Monthly To-Do List

January

If you are beginning the new year by planting seeds, be sure to start with fresh seed-starting mix, and keep soil moist, but not soggy.  A good method to make sure that soil stays evenly moist is to plant seeds in moistened mix, and then put seed flats in clear plastic bags (like dry cleaning bags).  As soon as the seedlings begin to emerge, remove them from the bags.  Fertilize with a soluble plant food at the dilute rate.


This month you can plant seeds of the following herbs and vegetables:  arugula, bok choy, broccoli, cabbage, chicory (escarole), chervil, cress, collard, endive, kale, lettuce, mustard, parsley, quinoa, red radish, peas (English, sugar snap, snow), tatsoi, and tender greens (mustard spinach).  If you want to start your own tomatoes and peppers from seed, now is the time to start them indoors. Consider using the Texas Gardener Magazine and Dr. Bob Randall's book, Year Round Vegetables, Fruits, and Flowers for Metro Houston to gather much of this information.


You can set plants of rosemary, sage, thyme, leeks, garlic chives, multiplying onion bulbs, and horseradish roots.  If you need to divide and transplant fall-blooming perennials such as Mexican mint marigold or Salvia leucantha, do it this month in order to give them a chance to settle in before new growth in spring.


February

This month it is important to plant herbs like chives, cilantro, dill, fennel, garlic, horseradish, oregano, parsley, rosemary, sage thyme, lemon balm, and mint.  You can set plants of broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, kale, kohlrabi, leaf lettuces and onions.  You can still plant seeds like arugula, beets, carrots, leaf lettuces, Swiss chard, chicory (escarole), dill, endive, fennel, Chinese broccoli (gailan), garlic chives, mache, mibuna and mizuna.  Warm season annuals such as basil, anise hyssop, cockscomb, gomphrena, cosmos, marigold, portulaca, purslane, salvia, and verbena can be planted in flats or containers that can be moved and protected from temperatures below 50 degrees.


If you purchase small tomato or pepper plants, it is a good idea to move them into gallon-sized containers so that they can grow out in the sun during warm days and be moved in if colder temperatures arrive.  Other warm weather annuals could also benefit from being grown into larger sizes before going into the garden when the danger of frost is past.


Be sure to complete planting of fall-blooming perennials this month.  It is also helpful to mark the locations of perennials and bulbs that disappear for part of the year such as lycoris, oxblood lilies, leucojum (snow flakes), daffodils, and narcissus so that you will not destroy them by digging into the area or put a large potted plant over them.


Give yourself a Valentine by planting an antique rose.  You can prune your antique roses to shape the plant--any severe pruning is not necessary.  Prune spring-blooming climbers in May after they have bloomed by removing dead or damaged canes and one or two of the oldest canes in order to promote new growth.  When pruning it is a good idea to use alcohol or Lysol on your pruning shears in order to keep from spreading infections from plant to plant.


Remember that your cool season annuals need fertilizer every few weeks to keep on blooming well.  Add organic matter every time you plant and add 1-2 inches of mulch in order to retain moisture and keep down weeds.  Another old timer's advice to remember is to watch for the budding of pecan trees as this is most likely a sign that the danger of freezes is past and spring has arrived.  Happy Valentine's Day, and here's hoping that spring lingers for many weeks and that we don't jump from winter to summer!


March

Although you should wait to plant basils until the temperatures get warmer, now you can continue to plant chives, horseradish, oregano, rosemary, sage, thyme, lemon balm, and mint.  Also, you can set out lemon grass at the end of the month if it is warmer.  You may want to plant flowers such as coneflower, coreopsis, cosmos, daylilies, dianthus, geraniums, salvias, and verbena.  Citrus trees in bloom such as lemon, Satsuma, orange, and grapefruit are available now for planting.


April

 We're harvesting dill, parsley, cilantro, and lettuce that is already bolting.  However, the warmer weather is good for the tomatoes that are blooming and setting fruit.  Also, warmer temperatures are helping the seedling basils that need to be divided and potted into four-inch pots.In addition to planting basil seeds, you can consider planting anise hyssop, feverfew, and jamaica.  You can set out garlic chives, ginger and turmeric roots, basil plants, chamomile, horehound, hyssop, lemon balm, lemon verbena, lemon grass, mint, oregano, patchouli, pineapple salvia, rosemary, sage, scented pelargoniums, sorrel, stevia, sweet marjoram, tansy, thyme, and winter savory.


Now is the time to begin adding colorful plants for your summer garden.  There are many warm-season flowers to choose from such as ageratum, amaranth, balsam, begonia, canna, celosia, cosmos, cleome, crinum, daylily, globe amaranth, hibiscus, impatiens, marigolds, nicotiana, pentas, periwinkles, perennial phlox, petunias, portulaca, purslane, Queen Ann's lace, rain lilies, salvias, sunflowers, tithonia, torenia, and verbena.  Don't forget about colorful foliage plants that love the heat such as coleus, crotons, and caladiums.You might want to add some vertical color in your garden this year.  We have planted pink coral vine, black-eyed Susan vine, cypress vines, and climbing Gloriosa lily that return every year.  Hyacinth bean, morning glory, and moon vines that open their white flowers as it gets dark can also add interest to your summer garden.Weeding has become a daily activity as we race to pull out as many as we can before they release seeds to become a bigger problem next year.  We need more mulch that will help make weeding easier and keep moisture in the soil during this extended dry period.Another good thing to do this time of year is to look at your garden space and make note of things that you would like to do differently. 


.April will bring the first ripe Sungold, Sweet Million, Sugary, and Matt's Wild cherry tomatoes, and I hope that we can get more of them than the opossum who haunts our backyard at night.  Hopefully, we'll also get enough April showers that will help our spring gardens flourish.


May

The beginning of May finds us outside earlier in order to beat the heat that is fast approaching.  We are trying to pot up all of the basil seedlings that germinated, move herbs into larger pots, and trim spent blooms off of the roses, sweet peas and the cornflowers in order to encourage more blooms.  We need to pull out lettuces that are going to seed and plant more basil and okra in the vegetable garden.


Other vegetables and herbs that can be planted now include long beans, cucumbers, eggplant, peppers, sweet potatoes, arugula, anise hyssop, garlic chives, ginger, lemon verbena, lemon grass, jamaica, patchouli, pineapple salvia, rosemary, scented pelargoniums, sesame, and turmeric.


Flowers that can be planted for the summer garden are ageratum, amaranth, angelonia, begonias, black-eyed Susans, coneflowers, cosmos, cleome, geraniums, globe amaranth, hibiscus, impatiens, lantana, marigolds, melampodium, pentas, periwinkles, portulaca, purslane, salvias, scaevola, summer phlox, sunflowers, tithonia, torenia, verbena, and zinias.  Take care to move geraniums and scented pelargoniums into part shade or full shade if necessary during the hottest months.


This month is the best time to divide and reset chrysanthemums by planting new shoots as these make better plants than the old center roots.  I like to grow small-flowered pink daisy mums and yellow daisy mums near the oreganos in the back yard.  Also, I treasure the 'Country Girl' mum I received several years ago at the Herbal Forum and in October it was blooming beautifully in the Herb Gardens at Festival Hill.


Continue to add at least 2 inches of mulch to your garden in order to discourage weeds, conserve moisture and keep roots cooler.  Check potted plants frequently to make sure that they have not become root-bound because they can quickly become wilted and unhealthy.


Harvest seeds of coriander, dill, mustards, arugula, mizuna, poppy, and larkspur for planting next fall.


You will be happy that you have worked hard to get your garden into shape when June arrives with its much warmer temperatures.  By then we will be changing into summer gardening mode--gardening very early in the morning or late in the evening and seeking shade at every opportunity!!  So get out there, and start working to help you and your herbs beat the heat. 


June

As we approach the longest day of the year to welcome summer, we are seeing rewards of our hard work through the cold winter and the beautiful spring.  In our garden the beebalms are neon pink and red, the anise hyssops are light lavender, the oreganos are delicate pinks and white, and the lavenders are varied shades of purple. 


Soon the basils will be trying to bloom, so we need to pinch them to encourage branching and harvest for the kitchen.


Since we have been experiencing hotter temperatures and no rain, watering slowly and deeply in the mornings and mulching remain priorities this month.  Continue to deadhead flowers for more blooms, and fertilize regularly.  Pull weeds and turn in organic matter to get ready for the fall garden.  Avoid trimming your herb plants too severely during periods of extreme heat.  Remember that when night temperatures don't go below 80 degrees, the plants don't get a chance to reduce respiration and rest.


We can continue planting herbs, but will have to be very diligent about watering, and checking for any signs of stress.  We usually shade the herbs or bedding plants with shade cloth stapled to four stakes to make a canopy for about a week until they get established in the heat.  Continue to check potted plants such as thymes, lavenders, rosemaries, sages, and mints to make sure that they are not root-bound and need re-potting.


Vegetables and herbs that can be planted from seeds this month are:  burpless/suyo cucumbers, okra, Southern peas, squash, long beans, lima beans, tomatillos, cantaloupe, watermelons, arugula, basil, garlic chives, and anise hyssop.  Eggplant, sweet potatoes, Cuban oregano, Mexican oregano, Flowers and foliage plants to add for summer color now are:  ageratum, amaranth, angelonia, balsam, begonias, black-eyed Susans, chrysanthemums, cleome, cockscomb, coleus, coral vine, cosmos, coreopsis, globe amaranth, hibiscus, impatiens, lantana, marigolds, moonflower vine, morning glory, nicotiana, pentas, periwinkles, plumbago, portulaca, purslane, summer phlox, sunflowers, tithonia, torenia, verbena, and zinnias.  


The next few months are definitely a challenge in the garden, but also we are enjoying freshly picked Sungold cherry tomatoes with basil and early fresh peaches from a friend.  I hope that you are enjoying the bounty of your garden in your kitchen.  Remember that after the longest day of summer, the cooler temperatures of fall are only several months away. 


July

During the past month we have experienced above normal temperatures and a lack of rain.  It seemed as though no matter how much water was given to the container plants they still looked stressed, especially if they needed potting up into larger containers.  The plants that are in the ground and mulched were in much better shape.  Since the next two months are usually the hottest, we need to continue to mulch, water, and weed so that our plants have the best chances for survival until the temperatures go down a little.


In July you can continue to plant basil, garlic chives, rosemary, pole snap beans, long beans, lima beans, burpless/suyo cucumbers, okra, Southern peas, squash, and sweet potatoes.  Harvest basil for herbal vinegars, and red-stemmed applemint, lemon balm, lemon verbena, and Mexican mint marigold for herbal tea blends.


We have been enjoying the annual arrival of a multitude of butterflies and have been referring to our butterfly books in order to identify new ones.  We have noticed monarchs laying eggs on the butterfly weeds and black swallowtails laying on parsley, dill and fennel.  The giant swallowtails have been hovering around the citrus trees.  Even though we don't have a Passionflower vine, we have seen many gulf fritillaries.  In order to provide habitat for butterflies you can add the following plants to your garden: asters (Frikarti aster/autumn aster/Michaelmas daisy), buddleia, hummingbird bush, coral honeysuckle, gayfeather, gaillardias, lantana, Mexican mint marigold, purple coneflower, salvias, sunflowers, Turk's cap, trailing perennial verbenas, and zinnias.  Blue mist flower or eupatorium also provides nectar for butterflies, but it can become invasive so we grow it in a large pot.


September

September is the time to divide perennials such as day lilies, iris and Shasta daisies.  These should be divided and reset every 2-4 years for good blooms. It is probably better to wait until the middle part of September to plant herbs and vegetables that prefer cooler weather.  Herbs that may be started from seeds are arugula, borage, cilantro, dill, fennel, and garlic chives.  Also, you can plant garlic cloves and horseradish roots.  Vegetable plants that can be set out are broccoli, bok choy, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, collards, kale, and kohlrabi.  You can start seeds of beets, mustard, lettuce, radish, turnips, and Swiss chard.For added color in your fall garden, remember the yellow blossoms of Mexican mint marigold and Copper Canyon daisies.  These pair well with the purple blossoms of Salvia leucantha, asters, and chrysanthemums.Calendulas and nasturtiums can be started from seeds, and cabbage, kale, leaf lettuce, spinach, and Swiss chard can be added as ornamentals in your flower garden.  If you want wild flowers, now is the time to plant the seeds.  Bluebonnets, Mexican hat, Drummond phlox, gaillardia, liatris, bluebells, lemon horsemint (Monarda citriodora), and plains coreopsis (Coreopsis tinctoria) are a few that will add color to your garden and bring the butterflies.


October

This month you can plant perennial herbs as well as cool weather annual herbs.  Perennial herbs such as bay, bee balm, lemon balm, lavender, mint, oregano, rosemary, sage, salad burnet, sorrel, thyme, and winter savory will have enough time to establish roots with cooler temperatures and rains before freezing temperatures arrive.  This is the best time to put in garlic cloves, multiplying onion sets and leeks.  Remember to fertilize new plants with equal parts of fish emulsion, seaweed, and molasses a week or two after transplanting and repeat in 3-4 weeks.Plant seeds of borage, chervil, caraway, cumin, chives, cilantro, dill, fennel, and parsley.  Parsley can be difficult to start from seed so you might try a hint that Madalene Hill used to suggest.  Put 3 seeds in each section of an ice cube tray, fill with water, and freeze.  Then plant the ice cube one inch deep and water in.If you have room for vegetables there are many to consider planting now.  Some suggestions are:  arugula, beets, bok choy, broccoli, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, collards, kale, lettuce, mustard, Swiss chard, radishes, sugar snap peas, snow peas, and turnips.Don't forget to add cool season flowers as companions in your herb garden such as alyssum, cornflowers, forget-me-nots, nigella, larkspur, poppies, phlox, snapdragons, and stock.  Edible flowers are calendula, dianthus, daylilies, marigolds, nasturtiums, pansies, violas, and violets.  I like to grow heirloom bulbs such as lycoris, hardy red amaryllis, narcissus ('Campernelle' and 'Grand Primo'), snowflakes, and 'Fortune' daffodils.


November

As the thermometer dips to 50 degrees your basil plants will be declining, and you may want to fill the space with a salad garden for the winter.  Last year I loved saving money because I planted every few weeks and harvested organic lettuce until early April.  We like to grow leaf lettuces such as Salad Bowl, Black seeded Simpson, Oak Leaf, Green Ice, Mesclun lettuce blends, and a red and green Romaine type called Freckles.  We plant extra arugula, cilantro, Italian parsley, sorrel, and salad burnet.  Other salad herbs that would be good to add are cress, corn salad, and chervil.  Last year we planted a mesclun blend that included mizuna, a mild-flavored mustard.  Mibuna and spoon mustard or tatsoi are also mild-flavored mustards for winter salads.  Last winter I discovered tendergreens (also know as mustard spinach or Komatsuma) at the Urban Harvest Farmers' Market.  It also has a mild flavor, and we used it in stir-fry with bok choy and Chinese broccoli.  I found some seed at Southwest Fertilizer and plan to plant some soon.This month you can plant the following herbs:  bay, borage, garlic chives, lemon balm, mint, oregano, parsley, rosemary, sage, and thyme.  Also, you can plant cool season flowers such as alyssum, calendula, cornflower, dianthus, forget-me-not, nasturtiums, nigella, larkspur, lobelia, petunias, pansies, poppies, phlox, snapdragons, sweet peas, stock, verbena, violas, and violets.Don't forget to use your leaves in your compost and for mulching your plants.  Use at least a 4- inch mulch to preserve moisture, moderate soil temperatures and reduce weed growth.We're looking forward to November and the harvest of kumquats and satsumas that are slowly turning orange.  Hopefully, we'll enjoy a few more cold spells, and the leaves will add to the color and it will feel more like fall.


December

​​This month we should be paying attention to the weather reports since we could be getting much colder weather.  Even though the temperatures are cooler, the north winds are drying and plants still need regular watering, especially if they are grown in containers.  If temperatures below 35 degrees are forecast, water well to protect all your plants.  Mulch to protect from cold and keep small weeds from growing larger.  We constantly search the neighborhood for bags of leaves (not pecan leaves) to add to the compost pile and for mulching.  Weeds love our mild winters and should be removed early to prevent problems later.  Also, resist the temptation to cut back hard when it is very cold because any new growth that is encouraged might be damaged by possible future freezes.Set plants of calendula, delphinium, Iceland poppies, dianthus, daisy, pansy, viola, and violet. Herbs and vegetables that may be planted now include:  arugula, chives, chervil, garlic chives, parsley, rosemary, sage, thyme, Swiss chard, radishes, kale, cabbage, endive, lettuce, mustard, spinach, onion seeds, sets, and plants, shallots, leeks, garlic, snow peas, and sugar snap peas.A good present to you and your family this season could be planting fruit trees.  You might consider pomegranate, pineapple guava or citrus.  We have planted Owari satsuma that are ready to eat in late November, Meyer lemon that are ripe now also, Meiwa kumquat, Mexican lime, and calamondin orange.  After many years of trying to grow apples, peaches, apricots, and pears, we have found that citrus is not as appealing to squirrels, and we get to enjoy the fruit instead.When you are decorating for the holiday season, be sure to go out to the garden and cut fresh herbs to add to your wreath, or flower arrangements, and use the extra bounty to add fragrance and flavor to your holiday recipes.  Happy Herbal Holidays!  


Submitted by Beth Murphy