How to garden (in every season).


Everybody knows how to garden in the spring. Here’s what to do during the other three seasons — including when to prune, mulch and mow — courtesy of Thumbtack gardening experts

Vegetable gardening basics for spring and summer. 

Spring: Pull out weeds and fertilize to get your garden ready for new plants. 

Spring marks the beginning of planting time. But you need to clean things out first. Pull out weeds and use a soil testing kit to check your grounds and garden beds for whatever it is that they might be missing (generally, nitrogen). Once you know what your soil needs, lay down fertilizer, water the soil and use mulch if you need to.

If you’re satisfied with your soil, start planting seeds. Good spring plants include pansies, lettuce, peas, tulips and green beans. A lot of these are perennials, meaning that they won’t have to be planted again next year. 

Weeding and clearing things out will lead to a pile of natural debris. Consider putting those materials to use by creating a compost pile in your yard. Start by chopping things up until everything is around the same size. Your mixture should be equal parts brown (carbon-rich materials like leaves and straw) and green (nitrogen-rich materials like grass clippings and weeds). Turn the pile regularly, especially in the summer when heat and sun speed the process up. 

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Summer: Raise the height of your mower and plant warm-season veggies. 

Many types of grass wilt in the heat. It seems counterintuitive, but letting the grasses grow an inch or two longer provides shade that keeps soil cool and prevents common weeds like crabgrass from taking over your lawn.

Try letting your grass grow to around three and a half inches tall to start. The extra moisture that coverage provides your soil goes a long way for any warm weather garden vegetable plants you choose to grow. The summer heat is prime for growing fresh veggies like peppers, cucumbers and tomatoes — as well as a long list of fruits, most commonly berries and melon.

But summer is also high season for pests that feed on those plants. If you’re growing fresh produce in your garden, make sure to keep an eye out for common signs of pests and disease. That includes grasshoppers, cucumber beetles, rust, and powdery mildew or holes on leaves. Once you’ve spotted the problem, pluck a sample to bring to your local garden center for advice. 

If some of your flowers seem to be wilting or losing their color, the answer isn’t always that they’re sick or getting eaten. Plants, like people, can get sunburns. If you see patches of spindly or lackluster flowers, pluck them from the plant to prevent wasting water and to reveal the more vibrant flowers resting below. 

Vegetable gardening basics for winter and fall.

Fall: Prune shrubs and plant cover crops to give your soil a break. 

The time to prune plants is not when they’re in full bloom. It’s when they’re dormant — generally in the fall and early winter. Trees like oak, linden ash and other sappy, non-blooming plants are best cut in the fall to avoid the spread of sap (and with it, the possibility of disease).

The same is true for fruit trees — including apple, peach, pear, plum and cherry — which bloom slowly throughout the spring and summer. Although winter pruning removes some buds, the process of cutting branches back creates more space for light. There might be fewer blooms, but the fruit that grows generally does better. 

When you’re done pruning, start planting. Cover crops, otherwise known as “green manure,” are a great way to boost your garden’s health — and they grow well in cool weather. Beyond suppressing weeds and shading the soil (to lock in moisture), ground cover helps replenish nutrients. It can also control pests and disease. On top of that, most cover crops grow easily, with very little water, in every season, no matter the size — small gardens and large. 

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Winter: Know your frost dates and prep your garden soil in advance. 

There are two frost dates to know: the first in late fall when the ground starts to freeze and the second in spring right before it thaws.

Keep an eye on the weather and mark your calendar. In the week before the first hard frost, make sure to water your plants thoroughly and pack them with organic matter like mulch, burlap or peat moss (or all three) for insulation. Winterizing your garden plants can help keep your hard work alive through freezing weather and seasonal lows. 

Another thing to keep in mind — while it’s true that most flower gardens won’t make it through the winter, salad greens like kale and Swiss chard are actually pretty hardy. They’ll grow well with the added protection of a cold frame — it’s like a mini greenhouse that lies flat on the ground. If you’re taking the season off, use the time to research and stock up on tools and seed packages at your local garden center. 

How much does a gardener cost?

A gardener can tell you what to plant, get your garden started and help with the upkeep, along with mowing and maintaining your lawn or specialty services like pruning bushes, trees and plants. 

How much you pay for gardening and landscape services depends on your professional’s level of expertise and other factors including where you live and how complicated your gardening work is. Your gardener can also help you decide the best season for your landscaping projects and what kinds of plants will grow best in your yard and when to plant them.

For more on costs, see “How much does a gardener cost?” 

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Who to hire to help with your garden.

Between watering, watching for pests and keeping weeds out of your garden, the work can pile up. Give yourself a break — find all the gardening pros you need on Thumbtack. 

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