The New Year is a time for renewal. A time to reflect on personal successes and failures, to look to the future, set goals and map out plans for the coming seasons. Blah, blah, blah … I guess I’m not that deep.
For me, the New Year simply introduces an opportunity to try again. And as a gardener, the prospect of another chance to create my “perfect” garden is both exciting and intimidating.
Thankfully, the seasonal cycle offers many gardeners a time of physical rest, ideal for salivating over glossy seed catalogs and deciding what plants will hit the compost pile come spring and which ones will be divvied up and shared with friends. Most importantly, it presents us with an occasion to think about how well crops did (or didn’t do) and to prepare for the next growing season.
I’ve found that every year I spend as a gardener results in a whole pile of lessons learned and another pile of things to try next year, which I then have to reconfigure into some sort of garden plan. Below is my own blow-by-blow mini garden guide for the 2015 growing season. I live in USDA hardiness zone 6, but gardeners from zones 4 thru 8 will be able to glean both timely and useful information from it. Consider using it as a gardening compass to help guide you to your own “perfect” garden. I’ll try my best not to steer you wrong.
- Start designing this year’s garden (yep, already). Choose vegetable varieties by reviewing notes from last year and focusing on the details of those dog-eared catalog pages. Plan on trying a few different varieties every year—you never know when you’ll find a hit.
- For the perennial bed, make a list of what gets divided come spring, and start collecting magazine images with new plants you’d like to try.
- Set up your seed-starting paraphernalia. Order your seeds from a reputable company, and start seeds of early cool-season crops, like broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage, according to package directions.
- Toward the end of this month, when the spring soil no longer sticks to your shovel, add some compost to the vegetable garden and turn over the soil. Sow seeds of radish, lettuce, peas, beets and spinach directly into the soil.
- Indoors, focus on starting seeds of warm-season crops, like tomatoes, peppers, eggplants and flowering annuals.
- Clean remaining leaves out of shrub beds and perennial borders, and cut back any perennials still on their feet.
- Clear away winter mulch mounded over roses and cut ornamental grasses back to 8 inches.
- Begin acclimating indoor plant starts to outdoor conditions by gradually exposing them to the outside environment. Increase the time they spend outdoors everyday until they are out 24/7. (You’ll want to make sure they are indoors on frosty nights).
- Now is a fine time to divide summer blooming perennials and to stake varieties prone to flopping or splitting.
- Set transplants of cool-season vegetables into the garden, covering them with plastic cloches or floating row cover for extra protection.
- Plant bare-root roses and perennials early this month.
- Start designing container plantings by positioning the pots and filling them with a blend of potting soil and compost. Hold off on planting them, though, until the danger of frost has passed.
- No matter how tempting the weather may seem, refrain from planting annuals and summer vegetables until the danger of frost has passed.
- In late May, sow seeds of warm-season veggies, like zucchini, winter squash, corn and beans. And it’s now safe to nestle in those tomatoes and peppers.
For me, early June is about mulching.
- Spread 1 to 2 inches of compost, mushroom manure, grass clippings, straw or hay between plants in the vegetable garden and perennial border. Don’t allow the mulch to contact the plant’s stem and be sure to adequately cover the soil surface.
- Shrub beds and tree “islands” can be mulched with shredded bark. For added weed suppression, lay newspaper 10 sheets thick on the soil surface then spread the mulch on top.
- Ideally, most plants should receive about 1 inch of water per week either from Mother Nature or your hose. If you did your job and mulched effectively, you can get away with much less (I’ve gone whole seasons without watering even once when I’ve used the newspaper under straw trick).
- For summer flowers, deadheading is a must. Simply cut off any spent blooms to trigger the production of more flowers; and do it continually.
- Enjoy the summer’s first tomatoes this month.
- Yank out the now-bitter lettuce.
- Can, pickle, freeze and process summer’s bounty.
- Put zucchini on the neighbor’s porch, ring the bell, and run.
- Weed religiously—anything left to go to seed will make a million where there once was one.
- In mid-August, sow seeds of late-season vegetables, like turnips (in my opinion the most under-appreciated veggie on the planet), lettuce and radish.
- Start searching your local nursery or your favorite catalog for spring-blooming bulbs. Tulips, daffodils, snowdrops and the like can be planted anytime from late-September until Christmas (though the earlier, the better).
- Now is also an ideal time to plant shrubs.
- Continue to harvest from the veggie patch and divide spring and summer blooming perennials. Enjoy summer’s last show.
- Plant garlic.
- Deconstruct your container plantings, empty the contents into the compost pile and/or take cuttings of favorite varieties to grow indoors.
- Pull out frosted annuals and spent vegetable plants. It’s your call on whether or not to cut back your perennials. Some like the winter interest they add to the garden, while others prefer a “clean” winter landscape.
- Protect late-season crops with a heavyweight floating row cover to extend their harvest well into the autumn.
- Rake fallen leaves out of all garden beds and off the lawn. Chop them up and add them to the compost pile, or use the shredded leaves as winter mulch for perennial and vegetable beds—just keep them off any remaining plants. If you can’t chop them, compost them whole or give them to a gardening neighbor—do not send them to the landfill.
- Sit down and take lots of notes about the season’s garden happenings before you forget them. These notes will prove an invaluable tool over the coming years. Record everything you can.
- Watch the mailbox for catalogs and start dreaming about next year’s “perfect” garden.
- Planning Your Garden Makes Perfect
- 7 Great Garden Themes to Try
- 10 Beginning Gardener Mistakes to Avoid
- 7 Crop Record-Keeping Charts
- Revamp Your Garden with a Garden Coach