Planting by USDA Plant Hardiness 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-to-year note taking then you should have an effective annual gardening calendar!
The game in January is to keep your perennials alive and prepare for the coming growing season. There are some basic steps you can take to make sure you stay on top of the garden during the winter!
- 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. Wipe off leaves with a rag soaked in water with diluted scent-free soap.
- Make plans for the coming season's 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.
- Start stratifying perennial seeds that need this treatment by either planting outside or treating them in your refrigerator.
- 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 with a garden journal. Make a note of which varieties of flowers and vegetables do best and which do poorly in your garden.
- If you haven’t already, order seed catalogs now. For variety, consider companies that specialize in open-pollinated and heirloom varieties.
- Pre-order your bulbs and live plants from your preferred seed company for the whole year so you don’t have to worry about missing out on them once planting time comes around.
As the season quickly approaches it’s time to get prepared! Take the steps you need to get ready for the growing season. A little proactive planning can really help you as the garden season progresses.
- Give your garden 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!
- Collect all of your seed starting equipment so you’ll be ready to go. You will need lights, heat mats, sterile medium, and your preferred tray or pot type.
- 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.
- Start your first seeds inside for broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, celery, head lettuce, onions, and parsley. Most perennial flowers should be started inside by the end of the month as well. You can also start flowers and herbs that have a long germination period, like rosemary, snapdragons, and begonias.
- Start seeds indoors for tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant. Starting these solanaceous plants early ensures you a longer and more productive harvest during your shorter growing season, so long as you take care of them and pot them up accordingly as they grow.
It’s go time! Getting your seeds started on time means you can take full advantage of the growing season. It may seem like a lot to do all at once but we promise you’ll thank us once your garden is full, blooming, and beautiful!
- 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 they’re still dormant and before spring growth begins.
- Get your potatoes, strawberries, asparagus crowns, rhubarb, and onion starts planted this month.
- Direct sow outdoors seeds like Nigella, Poppy, and Delphinium so they get a few weeks of cold temperatures 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 fertilizing.
- If you haven't already done so, start seeds indoors for eggplant, peppers, and tomatoes early in the month.
- 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.
- Fertilize grapes, raspberries, and blueberries before growth resumes.
- 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.
- Now is a great time to get your soil tested to prepare for the coming season. Check with your local Extension Agency for instructions.
- Towards the end of March, remove winter protection from any perennials you had in place and pull back mulch from strawberry and asparagus beds so they can push through easily. Side-dress your asparagus with a gentle, natural nitrogen fertilizer.
Don’t get too excited about the warm weather just yet! Keep tender plants inside for a little while longer, though you can slowly start the process of hardening off. Direct sow your cool weather crops outside.
- The first week of April should be safe to start the process of hardening off your transplants. Onions, parsley, and any other cool season crops that are at least 5 weeks old can be hardened off. 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.
- 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 to September.
- Sow seeds outdoors for the following crops: asparagus, beets, carrots, Swiss chard, kohlrabi, leaf lettuce, mustard greens, parsnips, peas, radishes, spinach, and turnips.
- Scatter annual flower seeds in flower borders. The fine seeds need no covering. The plants grow rapidly and provide colorful flowers in early summer.
- Keep “hilling up” potatoes.
- Plan new landscaping projects on paper first. Do not overplant. Be sure you know the mature size of each plant and allow for growth.
- Raspberry canes that will produce this year's crop should be pruned back by ¼ of its length 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.
- By the second or third week of April, begin hardening off frost tender plants now including vegetables, herbs, perennial and annual flowers that have been started indoors.
May is the month that Zone 6 has its average last frost. After the last frost date it is generally considered safe to plant tender seedlings outdoors. Last frost dates are estimates, so while you can anticipate the last frost, your best bet is to rely on the weather forecast or local recommendations!
- You can still start seeds indoors for okra, squash, cucumber, melons, and watermelons. Sow vining crops in individual peat pots since these do not transplant well if roots are disturbed.
- You can sow another round of seeds outdoors for beets, carrots, Swiss chard, kohlrabi, late cabbage, leaf lettuce, mustard greens, collards, turnips, radish, spinach, onion seeds for bunching onions, and peas.
- Plant any new trees and shrubs by the end of the month.
- Keep “hilling up” potatoes.
- Have a trellis system in place for your tomato patch before the plants begin to sprawl.
- If the forecast looks good, sow seeds outdoors for beans, okra, squash, 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. Houseplants, too, can be moved to a shady spot in the yard for their summer vacations.
- Plant sweet potato slips after the soil has warmed – this may not be until late May or the beginning of June.
- Direct sow sunflowers, nasturtiums, marigolds, borage, basil, and other warm season flowers and herbs.
Keep up with that seeding! As the weather warms up, direct sow outside in successions to make sure you extend your harvest all season long. It’s also important to keep an eye out for pests! Learning to identify and control pest infestations early on can make things way easier on you this season and for the years to come. Our Pest Watch Guide can help you know where to look and how to identify these bugs! Learning pest control basics can also help ensure things don’t get too out of hand with those pests that love to munch.
- 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. The 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. They transmit bacterial wilt to squashes and melons. Adults and eggs can be hand-picked throughout the season.
- Watch out for Mexican bean beetles. 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.’ While it can be alarming, the honeydew itself doesn’t damage 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 wet enough. A second and third treatment to kill newly hatched eggs may be needed in five to seven days.
- Squash vine borer adults are one inch long, orange and green day-flying moths that are emerging from the soil about 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 stems with aluminum foil or floating row cover to prevent egg laying.
- The beginning of 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. Blossom end rot can also be corrected with an application of calcium heavy fertilizer such as bone meal. Avoiding high nitrogen fertilizers can also help.
- Continue seeding warm season vegetable crops such as beans, summer squash, and cucumbers.
- Weed the garden regularly to keep the task easy and manageable.
It’s time to stay on top of the harvest! As vegetables start to produce, be sure to check regularly so crops don’t rot on the vine, get too big, or become snagged by pests before you can get to them! It’s also a great idea to stay on top of succession planting, watering, and deadheading.
- Start seeds indoors for heading cole crops for your fall garden now. Direct sow radishes, 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 pests listed 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 with a balanced fertilizer 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, Swiss chard, cucumbers, and summer squash. Cover with pre-moistened potting soil mix which will be less 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 habitats – 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 fungal 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.
- Pinch the flowers off of herbs like basil, mint, and oregano to promote bushy growth.
- 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 one inch and dry thoroughly before storing. Use any damaged produce immediately.
It’s a marathon, not a sprint. Keep doing that great work of weeding, watering, deadheading, and pest control. Start clearing out fading crops for fall plantings.
- Sow peas in mid-to-late-August for a fall crop.
- Continue your bug removal and 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 three to four 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.
- 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 the moisture levels of hanging baskets and container plantings daily.
- Pick summer squash and zucchini every day or two to keep the plants producing.
- Remove old plants that 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.
- Sow seeds of biennials, such as hollyhock and foxglove.
- Dig, divide, and move daylilies after they have completed their bloom.
- Harvest cantaloupe when the stem separates from the fruit with gentle prodding.
- If you’re using a fall cover crop, sow this seed in late August.
September is a great time to start thinking about where you’re going to keep your storage crops, what your to-do list is for the rest of the season, and what you can do to make your life easier come spring!
- Leaf lettuce, Swiss chard, spinach, and radishes can still be planted for harvest this fall.
- Keep inspecting for pests, particularly bean beetles as they 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 three to five years as a general rule. Fall is the time to divide and transplant plants that flower in the spring while fall flowering plants like chrysanthemums should be done in the spring. Cut back tops to four to six inches to reduce transplant stress. Thoroughly prepare the new planting site with organic matter and necessary amendments.
- Pumpkins, summer squashes, and gourds you want to store 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, cabbage, Swiss 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 at this time of year. 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 phosphorus, 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.
- Get any cover crops you want to use in the ground by mid-month.
Most likely your last major planting of the season is happening now. Get those garlic, shallots, and flower bulbs in the ground. You may even be able to fit in one more round of loose-leaf lettuce if you practice some season extension! Keep an eye on the weather. Finish up your harvests, store your crops, and save your seeds!
- Plant garlic, shallots, walking onions, and potato 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 plants 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 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 particularly productive or unsatisfactory varieties of vegetables that you planted this year. Such information can be very useful when planning next year’s garden.
- Leave seed heads on asters, sunflowers, and cosmos for the birds to eat throughout winter.
If you want to explore season extension this year, experiment with those cold-tolerant greens! Mini hoop houses, cold frames, and repurposed milk jugs can all be used to extend your season.
- 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 stormwater 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, Swiss 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, sawdust, 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 two to four inch 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 blowers need repairs) 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 open-pollinated and heirloom varieties.
Oh, sweet December. As the year comes to a close, consider what worked and didn’t work this year, what you’d like to try again, what you can change, and what experiments are on the docket for next season. The possibilities are endless in December!
- Consider gifting memberships to local botanical gardens, arboretums, or nature centers for the holidays. They are dual purpose gifts, supporting the organization while providing thoughtful, lasting gifts 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 low 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 parsnips, carrots, leeks, and beets 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.
This article was updated on 2/14/24.
Article Written by: Angie Lavezzo
About the Author: Angie Lavezzo is the former general manager of Sow True Seed. Beyond her professional role at Sow True, Angie's passion for gardening extends into personal hands-on experience, fostering plants and reaping bountiful harvests.