- Consider gift memberships to local botanical gardens, arboretums or nature centers for the holidays. They are dual purpose gifts, supporting the organization while providing a thoughtful, lasting presents to your family and friends.
- Protect trunks of young trees by wrapping. Surround multi-stemmed and low branching trees and shrubs with chicken wire or hardware cloth held securely against the ground. It should be tall enough to protect branches and high enough that a rabbit can’t hop over it.
- Clean garden tools with a wire brush and apply a light coat of oil to protect them from rusting. Sharpen edges of hoes and spades. Clean, readjust and sharpen the blades of pruning tools. Lightly sand handles and then apply a coat of linseed oil, or paint your handles a bright color like red or orange which will make them easier to spot should you lay them in the grass.
- Drain the fuel tank of the lawn mower or tiller before putting the machine away for the winter.
- If you haven’t already, apply a layer of much on all of your planting beds, especially around your perennials.
- A thick layer of straw over root crops like potatoes, parsnips, and carrots as well as parsley and leeks will protect them long enough to harvest them a little at a time well into the winter.
- Avoid rock salt, which is sodium chloride, to melt sidewalk and driveway ice. Products made of calcium chloride or potassium chloride cause less damage to plants. For traction, sprinkle sand, kitty litter, or wood ashes sparingly. Mix with a little melting compound if more than just traction is needed. Minimize de-icing and traction products to reduce pollution in storm sewers and streams.
- Start reviewing and expanding your garden notes to help with next year's plans.