In the Garden:
Ornamental kale is reliable for winter color in the Pacific Northwest.
January is for Planning
With the holidays over and the decorations put away, January becomes the ideal month to plan for a healthy, productive garden. Paging through seed and plant catalogs is stimulating and a sure way to overcome cabin fever. We can actively consider not only what looks good, but also what might improve our plantings in the coming growing season. This is also a good time to reflect on what worked well in the past and how we might overcome some of our gardening challenges.
First, a good garden plan is essential. Take a look at your yard; do a walk-through, taking notes if necessary. Look carefully, remembering what performed well and which plants struggled because of improper location, soil, or water. List the problem areas and formulate a plan to make improvements for the next growing season. Then look at what you can do, starting in winter, to implement your plan.
Consider Your Soil
If plants were stunted or flowers were small, perhaps nutrients were unavailable. Healthy soil must include basic nutrients in adequate quantities. Nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium deficiencies cause yellowing of leaves, stunted growth, and poor fruit production. Micronutrients are also necessary. Healthy soil has good loamy texture that permits root development and efficient use of water, oxygen, and nutrients.
Amending the soil with compost will improve texture and encourage beneficial soil microorganisms. Adding general-purpose fertilizers may also be necessary in spring. If you suspect your soil is lacking certain nutrients, take soil samples and have them analyzed. Then add amendments accordingly.
Select Well-Adapted Plants
As you page through catalogs or wander through nurseries, look for varieties that do well in your local conditions. Try to remember what varieties did well in your garden last year and which ones were affected by pests and diseases. When you have the option, try to choose disease-resistant varieties and cultivars for the upcoming season. For example, there are peas that are resistant to mosaic virus and wilt. Certain tomato varieties are bred to resist nematodes, viruses, and wilt. Choosing these resistant varieties can help you avoid many plant diseases and pests.
Plan Ahead to Avoid Pest Problems
Cultural controls are an important aspect of successful gardening. Optimizing the environment your plants grow in and using disease-resistant plants will lead to a more enjoyable gardening experience for you this year, and for many years to come.
Timing of planting and placement of plants are important components of an overall pest control plan. We can avoid some pest problems by planting when the pest is not around, or by anticipating pest arrival and taking measures beforehand. For instance, if cabbage moths always attack your cole crops, place floating row covers over the rows immediately after planting the seeds. If deer are a problem, build deer-resistant fencing before you plant the garden.
Crop rotation can prevent pest populations and problems from building up in one area of the garden. This is especially effective in controlling root maggots and soil-borne diseases.
Consider Companion Planting
Some plants will discourage insects from attacking other plants. I've found that planting marigolds in the vegetable garden will reduce slug damage to lettuce, spinach, and cabbage. Dill, fennel, and Queen Anne's lace are great at attracting beneficial insects and encouraging a healthy balance of insects in the garden. Other types of companion plants repel pests or confuse pests and disease organisms searching for their host plants.
Use Good Sanitation
Finally, use the winter months to clean up the yard and use dormant-season controls. A clean garden is a good base for healthy, happy plants. Remove diseased plant material from planting beds and dispose of it in sealed trash bags. If soil isn't soggy, turn it over to expose insect eggs and larvae. They may die from exposure or be eaten by predators. Remove leaves that cling to dormant rose bushes and dispose of them in the trash to reduce black spot and rust spores. Once everything is cleaned up, spray fruit trees and rose bushes with horticultural oil. The oil will suffocate any insect pests and their eggs so they won't get a jump-start on new foliage in early spring.
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