It’s New Year’s Eve and time to consider some gardening resolutions.
I’m still working on my 2019 list, but I’ll share my guiding principles.
Be kind to the earth and use good judgment.
We’re constantly hearing news stories about herbicide or pesticide dangers, products that damage the environment, sicken pollinating insects or cause cancer. Social media is full of tips and home remedies that can be made from common household products — supposedly safe because we’re familiar with the ingredients.
Remember, first, that a certain amount of insect damage is not going to seriously hurt your plants or destroy your vegetable crop. Resist the temptation to grab a spray bottle every time you see a bug; figure out whether it is an insect that will harm your plants — and even if it may, consider whether you have a problem that justifies chemical warfare. Monitor your plants for a while before acting, as nature may eliminate the threat without your intervention.
And if it becomes necessary, don’t be afraid to use the products in the garden chemical aisle at the store. Read the label carefully to make sure the product will work for your specific problem. And follow the product instructions to the letter.
These have been tested and formulated to do the job without harming your plants, people or pets, and with minimal impact on the environment.
Cooking up your own products is generally a bad idea. Household bleach, vinegar, dish soap, baby shampoo and Epsom salts are formulated and safe for specific uses, but are not inherently harmless. And just because a trick seemed to work once, we can’t be sure that it will work again in different circumstances, whether the fix will last, or know that no harmful residue was left behind.
In the same vein, keep in mind that fertilizer is not really food for plants. Plants make their own food through photosynthesis, and the nitrogen, phosphorous, potassium and micronutrients in fertilizers are used by the plants to support that process.
Too much of any of these elements can be more harmful than a shortage. And other factors, such as soil pH, can chemically bind them so that they are unavailable to the plants. Soil is a complex, living system, and we should really have a soil test done before adding anything to it.
Plants grown in containers, on the other hand, are using the free-draining potting mix that we provide. We will need to add fertilizer to give them nutrients for good growth.
Be proactive, not reactive.
It is almost always easier to prevent a problem than to correct it, and this is certainly true in the garden. Remember the plants that tend to fall over, and set stakes or a trellis at planting or as the new shoots begin to emerge in spring.
If you have fancy hybrid roses, fruit trees, or other beloved, yet prima donna plants that chronically get foliage diseases or bug infestations, consider an early season application of a systemic control or horticultural oils designed to prevent, rather than stop a problem in process.
Organic mulch is as close to a cure-all as we’ll find for the garden. It conserves moisture, reducing the need to water. As it breaks down, it improves every kind of soil, loosening heavy clay and enriching poor, sandy soils.
Weeds have a hard time taking hold on the mulch surface, and any that try to come up are easily pulled.
We have a long winter ahead of us, but it is also an opportunity to reflect on the gardening seasons behind us, to plan and dream over gardening books, catalogs and magazines. Spring will be back, and we’ll be more than ready.
I wish you a happy gardening New Year.