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THE SOUTHERN GARDENER

NEW GROWTH: New Year’s resolutions for the gardener

It is January and New Year’s resolutions are flying off the shelves — plans to lose dozens of pounds, join a gym, eat healthier.

Gardeners make resolutions too, which may change with the seasons depending on heat, drought, cold or rain. (Note to self written in mid-August: Do not plant so many annuals next year.)

Here are 15 gardening resolutions for 2020 — things to do, and things not to do.

1. “Plant the right plant in the right place.” This is my personal golden rule for gardening, and it is in just about every column I write. These few words should drive every action we take in our gardens. A plant in the right place will flourish; if not, it may fail. Do a bit of research to locate the right place for your climatic zone (maximum and minimum temperatures). Do not depend on the small label in the pot for guidance. The same plant has the same information here or in Seattle. Ultimately, planting the right plant in the right place will save money (the water bill, for example) and time (coaxing the newbie to grow). A plant in the wrong place tends to be very unforgiving, demanding and frustrating when it neither grows nor blooms. A plant, like a gardener, can become stressed when conditions are not right. I sometimes find old labels buried in the straw or the soil: remnants of plants who disliked their living conditions.

2. Evaluate your landscape and make notes of what could be added and where. Recognize where there may be microclimates (areas that tend to be a different temperature than the surrounding ones) that can provide a warmer spot for a more tender plant. Identify garden spots that never seem to get dry and find a plant who likes wet feet. Before you take out your wallet in the garden center, have a good idea where you can plant your new purchase. Frequently, we buy something on impulse only to get home to find there is not a suitable spot. (That plant may end up in the wrong place because that was all there was.)

3. Concentrate your efforts on tougher, long-lived plants. Tougher reduces the amount of attention a plant needs. There are many plants that are delicate; the wrong amount of water will cause wilt or disease. Garden writers like the term “bulletproof” to describe these superhero plants. Here again, a bit of research may make the difference between a dead or a healthy plant.

4. The words “cut back” do not equate to “give up.” As time passes, our gardens grow larger and plants change. They may require more maintenance. We may be able to turn an annual color bed that has to be planted twice a year into a perennial bed, or a small bed for shrubs with a container or two for that special gift of color. I keep promising my husband I will cut back, and my resolution this year is really to do that. Last year, I bought a hundred daffodil bulbs and this year only 10, a fine example of cutting back. (I did, however, plant 12 amaryllis bulbs for the house this year instead of the five last year.)

5. Buy the best tools your budget will allow. Cheap tools are exactly that —  cheap tools. A good tool will lighten the workload and produce a better end result. Once we have purchased those more expensive tools, another excellent resolution would be to take care of them. Clean and sharpen them. A well-maintained pruner does a much better job trimming a limb than a dull, rusted tool. Your tools should be an extension of your hand.

6. While purchasing items for yard maintenance, take care to see how heavy or easy they are to use. I do not like tools driven by power cords; the cords get caught in plants (or, if you are like me, you may even occasionally cut through the cord with the shears). A heavy blower filled with gasoline takes much more energy and physical strength than a blower driven by a battery. Battery-driven tools may not be perfect, but if you just need to blow the driveway, a battery-powered blower does the trick.

7. If your ground is rocky or the idea of crawling around on hands and knees to weed or plant does not inspire you, consider a raised bed garden, a pleasure to work in. Resolve to turn gardening into fun instead of a chore. Raised bed gardens can be beautiful and make ideal places to raise flowers and vegetables.

8. Become familiar with non-native or exotic invasive plants and make every effort not to plant them. If these garden menaces are already growing, take the necessary steps to remove them from your garden. An example of a miserable, non-native, invasive plant is privet.

The Alabama Invasive Plant Council has excellent information on what plants have become invasive in our area. Invasive plants trample our native plants and deprive food from much of our desired wildlife. Invasive plants harm our environment and our economy.

Not all non-native plants are pests. Many are perfectly harmless and add incredible beauty to our gardens. (What is a garden without our state flower, the camellia, which is native to Japan and China?) It is just a matter of learning which ones can be enemies and which ones can be friends. 

9. Become a “Backyard Conservationist.” Do all possible to preserve your part of the planet. For example, water wisely. Include drought-tolerant plants in the landscape; save the water hogs for special places. Last summer’s extended drought helped bring the message home about how much water our lawns and shrubs need to thrive. The sight of shriveled plants and brown lawns created in the summer of 2019 made gardeners despondent.

10. Build a compost pile and use this amazing amendment to enrich your soil.

11. Use more native plants in your garden. A native plant is one that was here before the Europeans stepped foot on American soil. Native plants have adapted to our growing conditions, including drought and heat. They also provide food for our birds and other native creatures. Oakleaf hydrangeas, our state wildflower, are a desirable native plant.

12. When the spring garden catalogs arrive, stifle the inclination to act like a kid in a candy store. Acknowledge your own limitations and expectations! Gardening requires effort, patience, knowledge and enthusiasm. Decide how much of yourself can be dedicated to maintaining a garden. Planting a garden is not the whole story; it must be maintained. Some may go for that “Home & Garden” look; others are happier with a messier look; still others are happy with a lawn and container or two of annual color. Whatever gives us pleasure is our path.

Of late, I have become frustrated with my garden. When I planted it, I failed to take into account how big a shrub or a tree could grow and how close together plants could get. Pruning is now a full-time job, and many of my plants are way too big for me to reach. Little by little, I am whittling some of them back to enjoy them at eye level instead of having to stare over my head.

13. Our gardens can no longer be just pretty faces; they need to be places for birds and pollinators (bees and butterflies) to call home. The bee is vital to our lives. One in three bites of food is pollinated by bees. Choose pollinator-friendly plants for your flowers. Choose your battles with thought and let a chemical be your absolute last resort to handle a problem; carefully follow every word on the label.

14. Take the time to become a more knowledgeable gardener. Longleaf Botanical Gardens, Calhoun County Master Gardeners Association and the Public Library of Anniston-Calhoun County all sponsor educational programs. Please remember that not everything you read on the internet is true: vodka is not good for flowers.

15. Remember that resolutions as well as a good dose of trial-and-error will make us all more experienced gardeners.

Sherry Blanton, “The Southern Gardener,” writes about gardening for The Anniston Star. Contact her at sblanton@annistonstar.com. Follow her on Facebook at Southern Gardener-Anniston Star.

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