A year’s worth of tips for a better garden

THE OLYMPIANDecember 28, 2011 

The first week of January means it is time to make some promises to your garden. These resolutions mean less work and more beauty, so mark your calendars now so that each month you’ll hold yourself accountable:


Resolve to knock the heavy, wet snow from the brittle branches of your prized shrubs. Rhododendrons and Japanese maples are most likely to break a limb when tackled by snow.


Time to bust slime. Tiny baby slugs are hatching this month and feeding on the first shoots of new spring growth.


Win the weed wars. Cool-season weeds such as shot weed and oxalis are beginning to flower, and if you let them go to seed you’ll have billions of weeds popping up all summer. If your weedy colonies are too thick to pull by hand, smother the young weeds with a mulch now. Lack of sunlight will kill small weeds. For larger weeds use several sheets of newspaper beneath a mulch or just dump a load of wet grass clippings on top of a weed patch.


Improve your soil because this is the month that hungry young plants are looking for nourishment. Dig compost into your beds and borders, and then turn the soil to increase aeration. If you have lichen, molds and mosses growing on top of your soil then add bark chips, lime and a bit of sand to lighten up the soil and increase drainage.


Make this the year you don’t plant warm season plants such as tomatoes and petunias out too soon. Cool nights plunge heat-lovers into a depression that they never out grow. It is not just a frost that upsets heat-loving coleus, marigolds and cucumbers, but even a night time drop to 45 degrees will send them into a down ward spiral. You can plant cool season crops and plants that go into containers.


Don’t forget to fertilize, especially container plants that are grown in quick-draining potting soil. Even if the potting soil has fertilizer included, they still need more food before summer is over.


Resolve that this summer you will host a picnic, garden party or patio dinner. Nothing else gets garden maintenance done like company coming. Just edging the lawn, cleaning the pathways and weeding the beds is enough to turn any homeowner into a proud gardener.


2012 should be the summer you don’t desert your garden when you vacation. Home alone can be murder on potted plants, especially hanging baskets. Hire a neighbor to water while you are gone – there really is at least two more months of color from blooming annuals if you remember to keep them while hydrated during dry August.


Lawn renovation has been put off long enough. Promise to take these four steps for a lush new lawn: Add lime, aerate, top dress with compost and level out the low spots, then reseed to enjoy a new lawn before winter arrives.


Buy bulbs. Remember to plant them this year.


Start a compost pile. Why send all your garden clippings out with the garbage? You can save a lot of money by making your own compost.


Make a list of improvements you want to make in the garden. Check it twice. It’s nice to start the New Year without any naughty gardening habits.

Marianne Binetti is the author of “Easy Answers for Great Gardens” and eight other gardening books. She has a degree in horticulture from WSU and will answer questions from her website at binettigarden.com.

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