If you’re anything like me, you are trying to figure out how and when to start gardening, what to plant and where. I’ve discovered that not only do different plants like different kinds of soil, light and watering schedules, but they also have differing planting schedules.
I grew up thinking you plant all seeds in the spring, grow them through the summer, and harvested in the fall, with dormancy happening during winter. Little did I know that there are several planting and harvesting times! With that knowledge, a new question arose.
When to start gardening became more complicated because I wasn’t even sure when I should start. The good news is that there’s never a bad time to start. There are always things to do to prepare, if not immediately plant things in your garden.
This is what I would consider to be my season of choice to start a garden…just not in the way most people think of. The autumn is the best time to get your garden set up for success! Fall is so named for the dropping of the foliage.
In nature, this leaf-litter becomes the nutrient rich bounty in which the next generation of seedlings will sprout. The annual call for neighbor’s bags of leaves is a tradition many gardeners look forward to. Last year I was able to gather so many bags that I was able to feed my garden the whole year!
The decomposition of the leaves can take several months when left on it’s own; but with a little help from the handy gardener, those nutrients can be unlocked much sooner!
Our garden beds always start off looking like a big leaf pile that the kids are about to jump in. (They sometimes do!) We use the 3, 2, 1 method.
Add leaves to the pile every 3 months. Water the pile 2 times a month. Turn the pile 1 time each month. There is nothing special or scientific to this, it’s just a method we use to keep things simple. This method of composting where you will be growing works the best if there’s nothing in the bed yet. (It can work with existing plants, but you have to be cautious to not damage the roots or the stalk/leaves.)
In the fall, I also throw my kitchen scraps into these piles. This is needed for the actual process of the composting to occur. For more information on composting, check out my article on that here!
These leaves not only provide wonderful starter material for the spring seedlings, but they can also protect your perennials too! Leaves make a great natural mulch. This helps retain precious moisture as well as serve as a biodegradable blanket that will help preserve your plants through colder temperatures as we head into winter.
Starting your garden in the fall is not only full of things to do, but is the best time to get started if you want to have a thriving garden the rest of the year!
Winter just might be my favorite time for the decorator in me. The winter allows you to see the skeleton of your garden, if you will. The dormancy of the plants brings out the natural shape of your garden beds.
This time of year is great for getting creative with the layout of your garden. If a bed didn’t work very well in a particular orientation, change it up! With all the leaves gathered in the fall, and a little planning ahead, you can set your garden up for success before anything is in the ground.
Winter is the holiday season, and as such, cardboard abounds from different delivery companies, and gift wrappings. Any of these that don’t have any heavy ink or plastic in it, can be used in the garden to build new beds! (Set aside all those Amazon boxes, just remember to remove the tape.) Your new beds will thank you for it!
Planning a new bed can get confusing unless you have physical boundaries. This is where winter throws you a bone… or a log to be specific. Often times in winter, especially if there are cold snaps or heavy snow, trees get damaged. Sad for the tree and the owner, but lucky for us! When this happens, either a limb or a whole trunk, these fallen warriors are often pieced up and put on the curb for bulk trash pick-ups.
These fresh logs and sliced up stumps make perfect garden bed walls and plant stands to give your garden some visual dimension. Not only that- they’re (most often) free! Between the leaves and the logs, we’ve got the bones to build a beautiful garden! In fall we discussed the benefits of gathering the leaves for composting and mulching. In winter, we put those things to use with our new logs!
When you set up your new garden bed, figuring out the location, size and shape are the first steps. With that information, the logs can serve as your physical boundaries, the cardboard simply goes down under the logs and inside the bed as a weed barrier and the leaves help prepare the bed itself.
(Pro tip: Have at least 3 inches of cardboard showing on the outside of your log barrier to prevent weeds from creeping up on your freshly prepared nursery in the spring.)
Fill in the bed with leaves. Add occasional kitchen scraps (coffee grounds, egg shells, apple cores, banana peels, cutting board remnants, etc.) and use the 3, 2, 1 method to create a seedling paradise for the spring.
Of course, you can also get seed trays with good drainage and a dome or clear baggie over the top, some seedling soil, and seeds themselves to start germinating in the winter so they’ll be ready to plant as soon as the danger of the last frost has passed. That’s always fun too, because I feel like I’ve got a tiny green house for fairies on my counter for a few weeks.
There’s so much to do in the winter, that you can get started gardening while it’s too cold for anything to grow still!
Spring is when a lot of people catch the gardening bug. All the stores are full of seedlings and gardening supplies or decorations, and it starts to feel wonderful outside. Nature is starting to wake from her slumber and it seems to infect everything! This time of year is a great time to get started if you haven’t yet. With seeds being sold everywhere you look and the first sprouts of spring making their debut, nothing encourages the latent gardener like spring time!
The weather is probably the most immediate incentive to getting outside and working in the garden. After the long, dark and cold winter months, a warmer spring day with the sun getting stronger every day is hard to deny.
Make sure you know what zone you are in, and start buying those seeds! If you aren’t sure which zone you belong to, here is a great website that breaks down your zone as well as the planting schedule for whatever type of plant you are looking to start. You can also check the packaging for whatever seeds or transplants you get and there is typically a short description of when, how and where to plant for ultimate growing success.
Spring is for sure the most gratifying time to start gardening, with seeds germinating left and right, and the weather cooperating most of the time. It can also be, in my humble opinion, the most expensive time when considering when to start gardening. If the fall and winter seasons haven’t been utilized, then a lot of the preparation that you can do relatively for free during those times will cost you in your pocketbook.
The natural decomposition of the leaves and abundance of curbside gardening materials for garden bed prep is done specifically to avoid the costs of purchasing those same materials from your local hardware store/garden center during planting season.
Not only do you have the additional costs of materials, but there is a higher demand for those materials, so you’ll occasionally find yourself going from place to place (in person or virtually) to find materials that might be out of stock due to increased seasonal demand.
With the growing season in full swing, summer is a time when tending the garden comes into full swing. (Weeds, weeds, weeds!)
There are some plants that will tolerate being planted in the heat of the summer, but this is the time to make sure to do your research. There is nothing worse than falling in love with a particular plant, only to bring it home, plant it, and see it die off in the summer sun. Here’s an example of heat damage to a rose.
Water schedules are often a handy helper too during the long summer months. With the summer growth of all plants, your grass can be an unexpected friend. Depending on how you maintain your lawn, grass clippings are a wonderful addition to the compost pile!
The kitchen scraps and fresh grass clippings (along with any freshly pulled weeds from the garden beds) will help add the nitrogen to the compost pile that is necessary for the acceleration of the breakdown of the woodier and tougher carbon heavy limbs or branches that might still be hanging around in the compost pile from fall/winter pruning.
When it comes to starting a garden in the summer, a lot depends on where you live/what zone you are in, and how far into the year we are. There are some summer plants that can go from transplant to bloom or harvest within the summer season as long as you do your research.
Summer is also a great time to prepare your fall beds and get an idea of what you will be starting from seed/transplanting for an autumn garden. There are a variety of plants that will thrive in the late summer and throughout the fall!
There is no wrong time to start a garden.
When it comes down to it, every gardener is different. Some gardeners take a “by the book” approach. Others garden by instinct with some key research where necessary. The point is that you won’t know what kind of gardener you are until you get out there, put on some gloves, and get gardening! If you want to know when to start gardening, give now a try!
My opinion is that Fall is the best time to start, because the foundation for your garden is what is most important in the long term. Others feel differently and that’s fine, because we are all connected by the fact that we all love to get out and connect with nature in whatever way works for us. So get out there and don’t worry about when to start gardening, go grab a spade and get dirty!
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If you would like to send me any stories or pictures of the start (and current picture) of your garden, send me an email at Randi@fairycirclegarden.com
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