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Intentional gardening: Finding garden flow in 2018

had such good intentions when I sat down to write this month’s column.  I was going to create the perfect list of monthly gardening chores that would set us all on the path to a fun and productive gardening year.

After days and days of trying to create a list that works for every part of the state, though, I realized that my intentions were good, but impractical. How can one short list begin to address the diversity of Alabama gardens and gardeners, not to mention the many variables of gardening in this state such as local climates, soil types and weather patterns? That would require writing a book, not a column.

So, instead, I decided to make a list of intentional gardening strategies that can help us all focus on our personal objectives and, perhaps, find flow in our gardens rather than feeling overwhelmed or frustrated.

It all begins with questions.

The first set of questions is all about establishing your gardening goals:

  • What garden style do I want – formal, informal, natural, manicured, something else?
  • Do I want my garden to be ornamental, edible or a combination of the two?
  • Do I want a low maintenance or a high maintenance garden?
  • Do I want my garden to be interesting year-round or just during certain seasons?
  • Do I want a garden that attracts birds, butterflies and other wildlife, draws the attention of passers-by or does both?
  • Then answer some questions about the resources you have to put into a garden:
  • How much space do I have to garden in and do I want to expand or reduce that space?
  • How much time and energy can I commit to my garden?
  • How much money can I spend on my garden?
  • Is my garden area typically dry or wet, sunny or shady or a combination of these?
  • Do I have good soil in my garden or can I improve that soil?

Once you’ve answered these questions, here are some strategies to help keep up with your garden’s needs:

Walk through the garden as often as possible to look for problems, for chances to pick fruits, vegetables or flowers and to determine which areas and plants need immediate and/or long-term attention, such as watering, pruning, fertilizing and new or different plants.

Concentrate on one section of the garden each time you go out there to work, and don’t get distracted by other parts of the garden. You can save those for the next garden workday.

Finally, get your hands on one or more gardening guides (available online or in many books and magazines) that will help you organize your gardening plans with an eye toward your local needs. Two extremely helpful resources for our part of the world include the Alabama Cooperative Extension System’s Alabama Gardener’s Calendar (visit and search for gardener’s calendar) and Month-by-Month Gardening — Deep South, a book written by Nellie Neal and published by Cool Springs Press. However, there are many other resources you can use so take some time to explore the options (and, by the way, January is a great month to stay inside and do just that).

Also, tap into the knowledge of local experts at garden centers, public gardens and Alabama Cooperative Extension System offices, attend some gardening workshops and seek advice from seasoned gardeners in your community or from garden club and plant society members and Master Gardeners.

Needless to say, there are many other things that can be added to these lists of questions and strategies, and the month-by-month list accompanying this column as well, but perhaps these will kick-start your own intentional gardening approach and help you find gardening flow and joy in 2018!

Katie Jackson is a freelance writer and editor based in Opelika, Alabama. Contact her at

Month-by-Month Gardening 2018

Because the exact timing of many gardening chores and opportunities varies in different parts of the state, here are some general guides for things we can all do in and for our gardens and yards each month.


  • Choose and order seeds, bulbs and plants for the coming year.
  • Do a soil test.
  • Plant trees and shrubs now and through the winter.
  • Start seed for winter or early spring crops indoors or in a cold frame.


  • Prune many trees and shrubs, though not spring-blooming species.
  • Begin grafting trees and shrubs.
  • Start seed for later spring vegetables, herbs and flowers.
  • Remove or treat winter weeds in the lawn and landscape.


  • Prepare garden beds for spring and summer planting.
  • Add fertilizer or other soil amendments recommended by soil test results.
  • Clean and service gardening tools, power equipment, irrigation systems, etc.
  • Start outdoor plantings of tender annual crops.


  • Begin moving hardy houseplants outdoors and repot any that have outgrown their containers.
  • Keep a close eye out for increasing pest, weed and disease problems.
  • Begin planting summer crops.   
  • Start regular lawn mowing and maintenance routines.


  •  Plant summer annual flowers
  •  Seed new lawns.
  •  Water lawns, newly planted shrubs, garden beds and potted plants as needed.
  •  Mulch newly planted shrubs.


  •  Take cuttings from shrubs for rooting new plants.
  •  Trim leggy limbs from shrubs to improve their shape.
  •  Remove spent blooms from most shrubs and other flowering ornamentals.
  •  Stake tall flowers and other plants to keep them from falling or blowing over.


  • Plant irises and spider lilies.
  • Sow seed for late summer and early fall vegetables and flowers.
  • Keep watering, mowing and weeding.
  • Plant seed for pumpkins and gourds.


  • Start planting fall vegetable seeds and transplants.
  • Divide clumps of perennials such as irises and daylilies.
  • Add organic matter to empty garden beds.
  • Keep planting late summer and fall annual vegetables and flowers.


  • Plant new trees, shrubs and wildflowers now and on through the fall.
  • Sow seed for leafy greens such as mustard, lettuce, turnips and collards.
  • Plant spring-blooming bulbs.
  • Take houseplants indoors.


  • Winterize and safely store lawn and garden tools and chemicals.
  • Clean out flower and vegetable beds and add organic matter to improve soil quality.
  • Keep planting new trees and shrubs.
  • Freshen mulch around shrubs and perennials.


  • Add fallen leaves to compost piles.
  • Start planting new roses.
  • Clean birdfeeders and baths and keep them filled for winter birds.
  • Water newly planted shrubs and trees and container plants.


  • Add lime to soils if needed (based on soil test recommendations).
  • Prune grape, wisteria and other ornamental or fruiting vines.
  • Plant blackberries, blueberries, strawberries and other small fruits.
  • Stop fertilizing houseplants.