5 Ways to Get a Head Start on Your Garden

February Gardening Guide

Take advantage of the high temps and get a head start on your garden. Whether you are an urban gardener potting on a balcony or patio, have a home garden to tend to, or are sharing a plot in a community garden, there are steps you can take now that will have you ahead of schedule before last frost.


Here are five ways you can get a head start on your garden.

1. Plan Your Plantings

  • Now is the perfect time to peruse seed, bulb, and nursery
    catalogs to help plan your garden for the year. If you’re planning a vegetable garden there are many plants that you can begin sowing indoors now, and others as early as March.
  • Remember, Chicago falls in climate Zone 5, so anything you plant should be listed as suitable for this zone. Make sure to note the date that the seeds can be started (indoors or out) and the amount of sunlight the plants will require.
  • Make a list of any tools, garden structures (boxes, planters, cold frames) and other necessities that you might need to purchase or make
  • Consider keeping a garden journal for planning and recording garden results – you’ll thank us next year!
  • Living in an apartment with no garden? Find your neighborhood Chicago Community Garden here.

2. Remove Winter Debris

  • Garden beds, pathways, patios, balconies and lawns have all been collecting trash, leaves, and broken branches. Take whatever outdoor space you have and begin clearing it up this weekend. It’s a great excuse to get outside and enjoy the sunshine!
  • Don’t worry about prepping the soil yet as the ground is still cold – focus on clearing away the gunk.

3. Start (Some) Seeds

  • Seeds you can start indoors this weekend: brussel sprouts, broccoli, cabbage, kale, lettuce; you can also start cool season annuals like pansies and alyssum indoors
  • Seeds you can start indoors by March 1st: tomatoes, peppers; the rest of your annuals and perennials
  • Remember, if you want to harvest tomatoes in June, you should sow your seeds indoors in March and April, so that they can go in the ground by the beginning of May. Tomatoes are ideal for urban gardeners as they can perform wonderfully in pots and containers, making them great for anyone with just a bit of outdoor space (balconies included).

4. Prune Trees & Shrubs

  • This task is only for those of you who own, or have received permission from your landlord or community garden leader
  • If you haven’t begun pruning, don’t worry – you have until mid-March when buds begin to appear to finish the job.
  • Start by removing all broken branches, dead or diseased wood
  • Second, remove all suckers and water sprouts (see diagram)
  • Third, remove crossing or rubbing branches, progressing from large to small
  • Finally, you can begin pruning the canopy, taking care not to remove too much plant
  • For more tips, check out https://www.chicagobotanic.org/plantinfo/pruning_winter

5. Learn Something!

  • Now is a great time to brush up on your horticulture skills and learn some new tricks from experts around the city. There are classes, workshops and courses available for every level of gardener, many of which are free.

Upcoming Gardening Events

Apr 28

Gardener’s Plant Walk

April 28 @ 8:00 am - 9:00 am
May 13

Container Gardening

May 13 @ 8:00 am - 5:00 pm