Whether you are a beginner or a “seasoned” gardener, it seems there is so much to know. Plus there are always questions – what kind of soil is best?; should I do a soil test?; when should I plant bulbs, vegetables, trees?; how do I divide perennials?; and the questions go on and on. The good news is nature is the best teacher and the more you garden, the more you will learn what works and what doesn’t for you. But, for now use the below list for some basic gardening tips. And remember to have fun while growing your own vegetables and flowers!
1. Know your USDA Hardiness Zone – use it as a guide so you don’t plant trees, shrubs and perennials that won’t survive in your area.
2. Know your frost dates – the last frost date in the spring so you know when to plant vegetables and annuals outside and know the first frost date in the fall to bring your plants in from the cold.
3. Not sure when to prune? – prune spring-flowering shrubs, such as lilacs immediately after the blooms fade. They set their flower buds in autumn on last year’s growth. If you prune them in the fall or winter you remove next spring’s flower buds.
4. Apply only composted, rotted manure that has cured for at least six months to your soil. Fresh manure is too high in nitrogen and can “burn” plants; it may also contain pathogens or parasites. Manure from pigs, dogs, and cats should never be used in gardens or compost piles because they may contain parasites that can infect humans. remove next spring’s flower buds.
5. Deadheading is a good practice for perennials and annuals. Because the goal of annual plants is to flower, set seed, and die, removing the old blooms tells annual plants to produce more flowers. Removing spent flowers also encourages plants to use their energy to grow stronger leaves and roots instead of seed production.
6. Pay close attention to how much light different plants need. Grow vegetables in a location that gets at least 8 hours of direct sunlight every day. Most vegetables need full sun to produce the best. If you have some shade, try growing cool-season crops such as lettuce, spinach, Swiss chard, radishes and cabbage (red and green).
7. The best approaches to controlling weeds in the garden are hand-weeding and hoeing. Avoid deep hoeing or cultivating that can bring weed seeds to the soil’s surface so they germinate. Weed early and often so weeds don’t go to seed. Use mulch to smother and prevent annual weeds.
8. Don’t clean up everything in your garden in fall. Leave ornamental grasses for beauty and the birds or insects that will overwinter in them. Leave the seed heads of perennials such as coneflowers as they will also feed the birds. Avoid cutting back marginally hardy perennials, such as garden mums, to increase their chances of surviving a harsh winter..
9. Plant spring-blooming bulbs such as tulips, crocuses, daffodils, etc., in the fall before the ground freezes. In general, place the bulb in a hole that’s two to three times the depth of the bulb. While most hardy bulbs you only need to plant once, and they’ll keep coming up year after year.
10. Deadhead spent flowers on spring-blooming bulbs such as daffodils and hyacinths, so the plants send energy to the bulbs instead of into making seeds. Leave the foliage until it turns brown and can be removed with a gentle tug. The leaves store nutrients needed for the bulb to bloom the following year. Braiding or tying the leaves is not recommended because it reduces the amount of light to the leaf surfaces.
11. Late summer or early autumn is the best time to divide and transplant spring-blooming perennials. The most commonly divided perennials are irises, peonies, hostas and daylilies.
12. Mound your potato plants deep under the soil and store harvested potatoes in complete darkness.Exposure to light turns the skin of potatoes green, an indication that the potato has produced a colorless alkaloid called solanine, a bitter-tasting toxin that, consumed in large quantities, can cause illness. Cut away any green portions or sprouts on potatoes to avoid the problem.
13. Most in-ground garden plants grow best with 1 to 2 inches of water per week. If not enough rain falls, water deeply once a week instead of watering lightly daily. Frequent, shallow watering only moistens the top layer of soil and encourages the plant’s roots to move there instead of growing deeper.
14. Don’t send your fall leaves away! Chop them up and use them as compost ingredients. Pulverized leaves can be left to nourish the lawn. After several hard freezes, when plants have gone completely dormant, you also can use 3-6 inches of shredded leaves as mulch over tender perennials to keep them dormant over winter. Remove the mulch in spring.
15. Understand your soil’s drainage. Roots need oxygen, and if your soil is consistently wet, there are no air pockets for the roots to thrive. Many plants prefer well-drained soil, so amend your soil with organic materials to improve the soil quality.
16. The perfect plants for beginners – some plants are just known to be easier to grow than others – plant these! For easy-to-grow produce, experts recommend tomatoes, peppers, onions, chard, basil and bush beans. Easy to grow and maintain flowers include sunflowers, roses, petunia and black-eyed susan’s to name a few.
17. Trimming and pruning your plants allows for increased air circulation and fewer leaves for water to spill on. Wet leaves can easily lead to mold, rot and a sick plant!
18. Native species of plants are often better adapted to growing in your region than plants from other places in the world. They also are better for local pollinators that evolved with them. If you want to grow plants to support pollinators, avoid newer cultivars with double flowers because all the extra petals make it harder for insects to reach the nectar and pollen.
Month-to-Month Gardening Guide
Prune deciduous (leaf0dropping) trees and shrubs to remove dead or broken branches EXCEPT for spring bloomers (so you don’t remove flower buds). Start planning next summers vegetable garden. Seed catalogs start coming in the mail – try new vegetables and herbs along with your old favorites.
Clean, sharpen and oil garden tools and lawn movers. Wash and scrub pots and flats for seed starting. Order flower, vegetable and herb seeds. Some annuals can be started indoors, especially slow growing marigolds, impatiens, petunias and pansies.
Obtain a soil test so you can properly prepare your beds and lawn for the growing season. Begin lawn work remove winter debris, de-thatch lawn, aerate compacted areas to improve water penetration, fill low spots. Prepare ground for spring planting; sow cool-season vegetables and herbs. Plant deciduous trees and shrubs as soon as the ground is workable. Sow peas outdoors, even if it’s snowy! The earlier they mature, the sweeter they will be. Some vegetables and herbs can be started indoors: peppers, tomatoes, eggplant, lettuce, basil, parsley. When planting seeds use a soil-less growing mix. Remove leaves and debris from your lawn.
If you left your ornamental grasses, cut them back to a height of about 6 to 12 inches. Remove or rake debris from flower beds. Reseed bare spots in lawn. If started seeds indoors, begin moving outdoors for a few hours a day to harden off. Plant cool-season vegetables outside, such as beets, cabbage, lettuce, carrots, kale, Swiss chard, spinach and radishes. Fertilize your lawn.
Plant perennials, deadhead spring bulbs as they fade (but don’t remove the foliage), and start planting summer annuals. Harvest first spring vegetables and replant vacant areas. Compost garden and lawn cuttings, unless diseased. Sow warm-season vegetables and herbs after the last frost date. Transplant warm-season vegetable seedlings to the garden. Plant container gardens.
Weed regularly so they don’t go to seed and steal valuable resources from the soil. Water lawn deep (but not often) to encourage strong roots. All vegetable crops should be in the ground. Look out for Japanese beetles and knock them into a can of soapy water. Remember to water your plants.
Deadhead spent flowers on your plants to preserve energy for producing new blossoms. Keep annuals watered daily during hot dry weather. Harvest tomatoes, zucchini, beans, etc. frequently to encourage production. Start sowing vegetable seeds for the fall in the garden. Pinch back herbs to promote bushier growth. Remove any spent flowers from annuals to ensure continued blooming. Remember to water your plants – it’s Summer! Order spring-blooming bulbs for fall planting.
Cut back the flower stalks of perennials that have finished blooming. Harvest vegetable garden on a daily basis. Maximize your herbs by drying them. Remove dead pea vines, bolted lettuce and other plants that have finished and add them to the compost pile. Keep weeding the gardens. Still time to plant fall crops like beans, beets, broccoli, cabbage, kale, etc. Remember to water your plants!
Plant spring bulbs. This is a great time to plant new trees and shrubs. Keep harvesting vegetables. As annual plants die off, clean out all dead plants and compost. In empty vegetable gardens, consider planting cover crops such as buckwheat or annual rye to protect the soil. Fertilize your lawn. Save seeds from self-pollinating flowers such as marigolds, coneflowers or cosmos to plant next spring. Divide and replant overcrowded perennial beds.
Dig up and store dahlias, canna lilies and other tender plants after the foliage is killed by a frost. Store over the winter. Remove leaves from your lawn; use them as mulch for plants or add to compost pile. Harvest any remaining vegetables sensitive to frost. Did you test your soil? Fall is the time to add any required amendments. Cut perennials 3 to 4 inches from the found once the flower stalks have died and turned brown. Leave seed heads on sunflowers for the birds to eat over the winter.
Till the soil in your vegetable gardens to help reduce pests next spring. Give the compost pile a good turning before winter sets in. Bring garden hoses in, drain outdoor faucets. Clean shovels, spades, pruners and garden tools. Sharpen blades, if needed. Still a good time to plant new trees and shrubs. By the end of the month, winterize your lawn mower.
Make holiday wreaths from grapevines, greens and dry seedpods. Relax and dream about next year’s garden.