Pick your season below…

Link: My online gardening course

Planning

Most of us don’t plant in the winter, but we can plan the upcoming garden.

This works especially well when you already know a little about your soil, you’ve previously measured and drawn your site, and you’ve taken garden notes for the most recent year.

But if not, you can still do some planning:

  • Where will you plant everything this year?
  • Which seeds do you need to buy?
  • What else do you need to build and/or buy for the garden – raised beds, trellises, tools, etc.

Buying seeds

Winter is the time for buying seeds. I do my ordering online, but if you prefer to look through a physical catalog, be sure to order that ahead of time.

Source: High Mowing Seeds

The longer you’ve been gardening, the more seeds you’ll save for yourself, so the fewer you’ll need to buy, but there are always some things to buy – it’s part of the fun.

And if you buy early, you’ll have more choice. 

As much as you can, buy your seeds locally, which doesn’t necessarily mean ultra-locally – it could be within 100 miles or in your state, etc.

They’ll more likely be attuned to your climate than something that was grown on the other side of the country.

And no, your nearby big box stores doesn’t count as local. They generally don’t buy seed locally and even when they do, they usually buy the cheap seed.

Even if you weren’t interested in supporting your local seed growers, it’s worth it to buy local for your own benefit because the seed will generally be better.

Starting Seeds

Some seeds are best started indoors, like many brassicas (broccoli and cauliflower) and nightshades (tomatoes and peppers).

Tomatoes

This happens 4-8 weeks before planting them outside.

It’s worthwhile to download or buy a sowing and planting calendar for your area. 

You can find one online. I’ve seen them for Europe, Australia, and elsewhere. For the U.S. and Canada, my favorite online is the Burpee calendar.

It’s based on the USDA zones and you need to enter a zip code (if you’re in Canada or beyond, you’ll need to find a U.S. zip code that matches your USDA zone).

You can select which crops you’ll be planting and it will build your own custom-made planting calendar, which is nice. But I like to just go to the ‘Click here to view and print dates’ link, which gives me a huge calendar for my zone (you need to select at least 1 crop before that link appears).

Pruning

Light pruning can be done any time of year, but most heavier tree and shrub pruning happens in late winter and very early spring. 

The worst of the winter cold is over, and for deciduous trees, it’s easy to see their form when they’re leafless. Plus, there’s not much else to do in the garden yet, so it’s nice to do pruning now.

Even in hot climates, most big pruning happens in the winter.

If you prune your fruit trees, shrubs, canes, and vines, that’s often done now.

And most other deciduous and evergreen trees are pruned at this time, too.

Plants that flower on new wood can be pruned now and they’ll still flower this year. That tends to be plants that flower later in the spring and in the summer.

Plants that flower on old wood are often pruned soon after they flower in order to give them time to regrow before flowering next year. That includes most spring-flowering plants.

That said, if you encounter such a plant that is particularly overgrown, you could prune it with everything else in late winter/early spring with the knowledge that you’ll lose a lot of flowers for a couple of years. 

All of this being said, I encourage you to make a checklist for your plants in case you have exceptions. For example, many oaks are best pruned earlier in the winter to prevent disease.

Odds and Ends

Winter is a great time to do many other things:

  • I always have something growing inside, but especially in winter, I like to have some greens and herbs growing to have something fresh every day.
  • Activate some EM so you have it ready for springtime.
  • Make a big batch of bokashi.
  • Start worm composting.

Link: My online gardening course

Soil Testing & Fertilizing

You can do a soil test through a lab – and subsequent fertilization based on that test – any time of year, but spring and fall are most common.

I don’t do much broad-spectrum fertilizing too early, but at least a couple of weeks before planting, I’ll often come through with a first spray of the year.

Throughout the year, I tend to spray monthly, but if I can, I like to get out every week or two during late spring and early summer when plants are doing most of their growing.

I always bring in a microbial inoculant and at least 1 fertilizer.

My most common spray is Effective Microorganisms mixed with liquid seaweed, sea minerals, and molasses. 

Sometimes, I use fish instead of sea minerals. A couple of times a year, I brew up some aerated compost tea to go along with it. 

Preparing Beds

We don’t want to work the soil too much when it’s wet, but at some point in the spring, we get things ready for planting.

I don’t do much tilling, but if you do, early spring would be the time.

Regardless, it’s a good time of year to spread a little compost and prepare a seedbed.

If there are new beds to prepare, whether by tilling, double digging, sheet mulching, or some other way, now’s the time for that, too.

If you have a thick mulch, you may even remove it to help warm the soil.

And you may break out the floating row cover, cold frame, hoop house, black plastic, etc., to help warm up the soil.

You may put a small amount of mulch back during planting, and then once the plants are at least a few inches tall, you can bring in some more in order to decrease weeds and improve the soil. Leaves are best for this, but straw works, too.

Planting

Most planting and direct seed sowing happens in spring over a 2 month or so period.

There are a few crops that can be sown when it’s still fairly cold, like peas and most greens, especially kale. 

But most are sown after the last frost, and for many, you want to wait until the soil is quite warm, especially the tomato and squash families, and beans.

It’s worthwhile to download or buy a sowing and planting calendar for your area. You still have to pay attention to the weather (if it’s a cold spring, you’ll plant later) and take into account your microclimate and soil type (if you have clay, your soil will take longer to warm up), but it’s a nice starting point.

You can find one online. I’ve seen them for Europe, Australia, and elsewhere. For the U.S. and Canada, my favorite online is the Burpee calendar.

It’s based on the USDA zones and you need to enter a zip code (if you’re in Canada or beyond, you’ll need to find a U.S. zip code that matches your USDA zone).

You can select which crops you’ll be planting and it will build your own custom-made planting calendar, which is nice. But I like to just go to the ‘Click here to view and print dates’ link, which gives me a huge calendar for my zone (you need to select at least 1 crop before that link appears).

I also love consulting a biodynamic calendar. Biodynamics is admittedly out there, but they grow very high-quality food and their calendars are really interesting. There’s the Maria Thun calendar, the Stella Natura calendar, the Celestial Planting Calendar in Canada, and others.

Planning For A Fall Crop

If you want to have a fall crop of brassicas, you may start the seeds indoors now.

And make sure you have whatever seeds you’ll need, as that planting happens in the summer.

Minimal Pruning

This isn’t the main pruning season, but plants that flower on old wood are often pruned soon after they flower in order to give them time to regrow before flowering next year. 

That includes most spring-flowering plants.

That said, if you encounter such a plant that is particularly overgrown, you could prune it with everything else in late winter/early spring with the knowledge that you’ll lose a lot of flowers for a couple of years. 

Most fruit trees are spring flowerers, but we obviously don’t prune them much at this time because we would be pruning off the fruit.

Link: My online gardening course

Monitoring

This happens at least weekly throughout the growing season, and sometimes daily.

You walk around your garden looking closely at things – the undersides of leaves, the trunks of trees, etc. 

You want to find insect pests, diseases, and weeds before they become a problem.

You check soil moisture. You check plant health.

Some things may need staking or tying up at this time of year.

Pests and Weeds

The heat of late spring and early summer tends to bring the biggest growth spurt, not only for crops, but also weeds and pests.

So at this time of year, the garden is often gardening us.

Weeding becomes a thing. Hopefully, you have a mulch that does some of the work for you, but in most gardens, there are some weeds to pull.

Some of my garden is planted so densely that I pull weeds by hand.

In other parts, I have rows that allow me to use a hoe. I don’t get the roots out with the hoe, but it’s much faster than hand-weeding, so it’s an okay trade-off.

If insects are going to cause problems, now is their main party time.

Japanese Beetles

Most of our pest management effort is spent on prevention, but if a beetle or caterpillar is chomping down on your babies, you may decide to spray a homemade insecticide, perhaps made out of garlic and cayenne pepper, or something purchased like neem oil or insecticidal soap.

Birds may come looking for your fruits, so bird-netting or other measures are placed before that happens.

Fertilizing

During the summer, crops often run out of energy to fully ripen a nutrient-dense crop.

Regular, light fertilizing can keep them going strong.

My most common spray is Effective Microorganisms mixed with liquid seaweed, sea minerals, and molasses

Sometimes, I use liquid fish instead of sea minerals. A couple of times a year, I brew up some aerated compost tea to go along with it. 

Trimming/Deadheading

You can deadhead perennials and annuals throughout the growing season, which is when you just pinch or trim off dead flowers on a regular basis to encourage more flowers to come along. 

Just leave some flowers if you want to collect seed.

And for plants that you don’t want to flower, like lettuces, and herbs such as basil, trim them before they flower.

That delays them from getting to their bitter phase.

Harvesting

We can harvest some things in every season, but summer is when the harvest gets real.

Many crops can be thinned, like carrots and beets, so you can start enjoying them now while also giving more room to those left behind.

And for the same reason, be sure to pick beans, most of the tomato family, most of the squash family, and other fruiting crops regularly.

Cut herbs for drying, ideally just before they flower.

Garlic and potatoes are harvested in mid to late-summer.

Summer is a big preserving time – tomato sauce, pesto, apple sauce, etc.

Planting

And let’s not forget planting.

If you stay on top of the weeding and harvesting, you may have some areas that can be re-planted.

Good candidates are lettuces and all of the other greens, plus herbs, pole beans, carrots and beets, to name a few. But as long as you have 3 months until the first fall frost, most things could still be planted.

And then in mid-late summer, we plant our fall crops. That same list from above is good for fall crops, plus peas and brassicas. 

And we may plant fall-flowering bulbs – crocuses, dahlias, etc.

Garlic is generally planted in late summer/early fall for harvest the following summer.

Link: My online gardening course

Planting

Garlic is generally planted in late summer/early fall for harvest the following summer. You can plant some in spring – it will just be much smaller when you harvest.

Spring-flowering bulbs are planted in the fall, too, like daffodils and tulips, pretty much any time before frost. If you live in a hot climate, you can wait until mid-winter.

Plant winter cover crops at this time, too, often some mixture of grasses and legumes, with perhaps some extras mixed in there. I do this 6-8 weeks before the first frost, so again, it’s kind of late summer/early fall. My summer crops may still be producing.

Tree Planting

Some people prefer to plant trees in the fall. Really, both spring and fall can work well.

If your winters are harsh, spring may be better because it gives the most time for them to get established before winter, whereas if your summers are particularly punishing, fall may be the better time.

If your local garden center has a 30-50% off sale in the fall, that can be an enticing reason to do some fall planting, but you’ll have more choice in the spring, so there is a trade-off.

Maintenance

If you’re growing a fall vegetable garden, you may use something to raise the temperature around your crops to extend their season – a floating row cover, cold frame, hoop house, etc.

Cold Frame

And you should continue with an at-least monthly fertilizing. I’ll say again that my most common spray is Effective Microorganisms mixed with liquid seaweed, sea minerals, and molasses. 

Sometimes, I use fish instead of sea minerals. A couple of times a year, I brew up some aerated compost tea to go along with it. 

Harvesting and Seed Saving

We harvest most things before the frost comes.

But some, like Brussel’s sprouts, kale, parsnips and carrots, taste better after a frost, so leave some there.

Parsley going to seed

Continue seed saving in the fall.

Beans, corn, squash, eggplant – we let these go way past ripe on the plant before saving them.

Soil Work

You can do a soil test through a lab – and subsequent fertilization based on that test – any time of year, but spring and fall are most common, so feel free to do it now.

And fall is when the leaves fall – that’s why it’s called fall (or so I’m told). The most fun job of the year (for me, at least) is raking the leaves into the garden where they will enrich the soil and block at least some of the weeds next spring.

It’s also a good time of year to build a compost pile because you probably have a bunch of crops that are about done and you have leaves. This can happen at any time of year, though.  It’s a good time to turn your pile before winter, though. Some people cover it so it doesn’t get too wet over the winter. I don’t tend to, but if I lived in a rainy climate, I would.

About building the compost pile, though, the one thing I’m not as concerned about as a lot of gardeners are is “tidying up” the garden. Sure, I may throw crop stubble into a compost pile, but I also may just throw the leaves right on top of it where it lies and let it all break down in place. It’s a lot less work.

You need to figure out what works best in your garden. Yes, leaving crops in place could encourage slugs and some insect and disease pests but it also provides homes for beneficials.

In good soil, I expect the good guys will win. In poor soil, I could be convinced that it’s better to leave it fallow and compost everything instead.