The Ultimate Guide to Seasonal Gardening

The Ultimate Guide to Seasonal Gardening

Dec 5, 2017

Gardeners across America love the first signs of spring. Warming temperatures and clear, sunny days signal the exciting beginning of planting season. But what if you could maintain a beautiful, budding garden year-round, even through the darkest, coldest winter months? As it happens, every gardening enthusiast can achieve four-season gardening success with a little understanding of seasonal gardening and some planning.

Our seasonal gardening guide provides you with a breakdown of seasonal conditions, planting tips and things to consider as you transition into the next season. You’ll also learn which flowers thrive in each season so you can develop your own garden planting calendar. 

Let’s have a look at an overview of planting seasons before diving in-depth.

Overview of Planting Seasons

It’s possible to grow a magnificent garden year-round. All you need is a good understanding of what makes each season unique. You’ll need to know how to work with seasonal conditions, not against them. Thinking ahead to seasonal transitions is also important when it comes seasonal growing. This means considering not only what plants are in season now, but which ones you can plant today for later blooms.

Here’s a high-level look at the different planting seasons and what factors to consider as you build out your seasonal garden:

  • Spring: During the spring, the ground warms up and becomes easier to dig in. Spring gardening is refreshing and revitalizing as bulbs planted in the fall or early winter start to come to life. Spring is also a time to plant perennials and await their bursts of vibrant color as summer nears.
  • Summer: With frost well behind you, annual flowering plants can now take hold in warmer ground conditions. Summer is arguably the season that gardeners wait all year for as showy summer flowers bloom. You can even plan for late summer flowers to keep the colorful array of plants going strong into the fall.
  • Fall: Fall is a transition season that gives gardeners the opportunity to plan for early spring blooms. It’s also a season for gardeners to try their hand at planting trees and shrubs that will eventually head into a dormant stage. Seize on fall ground conditions before the soil becomes too hard or waterlogged.
  • Winter: Winter gardening is more about maintenance and care than actual planting. That’s because the soil becomes waterlogged or hardens, making it difficult for roots to absorb the right amount of nutrients they need. Winter is a time for focusing on protecting your existing, dormant plants so you can have a more enjoyable spring gardening season.

Now that we’ve established the basic differences between the four seasons, we can now dive into the specific gardening challenges and planting opportunities each equinox provides. Be sure to follow our seasonal growing guide for tips and tricks to maximize what each season can offer.

3 mini seasons of spring

Spring Gardening

Spring gardening is often the most satisfying time for novice and experienced gardeners alike. As the weather warms and the frost thaws, it’s tempting to jump right into planting. But it’s important to recognize the drastic change in growing conditions that spring is known for. Though one season, spring has what you could consider three mini-seasons based on your climate’s frost-free date. These mini-seasons are important to understand because they help you know what plants are season now and what plants need to wait until later spring.

Here are the three mini-seasons of spring and their unique conditions:

  • Early Spring: These are the earliest days of the spring season. During these weeks, it’s important to check on the soil conditions. If the soil is still too hard to work in, you know it’s not yet time for planting. Once the soil has softened, you can begin planting certain bare-root perennials and cold-tolerant annual plants.
  • 2-3 Weeks Before Frost-Free Date: Your local frost-free date is the average time when the likelihood of frost has passed. Work backward two to three weeks from this date. This is a great time to acclimatize certain perennials that are hardy enough for your area. You can begin planting potted perennials and outdoor-grown trees and shrubs. Cold season vegetables like leafy can also be planted as they can tolerate a freeze.
  • After Frost-Free Date: Once the threat of frost has passed, you can begin to seed and transplant annuals and vegetable plants.This is also a time to safely dig up and divide out perennial plants that haven’t bloomed. Finally, you can also begin planting summer blooming bulbs at this point including any non-hardy bulbs or bulb-like plants.

close up of a pink and white flower

Spring is a sensitive time for a planting, but it’s also a time to plan out your garden’s color palette. Use the spring planting season to think ahead about which flowers and crops to plant where. This will allow you to maximize your space while thinking ahead about your garden’s seasonal needs. Here are some tips for planting during spring:

  • Prep Garden Beds and Soil: The beginning of spring is a great time to prep your garden beds after harsh winter conditions. Remove debris such as leaves and any leftover snow. Pull up the weeds and get rid of them at their roots. Be sure to take this time to nourish your soil with organic compost and lots of water. Don’t forget to tend to your plants that made it through the winter. Prune them back after the frost-free date to prevent freezing and shock.
  • Stagger Blooming Times: The key to seasonal gardening is to plan for blooming times starting in the spring. Decide where you’ll plant your earliest bloomers, such as cold-tolerant annuals and early-blooming perennials. Make sure these plants have been hardened-off at the garden center before you plant them. Then decide where to plant your summer blooming bulbs, which will lay dormant until much later into the early summer. By knowing blooming times in advance, you can ensure you’ve created a vibrant, colorful garden all throughout the spring and into summer.
  • Set a Color Scheme: Spring planting is a time to get creative. You can develop flowering color schemes based on blooming times. Group complementary colors together. For example, a warm color scheme would include reds, oranges and yellows. A cool color scheme will have blues and purples. Depending on the size of your beds, you can repeat colors schemes to give your garden a cohesive palette.

Expect your summer bulbs to start blooming as you enter the final weeks and spring and early days of summer. You’ll also begin to notice your soil drying out quicker, which means it’s time to deepen watering sessions. Because the soil condition shifts during seasonal transitions, it’s important to also boost the fertility of your soil. Gardens rich with mulch help the soil retain nutrients, which improves the performance of your beautiful summer blooms.

hands in the dirt planting lettuce

Summer Gardening

Summer has its own sets of conditions and factors that gardeners must consider when planning their seasonal gardens. Planting and transplanting during hot summer months can distress plants. Experts don’t recommend planting any bare-root or newly divided plants during the summer as the heat is too risky. But you can successfully plant summer annuals, perennials or shrubs that have been grown in containers.These should be heat-tolerant plants that will bloom and thrive for throughout the summer.

Another thing to consider about summer planting is location. The hot summer sun can scorch certain annuals. You need to make sure you plant these in full or partial shade. Conversely, be sure to position your sun-loving bloomers where they’ll receive the most sun exposure.

Because heat is such a threat this time of year, follow these summer planting tips to ensure a healthy, bountiful summer garden:

  • Plant at the Start of Summer: July and August can be too hot to plant. That’s why experts advise planting your summer annuals in June. During this time, you can also plant some end-of-summer flowers that will bloom during August. That way your garden will only require maintenance and care during the hottest months. This allows you to sit back and enjoy your garden on hot sunny days.
  • Water Well During Planting: The summer heat can quickly dry out soil, which makes for difficult growing conditions for annual summer plants. That’s why it’s important to water your bare soil thoroughly before planting. As you plant your annuals or transplant them from containers, continue to water them well. Even after the planting process is complete, you’ll need to keep up adequate moisture levels as roots take hold. Continue caring for summer blooms with slow, deep and regular waterings.
  • Create a Soil Moat: If you’re planting early summer plants, it’s important to anticipate additional watering needs. Annuals typically have shallow root systems that dry the plant out quickly. Account for this increase in moisture needs by building a soil moat around each plant. Moats help filter water down towards the roots when watering or whenever it rains. This is just a simple way to maximize watering efforts and keep your summer crops happy.

With proper care and maintenance, you may be able to extend your late summer garden into fall. Be diligent about removing deadheads. This ensures that the plant reserves its energy for keeping healthy blooms alive, instead of developing seeds. You’ll also need to keep feeding plants throughout the summer to extend their life as much as possible.

As you prepare to transition into fall, be sure to remove expired annuals from your summer beds. This will allow you to free up space for planting your bulbs and any new shrubs or trees. If you’re planning on doing container growing throughout the fall and winter, now is a good time to purchase your container supply.

caterpillars eating a leaf

Fall Gardening

If you’re interested in seasonal gardening and maintaining a year-round garden, you’ll have two main focuses during fall. One focus is planting your cold-season plants such as shrubs, trees or hardy perennials and annuals. Secondly, you’ll also want to plan ahead for spring blooms by sinking in your fall bulbs.

Keep in mind that you may have a short window of opportunity to do this. That’s because plantings need to be done before the ground hardens or becomes too waterlogged. Neither of these conditions works for planting because the soil is either unworkable or there’s too much moisture for plant roots.

Before you begin planting, it’s critical to prep your garden for fall. Particularly, you should focus on eliminating any signs of disease and pests. If you leave diseased plant matter in your garden, the diseases can recur in the spring and threaten your new-year blooms.

Here are some ways to prep your garden for fall and start your autumn planting:

  • Clean and Nourish Soil: Dig through your beds and thoroughly remove dead plant matter, leaves and weeds. Once you’ve removed all the debris, you can start to nourish your soil again before planting. Nourishing your soil in the fall helps condition your soil for bountiful spring growth. Use an organic soil amendment and compost to feed microorganisms. Till the soil well to allow for ample oxygenation.
  • Plant Fall Bulbs: Fall is the time to plant bulbs that will bloom in the spring. That’s because the ground is still warm enough for roots to take hold before the frost hits. Bulb roots need six weeks to take hold, so work backward from the estimated frost date. Once your soil is prepared, sink your bulbs in a partial to full-sun location. Space your bulbs three to six inches apart.
  • Choose Colorful Cold Season Plants: Just because summer has come and gone doesn’t mean your garden’s color should dull. There are plenty of cold season perennials or annuals that bloom well into the fall for a continual, colorful autumn. Fall is a good time to fill in landscaping gaps with a mixture of perennials, shrubs and trees that produce colorful winter berries.

Once you’ve finished your early fall plantings, it’s now just a matter of maintenance. As you inch closer towards frost-covered mornings, plants prepare to go dormant ahead of winter. But there’s still lots of activity happening within the soil. It’s this activity that you want to encourage healthy growth in the spring, which is what winter gardening is all about.

hands holding a pile of soil

Winter Gardening

While winter isn’t a time for planting, it’s a time for preparation and maintenance. Like summer, winter has its unique gardening conditions and threats to plan for. If you want to maintain a healthy winter garden and ensure thriving spring growth, follow these winter gardening tips:

  • Manage Soil Temperature: When the ground freezes and hardens, it’s important to keep your soil and plants protected. This allows your hardy perennials, shrubs and trees to survive the winter and avoid shocking temperature fluctuations. This is one of the major risks your plants face during winter – uneven ground temperatures. You can reduce this risk by spreading a thick layer of new mulch. This insulates the soil and keeps ground temperatures even.
  • Prevent Soil Shifting: Another risk to be aware of during winter is the possibility of ground shifting. The continuous freezing and thawing can crack the frozen soil. With enough cracking, it can shift your bulbs and push them to the surface. Prevent soil shifting by using evergreen boughs as a mulch layer across your bulb beds.
  • Protect Plants from Snow Piles: Snow piles can be a great soil insulator by acting as mulch. But they can also be dangerous to branches and limbs of sensitive trees and shrubs. The weight of the snow and the freezing temperatures can cause branches to snap. When you notice snow piling up, be diligent about regularly knocking snow off your plants. Use a broom or other soft tool to brush snow off branches. Start from the bottom and work your way up so that lower branches don’t accumulate further snow weight.

    Winter is a dormancy period for plants, but they still require regular attention. Aim for a regular winter garden inspections and look for signs of diseased limbs and foliage or pest infestations. Address any of these concerns right away so you can give your plants the best shot of survival. It also means less work for you come spring.

string of drooping pink hearts plant

What Flowers to Plant by Season

Now that we’ve covered some basic gardening guidelines and tips by season let’s get into the fun part – choosing your plants for each season. This is where you can really let your creativity and gardening knowledge shine. But before you get too excited about the endless annual and perennial possibilities, make sure you know your region’s hardiness zone and micro-climate conditions. For example, the state of Maryland can range between hardiness zones 6 and 8 depending on the area. Check out the USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Finder for your local area. Once you’ve got that number down, you can research plants that are tolerant for your hardiness zone for each season.

Here are some general suggestions for knowing which plants are in season now depending on the time of year.

Spring: As mentioned, spring planting depends on your frost-free date. But here are some general suggestions for which flowering plants to start in early to mid-spring:

  • Violas, pansies and primulas can usually be planted in the early spring as long as they’ve been hardened off.
  • Summer-blooming bulbs like dahlias, lilies and begonias can also be planted now. But these are not good in frost, so you may want to start these in indoor containers before moving them outdoors.
  • If you’re looking for sun-loving perennials, try some clematis, creeping fox and dianthus, which put on a beautiful blossoming show.

a look at a big pile of variegated hosta

Summer: Late spring and early summer is the time to infuse beauty and vibrancy into your garden with unique annuals and seasonal perennials. This allows gardeners to try new flowers each year and really play around with their gardening creativity. Here are some summer flowering plants to try this season:

  • Sun-loving seasonal perennials like black-eyed Susans, evening primrose, hollyhock and lavender all come into bloom during the hot summer months. These can withstand the midsummer heat and thrive in the bright sun.
  • Ignite some color into shaded areas with shade-loving and flowering perennials. Some classics include hosta, lobelia and yellow corydalis.
  • Don’t forget to stagger your blooming times by planting some sun-loving plants that will finish off your summer in bloom. These include favorites like chrysanthemums, hyssop and Japanese anemone (japonica)

Fall: You can still enjoy a fall garden with hardier perennials as well as shrubs and trees that produce beautiful leaf color changes. It’s also the time to get your bulbs in the ground for spring bloomers. Try some of these fall season varieties:

  • Asters, roses and cyclamen can add color to your early fall garden, extending your outdoor enjoyment. You might also try cold-tolerant annual plants like osteospermum, nemesia and calendula, which will bloom into the fall. And you can’t go wrong with pansies, which come in every conceivable color, including intriguing bi-colors.
  • Container-grown trees and shrubs can add hardiness and texture to your fall garden. Choose trees like Japanese maples and katsura trees or burning bush which produce satisfying fall foliage.
  • Finally, don’t forget about your daffodils, crocuses and tulip bulbs for spring. Or you can venture away from the spring classics and choose unique blooms like hyacinth or irises.close look at yellow flowers

Buying Your Seasonal Plants

Seasonal gardening is attainable for anyone with a green-thumb or a desire to add life to their yard year-round. With the right spring and fall planning, you can ensure your garden is ready for steady blooms and thriving plant life. The key is knowing when to plant so you achieve staggered, consistent blooms throughout the spring, summer and fall. Using tips like knowing your frost-free date, as well as your usual first freeze, can help you plan out your perennials, annuals and bulb plantings.

With experts like Garden Goods Direct, you can fill your garden all year. We’re your leading online garden supplier with a local garden center in Bowie, Maryland. Shop our supply of plants and purchase your seasonal favorites online. Contact Garden Goods Direct today to speak to a gardening expert about your seasonal gardening needs.