Green thumbs know that caring for your garden is a year-long job. Each month brings its own unique set of chores and challenges, and staying on top of your tasks will help you find success in your garden. Stick to these monthly chores to keep your garden in great shape for plenty of seasons to come.
While the beginning of the year may not seem like a great time to get in the garden for most of the country, there is no shortage of to-dos. First off, if you got a Christmas tree for the holidays, it's time to recycle it. Take a look at garden catalogs and get your orders in so that you'll be prepared when spring rolls around. Northerners and anyone living in places that see freezing temperatures overnight should check for frost heaves around outdoor plants and apply mulch as needed.
February is a strange month, as it yields quite different results for people living in different zones. Those in warm climates may face unpredictable weather while northerners may see these random warm days as a rare opportunity to go outside and check on the garden for the first time in months.
The first signs of spring are showing. Those in the mid-Atlantic can continue to watch for frost heaves and start seeds of cool-season vegetables and of annual flowers, while inspection is still the main role for those in the midwest. Those in the Northeast should focus on replacing mulch around any plant crowns that have been exposed by frost heaves and continuing to inspect trees and shrubs for bark damage. The Pacific Northwest will likely see spring sooner and can start harvesting cool-season vegetables while the southern part of the Pacific Coast is busy pruning and cutting back on shrubs. The Southwest should focus on fertilization of fruit trees and checking them for aphids while the Southeast should still shelter tender plants and sow seeds for cool-season vegetables.
March is another unpredictable month for many regions and in some cases, even in relatively warm climates like Georgia's. For all regions, it's smart to start a garden journal, which can help you improve your garden systematically for years to come.
For the mid-Atlantic, wet soils and frost warnings are still apparent, so plant hardy annuals, then plant perennial vegetables and fruits when the frost is over. For the midwest, pruning shrubs that flower on new wood and trimming back on ornamental grasses, and spraying your fruit trees is top priority. In the Pacific Northwest, gardeners should be applying compost to their soil and deadheading early bloomers. Pacific Coasters will be ready to fertilize their trees and shrubs, South-westerners should be preoccupied with planting summer-flowering bulbs, and those in the Southeast can start planting cool-season vegetables.
Spring is in full swing in the south, while in the north, there are still some frosty days. However, most regions are seeing significant progress in their gardens as their plants power forward in spring mode. The important thing for all regions is to have a comprehensive to-do list for your region at the ready so that you're not stuck doing spring chores in 80-degree weather.
Gardeners in all regions should send samples of their soil to their local county extension for testing and to ensure soil is ready for the seasons ahead. Once the results come back, amend soil as directed by the extension. You can also turn over your compost pile, prune shrubs that bloom on old wood after they have finished blooming, plant new perennials, and divide old perennials as needed.
May is the turning point to summer for many southern regions and serves as prime time for gardening in the north, as May's spring days are steady and consistent. Northerners should ready their to-do lists, whenever they get a chance, and start checking off some necessary spring to-do's. For much of the U.S., gardeners are working against the clock to get these spring tasks under control before the summer comes.
Gardeners in all regions will probably need to water the garden some in May and deadhead spring bulbs after they are done blooming to prevent them from wasting energy on producing seed. Plants will need to be fertilized, and weeding is a must during this time—if weeding chores are started too late into the month, gardeners may be fighting against invasive plants once temperatures soar. Harvest any remaining cool-season vegetables and plant warm-season vegetables, assuming soil has been tested and amended (which should've been done in April). The compost pile should be turned over, or if it has already broken down, use the compost in the garden and start a new pile. Finally, be on high alert for pests and diseases, such as aphids, asparagus beetles, cabbage worms, cutworms, scale, snails, slugs, leaf spot, mildew, and rust, and spray for ticks.
While June is a month friendly to plants in the north, the south is already deep into oppressive summer heat. Southern gardeners will have to be more watchful over insect pests, plant diseases. Northern gardeners will have the same task, just not to the same degree.
Gardeners in all regions should be removing suckers from tomato plants, pruning shrubs that bloom on old wood after they are done flowering, using mature compost to side-dress plants, placing row covers or netting bushes with ripening berries to keep birds away, and inspecting plants for damage. Keep an eye on any damage from four-lined plant bugs (Poecilocapsus lineatus), nests of bagworms on trees, and any sign of Japanese beetles (Popillia japonica) on crops like gourds, pumpkins, and squash.
July is mid-summer for all regions, which can spell trouble for oppressively hot areas (mostly the south). Southern gardens should prioritize fighting drought in their gardens while northern gardeners should keep an eye on any dry spots, as they won't have as much of a threat of drought.
For all regions, continuing to remove suckers from tomato plants is a top priority, as well as making sure that the plants are supported either with stakes or tomato cages. On top of the typical host of pests, keep an eye out for thrips, tomato fruitworm, tomato hornworm, spider mites, chinch bugs, scale, snails, and slugs. Also look out for diseases such as leaf spot, powdery mildew, and rust. All gardeners should fertilize heat-resistant flowers such as coleus, hibiscus, Melampodium, Pentas, plumbago, moss rose, and zinnias. In mid-July, mums should be pinched one last time and any ripe crops, like zucchini plants, should be picked regularly. Blueberries should be picked before they're left to birds.
In the North, annual and vegetable gardens are settling down for the fall. Even pumpkins can be sighted as early as the end of the month in New England. In the south, however, the summer is still going strong and there are plenty of summer chores to do.
For most regions, anticipating heat waves and humidity means being smart about what time of day gardeners choose to do their work. Watering the garden will be essential through multiple scorching days, and continue to watch for insect pests like thrips, tomato fruitworms, tomato hornworms, spider mites, chinch bugs, scale, snails, and slugs. Plant diseases are still running rampant as well, so inspect your plants for any diseased foliage, remove it, and dispose of it properly (meaning, do not put it in the compost pile). Harvesting should be top of mind as the month closes out.
While September may be unpredictable in northern regions, the unpredictability can be even more extreme in the Southeast. Compost piles will need to be tended to and turned over at least one last time during September, and flower beds are in need of tidying up after a bountiful summer.
Gardeners everywhere will need to cut back perennials that are done blooming and trim off diseased vegetation and dispose of it properly (meaning, do not compost it). Spray Japanese knotweed while it is blooming. The herbicide will have the most impact now.
October is prime harvest time for many regions, though for the north, it's hard to say if an Indian summer will show up or if the first frost will rear its head. The south will be growing lots of things, still, and there will be a roster of tasks to get through before the chill sets in. A warm October is a great time to be working in the garden, especially because for many regions, humidity is lower, and those pesky mosquitoes have been killed off on cold nights.
All gardeners should send another sample of soil to their local cooperative extension to be tested, and add amendments as recommended. Garden beds will need to be cleaned up and tended to by removing plant material and using any disease-free garden debris to start a new compost pile. Compost the leaves that you rake off the lawn, but shred them first for easier decomposition.
As soon as cooler weather moves in, plant new trees and shrubs. Keep them well-watered until the ground freezes (at which point water will not be able to seep down to the roots). Also plant cool-season annuals and cover your mums, asters, and other fall flowers on nights when the forecast calls for a frost. This will extend their blooming season. Harvest and preserve herbs, and harvest winter squash once their vines die back or, at the very latest, before a hard freeze. Continue to pick cool-season crops (whether underground crops like beets or cole crops like cauliflower) whenever they are ready. Failing to stay on top of the harvest can slow your plants down prematurely.
In the North, November is a time for lots of chores to complete during potentially frigid days, while the South typically sees cool days and slower pace of fall vegetable gardening. Northerners should take this time to evaluate their garden layout and check out the "bones", or architecture, of the garden. Record critiques in the garden journal in the case that gardeners would want to add hardscape or evergreen shrubs to improve the architecture.
All regions should be raking leaves off the lawn to use in making leaf mold, mulch, or compost, adding organic matter to flower borders and other garden beds, and covering compost piles so that the rain doesn't drain them of all their nutrients. Those in the mid-Atlantic are busy pulling the last of the weeds from their gardens, midwesterners are continuing to harvest cool-season vegetables, and north-easterners are deer-proofing their areas and getting their gardens winter-ready. Pacific coast and northwestern gardeners are sowing wildflower seeds and protecting their gardens from slugs, south-westerners are planting cool-season vegetables, and those in the southeast are keeping an eye out for frost warnings and continuing to plant perennials.
For northerners, the ground is likely already frozen in December, and winter protection of plants is at highest priority during this time. However, in southern regions, plants are able to cool off without the same threat of constant frost. Gardeners in these regions should take advantage by growing plants that you can't grow for most of the year and by undertaking tasks requiring vigorous physical activity.
Gardeners in all regions should take stock of their gardens to determine which changes they want to make for the following year.