Gardening in New England presents some unique challenges. The short growing season, threat of frost well into spring and early in fall, and quickly changing weather conditions demand careful planning and timing. New England gardeners who want to successfully grow vegetables, flowers, trees and shrubs need to follow a tailored maintenance calendar to help stay on task.
Having a monthly checklist geared specifically to the New England climate takes the guesswork out of gardening. You’ll know exactly which essential tasks to complete each season without missing critical garden jobs.
January Garden Tasks
Pruning Trees and Shrubs
January is an ideal time to prune many trees and shrubs while they are dormant. Focus on removing dead or damaged branches first. For trees and shrubs that bloom in summer like spirea, hydrangea, and some viburnums, prune immediately after flowering is finished. Pruning now avoids removing any flower buds for next year. Use bypass pruners and loppers for smaller branches and a pruning saw for limbs over 1 inch in diameter.
Apply 2-4 inches of shredded bark mulch around perennials, shrubs, and the bases of trees to insulate plant roots once the ground freezes. Leaving beds exposed risks damage during rapid temperature changes in winter. Organic mulch also enriches the soil as it decomposes. Replenish existing mulch that has worn thin.
Planning and Seed Ordering
While the garden is dormant, spend time reviewing notes from last season and order seeds for spring and summer planting. Take advantage of winter sales at online seed companies. As you choose varieties, factor in performance from prior years and any design changes planned for your vegetable garden and flower beds.
February Garden Tasks
Starting Seeds Indoors
In late February, begin sowing seeds indoors for cold-tolerant crops like spinach, lettuce, onions and leeks. Refer to the seed packet for proper planting depth and provide ample warm and light until sprouted. Use a seed starting mix and fill cells in seed trays about 3/4 full. Water with a fine mist to avoid displacing seeds.
Continuing Dormant Season Pruning
Finish pruning fruit trees and ornamental trees like magnolias before bud break. Remove inward facing branches and any crossed limbs for better structure and airflow. Prune back ornamental grasses left for winter interest to several inches above the ground to make room for spring growth.
Inventory and Organization
With the garden asleep, shift focus to general maintenance. Take stock of potting soil, fertilizers, trays, and other gardening supplies. Clean and sharpen tools, repair trellises, and perform any maintenance needed on irrigation systems before the growing season ramps up.
March Garden Tasks
Sowing Cool Weather Crops
Direct sow cold hardy veggies like peas, spinach, radishes and kale outdoors in March. Prepare beds and rake soil smooth before sowing seeds, spacing according to packet directions. Consider using a cold frame over newly seeded beds to promote faster germination. Cover frames with fabric row cover at night if frost threatens.
Prune spring flowering shrubs like lilac, forsythia and spirea immediately after blooming ends. Cut back ornamental grasses and leave some perennials like salvia and geraniums longer for early season interest before dividing.
Lawn Care Kickoff
March weather brings lawns out of dormancy. Rake accumulated leaves and debris, then cut the grass on a high setting to remove dead growth without scalping the crowns. Apply a pre-emergent herbicide to control weeds. Overseed thin or bare areas.
April Garden Tasks
Pruning Spring Bloomers
Avoid pruning spring flowering shrubs and trees too early or flower buds will be removed. Wait to prune flowering dogwoods, azaleas, rhododendrons and other spring bloomers immediately after flowering. Focus on removing dead or crossing branches.
Hardening Off Seedlings
Young plants started indoors require a gradual hardening off period of 7-10 days before transplanting. Slowly introduce seedlings to sun, wind and lower temperatures to condition them for the garden. Use a cold frame or cloches to transition tender plants.
Have your soil tested and add amendments like lime if needed to balance pH. Work compost into beds and prepare for bare root plantings. Apply organic granular fertilizer when planting trees, shrubs, perennials and vegetables following label rates.
May Garden Tasks
Late May after the average last frost is the ideal time to transplant hardened off seedlings into the garden. Use a trowel to dig holes, water plants immediately after transplanting and protect with cloches until established. Harden off plants for 7-10 days prior.
Replenish spent mulch in garden beds and pathways to suppress weeds and retain moisture during spring rains. Shredded bark mulch breaks down more slowly than other organic options. Apply 2-3 inches, keeping mulch back several inches from plant stems.
Staking and Trellising
Install stakes next to tall perennials and trellises for vining crops like beans, cucumbers and tomatoes. Staking now prevents damage when plants grow large and bushy. Set up tepees for peas and consider using secure cages for tomatoes.
June Garden Tasks
Pruning Spring Bloomers
Deadhead spent blooms on rhododendrons, viburnum, azaleas and other spring shrubs, cutting back to just above a healthy leaf node to encourage reblooming later in the season. Avoid shearing, maintain natural plant shapes.
Planting Warm Season Crops
With spring frost danger passed, plant out summer vegetable transplants and sow rows of beans, corn and squash directly in garden soil. Use black plastic mulch to warm beds for heat lovers like tomatoes and peppers. Keep mulch back from stems to avoid disease.
Watering and Fertilizing
Prime the vegetable garden drip irrigation system and check for leaks and clogs before summer heat arrives. Hand water container plants as needed until roots fill pots. Apply fish emulsion fertilizer monthly to boost tomatoes, annuals and heavy feeding vegetables.
July Garden Tasks
Pruning Hedges and Shaping Plants
Trim formal hedges like boxwood to keep neat rectangular shapes if desired. Shear overgrown topiaries into rounded forms. Cut back vines wandering away from their supports. Prunejust above leaf nodes to encourage branching.
Harvesting Vegetables and Herbs
Check the vegetable garden daily for ripe produce ready for picking. Harvest herbs like basil before flowers set seeds for maximum flavor. Cut leafy greens like lettuce and kale from the outside working inward to allow inner leaves to continue growing.
Vegetable gardens need about an inch of water each week from rain or irrigation to perform their best. Water deeply but less frequently to encourage deep rooting, not short daily sprinkles. Add mulch to help retain moisture and reduce watering needs.
August Garden Tasks
Pruning Trees and Shrubs
Remove deadwood and crossed branches on deciduous trees and shrubs to improve structure and airflow. Avoid pruning spring flowering species or flower buds will be lost. Make pruning cuts just outside the branch collar.
Planting Fall Vegetables
Sow quick-growing greens like kale, spinach and lettuce by seed in late summer for fall harvests. Transplant broccoli and cauliflower starts into the garden 4-6 weeks before your average first frost date for maturity.
Lift and divide spring and summer blooming perennials like hostas, daylilies and garden phlox that have gotten overcrowded or have dead centers. Discard woody portions and replant divisions in enriched soil.
September Garden Tasks
Removing Annuals and Cutting Back
Clear out frost-killed annuals from beds and containers. Cut back leggy perennials by half and compost debris. Clean off faded foliage and remove weeds. Leaving some seed heads provides food for birds over winter.
Plant spring and summer flowering bulb varieties like tulips, daffodils, lilies and alliums in fall for a beautiful display next year. Choose a sunny site with well-drained soil. Add bone meal to planting holes to encourage strong roots.
Apply 2-4 inches of shredded bark mulch or leaves around perennials and shrubs after ground freezes to insulate plant roots from rapid temperature changes. Keep mulch a few inches away from stems to avoid rot.
October Garden Tasks
Finalizing Fall Cleanup
Finish clearing annual debris from beds to make way for spring plantings and bulbs. Remove stakes, trellises and hardware cloth left over summer for a clean slate. Drain and store hoses and irrigation supplies ahead of freezing weather.
Planting Garlic and Other Fall Crops
Plant garlic cloves 2 inches deep and 5-6 inches apart in rows in a sunny spot for an early summer harvest. Sow hardy greens like spinach and lettuce in cold frames for late fall and winter harvest.
Preparing for Snow Accumulation
Stake tall perennials like mums and asters that could topple under heavy snow or ice accumulation over winter. Consider protective winter covers for vulnerable trees and shrubs if heavy snow loads are common in your area.
November Garden Tasks
Rake up leaves as they fall from trees with a fan rake. Compost leaves by shredding them with a mower or chipper/shredder, or layer them in garden beds to break down over winter.
Pruning Damaged Branches
Remove branches damaged by heavy snow or ice accumulation using proper pruning cut techniques. Check for signs of disease or pest damage and sanitize tools after pruning diseased plants.
Tool Cleaning and Organization
Clean soil and debris off of hand tools with a wire brush and wipe blades with an oily cloth to prevent rust. Drain fuel from power tools and service machines like lawnmowers and rototillers. Take inventory and make note of items to replace.
December Garden Tasks
Reviewing Garden Journal
A garden journal is invaluable for evaluating successes and challenges from the past growing season while details are still fresh in your mind. Note which varieties performed well in your conditions for future planting. Identify issues to amend like diseases or inadequate irrigation.
Browse seed catalogs and place orders for desired vegetable and flower varieties for next year. Refer to your garden map to determine how many plants to grow. Take advantage of winter discounts Many companies offer sales.
The structure of deciduous trees and shrubs is highlighted once leaves fall. Look for interesting bark color and texture. Scan for late season berries on trees like crabapples for wildlife. Leave seed heads on perennials for texture and food for birds.
Following this tailored monthly New England gardening calendar takes the guesswork out of when to complete essential garden maintenance tasks. With a reliable checklist, you can relax knowing you’ve covered the most important seasonal gardening jobs for a thriving, productive garden all year round.