Do you hear it? There’s a duet going on out there between squawking birds and chugging lawnmowers. They’re announcing the opening of the gardening season. Finally, it’s time to take out the shovel and dig in the dirt. To keep us humming, and on task, following is a month-by-month list of gardening chores:
Spring is undoubtedly the busiest time in our gardens, but it’s also the most exciting. Take extra time. Experience the garden as it awakens from its winter nap. Relish each delicate blossom and swollen bud and look for buttercups. Take note of what’s going on in the garden. Keep a garden journal - what’s blooming, what’s crawling, what’s the weather like - then, dig in.
Prune, plant and, if necessary, fertilize trees and shrubs. Keep an eye out for awakening insects, especially slugs. Prepare vegetable and flower beds by loosening the soil and turning under well-rotted organic matter. Create or reshape flower and shrub beds. Check and repair the sprinkler system and check for plugged emitters in drip-lines.
Make sure mower blades are sharpened. Spruce up the lawn by giving it a close cut followed by a good raking. Prepare ground for new lawns by incorporating organic matter into the lawn bed.
Edibles: Plant berries. Prune raspberries and fertilize. (Don’t fertilize strawberries in the spring). Start warm-season vegetables indoors - tomatoes, peppers pumpkins and melons. Plant cool season crops - potatoes, beets, lettuce, spinach, onions, cabbage, peas and radishes. Cover the unplanted vegetable garden area with black plastic to control weeds. After blossom drop, begin spraying apple trees for “the worm.”
Flowers: Cut back dead growth from perennials. Start tuberous begonias and dahlia tubers indoors. Plant, fertilize and prune roses. And always, take time to enjoy all of the early spring bloomers.
Procrastinate. Don’t let this show-stopper of a month pass you by. Enjoy every flower, every sound, every smell. Then, dig in…
Watch for late frosts and be prepared to cover plants. Fertilize rhododendrons and azaleas after they’ve finished blooming. Churn up the compost. Continue to plant trees and shrubs. Control weeds by hand picking or spraying. Use pre-emergence and woven weed barrier to keep weeds from germinating.
Core-aerate and fertilize the lawn with a 3-1-3 ratio fertilizer. Renovate or plant new lawn. Begin monitoring water usage by using a device called Moisture Smart or by using tuna cans (when the can is full, turn off the sprinkler). Leave nitrogen-rich grass clippings on the lawn as a top dressing.
Edibles: Begin spraying for “the worm” in cherries toward the end of the month. Warm the soil for warm-season vegetables by covering the planting bed with clear plastic. Begin planting warm-season crops.
Flowers: By Mother’s Day we can begin planting annuals, dahlias and glads. Freshen up old potting soil in containers by adding a little new potting soil. Insulate flower pots in anticipation of late-summer extreme heat by double potting. Groom spring-flowering bulbs. Harden off all plants started indoors before planting them in their permanent homes. Watch for frost.
Before purchasing that particular tree or shrub for the yard, see what it looks like full-grown. Pack a picnic lunch and head out to the Finch Arboretum. Then dig in…
Keep an eye out for pests - the four-legged kind and the six-legged kind. Trap the big fellows if necessary and spray the creepy crawlers only if necessary. Continue planting trees and shrubs. Keep the compost cooking and keep on a weeding.
Edibles: Finish planting all warm-season vegetables and thin all those that are growing. Check plants frequently for pests and diseases. Thin apples, pears and peaches. Continue spraying apples and cherries for their own particular brand of worm - codling moth and cherry fruit fly.
Flowers: Prune spring-flowering trees and shrubs. Fertilize annuals and roses. Groom perennials, spring-flowering bulbs and houseplants. Move houseplants outdoors. Begin collecting flowers for drying. Watch for powdery mildew on begonias, lupins and columbine.
Summer is finally here and it’s time to relax a bit. It’s a perfect time to take in a few garage sales. There are all kinds of garden treasures to be found at these weekly excursions - old pedestals, pots, tools and much more. Then dig in….
Thoroughly soak trees and shrubs about every two weeks. Watch for voracious insects - mites, aphids, scale, cutworms, root weevils and a multitude of caterpillars. Clean the garage, shed and greenhouse.
Edibles: Keep fruit and vegetables harvested to encourage further production. In order to encourage ripening of large winter squash and pumpkins, remove those blossoms and fruit that is just forming, leaving the larger ones to mature. Continue to spray for codling moth in apples and pears.
Flowers: Continue to fertilize annuals and container plants with liquid fertilizer. Divide iris. Keep removing faded flowers from all plants - perennials, annuals and shrubs. Compost.
Stay cool - think water. Design a water feature for the yard or a shade garden. Then, in the cool of the morning or the cool of the night, dig in…
If there are dry spots on the lawn, poke a few holes, pour a little dish soap over them and water. Keep evergreens washed down to prevent the build-up of mites. Keep weeds under control and water, water, water.
Edibles: Continue spraying for codling moth in apples and pears. Harvest and dry herbs. Take the water away from potatoes and onions as their tops die back. Fertilize strawberries the first part of this month.
Flowers: Keep removing faded blossoms. Continue to fertilize, but this time only annual plants. Take cuttings from geraniums and continue to collect flowers for drying.
The growing season is drawing to a close. The rush is on to get chores completed before winter sets in. So, dig in…
Stop pruning about mid-month, but continue planting trees and shrubs. Start bringing houseplants back inside. Clean and check them carefully for hitchhiking insects.
Fertilize the lawn for the third time and core aerate for the second time. Continue to mow the lawn to a height of 1-1/2 to 2 inches.
Edibles: Ripen tomatoes by stressing them. Stop watering until the plant begins to wilt and/or cut a few roots. Winter squash must ripen on the vine. Dig potatoes and onions for storage. Plant garlic and spinach for next year’s harvest. Be prepared to cover crops in case of light frost.
Flowers: Purchase and/or divide perennials. Bring geraniums and fuchsias in for the winter. Plant spring-flowering bulbs - tulips, daffodils etc. Plant bulbs for forcing in pots. Collect flower seed and flowers for drying.
The party’s over. It’s time to close up shop. No more digging.
If you wish, fertilize the lawn for the last time with a low-nitrogen fertilizer. You can mow the lawn short for the last mowing, but don’t scalp it. Start collecting mulching materials to cover roses and perennials for the winter. Drain sprinkler lines and hoses. Clean and store tools.
Edibles: Rake and clean up all fallen fruit and leaves from around the trees. Store fruit and vegetables, checking often for rotting. Bury all garden debris in the garden or add it to the compost pile.
Flowers: Dig and store all summer-flowering bulbs - dahlias, glads, callas, cannas, etc. (I guess there was still a little digging left, after all.) The dead tops of perennials can be left on the plant so they can reseed. Protect rhododendrons and hydrangea for the winter by creating a wind-break around them and covering them with pine needles. Chop up all annuals and add them to the compost or till them into the soil. At the end of the month, begin covering roses and perennials.