Monthly Garden Calendar for Midwest United States

Organic Gardening Month-to-Month Almanac

December 21, 2010

I've been gardening for over 40 years and studied horticulture at Michigan State University. Everyone has a favorite flower, and mine happens to be roses--I have over 75 in my garden and am active in the Detroit and Downriver Rose Societies. I also love to experiment with various tomato varieties in my quest to get the earliest fruit.

I became a Master Gardener in 1995 and an Advanced Master Gardener in 1997. It's important for gardeners to share with their community, so I teach second graders in Taylor, Michigan about gardening and advocate for community gardens in the Detroit metro area. In addition to my work with Organic Gardening magazine, I write a gardening column for the Heritage newspapers in Southgate, Michigan



"In all things of nature there is something of the marvelous"—Aristotle

Seed Starting Tip. Start cauliflower, leek and geranium seeds early this month.

Check Your Bulbs. Check any tender bulbs you have stored for the winter. Discard any that show rot or shriveling, and mist those that appear to be drying out. Store in a cool, dark location.

Have a Redesign In Mind? Now is the time to redesign any beds you weren't happy with. Use graph paper to plan several designs for spring, taking into account such factors as sun, shade, natural features and so on.

Choose Your Roses. Nursery selections decreases as the season progresses, so order any roses that you want to plant this year. Most suppliers accept orders early and ship at the appropriate planting time for your zone. Check with the American Rose Society for more information on new varieties for 2004.

Maintain Birdbaths. Keep you birdbaths full of fresh water, changing as often as necessary in freezing weather. An electric birdbath deicer may be a good—and much appreciated—investment for the cold months.

Time to Repot! Repot any houseplants that are outgrowing their containers. Place your plants in a cool shower once a month to remove dust and eliminates any pests that might be on the leaves.

Proper Poinsettia Care. Proper care of Poinsettia's is critical to ensuring a plant that will perform well throughout the winter. If the pot is wrapped in foil remove and discard to provide drainage. Let the soil dry completely between watering. Keep out of drafts both hot and cold. The ideal temperature range this plant likes if 60-68 degrees F.

Wintertime Necessities. Place a burlap screen around outdoor plants that are susceptible to splashing or runoff from road salt or deicing chemicals. Make sure burlap is 12"-18" away from the plants. To avoid harming sensitive plants, try using a cat litter and sand on you icy sidewalks

Reuse Your Ash. Use wood ash from your fireplaces and wood-burning stove to increase the ph of your garden soil, but don't overdo it; too high of a ph level will prevent the uptake of some plant nutrients. Test the ph of your soil to maintain the correct balance.

Snow Can Be Heavy For Trees. GENTLY remove snow and ice from evergreens as needed to prevent limbs from breaking.

Done With Your Christmas Tree? Don't throw it away. Get out your pruners and remove the boughs. They make excellent attractive mulch for your beds.

Acquired an Amaryllis? Proper care will ensure many years of beautiful blooms. When the blooms fade cut off the stem that contained the bloom. Place the plant in a bright location and water when the soil feels dry. In the spring plant it outside in a semi-sunny location. In the fall before the first frost pot it up and cut back the foliage.


"A February spring is not worth a pin"—Sheryl London, author

Pruning February Foliage. February is the ideal time to prune fruit and ornamental trees, since the lack of foliage makes the structure much more visible. Make sure your pruners, loppers and saws are sharp to obtain nice clean cuts.

Inspect Your Garden Tools. Before spring planting, sharpen hoes and spades with a file. Check pruners and loppers for chipped or nicked blades. Use a whetstone to sharpen these. Inspect wooden handles for rough spots and splinters. Lightly sand the damaged areas and apply a light coat of linseed oil.

The Chill of Winter. Inspect flowerbeds for frost heaving. Place the plants back into the ground. Add mulch when the ground refreezes.

Inspect Your Cold Frame For Damage. Replace any broken glass or framing. Cold season crops such as cauliflower, cabbage, and broccoli can be started in the cold frame this month. Be sure to crack it open on warm, sunny days.

What's Up Doc? Watch young trees and shrubs for rabbit (or rodent) damage. Make sure tree wraps and guards are high enough to protect against animals standing on top of snow.

Happy Houseplants. Nurture acid-loving houseplants such as gardenias or citrus; water once a month with a solution of 1-teaspoon vinegar in a quart of water. As the days get longer resume fertilizing your houseplants. Begin using a 1/2 strength mixture and increase bi-weekly until you reach full strength.

Dry Evergreens? To prevent your broad-leaved evergreens and boxwoods from drying out, take advantage of a mild day (above 40 degrees F) to reapply an anti-desiccant spray.

Heard It Through the Grapevine. Prune your grape vines. Grapes bear fruit on one-year-old canes. Old canes will not bear again and need to be pruned out.

Trim Branches Back. Cut some forsythia or pussy willow branches to bring indoors for forcing. Soak them in a tepid bath for one to two hours and place in a vase for colorful blooms.

Think Before You Stroll. You may get the urge on a nice sunny day to walk around on your lawn, or in your garden to check things out, but you may actually cause harm by compacting the soil. Wait until the ground dries out to do a through inspection

Order Up. Get your seed orders in while supplies are plentiful. If you have room, order enough seeds to plant an extra row or two; a local soup kitchen or charity will be thankful for the fruits of your labor.


"A garden is a link to passing seasons"—Proverb

Start Seeds Indoors. Sterilize used containers in a 10% bleach solution to kill the bacteria that causes damping off. Read packet instructions to determine length of time for germination. Count backwards from the date you plant to transplant to calculate seed starting date.

Shrub Status. Check shrubs for winter salt or snow damage. Prune away any dead or damaged branches.

Get Ready to Plant. Plant cool season crops such as peas, lettuce, and Swiss chard as soon as the ground can be worked.

Give Grasses A Haircut. Cut back ornamental grasses that were left for winter interest.

Oil Check. Apply dormant oil spray to fruit trees and deciduous shrubs and trees when temperature rises above 50 degrees F.

Prepare to Mow and Hoe. Check your lawnmower and other power tools to ensure that they are running properly. Repair shops will be very busy in a few weeks.

Give the Compost Pile a Good Turning. I like to use my mini-tiller to mix up the pile thoroughly.

Nitrogen Boost. Apply cottonseed meal to azaleas and rhododendrons this is a good source of nitrogen and will give these plants a jump-start.

Uncover Your Evergreens. Remove the burlap windbreaks from your evergreens. Keep hydrangeas and macrophyllus protected until the end of the month.

Rosy Disposition. I like to pot up new bare root roses into two-three gallon pots to give them an opportunity to develop roots before planting into the garden. Keep in a warm sunny location for 3-4 weeks.

Cut Back Butterfly Bushes. Trim back bushes (buddleia) back to six to eight inches above the ground.

Careful Where You Walk. To control soil compaction, avoid walking on wet lawns or beds.


"The world is mud-luscious and puddle wonderful"— E.E. Cummings, American poet

Prepare to Prune. Cut back butterfly bushes (buddleia) to six inches above the soil line. The branches of butterfly bushes make excellent plants supports and or row markers. They are very straight.

Cover Up Bald Spots. Rake debris from the lawn, over seed any bare spots or thin areas.

Support Your Plants. Place growth supports next to top-heavy plants such as peonies and dahlias.

Move Over, Mulch. Remove winter mulches from plants as temperatures rise and from strawberries, but keep it close by in case of a late frost.

Oil Check. Spray shrubs with dormant oil spray to control insects and scale that survived the winter.

Happy Arbor Day! Arbor Day is celebrated this month. Go to The National Arbor Day Foundation to determine on what day you state celebrates this event. Plant a tree or better yet get some kids involved and plant a tree at a school or park

Shake Up Your Compost. Give your compost pile a good mixing. I like to use my mini-tiller for this task.

A Use for Lint? Place clothes dryer lint and short pieces of string on trees and shrubs to aid birds in their nest building.

Don't Forget to Deadhead. Deadhead spring flowering bulbs as blooms fade. Leave foliage until it turns yellow or brown.

Cool Crucifers. Continue to plant cool season crops such as cabbage, collards, chard, carrots, broccoli and lettuce.

Fertilize Organically. Fertilize woody ornamentals with a good organic fertilizer.

Heard It Through The Grapevine. Prune grape vines, remove dead or weakened vines as necessary. Repair arbors or another supports as needed.

Plant Bare Root Roses This Month. When planting, place a handful of bone meal in the hole. Mound the soil up around the plant up to one inch of the top. Remove the soil as new growth appears. In addition to roses, onion sets, lettuce and spinach may be directly seeded into the garden during the month of April.

Take moment to enjoy your garden as it emerges from its long winter nap.


"A garden is the interface between the house and the rest of civilization"— Geoffrey Charlesworth, garden writer

Marvelous Mums. Pinch back mums to promote full, bushy plants and provide more blooms later in the fall.

Give Your Plants a Drink. Make sure to keep all newly planted stock well watered if mother nature doesn't cooperate with sufficient rain.

Fertilize Organically. Set up an organic fertilizing plan for your roses beginning this month. Reapply every 4-6 weeks. Fertrell and Espoma are two brands of organic fertilizers that I prefer. Both companies have a large assortment of products to choose from.

Transplant Time. Transplant tomatoes when soil temperatures reaches 50 degrees F. Plants beans and other warm weather crops as well. Around the middle of the month I transplant the young dahlia plants I have rooted indoors. Place them at 2-3 foot intervals. I install supports when I transplant the young plants.

Bird Watch in Your Garden! Place your humming bird feeders out. Change liquid and clean weekly.

Weeds, Weeds, Weeds. Keep up on weeding before it gets away from you. Use mulch to deter weeds, reapply as needed.

Shake Up Your Compost. Give the compost pile a good turning and make sure it doesn't dry out.

Practical Pruning. Prune spring shrubs such as forsythia, lilac, viburnum, and crabapple when they finish blooming.

Support Your Plants. Make sure supports or stakes are in place for tall perennials such as delphiniums and peonies.

Get Rid of Bald Spots. Reseed any bare spots in your lawn. Be sure to mulch and keep the area well watered.

Plant Your Bulbs. Warm season bulbs such as cannas, and gladiolas may be planted now.

Lovely Lilacs. When lilacs finish blooming, removed faded blooms and prune the bush if needed. Up to one third of the branches may be removed each year. This will ensure a healthy, vigorous plant.

Heavenly Herbs. Plant some herbs near your kitchen door. I like to plant them in containers. Snip a piece or two for cooking as needed. Keep the plants in a sunny location.

Keep Houseplants Happy. Move houseplants outside when danger of frost has passed. Keep a close watch so they don't dry out as temperatures rise.


"A gardener who knows his flowers and is ignorant of weeds now seems to me to be like a coin, a tail without a head."—Sara Stein, American writer, gardener

Falling Fruit. Don't be concerned about June drop of tree fruits. It's a natural thinning process. Prop up heavy braches to prevent breaking. Fruits should be spaced six to eight inches apart on a branch.

Tomato Talk. For staked tomatoes, remove suckers (Branches that form where the leaf joins the stem) when they are 1-1.5 inches long.

A Halt to Harvesting. Stop harvesting asparagus and rhubarb toward the end of the month. This allows the plant plenty of time to store food for next year.

Blanching Time. Blanch (block light) from cauliflower when heads are two inches in diameter. Tie leaves over developing heads.

Thin Your Phlox. Trim back garden phlox stems to improve air circulation. Thin out all but the five strongest stems per plant. This will help prevent mildew.

Insect Control. Use floating row covers as a barrier for insects. They are effective as a control on such crops as spinach, beets, carrots and the cabbage family. They prevent adult insects from laying eggs on your veggies.

Pull Your Greens. Pull cool season crops such as lettuce, radishes, and spinach as they bolt. Prepare the beds for fall plantings. If the bed will not be used for a while plant a cover crop such as buckwheat or crown vetch.

Vinegar & Weeds. USDA Research has shown that vinegar provided 80-100% kill of certain annual weeds. Included are foxtail, pigweed, and Canada thistle. Use full strength and spray directly on young weeds as they emerge. It's an organic solution to an old problem.

Liberate Your Houseplants. Move your houseplants outside for the summer. Water as needed and be alert for insect problems.

Safe Strawberries. Keep birds from your ripening strawberries by covering with netting.

Mix Up a Batch of Compost Tea. Your plants will thank you by showing a growth spurt. Place a couple of shovels of compost into a burlap bag. Tie the bag and place into a 30-gallon trashcan full of water. Cover and let set for a couple of weeks before using.

Don't Forget to Deadhead. Deadhead annuals as blooms fade to ensure a constant show of color and promote season long blooming.

Encourage Your Pine Trees. June is the proper time to pinch candles (new growth) from pine trees. This promotes fullness.


"Flower in the crannied wall, I pluck you out of the crannies, I hold you here, root and all, in my hand, Little flower—but if I could understand, What you are, root and all, and all in all, I should know what God and man is."— Alfred Lord Tennyson, British poet

Eat Up! Your garden should be giving forth a bounty of fresh vegetables and fruits. Make up a fresh tomato salad. Pick some sweet corn. Make a raspberry or peach cobbler. Invite a home bound person to go on a picnic with you and your family. Enjoy the weather, fresh food, and each other's company.

Keep Watering. Make sure newly established plants are kept well watered during dry weather; be sure to water deeply.

Radiant Raspberries. Harvest raspberries when fruits are fully colored and easily separates from the stem.

Annuals Tip. As annuals begin to fade, shear them back by 1/3. They will soon bloom again.

Remove Suckers From Tomato Plants. Suckers are growth that occurs in the area where the branch meets the main stem. Pinching these results in stronger, bushier plants.

Remove Water Sprouts From Fruit Trees. Water sprouts are fast growing branches that grow straight up from horizontal limbs. Suckers are sprouts growing from the root area at the base of the tree.

Trim Tactfully. Be very careful when using string trimmers around trees. Nicks and cuts caused by trimmers exposes the tree to infection and insects.

Mow High. Mow lawns one half inch higher than usual during the hot summer months.

Harvest Sweet Corn on a Regular Basis. Harvest when silks begin to dry and kernels exude a milky juice when punctured.

Keep Plants Well-Mulched. Make sure that potatoes, carrots, and onions are covered with soil to prevent development of green color. Also, apply mulch around young plants to control weeds and conserve moisture.

Marvelous Mums. Continue top pinch mums until the middle of the month. You'll be rewarded with profuse blooming in the fall.

Time for Irises. July is the month in which to divide iris. Discard any soft, or insect infested rhizomes.

Handpick Japanese Beetles From Your Plants. These insects especially love roses. Remove them from the blooms and drown them in a pail of soapy water. Organic sprays such as Neem can also be used to control these pests.

Keep You Humming Bird Feeders Clean. Change the solution at least three times a week.


"A garden is a love song, a duet between a human being and Mother Nature" — Jeff Cox, American Garden Writer

Dog Days of Summer. This can be one of the driest months of the year, so make sure your garden stays well watered. It will need 1 to 1 1/2 inches of water per week. Some containers may require twice a day watering on especially hot days. Find a shady spot, have an ice-cold slice of watermelon and enjoy the moment.

Crop Preparation. Start fall crops such as beets, carrots, lettuce, and broccoli.

Water Well. Continue to deep-water trees and shrubs if rainfall is sparse. I like to use a root feeder to get the water down directly to the root zone.

Keep Fresh Fruits and Veggies Available All Winter. Can and/or freeze produce from your garden. I prefer to freeze sweet corn whereas tomatoes and green beans are better canned. New to food preservation? Contact your cooperative extension office in your county for information on classes or bulletins related to food preservation. Be sure to add all of those peelings and rinds to your compost pile.

Cuttings Tip. Take cuttings from plants such as coleus, and geraniums to overwinter indoors. Root cuttings in perlite, peat moss, rock wool or potting soil.

Beautiful Bulbs. Start to plan for your planting of fall bulbs. The bulb catalogs will begin to hit your mailbox this month if they haven't already.

Dapper Daylilies. Daylilies may be dug and divided this month. After digging, divide by gently pulling the divisions from the clump. Each division should have at least 3 stems with roots attached. Cut the foliage back to 6 inches and replant.

Rosy Disposition. Make note of which roses preformed well this year and which ones you'll want to replace in the spring. Stop fertilizing roses after the 15th of this month.

Insect Control. Prune out bagworms and tent caterpillars that take up residence in your trees. Don't burn them out; this does more damage than the worms do. If yellow jackets make an appearance in your yard or garden, set out specifically designed traps for these pests. Keep trash containers covered.

Pruning Time. Prune out raspberries and blackberry canes that bore fruit this year. They will not bear again.

Summer Harvest. Harvest potatoes when the tops yellow and die off. Let them cure for a week to ten days before storing them.


"The poetry of the earth is never dead."—John Keats, poet

Happy Herbs and Houseplants. Dig and pot up herbs to bring indoors for winter use. Give them a good rinse to remove any pests and place in a sunny window. When the night temperatures begin to drop below 55 degrees F its time to bring your houseplants back inside. Spray them off with the garden hose to eliminate any hitchhiking insects.

Tomato Tip. Mature green tomatoes can be ripened indoors. Wrap each fruit individually in newspapers. Store in a cool location (55-60 degrees F) until ripe.

Harvesting Brussel Sprouts. Don't harvest brussel sprouts until after a hard frost. This makes them much sweeter.

Create Cuttings. Take cuttings of impatients, coleus and phlox to over winter for next year's plants.

Shrub Idea. Fall is the perfect to plant balled and burlaped shrubs. Be sure to remove wire baskets and nylon twine. Keep well-watered up until the ground freezes.

An Apple A Day. Visit a local apple orchard. Pick a bushel or two to take home. Make some apple butter and applesauce with them.

Harvest Time. Harvest winter squash before a frost. Store them in a cool dark location. Pick your apples, pears, grapes and fall bearing raspberries too. Make some homemade jams or jellies to use over the winter.

Cover Up. Keep a rowcover handy to cover tomatoes and peppers in case of an early frost.

Flower Tip. Stop fertilizing roses, also stop cutting blooms. This gives the plant time to form hips and prepare for winter.

Shake It Up. Make sure the compost pile stays well mixed. If it's full start a new one to receive the soon-to-be falling leaves.

Prepare Your Peonies. Divide peonies this month, be sure to replant at the same depth. Keep well water until the ground freezes.


"The grandeur of the trees is lost when raking leaves."—Marcelene Cox, American author

Fall Festivities. Take some time to enjoy the fall color. Take your kids or grandkids to a cider mill for apple cider and hot donuts. Pick up a pumpkin or two to turn into a Jack O Lantern.

Fix Up Foliage. Remove spent foliage from plants such as peonies, and other perennials. Leave seed heads on some flowers such as coneflowers and sedum for the birds.

Bye Bye Bird Feeders. Take down and clean your humming bird feeders. Purchase a birdbath deicer for your birdbath in order to provide fresh water for the birds through the winter.

Clean Up. Keep garden areas clean to reduce insects and diseases as plants fade and are cut back for winter. Clean under fruit trees. Remove fallen fruit and debris to reduce chances of diseases. Empty flower pot containers, clean thoroughly and place in the house or garage to prevent breakage. Inspect bird feeders to ensure they are ready for winter.

Harvest Time. Harvest pumpkins and winter squash before frost, when the rind is hard and fully colored. Store in a cool location.

Soil Test. Take some soil samples for a soil test. Contact your local extension office for instructions. Soil tests should be taken every 3-5 years.

Bulb Storage. After a frost kills the foliage, dig cannas, gladiolas, and dahlias. Rinse the bulbs thoroughly to prepare them for winter storage. Store them in sand, sawdust, or peat moss in a cool dark location. Check them every couple of weeks. Discard any soft or rotting bulbs.

Store Unused Seeds. Place them in an airtight jar; place a tablespoon of nonfat dry milk into a tissue. Tie the tissue and place into the jar. This absorbs any moisture that might be present.

Last Mow. Give the lawn one last mowing. Drain the gas from and clean your lawnmowers and other power equipment. Check your snow blower and make sure it runs properly.

Beautiful Bulbs. Plant spring blooming bulbs like tulips and daffodils. If squirrels are a problem in your area cover newly planted bulbs with chicken wire until the ground freezes.

Enjoy the Season! Take a day and visit a local cider mill and enjoy the fall colors.


"I have never had so many good ideas day after day as when I worked in the garden."—John Erskine

The trees are bare. The wind definitely has a chill. Its time to put the garden to bed and start making plans for next spring.

Don't Stop Watering Yet. Keep newly planted trees and shrubs watered until the ground freezes. Drain and store the garden hoses and drip irrigation systems.

Prepare for the Cold. Turn off outside faucets, drain and store garden hoses. Clean and store your garden tools for winter. Use a wire brush to remove rust and caked on soil. Apply a light coat of mineral or vegetable oil.

Pad Your Trees. Protect the trunks of young trees by wrapping trunks with a commercial tree wrap. This deters rabbits, voles and mice from munching on the tender bark.

Tasty Treat. Pot up some herbs for winter use. Keep in a sunny window.

Tree Tip. If you plan to buy a live Christmas tree to transplant after the holidays, dig the transplant hole before the ground freezes.

Winterize Your Rose Bushes. Place shredded leaves or compost around the base of the plant to protect the bud union. Tie longer canes together to prevent damage from the wind. Do not prune until spring.

Winter Solutions. Place an electric deicer in your birdbath to keep a supply of fresh water available for the birds. Make sure the feeders are kept full.

Clean Up. Remove any debris from the garden. Cut back perennials. Leave ornamental grasses and plants like sedum in place for winter interest. Do not compost any plant materials that might be diseased. After the leaves have finished falling, give the yard one final raking. Shred and add the leaves to the compost pile.

Winterize Power Equipment. Add fuel stabilizer or drain the fuel from the system. Sharpen or replace blades as needed.

Evergreen Tip. Place stakes and burlap around broad-leaved evergreens to prevent windburn and dehydration. Leave a 3-4 inch space between the ground and the bottom of the burlap to allow for air circulation. Also, spray broadleaf evergreens with an anti desiccant (such as Wilt Pruf) to prevent dehydration.


"A garden is a thing of beauty, and a job forever."—Richard Briers, British actor

Hopefully your garden has been put to bed by this time. The seed catalogs will begin to arrive later this month. Get yourself a hot drink, a stack of catalogs and begin to plan next years garden.

Amazing Amaryllis. Purchase some Amaryllis, Christmas cactus, or Poinsettias to give as holiday gifts.

Tree Patrol. Protect young trees from mice and rabbit damage by placing tree guards around the trunk. Be sure to take into account the snow depth to make sure the guard is high enough.

Happy Houseplants. To ensure houseplants have sufficient humidity, place them in pebble filled trays with water. The evaporating water will supply the needed humidity. The low light levels of winter call for some adjustments in the location of houseplants. Move plants that normally thrive on the north side of the house to the east side. Keep them away from cold drafts.

Evergreen Care. Spray anti-desiccant on broad-leaved evergreens and boxwoods to prevent dehydration.

Tree Tip. Keep fresh cut Christmas trees in a cool, but not freezing location. When you get it home cut 1-2 inches from the trunk and place into a bucket of cool water.

Ice Management. Avoid using rock salt on sidewalks and driveways to melt ice and snow. Use an alternative such as sand, or kitty litter. For plants, gently remove ice and snow that accumulates on shrubs and small trees to avoid breaking branches.

Holiday Gift Ideas. Give your spouse or significant other a garden wish list. Garden tools or gift certificates from your favorite catalogs make great gifts for the gardener. Order a subscription to Organic Gardening to a gardening pal.

Soil Smarts. Avoid walking on semi-frozen lawns and beds to prevent soil compaction.

Inspect Your Hand Tools. Sand and apply linseed oil to wooden handles. Remove rust and repaint metal parts. I've painted the handles of my hand tools a bright orange to make them easier to find in the garden

Thanks to all of my readers for another great year. May your gardens grow well, and you find health and happiness in your garden.