I figured now was as good a time as any to make a few resolutions since this is New Year’s time for gardening. To do this, I am going to take you along on some of my recent adventures in the garden. Trust me, this hurts me more than you! I loved having a few weeks to be the teacher and sage about gardening, but it is time for some humility. In fact, I will share some learning experiences and if they remind you of some aha moments of your own, please share. That way, we all benefit.
Number 1: I shall not go to the garden nursery without a set list of what I need and will do my darndest to stick to that list.
Case in point: last week I went to one of my favorite nurseries to look for a particular shrub. And what did I end up with? Pots of cosmos (they were in full bloom!), impatiens (a new variety that is hard to find), sweet potato vine and begonias (for pots in the shade), and agastache (a lovely blue perennial to attract our hummingbirds).
Now don’t get me wrong, there was nothing wrong with any of these choices but an unplanned garden can get to be quite a mess. Take my new shade garden; every time I see something for the shade, I grab it. Now I have a nursery display rather than a garden!
A great thing to do is get some good books and plan ahead; one of my favorites is The National Arboretum Book of Outstanding Garden Plants which is really helpful in planning. Reputable garden catalogs can help a lot in planning too. If you are like me you probably get more than enough but if you are just starting there are several good ones I would recommend.
Number 2: I shall spend more time looking over my plants in a detailed and conscientious manner.
Last summer, my skyrocket junipers started showing a few branches dying back. Instead of doing a full inspection, I just pruned thinking I hadn’t watered enough since they were on top of a hill. Finally, this last weekend, I investigated the continuing appearance of dead branches and discovered that the problem was not dryness but a fungus.
After looking it up in one of my favorite websites for identifying pests/diseases in plants, I found that the cause was actually too frequent of watering by a sprinkler. I am not sure I can save them, but lesson learned. A similar situation happened with bagworms on a tree last year. Thankfully I caught that infestation in time but noticed several of my neighbors did not. Which brings me to my next resolution...
Number 3: I shall do everything in my power to avoid using pesticides.
My first thought with those nasty bagworms was spray away, but on calmer consideration I realized it was a small tree and they are easy to pick off and not really gross. However, that brings me to Japanese beetles... Oh, how I hate them.
They showed up in droves one year and overnight my roses, mallows, and hollyhocks were bloomless. I wanted to Sevin (an available pesticide) those suckers into oblivion. However, taking a deep breath I got in contact with a master gardener. They are a great resource. Renee’s Garden is a nice website that has a list of them across all the states and D.C.
They let me know about a type of natural bacteria that is harmless to wildlife and yet over two to three years will control the grubs before they turn into beetles. I am on year two and a noticeable improvement has occurred. The great thing is that you do it once, that is it for 15 years. Even I can deal with that. Of course, I still do plenty of handpicking of the beetles and am no longer squeamish about just squashing them.
I will have plenty more confessions in coming weeks and welcome your insights too! And lastly, what a great spring! Just the right amount of rain and plenty of drying in between for good yard work opportunities. We have been running very close (precipitation-wise) to normal now for the past 60 days.
Let’s hope our luck holds out for another couple of months. I will have more to say on that next time, two weeks from now.
Capital Weather Gang meteorologist David Streit is also an active gardener. He earned a certificate in landscape design from the USDA Graduate School and volunteered many years at the National Arboretum.