Keeping a garden can be a very rewarding hobby. Seeing something grow that you have planned and supported is a great feeling, and there is always something to be done, improvements to be made. You can grow your own fruit and vegetables, or just create a space to relax. A good garden, especially in winter, is like having another room in your home.

This writeup highlights some of the jobs that need doing to maintain a successful garden, and when you should be doing them. Tasks are ascribed to a month based on an English garden, and so the English climate, your mileage may vary.

J a n u a r y

  • Make things look good
    Plant snowdrops as established plants, rather than bulbs in the autumn. Bulbs are often cheaper, but can be a false economy, as they often fail to take root.
  • Take stock of your equipment
    The January sales are a good time to make sure you have all the equipment and clothing you'll need for the coming year. Treat yourself to a nice new pair of gardening gloves. Gloves with a latex coating will protect your hands from thorns, and a good pair of Doc Martens will keep your feet dry and comfy.
  • Look after your water features
    If you have a pond, stream, or any other water feature, float an old tennis ball in it, to stop ice covering the entire surface. This will keep the surface tension of the expanding ice from cracking the sides of a concrete pond, and keep the water aerated for any resident fishies.
  • Clean up your patio and paving
    If you've had a wet winter, then you'll have a patio full of moss, algae and general gunge. Rent a pressurized water jet and spray everything down. Soap and water in a bucket and a stiff brush would work just as well, but it's nowhere near as good fun.
  • Plant rhubarb
    Now is the time to plant rhubarb roots. You should space them about 90 centimeters apart in soil with a good mix of manure. The top of each root should be about 2 centimeters below soil level.
  • Cut back or dig up dead or dying things
    Anything that hasn't survived the winter should be got rid of, and anything overgrown can be hacked back to the stem to grow anew. Chop back fuscias and anything else you've kept back under glass or in a greenhouse.

F e b r u a r y

  • Cover ground that's marked for future use
    Work out what land you're going to use for spring seed sowing, and cover it with plastic. Large rubbish bags weighed down with rocks work just fine or you can buy a horticultural fleece, if you think it's worth the expense.
  • Clean up and thaw out water features
    Remove snow from a frozen pond to allow light to penetrate, and remember to keep the ice broken. If you put netting over your pond in autumn, take it off now.
  • Consider broad beans
    Go on, they're easy to grow, and now is the time to sow them. As soon as the soil is workable, get some planted. Once the beans are in flower, pinch the growing tip to help the pods form and discourage blackfly.
  • Prune mature shrubs with winter flowers
    If you have any bushes that have flowered over winter, you should cut them back now. As a rough guide, you can chop back about a third of the wood, to make room for new stems in the springtime. To be honest, I'm from the hack-and-slash school of gardening, and so don't worry too much about the amount removed.
  • Water seedlings in pots and trays
    Watering with tap water rather than rainwater from water butts is preferable, as rainwater can contain all sorts of fungal organisms and bacterial creepy crawlies that can cause a variety of diseases in fledgling plants.

M a r c h

  • Divide and conquer perennials
    If you've got perennials too clumped together, replant some from the edges and use them to fill in gaps elsewhere, or make up containers.
  • Sow vegetables for a crop later
    March is the time to plant all types of herbs, parsnips, Brussels sprouts, leeks and spinach. And remember: every vegetable we grow is a blow against global capitalism!
  • Don't mow your lawn
    ...if it has bulbs planted in it, until they have been flowering for at least six weeks. If you chop them up too early, they may not flower at all. If your grass is a bulb-free zone, and the grass is relatively dry, you could consider giving it a quick trim.
  • Prune your roses
    If you've got any rose bushes, now is the time to get them in shape, unless you have wall-climbing roses, which should be left to flower in the summer. Cut out diseased, frost-damaged wood, or indeed any that's just in the wrong place. Cut back to the next outward facing bud.
  • Sow your annual flower seeds
    Fork over your ground, and add in a fertiliser or compost. Sow your flowers in rows or some other logical pattern to make weeding and thinning easier in the future. If you find you've got too many plants growing, you can thin out seedlings once they've got two or three leaves.

A p r i l

  • Stop your greenhouse overheating
    If you think your greenhouse is getting too hot on warm days, then shade the glass on the south side with a blind or some netting. Open the door and any ventilation windows in the morning, and close them in the evening before the night draws in.
  • Sow seeds of later flowering annuals
    If you want to plant marigolds or stocks and asters, now is the time. Set them off in trays under glass, and sow biennials such as Canterbury bells in pots.
  • Take care of shoots and seedlings
    If you're growing tomatoes, train the shoots up canes or strings, and tie them in place. The seedlings you planted in trays or pots last month should now be ready for planting, once the danger of frost has passed.
  • Do some dead-heading and trimming
    Remove the dead heads from old flowers or damaged shoots from shrubbery. If you're growing rhubarb, then you should also remove any flowering stalks that start to appear, as these weaken the fruit-producing aspect of the plant by demanding food and energy from the edible stalks.

M a y

  • Earth up potato plants
    Rake the soil around your potatoes into a neat ridge, leaving the top five centimeters or so exposed. They'll be ready for harvesting soon.
  • Now is the time for fixing up your lawn
    If your grass has gained some unwanted weeds, May is the best month for using a weedkiller to remove them. If at all possible, use a product before it rains; most weedkillers work through the leaves, rather than the roots and so need time in place to work.
  • Sow runner beans outdoors
    By now, the danger of any frost should have passed, so now is the time to plant runner beans outside in rows, with canes for support. Plant a few extra seeds at the end of each row, and use these seedlings to plug any gaps in the future.
  • Look after baskets and pots
    It's always easy to overlook hanging baskets, pots, and greenhouse plants. Remember to water and feed all plants in baskets and pots regularly, and keep an eye on seedling in flowerbeds and borders.

J u n e

  • Clean up dead things again
    Keep and eye out for dead heads on flowers and dying shoots in shrubs that have stopped flowering.
  • Check your water butt
    By now your water butt may well be full of green algae and bacterial gunge. Make sure you have a tight-fitting lid that blocks out sunlight to prevent organic sludge growing on the top.
  • Sort out tulips bulbs and begonias
    Once the foliage on tulips turns yellow, place them in shallow boxes and store in a greenhouse or shed, and remove the leaves, stems and roots once they've dried out and become brittle. To take a begonia cutting, remove one leaf and place the stem into moist compost.

J u l y

  • Cut back your privet hedges
    You should keep on top of fast growing hedges like privet to keep them tidy and to encourage thick and healthy growth. Use a fertilizer to help growth and top up mulch around the base to conserve moisture.
  • Take semi-ripe cuttings
    Plants like weigela, forsythia and flowering currants can have cuttings taken by pulling a side shoot away from the main shoot with an overhanging section of bark attached, and planting in compost. They should then be kept in a cold frame or monitored closely in a greenhouse.
  • Go back to your runner beans
    If you planted runner beans back in May, now is the time to pinch the growing tips of the beans once they reach the top of their supports. Make sure they're well watered, especially once flowers appear and pods arrive.
  • Dead head roses again
    Roses should have their dead flowers removed regularly to stimulate new young shoots and further blooms.

A u g u s t

  • Clip hedges into shape
    Now is the time to prepare yew, beech and confer hedges for the winter. Catch the clippings to make a compost. A good trim for your hedges now should leave them looking tidy right through the winter.
  • Prune fruit trees
    If you have trained apple or pear trees such as cordons, espaliers, or dwarf pyramids, you should be cutting back new side shoots to encourage further growth. You should cut back to around five leaves, and cutting any branches you need to extend the framework of the tree.
  • Keep your vegetable plot tidy
    If you're growing vegetables, then you should be removing fallen foliage and other bits and pieces of debris. Rotting plant matter lying around encourages slugs to shelter, and keeping things tidy keeps them and other pests and diseases at bay.
  • Water tomato plants
    Throughout summer you should aim to have your tomato plants watered evenly. If you allow the soil to dry out, and then water the plant, the sudden surge of water into the plant causes the fruit to swell with water, making the skins split.
  • Space out daffodils
    If your daffodils have come up and look a little too clumped together, you can carefully dig them up and replant them where you like. They should survive the ordeal intact and continue to flower.

S e p t e m b e r

  • Harvest your crop of potatoes
    Cut the stems of each plant back to about five centimeters above the soil and then leave them for ten days. This magically hardens up the skins, allowing you to lift the potatoes easily. All you have to do now is dry and store them.
  • Look after your lawn
    A summer of being walked, eaten and played on may well have left your lawn feeling a little sorry for itself. Spike compacted areas with a garden fork or a pair of those spiky ninja shoes, so water and air can reach your lawn's roots. You should also rake the lawn, to remove moss and dead debris. Raking also stimulates the production of side shoots, so you get a nice thick textured lawn.
  • Support your fruit bearing trees
    Branches heavy with fruit may well need some support. Use forked stakes, or string to tie the branches to a central stake, or the tree trunk itself. Or, just pick some of the ripe fruit and eat it.
  • Watch out for iris rust
    With the weather getting wetter, and especially with heavy dews, iris rust may make an appearance. Remove leaves with orange, raised lumps to stop the spores spreading.

O c t o b e r

  • Forget to water your pot plants
    As the nights get colder, gradually reduce the number of times you water your pot plants. Allow the compost to almost dry out between waterings.
  • Make holes in your lawn for small bulbs
    If you want to planet small bulb plants in your lawn for next year, this is the time to prepare. Push a fork into the turf and wiggle it backwards and forwards, until you have a little hole. Add the bulb, along with a little soil mixed with bonemeal.
  • Start work on your soil
    Especially in your vegetable garden, you should start to break apart your soil, and work in a compost or manure. You can leave it all churned up, and the winter frost will break down the soil.
  • Cut back your rose bushes
    You should cut down groups of rose bushes back to around one third of their original height. This prevents them from being blown around, which loosens their roots and leaves them susceptible to frost damage.
  • Build a netting covered frame for your pond
    It doesn't have to be anything amazing - it's just there to stop autumn leaves blowing into the water and turning it into scummy mush. Before you set it in place, give the pond a general tidy and remove any filters and pumps you have in place.

N o v e m b e r

  • Use bubblewrap in winter containers
    When you're filling containers for winter use, place a layer of bubblewrap around the sides of the pot, then add the soil and plants. This will help prevent the rootball from freezing.
  • Clean out the greenhouse and shed
    This is a good time to clean the glass in your greenhouse, inside and out, remove shade paint or netting from the summer, and just have a good tidy up. Take stock of what you're running out of, repaint the woodwork and then go inside for a well deserved cup of cocoa.
  • Fill dips and hollows in your lawn
    Sprinkle a layer of compost, then wait until the grass has grown through, then add another layer. Lather, rinse, repeat, until the hollow is filled.
  • Prune established fruit trees
    Remove badly placed shoots (or even entire branches), crossing and rubbing branches, and dead or diseased wood. You should always aim to make a clean cut above a healthy growing bud.

D e c e m b e r

  • Plan next year's vegetable plot and garden layout
    If you don't already have a vegetable plot, or want to make some changes to the design of your garden, now is the time to sit back and take stock. Have a look through seed catalogues and place orders in time for sowing in spring.
  • Fight back against the elements
    After heavy winds and storms, check tree stakes and ties, and replace them as soon as possible if they've been damaged. Knock snow from evergreens to prevent branches cracking. Rebuild the damn fence when it blows over, again.
  • Keep off the grass!
    Try to avoid walking on the lawn when it's waterlogged or frozen. If you really can't avoid walking on your lawn, put down boards to minimise the damage.

S e l e c t e d   m e t a n o d e