Sunday, January 1, 2012
Need New Year’s resolutions you can stick to? How about making some changes in the way you garden? Or starting gardening? The physical and mental benefits gardening provides just might help with any other resolutions you make, and better gardening practices benefit the entire community.
Warning: Implementing all of these is only for overachievers (unless you are already doing most of them).
Compost, compost, compost
Make or buy compost and use it in the landscape and fruit/vegetable garden. You can even spread it over the lawn if you want. Homemade bins work just as well as commercial ones. If a compost bin is unacceptable in your neighborhood, compost is available twice a year at minimal cost through the city of Lawrence yard waste recycling program.
Mulch, mulch, mulch
Wood chips, pine needles, bark, straw, prairie hay or whatever other organic material you fancy will all do the trick. Use it in the landscape, in the vegetable garden and around trees. Just avoid mulch volcanoes — they can lead to girdling roots and other tree health problems.
Grow something you can eat
Herbs are great for beginners and grow well in containers — imagine picking fresh basil right outside the front door. A tomato plant will grow as well in a landscape bed as it will in a vegetable garden, or a little trellis of peas makes a nice backdrop for perennial flowers. Large containers work for just about any vegetable besides sweet corn.
Share your love of gardening
Spend some time in the garden with a young relative or friend — you might be surprised at who is curious about gardening but afraid to ask. Avoid making them pull weeds in the beginning. Also know that despite your best efforts this task often takes more patience than any other garden chore.
Make better plant choices
I often joke about picking up cute little shrubs and flowers at the garden center because they are just too cute. Then I get home and the empty space in the corner of the landscape bed is a little smaller than I remembered. New plants are great — just consider the space carefully before planting. Consider overhead and underground utilities first and foremost.
Have your soil tested and fertilize accordingly
Of the lawn and garden samples tested through our office last year, almost all had adequate levels of phosphorus and potassium. If that is the case in your lawn or garden, you can stick with simply providing supplemental nitrogen to improve plant growth. For fruits and vegetables, timing and amounts depend on the specific crop. For fescue lawns, September and November are the best times to fertilize, although a May application is recommended in irrigated lawns. Trees and shrubs rarely need additional fertilizer.
Soil can be submitted for pH and nutrient analysis at the K-State Research and Extension-Douglas County office, 2110 Harper St. Take separate samples from the lawn, landscape beds, and vegetable gardens, as needs and soils vary. About two cups of soil is required per sample. Currently, Douglas County residents can test up to 10 soil samples per year for free thanks to a grant from the Douglas County Conservation District. Plan ahead as results may take two to three weeks at peak testing times.
Enough said. Gardening has to be more fun than the treadmill.
Jennifer Smith is the Horticulture Extension Agent for K-State Research and Extension in Douglas County. She can be reached at 843-7058.