Darrell Blackwelder: Gardening goals for 2015

Published 12:00 am Friday, January 2, 2015

It’s the day after New Year’s Day and many people have made their annual gesture of self-improvement and moderation, often a test of one’s will.  I’m going to do as Kent Bernhardt suggests and not make resolutions but have some obtainable goals. Home gardeners need to also have goals for 2015.

Below are some goals 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. Over fertilizing with expensive fertilizers is a common problem. Many homeowners guess with fertilizer and lime rates for lawns, shrubs and vegetable gardens. Unfortunately, soil testing provided by the North Carolina Department of Agriculture (NCDA) is free only April through November to N.C. residents. Soil testing from November through March will cost you $4. The soil testing kits and information are available at the Cooperative Extension Center on Old Concord Road. Soil samples can be directly shipped or mailed to NCDA in Raleigh by the homeowners for a nominal postage fee. Go to http://www.ncagr.gov/agronomi/sthome.htm for more complete information.

Have a landscape plan — Impulse buying and planting without a viable plan can be a problem as a 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 nurserymen, an Extension Master Gardener volunteer, commercial landscaper or Cooperative Extension before planting if you have any doubts about your plant material.

Start a file of garden tips and information — Take time to file away bits and pieces of useful information. Store it on your computer or that new tablet you got for Christmas.  Keep the files readily accessible to periodically update or delete out-of-date information. Have it close to the “to do” list.

Plant something different — 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 vegetable and flowers that warrant a homeowner trial. All-America Selections have been extensively tested and are generally a good choice, whether it’s a vegetable, fruit or flower selection. Be sure to label new varieties and make notes about growth, development and other pertinent characteristics during the growing season. These notes may be instrumental in selection of next season’s crop.

Prune correctly — Many homeowners prune fruit trees, vines and shrubs because “it’s the season to prune” or their neighbor is pruning. In other words, “Why are you pruning?” Learn about 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.

 Maintain your equipment — Take time now 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.

Implement an integrated pest management program — Scout for insects and diseases on a routine basis. Try to live with the problem and if you can’t, and use only soft pesticides when needed.

Darrell Blackwelder is the county Extension director with horticulture responsibilities with the North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service in Rowan County. Learn more about Cooperative Extension events and activities on Facebook or website at www.rowanextension.com