I used to think gardening was all about planting, weeding, and watering, but it’s much more complex than I imagined it to be. As a consequence, it’s also a lot more fun, because I don’t get bored with the same old tasks.

Every season brings different practices when it comes to gardening. Winter is a time of thoughtful planning and stocking up on seeds. Spring is all about taking care of those seedlings. Summer is a time of overwhelming growth and bounty. Autumn is when we give back nourishment to the soil.

Your garden will teach you what it needs, but it never hurts to be prepared beforehand. Here are the best gardening practices that, if applied season by season, will ensure a beautiful harvest and a satisfying experience:

What to do in your garden in winter

Winter is when gardening really begins, and all the action takes place in your head. This is the time to use your imagination and everything you’ve learned so far to create a successful gardening season for next year.

Hopefully, you’ve taken some notes over the past year and made observations on what worked and what didn’t. But if you haven’t, I’m sure you can still remember your victories and failures, and here’s what to consider:

Grow what you love.

Figure out what you enjoyed eating and grow enough of those crops. Let go of plants that never seem to grow well or that you didn’t like the taste of. 

Sort your seeds. 

Check the expiration date on all the seed packets, and throw away old seeds. Keep in mind that the older the seeds are, the lower their germination rate. You can always test the germination yourself at home, in the winter time, to see if your seeds are still viable or you need to re-stock.

Keep things fun and try new things, but don’t give into the temptation of trying too many novelties. Learn to master one plant at a time.

Plan for succession planting. 

To make the most of your garden, plan both your spring garden and your fall garden on paper. You can do this by calculating how much time it will take for certain spring crops to mature.

For example, potatoes can be followed by planting leeks; peppers can follow kohlrabi, oriental leafy greens can follow cabbage. Succession planting is a trial and error experience – the goal is to use every bit of space and not leave a garden bed empty for too long.

Stock up on containers and tools. 

Last year, my seedlings didn’t do very well because the seedling trays that I had chosen were too small. This winter, I’ll do a better job selecting the right containers and tools for my garden. Winter is a great time for organizing your seeds, tools, row covers – everything you need. You wouldn’t want spring to catch you unprepared.

  • Quality, durable seed starting trays in the US: Bootstrap Farmer
  • Excellent, sturdy seed starting trays if you’re from the UK or Europe: Containerwise

Work on upgrades. 

Winter is also the perfect time to build new sections of your garden, add new raised beds, fences, trellises. You can even purchase a new greenhouse. If you prefer to start your seedlings indoors, now is the time to research the best growing lights, shelves, and everything you need for starting your seeds. 

What to do in your garden in spring

When spring finally comes around, there’s a lot of work to be done. Hopefully, you’ve already amended your soil in autumn, and your raised beds or in-ground plots are ready for planting or direct seeding. 

Direct sowing.

 When the soil is warm enough, spring is the perfect time to do some direct sowings. Some plants, like carrots, don’t like to have their roots disturbed, so direct sowing is the better option. You can direct sow parsley, peas, arugula, onion sets, and many other plants.

Starting seeds. 

Starting seeds in trays and modules is my favorite way of managing seedlings. Often, seeds that are directly sown don’t germinate, and we’re left with empty patches. A solution for this would be a combination of direct seeding and having a few seedlings handy as a back-up plan. Or you can do what I do and plant your entire garden from module seedlings. There are many cold-hardy seeds you can start in early spring, like beetroot, kohlrabi, cabbage, kale, lettuces and spinach, radishes, etc. 

Use row covers. 

Spring nights are still cold until at least the end of April, depending on your climate zone. For temperate climates, it’s a good idea to use fleece row covers on top of your seedlings until the danger of frost has passed. This could mean holding your covers on your plants until the end of April. It will protect them from the cold, as well as from birds and harmful insects like flea beetles. 

Plant quick-maturing crops. 

If you don’t have any overwintering plants to get you through the “hungry gap” – the period in which the food you store is running out, and there’s nothing much in the garden – make sure to plant some quick maturing crops. Some of your first harvests will be radishes, scallions, lettuces, pea shoots, and spinach. Some radishes and lettuce leaves grow in as fast as four weeks. 

Don’t kill your seedlings.

A lot of things can go wrong with your seedlings, especially the ones in trays – you can choose the wrong soil for them or the wrong container. You can overwater or underwater them. You can fail to provide ventilation if they’re in a cold frame, and the heat from the sun can get scorching hot. I’ve made all these mistakes and more. It’s vital that you start again as soon as possible and plant more seedlings than you need – you’ll choose the strongest ones.

Stay on top of weeds.

 Spring is the time for new growth, and that means weeds too. The first couple of years of gardening will be especially weedy until you clear out your soil of harmful plants by constant weeding and mulching. Make sure to stay on top of this task, and do a little bit each day.

Keep on top of weeding when the weeds are still small. This Kohlrabi is surrounded by weeds.

What to do in your garden in summer

Summer is the time when everything starts growing like crazy. You’ll probably be overwhelmed by all the work you have to do – on top of taking care of plants. Summer is all about picking, cooking, and storing; otherwise, the food will go to waste. Don’t let your guard down; now is not the time to relax.

Plant your heat-loving seedlings.

Early summer is when you put heat-loving plants in the ground – seedlings like cucumbers, squash, zucchini, etc. – that are cold-sensitive and quick to mature during the summer months. Late summer is the perfect time to start a fall garden: sow a new batch of lettuces, leafy greens, carrots, beetroot, even potatoes – anything that has enough time to mature by the time the first frost comes around. 

Stay on top of watering.

The soil can get very dry, and the air is scorching hot at the peak of summer. That’s why making sure the plants have enough water is so important. This can be accomplished by protecting your soil and not leaving it bare – using mulch or plenty of good compost as your topsoil is a good practice. Water your plants often, but not necessarily every day. The best time to water your plants is early in the morning or in the evening.

Keep your plants healthy.

 With plants growing seemingly overnight, there’s a lot of work to do. Prune the leaves off tomatoes, pick the flowers off cucumbers or zucchini, stake the tall plants that need support, and guide the climbing plants up trellises. During summertime, pests are starting to become a problem in our gardens. Make sure to check the leaves of your plants for aphids, insect eggs, and disease. A little bit of pest damage or powdery mildew is expected in an organic garden, but anything more than that, and you have to take serious action.

Maintain your pathways.

 Weeding is an ongoing practice, but we sometimes forget the rest of our garden: the pathways. Sometimes weeds manage to penetrate even the thickest cardboard or mulch, and the bigger they grow, the harder they are to get rid of. Take some time to get your paths in order throughout the summer months.

Start your compost pile.

In early summer, you’ll already be throwing green material in the compost heap. Don’t be intimidated by all the complex information out there when it comes to composting. Keep things simple and regularly add green material (weeds, vegetables, coffee grounds, grass clippings) followed by brown material (cardboard, dried leaves, sawdust) inside a large-enough compost bin. It will break down faster than you can imagine. 

Harvest, harvest, harvest.

The garden’s bounty doesn’t begin in autumn. In fact, it starts in early summer, as different types of crops begin to mature. You’ll have plenty of salads to eat, peas and green beans to freeze, tomatoes to turn into marinara, cucumbers to ferment, and root vegetables to store in the cellar. You will always be picking and storing, and sometimes you’ll have too much of one thing. I’m sure your friends won’t mind if you share your veggies with them.

Harvesting our daily salad ingredients.

What to do in your garden in autumn

Early autumn is still going strong, with many veggies like tomatoes, peppers, and cucumbers still cropping in the garden. By late autumn, a lot of plants will be slowing their growth, but some cold-hardy crops like mustard greens, mizuna, and other oriental leafy greens will really enjoy this time of year. 

Harvest the last of summer crops.

 Now is the time to harvest those peppers before the frost comes along. Pick any tomatoes that are left and leave them to ripen indoors. Pick the squashes and leave them to cure for another two weeks until you store them away. Harvest the last of the root vegetables and keep them in the cellar or a cool place.

Gradually clear out the beds.

 Prepare your beds for winter one by one as you harvest the plants and clear out the weeds and anything that’s left on the soil. Winterize your raised beds by adding compost and mulch to their surfaces. 

Don’t worry about watering.

 As the days will be getting shorter and rainier, there won’t be much need for watering this season. The remaining plants will be already well established and won’t be needing a lot of water anyway. 

Keep adding to that compost pile.

You can turn the compost you’ve built over the summer if you like and make room for new material that you will be adding from the garden. You’ll have access to a lot of green waste as the plants die out, as well as dried leaves from your trees. In spring, you’ll be grateful that you did this work. There will be plenty of compost to amend your soil with. 

Protect your winter crops. 

If you want to keep picking fresh green salad leaves well into the winter, it’s time you protected them from the frost and snow: either use hoops and layers of fleece on top or build a cold frame to ensure even more heat. 

Refresh your garden paths.

It’s time to pay attention to your garden paths again and refresh the mulch on top. If you’ve chosen grass for your pathways, make sure you trim it, and if your paths have pebbles or other materials, make sure they’re weed-free, neat, and tidy.

Protect your perennials. 

If you experience severe frosts in your climate, late autumn is the perfect time for mulching your perennials. You can use leaves, woodchips, or straw as mulch, anything to add a layer of protection and warmth over the winter.

Plant trees and shrubs. 

Autumn is the ideal time to plant new shrubs in your garden: berries of all kinds, fruit trees, and ornamental plants. Ensure the soil is moist and in top shape, and add manure or compost to provide nutrients for your new plantings. By the time frost arrives, your plants will be already established and ready to come back in spring with new growth.

Regular practices for every gardener

In gardening, there will be some things that you will just have to do over and over again. They will quickly become a habit and will ensure your garden’s wellbeing throughout the year. Here are the things you repeatedly have to do every single week:

1. Starting seeds and taking care of seedlings

Seedlings don’t just grow in spring. With a small garden, you need to learn to maximize your growing area by succession planting crops from spring until autumn. For a more staggered harvest, you can grow certain vegetables a couple of weeks apart so that they mature at different dates and give you a more continuous harvest.

2. Weeding

Every week, you’ll have to keep an eye on those pesky weeds. If you do just a little work at a time but regularly, weeds will no longer have the energy to keep shooting new growth. Catch them while they’re small, and you’ll be okay.

3. Watering

Keep an eye on your soil and your plants, and water regularly, but don’t overwater. Plants don’t need nearly as much water as we might think. The quality of your topsoil will play a huge role in water retention, so focus on improving your soil instead of reaching for that watering can or thinking of installing a drip irrigation system. Naturally, you also need to keep your climate in mind, but as this website is focused on temperate climate areas, extremely dry weather is usually not an issue.

4. Harvesting

Enjoying the fruits of your labor is undoubtedly the most fun part of gardening. Sometimes, though, there’s too much food, and we can get overwhelmed. Harvesting, cooking, and storing all the vegetables from the garden are ongoing practices from spring to fall.

5. Composting

You need to keep an eye on the compost heap and not let any imbalances happen. If you have too much green material, add some cardboard. If your compost heap looks too dry, add some water. You can help your compost break down faster by turning it a couple of times. Composting is a skill, but it’s easily acquired.

7. Observing and learning

When it comes to gardening, learning never really ends. By spending time simply observing your plants, you will discover a lot of new things from your own experience. Whether you’re a beginner or an expert gardener, it doesn’t really matter. Learning new things will always be satisfying. 

There you have it, folks, the best practices of gardening all year round. Enjoy the seasons and make the most of your small garden!

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