What to do When

  • Gardening season by season (from an original idea in my Organic Bible published by Kyle Cathie)

'A stitch in time saves nine'

This is true for almost everything and particularly gardening. Many a pest outbreak can initially be squashed between finger and thumb but before long eggs have hatched and the maggots departed all over the plants where they cannot so easily be picked. Indeed much of the skill and relaxed attitude of the 'good old boys' is that they’re well aware of the timing for each and every operation. They know just how long they can let weeds grow before they must hoe, when to sow what or prune this and that. Much of this knowledge comes with a few years experience. We learn by making mistakes, by doing the right thing at the wrong time and doing the wrong thing at the right time. Each permutation giving different results. It doesn't matter as long as we do learn from the experience and so can do better the next time. Basically it’s much like learning to drive; initially it’s all panic, but soon things make sense and before long you’re looking further ahead and all becomes automatic. Until then you may find useful some tips and reminders of what must be done and when.

usually it was last week, or worse; last month!

Keeping a diary of missed opportunities

To garden many may simply do whatever happens to most take their notice at any given time, but then important jobs can get missed. And as I've said many a time "There’s a right time for everything in gardening and usually it was last week, or worse; last month!" In order not to repetitively fall into such error there is a simple solution; keep a diary of missed opportunities. Whenever you find you have forgotten to do something then to prevent this recurring make a note of it in a spare diary putting each note in the week or month the task ought to be performed. These will accumulate over the years into your own personal prompter / aide memoire, though of course with more experience it should become needed less and less often.

The round of rounds

Everything in gardening is cyclical and comes round and round and round again. To make it easier we need to take each job in turn, and promptly so. First we can group the tasks into those that need doing really frequently, those that need doing fairly regularly, and those seasonal ones that come round once or so each year. Then within each group we can put these tasks into some sort of order of urgency. Obviously watering dried out plants in pots really needs to be done before cleaning the gutters or writing a seed order. I arrange tasks according to my personal priorities, of course your’s may be different but probably most will fall in much the same order.

The daily round

Make a daily inspection tour; going round your whole garden noting, and if necessary writing, a 'to do' list of coming up and most pressing jobs (notes such as ‘control pests on x’, 'sow such and such', 'potting-ups' or 'prunings due') so these may be planned out at leisure, later. As you progress around your plot your priority is to water whatever is wanting, and then to harvest whatever is going to be lost and wasted or wanted for kitchen or processing and storage. Also simultaneously collect and dispose of litter, collect up junk, tools, toys etc and put these away out of sight. Importantly- if you have a coldframe or greenhouse then you need a double round morning and evening depending on the season to open and close the ventilation, and/or check min/max thermometers to ensure automatic heating and cooling is sufficiently effective.

The weekly routine

The vital tasks are daily ones, only once those are completed should you start on weekly ones, some of which you may have noted are pressing. The most important of these is to hit windows for sowing and transplanting –so if any are due do these NOW as next week will be too late! Afterwards sharpen your hoe and weed the beds and borders. Once these are clean clip lawn edges and mow the grass. Dead head fading flowers unless they’re needed for fruit or seed. Tie in anything that’s flopping about or trim it off. Collect suitable materials together for composting and move these to your bin. Finally rake or brush paths. Have a break, sit down and plan before starting on the seasonal tasks due which you have carefully noted during the week such as summer pruning and fruit thinning.

The seasonal cycle

As everything in gardening is dictated by the season then along with the regular jobs such as the watering, weeding and grass cutting, there are a variety of activities that come around only once or so each year such as hedge trimming, planting bare rooted trees, pruning and the preparations for winter. These more erratic tasks are often easier to over-look till too late than the more frequent chores. Here I've listed the most important. Obviously the exact timing varies with locality, site and soil, and of course you may not grow exactly the same anyway, so make a sensible adjustment for your locality. Remember most plants have similar requirements in much the same order if not the same week. There are twelve months with, theoretically, four seasons. Each season can be notionally divided into early, mid and late, and very roughly matched to a month just for convenience. These matches are based on my experience here in East Anglia over many years, they need to be modified for other places. And of course every year is different and the weather appears to be becoming more erratic still although the timing of tasks may change their order will remain much the same. Some tasks are noted more than once as they can be peformed in either period, or they’re just better repeated or best not forgotten.

Now you might think this rather mean and petty, or rather clever, but as there is a right time for everything in gardening, and you missed it, then here are those jobs you should have done last month. If you omitted any then you might try and do them now and try and catch up, and some years that’ll do anyway.