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Don’t guess, do test and try different things

SALISBURY — The new year is just around the corner; have you made any resolutions? The annual gesture of self-improvement and moderation often fails quickly, especially with home gardeners.
Gardening is complex, truly dependent often on situations we cannot control. However, below are some resolutions that will improve the odds of success for the new gardening year.
Don’t guess with fertilizers — Most homeowners guess how much fertilizer, especially lime, to apply on their lawns, shrubs and vegetable gardens. Soil sampling is a free service provided by the North Carolina Department of Agriculture. The results are now online in an easy-to-understand format. The soil sampling kits and information are available at the Extension Center on Old Concord Road in Salisbury. Homeowners mail soil samples to the N.C. Department of Agriculture in Raleigh.
Start a file of garden tips and information — File away bits and pieces of useful information. There are a number of gardening and calendar apps for tablets and computers to document your gardening endeavors — good or bad. Make the file or tablet readily accessible to periodically update or delete out-of-date information.
Am I supposed to prune now? — Many homeowners prune fruit trees, vines and shrubs with no knowledge of exactly why they are pruning. Know why apple trees are pruned to a central leader and peach trees as an open vase. Correct pruning techniques can increase yields, produce better quality fruit and reduce pesticide sprays. Correctly pruned shrubs will produce more flowers and berries. Pruning is mandatory for quality fruits and healthy shrubs, but it must be done correctly.
Maintain equipment — Take time this winter to maintain power equipment with an oil change or tune-up if needed. Sharpened, well maintained mower blades reduce engine wear, improve the turf’s appearance and reduce the incidence of disease. Jagged leaf blades from dull blades look bad and increase 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.
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. Solicit the help of reputable and qualified nurserymen or landscapers before initiation of a landscape planting.
”We always plant Silver Queen corn” — 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 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.
Implement IPM in your garden (Integrated Pest Management) — Scout for insects and diseases on a routine basis. Can you live with the problem? Use only the softest pesticides first to control the problem. Read and understand the label and use pesticides only when needed.

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