I am not one to compile a list of New Year’s resolutions about my life and health. I will not keep them, and I soon forget I had ever imagined changing some of my bad habits.

Now, when it comes to my garden, my resolve is much stronger, as I plan how to make my garden prosper with less time spent on maintenance.

I find, as the years pass, my love of gardening has not diminished; maintenance, however, has gotten more difficult. My New Year’s resolutions will thus focus on gardening smarter and not harder.

For 2018 I resolve to:

1. Follow the guideline for successful gardening: “Plant the right plant in the right place.” In other words, choose and place a plant so it can grow with the least stress on the plant and the gardener. We can thus reduce disease, pests and water. I have written these words so often that a fellow Master Gardener looks for them in every column. Plants under stress result in more money, time and effort expended on maintenance. Many (but not all) of my plants that did not survive succumbed to my putting “the wrong plant in the wrong place.”

2. Plan the future home and the role of a new plant in the garden before the clerk swipes the credit card. Thousands of gardeners purchase plants with no idea what to do with them once they are home. Plants make marvelous focal points, hedges, screens, attractions for wildlife or foundation plantings. Know before you buy! This will reduce the chances of that plant ending up in a spot where it cannot thrive.

3. Be aware of a plant’s mature size and width before it is installed. A 2-foot specimen can turn into a 15-foot tree almost overnight.

4. Design for four-season color. Just because every nursery is loaded with blooms in April does not mean we can’t have something to comfort us the other three seasons of the year. Garden centers and online catalogs have an amazing number of plants that will liven up the quietest landscape all year long.

5. Research a plant before developing full-blown plant lust to make sure it will thrive in our planting conditions. It is important to be familiar with our climate zones and know if a plant can thrive in those temperature ranges.

6. Add more native plants to the garden. Native plants are adapted to our climate and growing conditions; our native butterflies and birds love them too.

7. Get a soil test done every two to three years, or if plants are generally not performing well. Do not add fertilizer because a plant looks unhealthy or because one was advertised on the media; a sickly looking plant does not necessarily need fertilizer.

8. Use chemicals very carefully in the garden, remembering that the all-important bees, beautiful butterflies and our feathered friends can die from the ingredients in those chemicals. Prepare to accept less than perfect if necessary.

9. Practice good habits before spraying or broadcasting a pesticide. Identify the pest, decide how much harm it does and then, for heaven’s sake, read the label directions carefully and follow them to the letter. Get those reading glasses out, as directions are often written in tiny print.

10. Understand the bloom cycle of plants to develop correct pruning techniques. Pruning an azalea in late March will remove all those bright spring blooms. Pruning mophead hydrangeas at the wrong season means that next summer will be flowerless.

11. Be aware that not all snakes are dangerous. Learn to recognize the poisonous snakes (only six in Alabama) and leave the rest of them alone. Snakes are good for the garden.

12. Water smarter. Over-watering can often cause more damage than under-watering. Concentrate on using low-water-usage plants, saving high-water-usage plants as a focal point only. Water deeply and less frequently. Water early in the morning between 4 a.m. and 9 a.m. Measure the amount of water given to the lawn with small cans. Drip irrigation, when possible, is a healthier option for plants than overhead irrigation.

13. Group plants according to their needs: sun plants together; shade plants together. Additionally, do not mix low-water-need plants with high-water-need plants.

14. Keep tools clean and sharp to make life in the garden easier.

15. Wear sunscreen and insect repellant. Work in the cooler parts of the day. Stay hydrated; we need water just like our plants.

16. Mulch plants. Mulch keeps down weeds, prevents soil from crusting, moderates soil temperatures, helps conserve moisture and protects plants from the Weed Eater!

17. Plant only what you can realistically care for. That may mean re-homing high maintenance plants.

18. Spend a few minutes in the garden every day on small chores.

19. Develop a plan for the garden and follow it.

20. Know when enough is enough and sit down.

21. Spend more time in the garden “smelling the roses.” Enjoy what provides joy and ignore what frustrates you. Gardening is about soothing the heart and the mind.

Sherry Blanton writes about gardening for The Anniston Star. Contact her at