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Resolve to do simple things to improve your garden

Now is the time to ponder your annual New Year’s resolutions. This annual gesture of self-improvement, moderation and a test of one’s will often fails quickly with the New Year, especially for goals which are not easily obtained. But here are eight resolutions for home gardeners for the upcoming year that are easy and obtainable.
– Have your soil tested. Soil testing is the most often overlooked service that saves time, money and the environment. With fertilizer price increases, this is a no-brainer. Most homeowners guess with fertilizer and lime rates for lawns, shrubs and vegetable gardens. Soil sampling is still a free service provided by the North Carolina Department of Agriculture. Soil sampling kits are available at the Extension Center on Old Concord Road. Soil samples are shipped or mailed to NCDA in Raleigh by the gardener for a nominal postage fee.
– Have a plan. Impulse buying and planting without a viable plan is a nightmare later as the landscape matures. Overgrown plants, improperly spaced plant material, diseased or non-adapted plant material are typical problems associated with impulse planting. Solicit the help of reputable and qualified nurseries, Master Gardeners, landscapers or Cooperative Extension before planting if you have doubts.
– Try different varieties. Home vegetable gardeners and flower gardeners often plant the same varieties each season. While it makes sense to stick with a winner, there are new varieties of vegetables and flowers that warrant a homeowner trial. All-America Selections have been extensively tested and are a good choice, whether it’s a vegetable, fruit or flower selection. Label new varieties and make notes about growth, development and other pertinent characteristics during the growing season. These notes will be instrumental in selection of next season’s crop.
– Maintain equipment. Take time this winter to maintain power equipment with an oil change or tune-up if needed. Sharpen lawn mower blades. Sharp blades reduce engine wear, improve the turf’s appearance and reduce the incidence of disease. Sharpen or replace pruner blades. Replace all seals and gaskets in hand pump sprayers now so you will be ready when the pests of spring arrive.- Watch the calendar. Label the calendar for gardening chores that must be done and follow them. The window of opportunity for many gardening activities is quite narrow and must be followed in order to have a successful growing season. Keep this calendar handy for quick reference
– Carry out an IPM program. (Integrated Pest Management) Scout for insects and diseases on a routine basis. Try to live with the problem and if you can’t, use pesticides only when needed.
– Prune correctly. Many homeowners prune fruit trees, vines and shrubs because “it’s the season to prune” or in most cases just bored and want something to do outdoors. Learn pruning basics. For example, apple trees are pruned to a central leader and peach trees are pruned to an open vase shape. Correct pruning techniques increase yields, produce better quality fruit and reduce pesticide sprays. Correctly pruned shrubs produce more flowers and berries. Judicious pruning is mandatory for quality fruits and healthy shrubs.
– Start a file of garden tips. Take time to file away bits and pieces of useful information to be a successful gardener. Keep the file readily accessible to periodically update or delete out-of-date information. Have it close to the to-do list. Learn to better use the web. The Master Gardener Web Site at www.rowanmaster gardener.com is an excellent source of horticulture information with a garden calendar adapted for our county.
Darrell Blackwelder is an agricultural agent in charge of horticulture with the North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service in Rowan County; contact him at 704-216-8970.

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