Year-Round Garden Maintenance

It may not always be the prime growing season, but there is always something that can be done in the garden! Different projects and practices will change throughout the season, and this is a rough guide to get you started.

Spring (March – June)

Many gardeners leave their plants in the fall, providing both winter interest in the garden and habitats for many beneficial pollinators. This is your chance to clean up any debris and start fresh for the year! Cut down dead foliage and stalks on your perennials from last season, composting anything that isn’t diseased. Prune any trees or shrubs that need it, just be sure to watch which varieties of plants you have as some may prefer pruning at a different time of the year (early bloomers, etc.). Weed your garden heavily, making sure to get all of the root out if possible; this will be the most intense weeding of the year.

Clean out the gardens: Many gardeners leave their plants in the fall, providing both winter interest in the garden and habitats for many beneficial pollinators. This is your chance to clean up any debris and start fresh for the year! Cut down dead foliage and stalks on your perennials from last season, composting anything that isn’t diseased. Prune any trees or shrubs that need it, just be sure to watch which varieties of plants you have as some may prefer pruning at a different time of the year (early bloomers, etc.). Weed your garden heavily, making sure to get all of the root out if possible; this will be the most intense weeding of the year.

Plant trees, shrubs, and perennials: Plant Trees, Shrubs, and Perennials: These plants are much more hardy than annuals and can be planted as soon as the ground is soft enough to dig. Planting early also means they have a better chance to establish before the heat of the summer, and you can use a transplant fertilizer to encourage root growth.

Plant summer-flowering bulbs: Non-hardy summer bulbs should be planted in late spring and removed in the fall to be stored. These can include gladiolas, dahlias, begonias, and more.

Mulch the beds: Layer your gardens with a generous amount of mulch to help with moisture retention and reduce weeds. Consider it an investment to reduce the amount of time that you will have to spend weeding and watering later in the season.

Plant spring annuals: The last frost date in Durham Region is typically the third weekend in May, normally falling on or around the long weekend. This is the time when it is safe to plant tender annuals. Brighten up the gardens with colourful annuals and add a splash of colour to your patio with planter baskets and hanging baskets.

Summer (June – September)

This is mostly a period of maintenance. Between watering and weeding, there’s still plenty that can be done in your garden.

Water: Water, water, water! Regular watering of established planting is important in periods of drought. Anything newly planted within a year or two will need additional water to make it through the hot summer months.

Weed: Not only does pulling out weeds clean up the garden, but it also ensures that they aren’t taking water and nutrients away from your other plants. Weeding frequently prevents the weeds from growing too large in between sessions, and makes them easier to remove.

Deadhead: Pinching old flowers off on a regular basis will encourage the production of new blooms. This is a practice that can be applied to annuals, perennials, and shrubs.
Prune Summer Flowering Shrubs: It is best to prune any flowering shrubs in the summer a few weeks after they finish blooming. This ensures that you don’t cut off the buds for the next year.

Remove the old: Take out any shrubs or perennials that have not succeeded from years past. They may have overgrown the space allotted, not suited the sun exposure, or failed for some other reason. This does not apply to anything that was planted within the last year or two. Recent plantings can take a few years to establish and thrive.

Fall (September – December)

Time for fall cleaning! While it is generally better to do a larger garden clean up in the spring, the fall is an opportunity to touch up a little here and there.

Plant spring-flowering bulbs: This is your opportunity to plant any bulbs that you want to see in your garden next spring, including tulips, daffodils, hyacinths, muscari, and more! Make sure there is enough space in your garden where you want to place them.

Take out summer-flowering bulbs: Once your summer-flowering bulbs have finished for the year, let the foliage yellow and die off naturally. This ensures that there will be enough energy in the bulb to restart next year. Once dried up, dig up and store the bulbs indoors in a cool dark space so that they don’t sprout over the winter.

Prune fall-flowering shrubs: Any shrubs that flower in the fall are best pruned a few weeks after they finish blooming. Doing so can reduce your workload in the spring as you will not have to pull out seedlings that were dropped in the fall by prolific seeders, such as the Rose of Sharon.

Water & fertilize: Watering should be slowed down in September to help the plants harden off. However, a final soak just before the ground freezes (normally October or November) ensures the roots and surrounding soil are full of water for the winter. An extra layer of mulch can be applied around the base of your trees and shrubs to prevent the loss of moisture over the winter season. Be sure to stop fertilizing early enough in the season. Late fertilizing can cause late leaf growth that will be killed off by frost, wasting the energy that should be stored in the roots for the winter.

Shelter & protect: Although they are considered hardy, some plants benefit from added winter protection through wrapped burlap. When wrapping with burlap, create a wind screen using stakes to keep the burlap from sitting on the plant itself and leave the top open for air circulation. This technique should be used with newly planted evergreens for the first 1-3 years, and tender trees and shrubs such as Japanese Maples.

Winter (December – March)

This is your chance to learn and plan! Take this time to look back at what has thrived in your garden over the past year, do some research to learn as much as you can for the next year, and make plans for changes and new additions so that you’re ready for the start of the spring season.

Reflect: Take this time to look back at what has thrived in your garden over the past year, and what did not do very well. If you’re so inclined, some people keep records or a journal to keep track of their garden’s history and what they have learned throughout the year.

Learn: Why not use this time to learn a little more about your garden and the plants that are in it? You can read blogs or articles, and even attend a seminar or two. Many garden centres will host free sessions on a range of topics, and they are often held during the slower winter season, when there is a little more time.

Plan: Figure out if there is anything currently in your garden that you want to transplant to another location, divide and gift to a friend, or remove entirely. Once you have that figured out, you’ll know exactly what space you may have to fill with a new plant once it’s springtime. You can then do some research and find a plant that suits your space, sun and water conditions, and colour or texture preferences.

Start some seeds: If you have an interest in starting any of your annuals, perennials, or veggies from seeds, you’ll need to start early. Most garden centres will start carrying seeds in January or February, but not everything should be started at the same time. Figure out what varieties you’ll be interested in, when you want them ready by, and what their days to maturity is. You can then take those numbers and do the math to figure out when to start your seeds, just be sure to keep the last frost date in mind.

Try a houseplant: Get your gardening fix indoors over the cold winter months by bringing the greenery inside! Start with one or two houseplants, and before you know it, you’ll have an indoor garden that is just as beautiful as your outdoor one.