While you are making resolutions to improve your life in the coming year, it's a good time to make some resolutions to improve your garden as well. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an activity of moderate intensity, such as gardening for 2 ½ hours each week, can reduce the risk for high blood pressure, obesity, type 2 diabetes, osteoporosis, heart disease, stroke, colon cancer, and premature death. It is scientifically proven that gardening helps ward off depression. It is difficult not to enjoy life when surrounded by flowers, vegetables, and the resulting wildlife they attract. Substances found in the soil promote endorphins in the brain to make us feel good, and working in your yard is way easier than running 10 miles to get that same effect. In addition to health benefits, a garden increases property value and saves money. So, you get exercise, vitamin D from the sun, free therapy, and tomatoes. The question is not, “Why garden?” but, “Why not garden?” The following are some good, basic recommendations to get you started.
Have a plan. Going to the local garden center on a beautiful spring day without a plan can be an adventure, but having a plan in mind will save you time and money. Having a plan will help guide you in buying the correct plants and the correct number of plants. It also helps to prevent you from getting home with a car full of pink and orange annuals that will only bloom for two weeks and look like weeds the rest of the summer.
Build the soil. Good soil is the key to having a good garden. Get a soil test if you haven’t had one recently, and follow the guidelines. Some of the best things to improve your soil, no matter what kind of soil you have, are compost and leaves. Add them early enough to break down before planting.
Mulch, mulch, and more mulch. Use organic mulches such as chopped leaves, untreated grass clippings, shredded bark, and compost. Wait until your flowers and vegetables are up and growing well and add a three to four inch layer of mulch around them to conserve moisture, smother weeds, improve soil fertility, feed the plants, and make your landscape look better. Mulch can save up to 80 percent of your time and effort working in the garden. As Felder Rushing said: “You don’t spit in the wind, you don’t tug on Superman’s cape, and you don’t scrimp on those mulches”
Plant some native plants. Native plants naturally grow well because they are adapted to native soils and climates. They are beautiful, consume less water, and are a magnet for native birds and butterflies. If you want native birds, butterflies, and other pollinators in your landscape, you must have some native plants to attract them and help them survive.
Spend time in your garden. If you observe your plants, often you will notice when small problems arise and will be able to intervene quickly to prevent major pest, insect, or disease infestations from doing major damage. It is much easier to prevent a problem or deal with a minor problem than to try to deal with problems that have gone unnoticed and been allowed to become major problems.
Don’t use pesticides. Use IPM – Integrated Pest Management. Let the birds, butterflies, and beneficial insects take care of insect control for you. Use a sharp spray from the hose, handpicking, or insecticidal soap if you think nature needs a little help. Pesticides destroy ALL wildlife, including the good guys. If you kill all the insects, there will be no food source for wildlife. Healthy plants can withstand a little nibbling from the bad guys.
Plant the right plant in the right place. If you put the right plants in the right environment, they will grow and prosper. If a plant is recommended for shade or part shade, you are dooming it to a quick death if you plant it on the west side of a structure where it will receive full heat and sun.
Put plants where they have enough room to reach their full size without pruning. Don’t plant a crepe myrtle or any other plant that will eventually get 20 feet tall in the 4 foot space between your front door and the sidewalk, and don’t commit "Crepe Murder" to try to keep it smaller. The mutilated crepe myrtles you see at all the drive-throughs, medical offices, and commercial buildings are perfect examples of what a crepe myrtle should NEVER EVER look like.
Water deeply and less often. Roots go where the moisture is, so water deeply and the roots will go deep. If you just sprinkle the top of the soil every day, the soil will dry out quickly in hot winds and the roots will cook in the summer sun.
Read more about gardening. There are some great gardening books and magazines. Although all gardening books offer great advice and can be fun and informative, it is best to make sure the advice is pertinent to your particular geographic area. That is the easiest way to make sure recommended plants will grow, survive, and thrive in your yard. Information provided by your local county extension office and state extension college are free and cover numerous subjects related to gardening and landscaping for your area.
Get to know other gardeners. Learn about gardening from other gardeners who know from experience what grows best in your area. The best way to meet other gardeners is to enroll in a gardening class. A local gardening class will teach you the basics like what grows best in your area, when to plant, and how to grow and care for your plants. Gardeners not only love gardening but love sharing information and plants with others. Don’t forget too that the National Garden Clubs offers a range of educational opportunities on the art and science of the environment, gardening, landscape design, and floral design. Many of these are now virtual.
I hope these resolutions are helpful as you garden in 2022.
National Garden Clubs, Inc. is a 501(c)(3) organization that aims to promote the love of gardening, floral design, and civic and environmental responsibility. There is a local club near you, click here to find one and join. Subscribe to the NGC’s blog by entering your e-mail here. You will receive an e-mail when there is a new blog article on the NGC website. You do not have to be an NGC member to subscribe.