New Year's resolutions for gardeners

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, January 3, 2012

SALISBURY — Many gardeners are pondering their 2012 gardening resolutions. The annual gesture of self-improvement and moderation often fails quickly with the New Year, but gardeners are always optimistic. Below are a few recommendations that may help improve your horticultural outlook for 2012.
• Have your soil tested —Soil testing is the most often overlooked service that can save time, money and undue stress to the environment. Most homeowners guess as to how much fertilizer and lime to put on lawns, shrubs and vegetable gardens. Soil sampling is a free service provided by the North Carolina Department of Agriculture. Soil sampling kits are available at the Extension Center. A soil sample can be mailed to Raleigh for less than $1.
• Try different varieties/cultivars — Home vegetable gardeners and flower gardeners often plant the same varieties each season. It makes sense to stick with a winner, but there are new varieties of vegetables and flowers that warrant a homeowner test. All-America Selections are usually a good choice, whether it’s a vegetable, fruit or flower selection. Be sure to correctly 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.
• Have a plan — Impulse buying and planting without a plan can produce nightmares later as the landscape develops. Overgrown plants, improperly spaced plant material, diseased or non-adapted plant material are typical problems associated with impulse planting. Factor in the cost of a professional before undertaking a massive landscape project. A landscape blueprint will save you over the course of time.
• Maintain equipment —Take time this winter to maintain power equipment with an oil change or tune-up if needed. Sharpen mower blades. Sharp blades reduce engine wear and will improve the turf’s appearance and reduce the incidence of disease. Jagged leaf blades from dull mower blades look bad and increase the incidence of foliar disease problems. Replace all seals and gaskets in hand-pump sprayers now so you will be ready when the pests of spring arrive.
• Watch the calendar and the weather — Label the calendar for gardening chores that must be done and follow them. Bulbs must be planted in October; pre-emergence weed control must be applied before March 15; the lawn is to be fertilized in February and September, etc. Some of the windows for these activities are quite narrow and must be followed in order to have a successful growing season. A calendar also means little during unseasonable weather.
• Carry out an IPM program (integrated pest management) — Scout for insects and diseases on a routine basis. Can you live with the problem? Use pesticides only when needed.
• Prune for a reason —Many homeowners prune fruit trees, vines and shrubs because “It’s the season to prune” and for no other reason. Do some research to know why you need to prune. Pruning correctly can increase yields, produce better quality fruit and reduce pesticide sprays. Correctly pruned shrubs will produce more flowers and berries. Judicious pruning is mandatory for quality fruits and healthy shrubs.
• Start a file of garden tips and information — File away bits and pieces of useful information. Make the file readily accessible to periodically update or delete out-of-date information. Have it near the to-do calendar.
• Share — Share your good gardening fortunes of extra produce, fruit and flowers with those who have none. Gardeners always have extra; share your successes with your friends or neighbors.
Darrell Blackwelder is county extension director, Rowan County Center, N.C. Cooperative Extension, 2727 A Old Concord Road; 704-216-8970