Throughout the year we plan and prep, plant and harvest. Use this resource as a reminder for your weekly and monthly gardening tasks. This is a long post, but I thought it best to keep it all together for ease of reference.
Where weeks before frost are referred to, I’ve based it on a last frost day that falls somewhere in the second week of May, which is common in this area (zone 5). Images of the calendar months are included throughout, and you can download a pdf of the 2023 calendar here. It’s also linked again at the bottom of this post.
Rest and Plan. Review your photos and notes. Are there things in your garden you’d like to change? Did you have a gap in blooming time (late spring can be a lull for flowers)? Maybe a plant got a lot bigger than you expected it to and should be moved back from the edge next season (purple coneflower in the front yard, I’m looking at you!)? Do you want to add more interest in the garden for next winter? Take advantage of the downtime that comes after the holidays and start planning things you’d like to do in the coming season. It’s easy to make changes with a pencil and paper!
Read more about planning in this earlier blog post.
The new seed catalogs will begin arriving in the mail. Before you start ordering, make sure to take inventory of any seeds that you saved, or might have leftover from last year. Then look for disease-resistant varieties as you make a shopping list for this year. Get your seed starting supplies organized, too, so that you can order anything you might need (Trays? A heat mat? A misting bottle? A new shop light?). Need a reminder of what you might need? Check here.
Once you know what you need, start ordering!
February – it’s when the groundhog reminds us there are six more weeks of winter, but we’re likely to get a few warm days that make us dream of spring!
Now is the time to get your seeds organized and create a sowing schedule. Get tips on a seed starting calendar here. Make sure to identify any seeds that might need a cold period before you can sow them.
For those of us in Zone 5, late February is about 10-12 weeks before the last frost (around 2/12-3/4). This is a good time to set up your seed starting station. If you’re growing any perennials from seed, like foxgloves, yarrow, or feverfew, this is a good time to get them started. You can also start annuals that like to be transplanted while the weather is still cool, like snapdragons. February is also a great time for winter sowing in milk jugs and other containers.
Whether it comes in like a lion or a lamb, March is seed season! In the early weeks, you can finish up your winter sowing jugs.
Mid-March is when things get busy indoors for me! March 12-18th is about 8 weeks before the last frost. When I first wondered whether I should bother to start tomatoes myself, I was in a garden center, and the head of the nursery said “Just start them around St. Patrick’s Day and they’ll be right on time!” So, that’s what I did, and he was right. Right around St. Patrick’s Day I start my tomatoes and peppers. When May rolled around, I noticed mine were bigger than some in the greenhouses I visited, and ready to get right into the garden!
In March, I also start celosia, pincushion flower, china asters, and gomphrena seeds, and I get my ranunculus corms ready. I soak them in water for a few hours (it looks like an octopus gang, or a haul of mini brown bananas), then they go into trays of potting mix to pre-sprout for early transplanting into a raised bed. Meanwhile, a few things will be going into the fridge at this time, like milkweed/butterfly weed and linaria (also called “baby snapdragon” – great for a fairy garden!).
Outside, you can prune trees and shrubs if needed. Make sure not to cut the early spring bloomers (unless you’re removing damage or disease), or you risk cutting the flowers off! Prune spring bloomers just after flowering finishes. Pruned branches can make great plant supports!
Toward the end of March it’s six weeks before the last frost (3/26-4/1). If the snow has melted and your soil is workable, you can start sowing outside, especially in a raised bed. Poppy seeds can even be scattered on top of the snow. Start with seeds that say to plant “as soon as soil can be worked,” “in early spring,” or mention sowing before last frost. You can sow sweet peas and flax now. Sweet peas typically take a week or so longer than vegetable peas to germinate, and it’s okay if they get a little frost or snow on them in the next couple of weeks.
For indoor sowing, LOTS of annuals get started “4-6 weeks before last frost.” For me, this includes orlaya, calendula, euphorbia, frosted explosion grass, honeywort (aka cerinthe), and strawflowers. Broccoli and cauliflower can also be started now. They don’t like the summer heat, and can be transplanted about two weeks before the last frost.
April is Prep Time for me. As the snow thaws and your soil becomes more workable, it’s time to get the garden beds ready. If you planted a cover crop last fall, it’s a good time to turn it under. This will give the “green manure” a chance to break down and start to fertilize your soil, just in time for seedlings.
The week of April 9-15 is about 4 weeks before our last frost. It’s a good time to turn the compost piles, and also a good time to sow grass seed if you have any bare patches.
Outside, conditions are good for direct sowing cold tolerant seeds, or those that need a week or two in frosty conditions. These include nigella, larkspur, cleome, phlox, bachelor buttons, peas, radishes, beets, carrots. Peas will germinate in soil temperatures as low as 40 degrees and can even tolerate being snowed on.
Late April is also a good time to plant shrubs and perennials outdoors. They will have some time for their roots to settle in before the warmth of the spring really wakes them up. Speaking of perennials – you can cut back any old ones now, before the new growth comes through. Be careful with ornamental grasses, and make sure not to cut the tips off of new growth that might be inside. Compost your trimmings (time to start a new part of the pile!)
Indoors, start fast-growing annuals that only need 4 weeks or so until they’ll be ready to transplant, like alyssum or marigolds. If you want to transplant zinnias and cosmos, you can start those now, but they can also be direct-sown after frost. I usually have about two-dozen trays of seedlings at this point, so it’s a matter of whether I have the space to sow these indoors!
Earth Day comes at the end of April (April 22). It’s a good reminder to give the “finished” compost pile a final turn and screen it so it will be ready for use. Amend your planting beds with the compost or additional garden soil as needed so they’re ready for transplants. “Leave the leaves” in place until daytime temperatures are in the 50s, allowing the beneficial bugs to wake up. Alternatively, gently rake them to an out-of-the-way place until the weather warms (then toss them on your compost pile!). For more on soil and amendments, revisit this post.
As the spring temperatures start to creep in, you can start to pull back mulch that you might’ve mounded up on sensitive plants like roses. I do it slowly – a little every couple of days – so they don’t feel like they’ve been tossed out into the cold!
You can also start to sow your salad greens outside. Direct sow kale, lettuce, chard, and spinach. You can even sprinkle spinach seeds on frozen ground and they’ll germinate once things thaw (if the birds don’t get to them first). Lettuce and chard like it cool, but can be frost sensitive. If you can protect seedlings from freezing, go ahead and sow some seeds now.
If you want a jump-start on warm-weather veggies, you can start squashes and cucumbers indoors during the last week of April, since it will be warm in two to three weeks. They can grow quickly, and don’t like being in containers for long, so make sure not to start them too early. You can also just wait until it gets warm and put them directly in the ground.
This is when I start wandering around and looking for areas I might want to add new plants in my beds… and also when I start to wonder where I’m going to fit in all of the seedlings I’ve grown inside!
Vegetable Planting Calendar
For a guide on when to plant popular vegetables in your garden, The Farmer’s Almanac has an easy to use calendar. Simply put in your zip code and it will show you when to start seeds indoors, transplant outdoors, or direct sow outdoors for spring and fall harvests, based on the average frost dates in your area. Try it here.
May Day! It’s planting time! In the early days of May, keep an eye on the weather forecast. You’ll want to start to harden off your seedlings as the days get a little warmer, just watch for frost or storms.
During the first week or so of May, I usually start planting my summer bulbs (especially all of the dahlias!) They won’t be growing too actively until it gets a little bit warmer, but they will stay protected from any chill in the soil. It will take them a couple of weeks to pop up above the surface.
The second week of May is our typical last frost period. If you started radishes early, they might be ready to harvest!! For me, this is also the primary plant shopping week – a Mother’s Day tradition in my family. Look back here on a post all about When It’s Time to Plant.
After you get your last frost and the weather looks good, it’s a great time to direct sow cosmos, zinnias, sunflowers and other warm-weather plants. You can also get busy transplanting your hardened-off seedlings.
Later in the month, when the weather starts to stay warm, you can bring out the peppers, tomatoes, and eggplants, and direct sow warm-season crops like melons, beans, and cucumbers. If you have any salad greens that you’ll harvest completely (like head lettuces), you may want to start another round to extend your supply. Your daffodils and tulips might be fading now. You can deadhead the blooms, but make sure to leave the leaves! The leaves will feed the bulb so that it can bloom again next season. Remove them (or braid your daffodil leaves) when they start to yellow. I usually plant annuals around my daffodils, and they start to hide the leaves anyway!
As you finish getting your plants in the ground, weed as you go, and don’t forget to add mulch!
Enjoy the blooms! After all of that planting in May, June is when things really start to take off and the early summer blooms begin. Remember to take photos! Once temperatures are steady and close to indoor conditions, you can start transitioning any houseplants to their summer homes. Just remember not to toss them out there in one fell swoop! Think of it like hardening off your seedlings – they need to adjust, too.
In the garden, watch for pests and keep on top of weeds. Water deeply every couple of days, rather than daily light showers. Be sure to aim for the roots, not the leaves – the roots need the water! Containers and window boxes will need water more often.
Make sure to clean out your bird baths and feeders regularly. Start to fertilize as plants put on new growth. If your spring-blooming shrubs have finished blooming, you can start to prune them as needed.
If you have a cutting garden for flowers or are harvesting a lot of veggies, you might want to succession plant a few things. Succession planting (or planting the same thing every few weeks) is most important for determinate crops, which are crops that mature all at once. Cucumbers, melons, peppers, summer squash, and indeterminate tomatoes (check your seed packet!) will continue to produce fruit off of the same plant, so you don’t need to worry about succession planting them.
Here are some veggies you might want to sow a few times during the season: spinach & greens, lettuce (head varieties), radishes, carrots, beets.
You can typically harvest multiple times from most herb plants (parsley, sage, rosemary, thyme) and they will grow back, but you might want a few rounds of basil (if you cut a lot at once), dill, and cilantro. While Round 1 regrows, you can cut from Round 2.
Flowers: If you’re cutting a lot of flowers for bouquets, you may want to succession plant some for a continued harvest, especially for things that only produce a single stem, take a while to produce later stems, or whose later stems are smaller and not as useful for bouquets (but still great for the bees!). Try succession planting larkspur, sunflowers, ornamental grasses, phlox, ornamental basil (like cinnamon basil), or bachelor buttons.
You can also think of succession planting like “rotation” – you might plant an early spring crop, and then put in a later season crop when it’s finished. For example, you might sow your green beans where you first planted radishes, or put carrots in after your first heads of lettuce are harvested. If your lettuce bolts in mid-summer, put some broccoli in for a fall harvest. You could also try early season lettuce, then green beans, then a late summer/fall lettuce crop.
July is when things really feel like summer and vacation season begins!
As the days heat up, make sure to keep up with watering and feeding. Water in the early morning or evening, avoiding midday sun, so that the moisture can absorb into the ground and reach the roots, rather than evaporate. You might also mow the lawn less frequently and raise the cutting blade up a bit during the hottest stretches of weather, to keep it from drying out. It’s also best not to fertilize during really hot weather (85º or so). Heat-stressed plants slow down a bit and won’t be taking up all of the nutrients. Overfertilization can lead to salts in the soil and damage to the plants.
To keep vegetables and flowers producing, make sure to keep harvesting and cutting. Plants will be growing quickly now, so be ready to add support stakes or netting to keep things from falling over (especially during those strong summer thunderstorms). Some of your spring flowers will be finishing up now. If you’ve planted ranunculus, the foliage may start to yellow, signaling it’s time to pull them up and store the corms for next season.
Before the month ends, you can plan for a fall harvest and start to sow late-season crops. Just make sure the weather isn’t too hot if you’re planting cool-weather lovers like broccoli and cabbage. Heat can make broccoli and other greens “bolt” and send up flower stalks, rather than growing to maturity.
The Dog Days of summer come to an end. Did you know that the “Dog Days” actually correspond to dates? This period is from July 3 to August 11th. During this time, the sun occupies the same area of the sky as Sirius, the “Dog Star,” which is part of the constellation Canis Major, the Greater Dog. On July 23rd, they rise and set together, which the Romans thought added more heat! The dates 20 days to either side of this date make up the “Dog Days.”
Okay, back to August tasks! This is the time to get those late-season crops in for the fall. Thinking ahead to fall blooms, if you have hardy mums, you can give them a chop or pinch them back. You might see small flower buds forming on them now. Pinching these off will encourage bushier growth and delay those flowers until fall arrives. You can also pinch the tops off of indeterminate tomato plants to redirect their focus from new growth to ripening the fruits already formed.
If you have any beds that are starting to empty out as annuals finish up, you can sow cover crops. This is great if your soil needs a little more nitrogen or organic matter.
Harvesting and Preserving
With all of your veggies, herbs, and flowers doing so wonderfully, don’t forget to keep harvesting! Generally, keeping things picked encourages bushier, healthier growth. Cutting annual flowers encourages them to keep producing more flowers, rather than slowing down and focusing on seed production. So – what do you do when your kitchen counter starts to look like a farm stand? It’s time to find a way to preserve your harvest!
- Vegetables: Make tomato sauce! Chop and freeze your produce, or try pickling or canning
- Herbs: drying (hang upside down or place in a low oven), infused oils, pesto, or freeze in an ice cube tray with olive oil
- Flowers: drying (hang upside down), press for crafts, or gather petals and place in a clear glass ornament as a memory of a successful year!
One of my favorite things about late August and early September? Garden center clearance sales!!
As the heat subsides, it’s a good time to divide any perennials that might be a bit overgrown. There’s plenty of time left in the season to replant them throughout the garden, or share them with a friend, and let their roots get well-established before frosts arrive. You can plant trees and shrubs now, too – remember to keep them watered as they get settled in. For plants that you aren’t moving around, you can start to reduce general watering as growth slows, but don’t let them dry out completely.
If you’re growing winter squash (butternut, acorn, pumpkins), you may have been harvesting a few already. There’s a general guide for when they’re ready – the skins shouldn’t break under your fingernail. That tough outer skin is what helps them store so well into the winter. Leave some stem attached as you cut them, and you can let them “cure” in the sun for a few days before storing in a cool, dry, dark place.
Speaking of frosts… You can start to prepare now! If you want to extend your season, look into getting row covers (plastic or frost cloth) to keep plants cozy for a few more weeks. This is also the time when I make sure all of my dahlias are labeled. If a heavy frost hits, everything starts to turn black! There’s no telling one from its neighbor, sometimes. For more frost protection tips, check out Park Seed’s ideas.
Before it gets chilly, start to transition your houseplants back indoors. As the summer flowers set seed, start collecting! It’s much easier to remember what color something is when you can still see a bloom for reference. Be sure to label your envelopes or containers well. If your summer-flowering shrubs have finished blooming, you can prune if needed. If you’d like to keep things growing indoors, consider starting an indoor herb garden! Seeds will germinate quickly while the weather is still warm.
I think of October as leaf-kicking, pumpkin season. It’s also clean-up time in the garden.
First – the veggie beds. Early October is a good time to plant garlic. (Saugerties has a giant garlic festival at this time of year, and lots of people are buying garlic to plant!) When you cleaning up the vegetables, you don’t have to pull everything out completely. You can just cut annuals flush with the ground, and leave everything right there to break down, if you want. Or just leave the roots in and toss the rest on the compost pile. The roots will break down over winter, and the good microbes will stay in the soil.
Once a hard frost hits (sometimes early October, sometimes late!), it’s time to dig up the summer bulbs and tubers. The frost will kill off the foliage, but the “roots” will be okay underground. Cut off the foliage as you dig them up and get them cleaned off and ready for storage until next year.
If you’ve done any soil testing and need to amend your pH, fall is a good time to add the lime or sulphur. It takes time to work, so the winter months are convenient!
If you think you might forget about a perennial that will die back completely over winter time, grab a label and get it marked now. You don’t want to be putting something new in next May and realize you’re digging something up!
As the leaves fall, use them to mulch your beds (either whole or shredded). Any excess leaves can be shredded and mixed into your compost or put into a pile to make leaf mold.
As October wanes, it’s time to plant spring-blooming bulbs. If you’re not ready yet – there’s no rush. You can plant them right up until the ground freezes. Before it gets too cold, grab your garden hose and start cleaning out your flower pots to get them ready for storage. If, like me, you tossed your seed starting trays into the basement after you planted in May, get those cleaned up, too. To disinfect pots and trays, use a 10% bleach solution (1 part bleach to 9 parts water), rinse, and let dry before storing.
If you have empty beds when you’re finished cleaning up, you can cover them with shredded leaves or straw to help deter spring weeds. I also have a few raised beds I cover with bird netting to deter squirrels and stray cats!
It’s time to finish putting the garden to bed. The days are shorter, the air is crisp, and frost is a daily occurrence.
Before the cold winter winds and snow arrive, mulch roses, strawberries, and any other sensitive plants. Soil or mulch can be mounded around roses, and strawberries can be covered with an inch or two of straw. I also cover mine with a semi-open burlap (again – squirrels!! They’re in digging mode this time of year.).
Now is a good time to check on any trees for weak or damaged branches that may come down with winter snow and ice, and remove those.
Turn the compost pile one more time, finish planting your spring bulbs, and clean up your garden tools for storage. When you’re all finished, drain and store your hoses.
If you have shrubs close to your roofline, where rain and snow fall, you may want to protect them with a wooden A-frame. You may also want to protect shrubs from deer browse if they come through your yard.
During the shortest days of the year, the garden is sleeping.
It’s time for our attention to shift to houseplants and holidays. Remember to check on your houseplants regularly, and keep them away from drafts. Make sure that plants near window sills don’t actually touch the glass, or their leaves can be damaged by the cold. Most plants’ growth will slow down, so you can reduce watering and fertilizing. Most homes are dry during the winter, but grouping pots together can help maintain some humidity. You can also set a pot on a tray of pebbles with water, just make sure the bottom of the pot is on top of the pebbles and not sitting in the water.
During December, enjoy the holiday bulbs like amaryllis and paperwhites, along with poinsettias. As we have our holiday feasts, remember to use your stored squash and preserved garden harvest! Keep your bird feeders stocked for our feathered friends.
Finally, every few weeks, check in any bulbs you have in storage. You want to make sure they aren’t too moist and growing mold (a light layer of white mold can be treated, but you’ll have to toss anything that has become mushy) or drying out and shriveling up (give them a mist!).
Enjoy this break from the outdoor work and stay cozy. Soon it will be time to plan and plant again!
You can download a pdf of the 2023 calendar here.