Month-to-Month Tips

Monthly To-Do's in the Garden


  • Cut branches of flowering woody plants to force indoors. Cut when the temperature is above freezing.
  • If perennials heave out of the ground from freeze and thaw cycles, press crowns gently back into place.
  • Prune branches damaged by snow and ice.


  • Order seed, bulb and nursery catalogs to plan for the upcoming season.
  • During winter thaws, water evergreens, broad-leaved evergreens and conifers.
  • Sow seeds of annuals and vegetables that need to be started 12 weeks before transplanting.
  • Prune woody plants, but not spring-flowering shrubs, like lilac, forsythia and virburnam. If it's warm, avoid pruning “bleeders” like elms, maples & birches.
  • Water plants in the path of salt spray from salted roads.
  • Remove rose cones during warm spells in winter. Replace when temperatures dip.
  • Prune fruit trees.


  • Spray emerging tulips with deer repellant if necessary.
  • Spray trees with dormant oil for over-wintering insects and scale.
  • Six to 8 weeks before the May 15 last frost date, start seeds of warm-season annuals and vegetables, such as marigolds and tomatoes.
  • Start summer-blooming bulbs and tubers, such as caladium, begonia, crocosmia and canna, indoors in moist, soil-less mix
  • Rake lawn to remove accumulated leaves and twigs.
  • Cut back to the ground any perennials and ornamental grasses left standing for winter interest.
  • Pruce deciduous trees and shrubs that bloom in the summer, but not shrubs that bloom before June 15.
  • Prune raspberry canes and grapevines.
  • Sow lettuce, spinach, peas, kale and radishes directly in garden.
  • Prune autumn-flowering clematis vines to 12 inches tall
  • Add compost to vegetable or annual beds.



  • Stake tall perennials before they reach 6 inches high.
  • Pinch back tall-bloomers (chrysanthemums, asters, tall sedums) once a week until early July.
  • Begin to harden off warm-season vegetable and flower transplants in a cold frame or sunny protected area.
  • Continue to deadhead spring bulbs when they are finished flowering to direct energy back into bulbs. Let foliage turn brown, do not braid.
  • Prune spring-flowering shrubs and trees after they bloom.
  • Fertilize the lawn.
  • Fertilize roses with a liquid 20-20-20 solution when flower buds are set.
  • May 15 is the average date of the last frost in Chicagoland. Time to plant annuals.
  • Spray lily shoots with animal repellant for rabbits and deer.
  • Plant warm-season flowering annuals and vines.
  • Transplant tomatoes, peppers and eggplant into the garden.
  • Plant vine crops (seed or transplant), such as cucumbers, muskmelon, winter squash, pumpkin and watermelon.
  • Plant summer- and fall-flowering bulbs, such as Oriental lilies, dahlias, cannas, begonias, caladium, crocosmia, gladioli, and calla lilies, if the ground is warm.


  • Mulch garden beds after weeding and watering.
  • Plant pumpkin seeds for an October harvest.
  • With a rain gauge, check to be sure your garden is getting at least 1 inch of moisture a week.
  • Fertilize roses with a second application of liquid 20-20-20- fertilizer after the first flush of flowers.
  • Harvest herbs in mid-morning when leaves are dry but before the heat of the day.
  • Small evergreens such as boxwood or yew can be lightly pruned after the new growth fills in.
  • Fertilize annuals in containers, baskets and window boxes with a quarter-strength balanced fertilizer every 7 to 10 days.
  • Start seedlings of broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower for fall harvest.


  • Keep checking that plants are getting 1 inch of water a week.
  • Make the last pinch on asters and mums to allow bud set for fall bloom.
  • Deadhead annuals and perennials to encourage more flowering.
  • Pinch back flower stalks on basil to promote lateral branching.
  • Remove spent flowers or seedheads of daylilies to conserve plant energy.
  • Dig and divide Oriental poppies as their foliage yellows and dries.
  • Plant late season vegetables.


  • Continue to deadhead annuals and perennials to encourage additional flowers and maintain a neat-looking garden.
  • Continue to water, weed and monitor for insects on all garden plants.
  • Cut back straggly annuals to promote new growth.
  • Continue to water and fertilize containers.
  • Divide and replant daylilies and iris.
  • Sow radishes, lettuce, spinach, beets and turnips.
  • Divide spring/summer blooming perennials.


  • Peonies can be planted from now into early fall.
  • Plant trees and shrubs.
  • Plant spinach, leaf lettuce and radishes.
  • Buy spring-blooming bulbs and plant in the next few weeks.
  • Plant crocus in strong-smelling herbs and perennials (such as oregano or perennial geranium) to keep squirrels from eating them.
  • Plant garlic. Bulbs will root and sprout in the fall and grow into maturity by next summer.


  • Take cuttings of plants you want to overwinter.
  • Plant spring-blooming bulbs.
  • Shred fallen leaves and let
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    fall into lawn or put on beds as mulch.

  • Oct. 15 is the date of the average first frost in Chicagoland.
  • Plant or transplant deciduous trees and shrubs when in fall color or if they have dropped their leaves.
  • After frost kills annuals, remove and destroy dead plants.
  • Winterize aquatic gardens.
  • Clean and sterilize containers before storing them for winter.
  • Weeks after a killing frost, lift and store tender bulbs, such as cannas, dahlias, turberous begonias and caladiums.


  • Bring in garden statues and decorations to reduce weathering.
  • Clean, oil and store hand tools in a dry location.
  • Disconnect outside water sources, drain hoses and store indoors.
  • Pot up amaryllis and paperwhite narcissus for holiday bloom.


  • Avoid using salt-based de-icing products around garden areas.
  • Protect evergreens from wind and salt spray with burlap screens.
  • Light pruning of deciduous trees and shrubs can be done.
  • Cut off branches of your old Christmas tree and use them to cover perennials.
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