Begin planting now for a bountiful harvest this season.
1. Make Cloches for Tender Tomatoes
Protect your early tomatoes with these simple covers
The earlier you can start tomato plants, the sooner you will reap the reward – the un-comparable flavor of the homegrown tomato. They are cold sensitive and need protection from nighttime temperatures. Cloches, bell-shaped domes that cover young transplants, are an easy way to keep your plants warm. They are made from a variety of materials – glass, plastic bottles (with the tops cut off), woven vines, chicken wire covered in plastic, even clear umbrellas (with the handle removed).
2. Start Summer Vegetable and Herb Seeds Indoors
Get a jump on the growing season
Seeds require warmth and moisture to germinate. In the process of germination, they use up the energy that was stored in the seed. They need the energy that intense light provides to start the process of photosynthesis. Simple florescent fixtures are an easy and pocketbook-friendly way to provide that light. As your seedlings grow, you simply adjust the light higher, keeping it the same distance from your seedlings.
In zones 1 – 5, April.
If you see USDA Plant Hardiness Zones mentioned in this guide, please visit the USDA website to identify your local climate zone and adjust the tips to your local conditions.
3. Plant Potatoes
They need cool soil temperatures to sprout
The night of the new moon, when the sky is at its darkest, is the best time to plant potatoes, according to the Old Farmers Almanac. Cut potatoes into pieces, each with several ‘eyes’ or growing points and let dry for a couple of days before planting to prevent rot and fungus. You can grow them in hilled rows, raised beds, wire towers, and even trash bags. Plant 2″ – 4″ deep and mound soil around the stems as they grow.
In zones 1 – 5, June.
4. Try Companion Planting
Plants that protect your crops
Companion planting combines flowers and herbs with vegetables to protect the vegetables from insect damage. Through the centuries, many famous martyrs have given their lives to a cause. But did you know that certain plants sacrifice themselves to protect other plants? Nasturtiums, for instance, will draw insects away from your cabbage and broccoli. Companion plants also repel insects with a strong scent and some increase the productivity of your vegetables.
5. Sow Cool Season Vegetable Seeds
Plant beets, lettuce, onions, radishes, spinach, and Swiss chard
The colors, tastes, and textures of the first vegetables of the season are irresistible; they remind us of why we garden in the first place. If planted too late, hot weather will cause the plants to bolt to seed and leafy greens to turn bitter.
These vegetables need time to mature during the coolness of spring, so it’s important to sow your seeds as soon as the soil can be worked.
In zones 1 – 6, late April and May.
6. Prune Crape Myrtle and Other Summer Flowering Trees
Encourage the new growth for this year’s flowers
Unlike spring flowering trees, which bloom on the prior year’s growth, summer flowering trees typically bloom on the current year’s growth. You can encourage more vigorous growth by pruning these trees now while they are still dormant. Remove any dead or diseased wood, crossing branches that rub together, branches growing toward the interior of the tree, and old seed heads.
7. Plant Cool Season Annuals
Calendula, pansies, petunias, poppies, snapdragons, and sweet alyssum bring the garden to life
If you live in zone 7 or lower, cool season annuals that you planted in the fall are likely beginning to spring back to life. In colder regions, these fall plantings may not have made it through the winter. Seeds are an inexpensive way to experiment with a wide variety of flowers, allowing you to discover what performs best in your garden. Purchase small plants to give your containers instant appeal.
Zones 1 – 6, April.
8. Repot Houseplants and Hanging Baskets
They need fresh nutrients and room to grow
Whether you have kept them in the house, garage, or greenhouse, most houseplants are usually looking a little ragged this time of year. Many have lost most of their leaves, become root-bound, or have brown edges on the foliage. It’s time to wake up these plants with a fresh potting mixture, fertilizer, and generous amounts of water. If the plant is root-bound, prune away a third of the roots and try to loosen the remaining root ball.
Zones 1 – 6, April.
9. Plant an Old-Fashioned Rose Garden
Delight the senses with these hardy shrubs
As a young girl, I remember feeling intoxicated by the perfume of my grandmother’s rose garden, surrounded by clouds of petals in a magical place. Antique and English roses were her favorites not just for the scent, but also for the low maintenance, disease resistance, and abundance of blooms. These roses are hardy shrubs that will thrive in many soil conditions and grow up to five feet tall and wide.
Get your hands dirty during this month of garden multi-tasking.
10. Make a Vegetable Trellis
Provide support for pole beans and many other vegetables
You can use sticks, bamboo, old ladders and garden tools, and even old bicycle wheels to make a vegetable trellis. So look around your garage, yard, the attic and get your creative juices flowing. Trellises should be six to eight feet tall and shaped like a flat plane, a folded structure – like a ladder, a teepee shape, a dome, or a tunnel.
11. Set Out Summer Vegetable and Herb Transplants
As the soil warms, these plants begin to thrive
Set out basil, cucumber, eggplant, fennel, lemon grass, melon, oregano, pepper, squash, sweet corn, thyme, and tomato plants this month. These warm season vegetables and herbs begin to flourish as the soil warms. Mix a generous helping of compost (2″-3″) into your planting beds, set out your transplants level with or slightly lower than soil level, mulch, water thoroughly, and fertilize with liquid organic fertilizer.
Zones 1 – 6, late May for cucumbers and melons.
12. Deadhead Cool Season Annuals
Removing spent flowers encourages more flowering
When flowers fade, the plants begin to put all of their energy into producing seed, and this leaves little energy left to produce new flowers. Deadheading is the simply removing the spent flowers so the plant will put its energy into making new flowers instead of seed. Depending on the specific annual, you can remove the flowers by pinching or with small clippers.
13. Fertilize Trees and Shrubs
Provide the ingredients your plants need for photosynthesis
Plants make their food through photosynthesis, but they require certain ingredients from the surrounding soil to do so. If any of the required ingredients – nutrients – is missing, the plant will never reach its potential. The need for nutrients is highest in the early spring when trees and shrubs behave like sprinters, putting on a major burst of growth; growth continues throughout the season, but at a much slower pace.
14. Attract Pollinators to Your Garden
Bees cannot resist these flowers
The most effective pollinators in the insect world, bees pollinate a third of the food crops on which the human population depends. Pollen is attracted to the tiny baskets on their legs through an electrostatic charge carried by their furry little bodies. Ensure they pollinate your crops by planting flowers and herbs throughout vegetable and fruit gardens. Try asters, borage, clover, dill, oregano, salvia, sunflowers, and yarrow.
15. Plant Pumpkins and Gourds
For delicious holiday meals and fun decorations
Plant your pumpkins and gourds, but don’t stand beside them too long or you might get wrapped up. Gourd vines will grow a foot a day, quickly taking over whatever is in their path. So give them plenty of room – 15′ for pumpkins and 30′ for gourds. It is best to grow gourds on an arbor or fence, and pumpkins should run along the ground. Keep plants well watered and fed.
Zones 1 – 6, late May and early June.
16. Beat Insects with Row Covers
An inexpensive and chemical-free way to keep insects away
Lightweight and permeable, row covers allow air, water, and light to pass through to plants. What they do not allow through are insects that stress, damage, and even kill your plants. You can use them with or without supports like wire hoops, bury the edges in the soil, or seal them with bricks or boards. Don’t leave any gaps for the insects to get in.
17. Plant Lily Bulbs
Asiatic, calla, canna, and rain lilies – There’s a lily for every garden
Asiatic and Oriental lilies are ‘true’ lilies whose scent and large, showy flowers have made them a staple of floral bouquets. Many other plants use the name ‘lily’, as well – calla, canna, daylily, rain lily, and tiger lily. They require full sun and – except the canna lily – rich, loamy, well-drained soil. Canna lilies, whose size and foliage resemble a tropical ginger more than a lily, performs well in wet conditions.
Watch your garden grow into a sea of green as you continue sowing, planting flowers, and nurturing young vegetables.
18. Clean Perennial Beds
Remove dead foliage and flower stalks to make room for new growth
The flower heads on herbaceous perennials such as coreopsis, daisies, Echinacea, and rudbeckia are an important food source for songbirds and should be left standing throughout the winter months. As new foliage peaks through the soil in the spring, it’s time to trim back the dead foliage and flower stalks from last year, pull back the mulch, and fertilize. For gardeners in zones 7 and below, this may need to be done in April.
19. Prune Spring Flowering Trees and Shrubs
Encourage healthy growth and flowering next year
Because trees and shrubs that bloom in spring do so on the previous year’s growth, encouraging vigorous growth now means more flowers next spring. Prune after the tree or shrub has stopped blooming – this is also a good time to fertilize – but before the summer equinox in June. The equinox marks the shortening of days, and this signals to the plants that it is time for them to set their flower buds for next year.
20. Plant Milkweed for the Monarch Butterflies
Support this threatened species
The only host plant for the Monarch butterfly, milkweed produces clusters of tiny flowers in shades of green, cream, pink, and brilliant orange. These hardy perennials are all most as showy as the butterflies that seek them. Make milkweed a staple of your garden and get a front row seat to one of nature’s miracles, the metamorphosis of a caterpillar into a butterfly.
21. Plant Pole Beans
There are many to choose from and all are easy to grow
The term ‘pole bean’ refers not to the specific type of bean, but to it’s growing characteristics. Pole beans include your classic green beans, purple beans, wax beans, and lima beans. More work than bush beans – worth it for the longer yield times, pole beans are climbers. Tree branches, bamboo teepees, trellises, and even tomato cages provide adequate support for these hardy bean varieties.
Zones 1 – 5, June.
22. Thin Fruit on Trees
Thinning produces larger fruit
It just seems wrong to pluck off a bunch of fruits before they have developed, but branches heavily laden with fruit are likely to break, and much of the fruit may drop from the tree before ripening. If left to overbear, fruit trees may not bear the following year. Thinning the fruit, however, will encourage the remaining fruit to grow larger, the color to be better, and the flavor to be more intense.
23. Plant Summer Annuals
The time is right for many seeds and transplants
Bachelors’ buttons, calendula, cleome, cosmos, impatiens, marigolds, morning glory, salvia, sunflowers, and zinnias are but a few of a very long list of options for summer color, most of which grow well from seed. Although transplants purchased at your garden center give you a head start on the season, seeds give you many more options – so you can experiment – and save money.
As the spring season winds down, the fruits of your seeding, fertilization, and pruning efforts will transition you from prep to harvest season. In the next chapter, we’ll provide a smorgasbord of tips to keep your crops producing healthy feasts for your eyes and your stomach all summer long.
Once the summer season is in full swing, it’s time to multitask. This chapter will help you keep your plants healthy with pest control tactics, compost tea, and rain barrels so you can harvest the fruits of your spring efforts at peak ripeness for a successful summer season.
Feed, water, and protect plants from insects during this period of vigorous growth.
24. Start a Compost Pile
For the ideal organic fertilizer and soil conditioner
Compost ingredients include grass clippings, dried leaves, shredded newspaper, and kitchen scraps – produce scraps, coffee grounds, and egg shells. Don’t compost meat or seafood scraps because they will attract pests. For proper decomposition to take place, the pile needs to be in full sun, kept moist, and aerated – turned with a pitchfork- occasionally. Placing your pile on the bare ground allows earthworms and other beneficial organisms to help the process and enrich the compost even more.
25. Patrol for Insects
Catching them early is key to control
The gardener must also be the security guard for his crops, keeping a constant lookout for signs of damaging insects. A daily walk through the garden looking at plant stalks and the undersides of leaves is a starting point, but there are a couple of early warning alarms available as well. Pheromone traps lure the moths that produce armyworms, cabbage loopers, and corn earworms. And sticky traps attract aphids, flies, leafhoppers, and beetles.
26. Install Drip Irrigation
Provide consistent water and reduce labor
Drip irrigation systems supply water very slowly to plants, increasing watering efficiency, eliminating inconsistent soil moisture, and reducing the amount of waste. Soil nutrient loss through leaching is minimized, and the soil maintains a better balance of air and water, both critical factors in growing healthy plants. Soil erosion and weed growth are reduced and because foliage stays dry, soil borne diseases are kept at bay.
27. Harvest and Dry Herbs
Herbs harvested now will retain their peak flavor
When flower buds appear on your herbs, the concentrations of essential oils are at their peak, and it’s time to harvest. The strong afternoon sun bakes herbs, reducing the plants essential oils, so harvest early in the day once the dew has dried. Strip the leaves from the lower stems, use cotton string to tie them into bundles, and hang them in a dark area with good circulation.
28. Set Up a Rain Barrel
Give your plants a healthy drink and conserve a precious resource
Think about the rain that falls on your roof. Two inches of rain on an average 2,500 square foot roof equates to 3,000 gallons of water. Free of minerals, salts, and chemicals found in groundwater, rainwater is a healthier drink for your plants. Barrels attached to gutter downspouts and set up on a platform to allow gravity feed are a simple way to collect this water.
29. Mix Up a Batch of Compost Tea
Use it on Tomatoes and squash for disease control
Organic gardeners use compost to enrich their soil and provide nutrients for plant growth. Making tea from compost increases its usefulness even further, and when used in a foliar spray, it suppresses many plant diseases. Use a five-gallon bucket of water to steep a shovel full of compost for three days, making sure the mixture is aerated to prevent the growth of oxygen-depleting organisms. Compost tea is full of living microorganisms, so use it immediately.
30. Harvest Potatoes
They are at their peak when the foliage dies back
After potato vines begin to bloom, usually 10 – 12 weeks after planting, new potatoes are not far behind. Carefully hand dig to locate these tender morsels, replacing any soil you moved. As the vines mature and begin to turn brown, lift the entire plant with a pitchfork – carefully so as not to damage any of the potatoes, knock off any excess soil, and spread the potatoes in a shady area to dry.
Zones 1 – 5, September.
31. Mulch Around Plants
For moisture conservation and weed suppression
Aside from being aesthetically pleasing, a thick layer of mulch suppresses weeds and disease, keeps the soil moist, temperatures moderated, and improves the soil when it breaks down. There are many mulches you can use; some of the best are free. Use grass clippings, leaves, and compost to provide rich nutrients for your plants and to keep invasive foreign weeds out of your garden. Layer newspaper underneath the mulch around your fruits and vegetables to completely block any hint of sun, making weed suppression much more effective.
32. Prune Berries
Remove old canes to make room for new growth
Like so many plants that bloom in spring, berries flower and produce fruit on the prior year’s growth. Each blackberry cane lives for two years; growing leaves the first year and fruit the second year; canes that produced fruit in the current season will not do so again, so they must be removed. Pruning helps prevent disease by providing good air circulation and reducing plant stress.
33. Start Seeds for a Fall Garden
What to plant in July? Try broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, and collards
Start your seeds about twelve weeks before the average first frost date for your area. Scrub planting trays with very hot water and a mild dish detergent , pre-moisten a high-quality seed-starting mix, and place the seed trays in a cool, shady location. Seeds for fall crops are sprouted in hot, sunny weather, so it is critical that we supply consistent soil moisture and shade. If you garden in a very hot climate, consider starting plants indoors.
Zones 7 – 9, August.
34. Control Weeds Organically
Try these time-tested methods
The goal of organic weed control is to reduce weed populations to an acceptable level, not to eradicate them completely – that would be impossible. Weeds are present for a reason; they are nature’s method of balancing nutrients in the soil. You can suppress weeds with mulch, physically remove them before they go to seed, or spray them with a mixture of vinegar and a few drops of dish detergent.
35. Control Insects With These Simple Tips
Ways to target the bad insects and leave the beneficial insects unharmed
In your kitchen, you have an arsenal of weapons in the fight against damaging insects. Add a tablespoon of canola oil and a couple of drops of dish soap to a quart of water for a spray that will devastate mites, aphids, and mealy bugs. Two tablespoons of baking soda mixed in a quart of water helps control fungal diseases. And a mix of equal parts water and milk help control powdery mildew.
36. Take Tomato Cuttings
An easy way to grow a late season crop
As July rolls around, many of the tomatoes planted in spring have seen their better days and are barely producing fruit. To extend your harvest, take six-inch cuttings from these plants and make new ones that will produce fruit well into the fall. Tomatoes started from seed require 6 – 8 weeks to reach transplanting size, whereas, tomatoes started from cuttings are ready to transplant in as little as two weeks.
Zones 1 – 5, June.
The fast pace continues with harvesting, propagating, pruning, and sowing seed.
37. Prune Summer Flowering Shrubs
Pruning encourages more flowering
Major annual pruning on shrubs that bloom in the summer should be performed in late winter when the plants are dormant. A light pruning now, however, has a couple of benefits. Much like annual flowering plants, trimming off faded flowers encourages additional blooms on many shrubs, including butterfly bushes and roses. Removing awkward growth and lightly shaping keeps them neat and tidy.
38. Take Cuttings From Shrubs and Roses
Fall cuttings are the easiest way to grow new plants
Semi-hardwood cuttings, taken from firm stems with mature leaves in the fall have a high success rate. Make each cutting 4″-6″ long – use a sharp, sterilized knife, remove the lower leaves, trim remaining leaves in half, and treat the stems with a rooting compound. Place the cuttings in a sterile, well-drained medium that retains moisture – coarse sand or a mixture of sand, perlite, and peat – and water. Cover the container or tray with plastic to maintain humidity and mist frequently.
39. Harvest Pole Beans
Pick now for easy dry storage
Packed with protein, fiber, and vitamins, dry pole beans store well for extended periods of time. Beans should remain on the plant as long as possible and harvested only during dry weather – wet conditions promote mold. Leave pods spread out to dry until they become brittle, separate beans from the pods, and leave the beans to air dry for two weeks before storing in airtight containers.
Zones 1 – 5, September.
40. Plant a Bed of Wildflowers
For a wonderful show of color next spring
What to plant in august? Wildflowers! For a successful wildflower garden, take a cue from Mother Nature and plant the seeds in fall. In the wild, they simply fall from the plant and nestle into their new environment over the winter months. Prepare the planting bed by digging or rototilling, removing large rocks, and raking smooth. Scatter the seeds on the soil’s surface – do not cover them, firm the soil, and water well.
41. Fertilize Your Plants With a Layer of Compost
It replaces nutrients used up over the summer
Actively growing plants deplete the soil of many nutrients, so we must replace those nutrients to keep our gardens thriving and give the plants the reserves they need to make it through the winter. Not only does compost provide those nutrients, but it also retains moisture, moderates soil temperatures, improves the soil’s texture, and encourages the growth of beneficial microbes.
42. Make Grape Jam or Jelly
Jams and Jellies preserve that burst of late summer flavor
As a glaze for pork tenderloin, baked into cookies, or in an old-fashioned peanut butter and jelly sandwich, jams and jellies are wonderfully versatile. Use the pulp and skin to make jam and juice only to make jelly, adding sugar according to the recipe. Cook the mixture, stirring constantly, until it reaches a gelling point; fill clean jars and process in a boiling water canner.
43. Test Your Garden Soil
Discover how to optimize your soil’s growth potential
You can determine your soil’s structure; it’s permeability, and the presence of beneficial organisms, like earthworms, simply by careful observation. What you cannot tell is whether you have a deficiency in a specific nutrient or how acidic your soil is. A simple soil test will analyze the composition and character of your soil, providing recommendations on soil additives such as lime or sulfur, based on what you wish to grow. Most county cooperative extension services provide this test, free of charge, to county residents, but you can also purchase a test kit at your local garden or farm center.
As August fades, gardeners will be greeted by autumn: the season of harvest. In the next chapter, you’ll learn when to sow seeds for a colorful salad garden, how to cultivate perfectly prepared gourds, and how to keep your garden growing through first frost with hoophouses and rowcovers.
The onset of cool nights and mild days doesn’t have to mean the end of your growing season. This chapter will walk you through the use of rowcovers, root cellars, greenhouses, soil tests, and other techniques to keep your favorite flavorful plants producing through first frost.
Divide perennials, plant fall vegetables, and harvest summer crops.
44. Harvest Pumpkins and Gourds
Tips on cleaning and storage
A ripe pumpkin has developed its full color and a firm rind; a soft rind indicates the pumpkin is not ripe and, if picked, it will shrivel and spoil. Once the vines die and turn brown, before the first frost, harvest your pumpkins. Mature gourds, on the other hand, can be left on the vine until after the first frost. Immature gourds do not dry successfully, and are prone to frost damage, so pick them early to use as decorations for fall and Halloween.
Zones 1 – 5, October.
45. Sow Seeds for a Salad Garden
Try carrots, kale, lettuce, and radishes
What to plant in September? Arugula, carrots, kale, radishes, spinach, and Bibb, butterhead, leaf, and romaine lettuce love the cool temperatures of fall and may continue growing through winter and into early spring if given light protection. A superior performer that does not mind freezing temperatures is maché, also called corn salad. This small, rosette-shaped lettuce has a smooth, buttery texture and mildly nutty flavor.
Zones 1 – 5, August.
46. Become a Seed Saver
Save money and help preserve genetic diversity
Open-pollinated, Heirloom seeds produce plants that can vary significantly in genetic makeup. Natural selection – Darwin’s theory – ensures that the most robust plants produce seed with traits that will ensure their survival – disease resistance, heat or cold tolerance, and better fruit production. Saving seeds from the healthiest plants year-to-year preserves these traits, giving the home gardener superior results. Store your seeds dry in airtight containers in a cool, dry place.
47. Plant Cover Crops
They protect and enrich the soil
Cover crops are a magic elixir for the soil, adding organic matter, suppressing weeds, preventing soil erosion, supporting microorganisms, and turning sunshine into plant food. The deep roots of many cover crops break up compacted subsoil, improving aeration. To attract and support healthy beneficial insect populations, allowing patches of the crop to mature and produce flowers attracts and supports healthy beneficial insect populations. Try crimson clover, wild mustard, and winter peas.
48. Divide Spring Blooming Perennials
Reduce overcrowding and have plants to share
Overcrowded perennials will begin to decline in vigor and even stop blooming. Dig up the entire plant and shake off excess soil. Here’s the hard part – take a shovel and chop it into several pieces. Though it may seem abusive or even deadly, your plants will thank you for it. Replant one of the pieces in place of the original perennial. Expand your planting areas with the remaining pieces or give them as gifts.
49. Plant Garlic
For a bountiful harvest next summer
A kitchen staple, garlic is super-food and medicine that should be a staple in every garden. Softneck and elephant garlic perform well in temperate locations and if you are north of zone 5, plant hardneck garlic. Loosen the first 12″ of soil in a well-drained, sunny location. Break apart the bulb, keeping the dry husk intact, plant the cloves 4″ apart and 2″ deep, and mulch heavily.
50. Set out Fall Vegetable Transplants
These vegetables love the warm days and cool nights
When you pull plants out of their containers, stress and root injury can occur. Water transplants thoroughly before planting to reduce stress and handle tender roots with care. Be sure that the top of the soil is even with or slightly below the top of the root ball, mulch around plants with 2″-3″ of compost, and fertilize with fish emulsion or compost tea.
Zones 1 – 5, August.
Prepare your plants for cold weather and harvest a few nuts.
51. Divide and Plant Spring Flowering Bulbs
Give them time to settle in for the winter
Spring flowering bulbs require very little care, but over time – three to five years – they become overcrowded and will bloom less or even stop blooming altogether. Dividing and replanting these bulbs, giving them room to spread boosts their health and increases flowering. Carefully so as not to damage bulbs, dig down underneath the roots and lift the mat of roots. Tease the roots apart and separate small offset bulbs that will mature and bloom in a few years.
Zones 1 – 6, September.
52. Bring Tender Plants Indoors
Tips for bringing your plants indoors and leaving pests outside
Some houseplants will grow more indoors in the winter than they did outdoors in the summer if they receive adequate light and care. Inspect for insects and remove or treat them with an appropriate organic pesticide. Submerge the plants in a tub of lukewarm water to bring soil borne insects to the surface. Repot plants that have become root bound or sickly, give all of your plants a light application of fertilizer, and gradually acclimate them to the indoor environment.
53. Build a Hoop House
Extend your harvest with this easy project
A hoop house is a basic greenhouse structure constructed with metal or plastic hoops covered in one or preferably, two layers of plastic. The air between the two layers acts as additional insulation, keeping the house warmer. Build your ground frame of 2″x6″ lumber placed on end in a level, well-drained area that receives full sun. On the interior of the frame along the longest sides, drive 18″-24″ lengths of pipe every 3′. Secure the hoops in these pipes and cover with plastic.
54. Build an Outdoor Root Cellar
Safely store your root vegetables for the winter
Perhaps the title should have read ‘Dig a Hole in the Ground’. The soil is an amazing insulator. Combine it with some straw or dried leaves, cover it with plywood, and safely preserve your root vegetables for use throughout the winter months. Dig your pit deep enough for your vegetables to remain below the soil’s surface, flare the sides to prevent cave-ins, and line it straw or leaves.
55. Fill Planters with Cool Season Annuals
Combinations of these plants will brighten any landscape
Follow the ‘rule of threes’, a classic design principle, and you are guaranteed stunning planters. First, you need a vertical element – tall plant – such as ornamental grass, snapdragons, or goldenrod. Next is the filler or a medium growing plant such as garden mums, pansies, or ornamental cabbage. And finally, choose a low-growing plant that will spill over and cascade down the sides of the container. Try lobelia, nasturtium, petunias, or verbena.
56. Harvest Nuts
Harvest chestnuts, walnuts, and pecan for a fall treat
What would the holidays be like without chestnut stuffing, walnut pound cake, and pecan pie? Harvest chestnuts, walnuts, and pecans after they have fallen from the tree – no climbing needed. The large spiny outer hull of chestnuts and the staining juice of the walnut husks, both of which should be removed immediately, make gloves a necessity. More elusive to the eye because of their smaller size, pecans can be harvested without the gloves.
Extend the growing season for leafy greens, grow citrus indoors, and get crafty with materials from the garden.
57. Grow Citrus in the Greenhouse
Their fruit is a welcome winter treat
Meyers’ lemon, key lime, dwarf tangerine, and dwarf mandarin orange are among the many citrus trees that grow well in a greenhouse under certain conditions. Citrus trees require six to eight hours of strong light, temperatures ranging from 60º – 85º Fahrenheit, consistent moisture, and monthly applications of fertilizer. Monitor carefully for pests – aphids, mealybugs, scale insects, and whiteflies, and keep the insecticidal soap handy.
58. Improve Your Soil
Feed your soil and it will feed your plants
Flowers, fruits, and vegetables exhaust the nutrients in the soil, so to keep soil healthy, nutrients must be replenished. Feed the soil and the soil will feed your plants; add organic fertilizers, compost, and other soil amendments. Healthy, well-balanced soil that is full of nutrients supports healthy plants, improve yields, and results in nutritionally packed, more flavorful fruits and vegetables.
59. Plant Trees and Shrubs
Cool air and warm soil stimulates root growth
Long after the air temperatures have dipped, the soil remains warm, and the roots of trees and shrubs continue to grow. Planting in the fall allows new trees and shrubs to “settle in” before the ground freezes. Dig the planting hole only slightly less deep than the root ball of your plant but twice as wide – soft soil allows tender roots to spread more easily. Backfill the hole with a 50:50 mix of native soil and compost, mulch heavily, and water thoroughly.
60. Protect Leafy Greens With Row Covers
Blanket these crops to extend your harvest
These “crop blankets” are made of a lightweight, permeable material that allows the sunshine and water in but keeps the chill air out. Garden hoops, while not necessary, keep the fabric well above the crop allowing for better air circulation – critical in the battle against diseases. Use landscape fabric pins, bricks, or long boards to secure the ends of the fabric or entrench the ends in the soil to keep out the cold.
Zones 1 – 6, late September and early October.
61. Build Protective Mounds Around Roses
Mounds of mulch provide much needed insulation
In areas above zone 8, roses are vulnerable to damage caused by cycles of freezing and thawing soil, as well as cold winds. After the first frost of the season, clear away any plant debris beneath the roses, and mound soil around the base to cover the bud union and up to two feet of the shrub. Add a thick layer of mulch after the first hard freeze.
62. Practice Proper Garden Hygiene
Keep fungus and diseases at bay with good sanitation
Remove any crop residues – foliage, stems, and fruit – that remain in your garden, as they will harbor diseases and provide refuge for overwintering pest insects. Diseases easily overwinter and thrive in a warm compost pile, so dispose of any diseased materials in the trash. Clean, growing containers, seed trays, and propagation tools with very hot water and dish detergent; and disinfect pruning shears with hydrogen peroxide after every use.
63. Make Holiday Decorations
Craft elegant wreaths from your garden bounty
Feathery plumes of ornamental grasses, grapevine, twigs, acorns, gourds, pyracantha berries, dried hydrangea flowers, pinecones, colorful dried leaves, and evergreen foliage are but a few of the materials you can use in fall decorations. Limited only by your imagination, combine these materials in wreaths, swags, and holiday centerpieces. Attach ornamental grass and berries to a grapevine wreath and place a gourd on the interior for a simple, but elegant decoration.
After fall fades into the snowy season, it’s time for you and your garden to hibernate—right? Not necessarily. The next chapter is packed with ideas, from raised beds to indoor micro greens and spring garden planning, that will keep you on track to reap next season’s bounty.
Sure, veggie production slows down in the winter—but that doesn’t mean your productivity has to. Use the snowy season to build raised beds, build gourd-based birdhouses, nurture beneficial bugs, and study seed catelogues to prep yourself for a better-than-ever spring season.
Grow indoors and enjoy leafy greens all winter while planning your spring garden.
64. Build a Raised Bed
They are easy on the back and ideal for your crops
Building rich, loamy soil requires years of adding amendments, practicing proper crop rotation, and suffering through many backaches. Raised beds allow you to skip ahead by years and are much easier to work; many designs are accessible to the physically challenged. Construct bed walls with brick, concrete block (plant herbs in the holes), cedar, redwood, or old railroad ties; double dig the existing soil, removing any weeds, and fill the planter with a mix of quality topsoil and compost.
65. Make a Garden Plan
It’s a great way to prevent many common gardening mistakes
Make a simple sketch of your planting areas, noting their dimensions and keep a few copies handy. For each growing season, note which crops were grown where so you will know how to rotate them. Consider what crops were successful the previous season, new vegetables you would like to try, and planting and harvest times. The amount of properly prepared soil will dictate just how much you can grow. Remember to plan for successive sowing of those vegetables that mature very fast, like lettuce and radishes.
66. Grow Micro-Greens Inside
For gorgeous salads all winter
Micro-greens are the very young tender leaves of a variety of herbs and vegetables. Combinations of arugula, basil, beets, kale, cilantro, red cabbage, and radish, to name a few, are showing up in fine restaurants everywhere. Easy to grow indoors, they need a bright light and consistent moisture. When your greens are 10 – 14 days old, it’s time to harvest.
67. Release Beneficial Insects in the Greenhouse
Natural predators are an effective way to control damaging insects
With a brightly colored shield on her back, poisonous deposits in her knee joints, and toxic blood – she’s a killer. The ladybug has a voracious appetite – one bug can eat up to 5,000 insects in its lifetime. Shipped live, they should be kept in the refrigerator until their release. Water plants thoroughly, leaving the water to drip from the foliage and release the ladybugs in the early evening so they have all night to settle into their new home.
68. Study Seed Catalogs
For a wealth of growing tips and information
Winter is the perfect time to sit down with all of those lovely seed catalogs. Along with all of those pretty photos in your seed catalog is information on specific growing conditions for each seed variety. The cultural conditions refer to required sun exposure, soil conditions – wet or dry, Ph. range – acid or alkaline, and temperature conditions – heat or cold tolerance and when to plant. Other information you will find addresses disease resistance or susceptibility, germination guides, and harvesting directions.
69. Turn Your Gourds Into Birdhouses
Support these winged garden helpers
For birdhouses and birdfeeders, gourds are an easy, natural material that will last for many years. Carefully clean gourds scrubbing off any mold or mildew, and allow them to dry completely. Cut a small hole – 1 ½” in diameter – 4″ from the bottom of the gourd with a ‘hole’ saw or utility knife and remove seeds and chaff from the interior. Hang your houses on a tree limb or post just outside of a window, at least 5′ high, to enjoy watching your new neighbors as they move in and raise families.
Get organized, sharpen your tools, and let the pruning begin.
70. Prune Your Fruit Trees
Pruning now will increase production this season
Winter temperatures reduce the stress trees experience from pruning, and the lack of foliage makes it easier to see where cuts need to be made. Remove the “three D’s” – dead, dying, and diseased wood, any ‘suckers’ growing from the base, and any “water sprouts” – branches shooting straight up from another branch. Open the tree’s canopy by removing crossing, downward growing, and excess interior branches.
1 – 6, late February or early March.
71. Sharpen Your Garden Tools
Sharp tools provide optimum performance in the garden
It’s not necessary to hone an edge so sharp that you could shave with it, but sharp, well cared for tools are a joy to work with. With some steel wool, rags, oil, and a rough file, you can sharpen just about any garden tool. Most have only one beveled side, and this is the only side that you should attempt to sharpen. Using the steel wool, remove any rust, and oil lightly to prevent future rust.
72. Prune Grapevines
Pruning while dormant reduces stress on your vines
“Prune the grape vines while they are sleeping”, my father used to say. Dormant pruning encourages new fruiting canes and removes excess growth, increasing circulation and sun exposure. The foliage on vines with dense growth and too many canes will shade out fruit clusters, reducing production. Dense foliage is also an open invitation to mildew. Be bold with the pruners, as the proper cuts may seem severe.
Zones 1 – 6, late February or early March.
73. Organize Your Garden Shed
Organize now to be ready for spring planting
Taking the time to organize tools and supplies in the garden shed can save hours of frustration. A simple pegboard, a handful of hooks, or a wooden trellis hung on the wall is all you need to store hand tools, wire baskets, and garden twine. Inexpensive wooden crates, placed on their sides and stacked on top of one another, provide ideal storage for bags of fertilizer and soil, pots, watering cans, and other supplies.
Plan for crop rotation, mix up some soil, and continue winter pruning.
74. Prune Ornamental Grasses
Remove old foliage to make room for lush new growth
Ornamental grasses bring texture and animation to the garden, their graceful movements bringing it to life. To keep grasses healthy and productive, prune them annually in late winter. Pull the grass into a tight bundle, secure it with a bungee cord or twine, and use hedge pruners to remove two-thirds of the growth. Bundling the grass before cutting makes the pruning and disposal much easier.
75. Prune Non-Flowering Deciduous Trees
Dormancy helps minimize potential pruning damage
Pruning allows us to train young trees, promote the health of our mature trees, and remove any limbs that might be hazardous to humans. For non-flowering deciduous trees, pruning is best performed while the trees are in their dormant state. During winter, it is easier to see what needs to be trimmed and less likely that pruning will tear bark, causing damage.
76. Make Your Own Potting Soil
Save money with this simple recipe
What makes a good potting mix? Potting soil should be rich in nutrients, loamy -with lots of different particle sizes, and well drained but able to retain moisture at the same time. Try a mix of half compost and half garden soil with a handful of sand and use the mix immediately or pasteurize it for storage. A cardboard box lines with aluminum foil is all you need to heat the soil, killing weed seeds and bacteria.
76. Practice Crop Rotation
Avoid problems with soil borne diseases and insects
Growing a specific vegetable or family of vegetables in the same spot every year promotes soil-borne pests and diseases, and depletes the soil of various nutrients, which leads to lower yields. Specific families of plants, like the nightshades – eggplant, peppers, potatoes, and tomatoes – should be grouped together as one crop. Garden experts recommend a four-year crop rotation, easy advice to follow. Simply design your garden with four separate planting areas and move your vegetables to a new area each year.
Nurturing a garden that keeps your kitchen full takes year-round work, but the 77 creative and practical tips in this guide are sure to keep your plants and soil thriving through every season. Be proactive by keeping your seeding, soil maintenance, harvesting, building, and pest management efforts strong throughout the year and you’ll be rewarded with a continuously plentiful harvest.
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