In the Garden:
Coastal and Tropical South
December, 2011
Regional Report

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Resolve to grow more stunning variations on native plants, like this variegated yucca.

Garden Resolutions for 2012

There is something about New Year's resolutions that drives people to make and then break them. A better path might be to forgive ourselves for the slips and keep working towards our gardening goals all year.

Mark Your Calendar
Important chores can slip by even the most organized gardener, and the rest of us can be forgiven for missing the right time to prune this or plant that. You can use that magnet with a phone number for your plumber on it to put a calendar of timely tips on the refrigerator, but there is a much better way. Trust me, if you put important gardening tasks into your new calendar now, while you are entering tooth cleanings and birthdays, the chores will be on your conscious mind at the right time.

Enter the task at the appropriate time, like rose pruning in the middle of February, fertilizing the lawn in March, or sowing seeds for cornflowers in August. If you always forget to prune azaleas, make a note for early April since that task needs to be done within a month of flowering. This sort of planning can give you the opportunity to look ahead to big projects without overwhelming your back or your budget.

In my acre garden, the next big project is to set stepping stones onto the established paths around the place and link them up. The walk is rather muddy some days and a challenge to some of my friends, and I resolve to make it more accessible. By marking the calendar to get the stones into different parts of the garden each month, I can make a huge change in small steps. Each year I try to use my calendar to record the dates that different plants bloom, but that may be a resolution for yet another year.

Turn That Compost
You can put it on the calendar, of course, but if your compost seems to take forever to rot nicely, remember to turn it monthly. This task is simplified greatly by the size of the pile and what is in it. Three to four square feet is the ideal size for a pile, whether it is a formal compost heap or simply a leaf pile left behind the shrubs. I always plan to turn monthly, but if I can do it six times this year, the resolution is half fulfilled and my garden will be better for it.

A similar exercise is replenishing mulch around permanent plantings. Most years, it is a matter of topping the mulch that is rotting naturally with a new layer of ground bark. For 2012 I resolve to work the old mulch into the bed, add a layer of organic fertilizer around each plant, and then top it with new mulch.

By the same logic, I will turn the soil in all the raised bed boxes in my garden instead of just planting on top of last year. While the process of gardening without tilling is very workable, the soil in the boxes gets compacted before an exposed raised row would do so. These boxes are completely surrounded by boards meant to conserve moisture well in dry seasons, which they do very well. However, that also means the boxes do not shed rainfall like regular rows do and after a few seasons, the soil gets pounded down and compacted. To make conditions better for roots to penetrate the mix of planting soil, bark, sand and rotten leaves that I use in these boxes, I resolve to turn each one before planting it again. Since some are full of strawberry plants, herbs, or onions and lettuce while others sit empty, the work will be staggered through the year. That gives me plenty of time to make good on this resolution.

Grow Your Favorites
If there is a shrub you have always wanted, a perennial you have admired in someone else's garden, or a weed you never want to see again, resolve to make it so in 2012. On the other hand, should you find yourself as the family's major squash grower, even though you hate its taste, resolve to stop.

My garden has at least fifty superfluous plants, some sent to me to trial, others given to me by other gardeners, and quite a few chosen by me in error. For some reason, I let a huge ornamental grass take center stage in the front bed, matched in circumference by an overbearing lorapetalum that is equally out of place. My plan for that space was that it be a collection of shrubs no more than 3 feet tall, but clearly that went awry.

Gardening is often best done in small bites, and all of these plants can be dug up at a rate of one a week, if my resolve holds. Do resolve to do what you like and make your garden all your own, in 2012 and beyond.


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