If you are among those families caught up in the recession, how will you cope with the garden this year? With limited funds available, what should your garden priorities be? What of the lawn and landscaping services you contracted out in past years? Can you afford them? If you can't, can you go it alone?
Despite the recession and its consequences, your garden shouldn't be a victim. True, the customary dollars may not be there to do half the things you accomplished in recent years, but most of us no longer garden out of necessity. We fuss over azaleas and flowering cherries, marigolds and tomatoes for the sheer pleasure of working with plants and the aesthetic values derived. Really, gardening has never been an economic decision.
How you cope with a shortfall of dollars is another question.
As you look ahead to this year's garden, you may want to explore some new directions:
First, discontinue any garden luxuries. High on the list is lawn maintenance, specifically lawn-care and lawn-mowing services. Beginning this spring, return to the basic lawn-management program and resume weekly grass-cutting operations. If you haven't used your power mower lately have the repair shop inspect the mower now to make sure it's in proper working condition for mowing in late March. If you cannot cut the lawn for health reasons, hire a neighborhood teenager to handle the job, but recruit now while time is on your side.
Managing the landscape is another task that can be discontinued. Assume responsibility for fertilizing shrubs, azaleas and rhododendrons, occasionally spraying to prevent insects from devastating host plants. The savings here could be substantial because you may not have to spray as often as the company did. For this, a hose-end sprayer or trusty hand-pump sprayer will handle the job nicely.
Tree care is one priority that can't be sacrificed. While it's perfectly acceptable to fertilize trees on your own, pruning is best left to professionals, especially for mature trees requiring special equipment and expertise gained over years of arbor care. Improper pruning often causes the demise of a tree.
If your stately trees need attention, negotiate now with one of the reputable "tree expert" firms in the area to have the work done in late February or early March. If your trees were not fertilized last October, they should be fed the first week of March.
Preparations for the outdoor garden season shouldn't be left to the last minute. Plan now and you should be able to reduce your expenses over the coming garden year.
Take an inventory now of your garden supplies, such as fertilizer, insecticides, weed killers and fungicides. If your supply shelf was well stocked, you may be able to cut your purchases dramatically over the next 10 months. Bottle products are vulnerable to freezing, so store them safely indoors and far out of the reach of children -- a locked cabinet is your best choice.
Money will have to be spent for the garden, but think twice if the purchase is really essential or a luxury. This year, use what you have and limit spending for new things. Maintain what you have so it lasts another year or longer.
Plans for major garden construction projects should be sacrificed this year unless you tackle them on your own.
Embark on simple and easy projects that improve the landscape and value of your home at the least possible cost. Old shrubs that have long since served their purpose are candidates for removal. If enough shrubs are taken out, dedicate the area to a new flower garden -- sun or shade as the case may be. New mulch around foundation plants will impart a new look to the exterior of your home. Use bark nuggets instead of shredded bark because the nuggets repel water and last longer.
Eliminate problem plants that cause you the most grief. If you continue to sacrifice dwarf Alberta spruce and mugho pine to spider mites every summer, better to yank them from the garden come spring than to fight a losing war to the voracious mites this summer.
While time is on your side, review your garden notes from last year to get a better handle on perennial problems. Knowing when a problem is about to strike is half the battle.
If Japanese beetles owned last year's summer garden, the practical approach is to anticipate their arrival and subsequent mating. When beetle traps go on sale, they would seem to be a priority purchase, no matter how tight the budget may be. If crabgrass did you in, don't let it drive you to drink this summer. A crabgrass killer administered in April will get you out from under the crisis.
Gardening in a recession doesn't call for miracles -- just a desire to become involved in perpetuating what you have. This year presents golden opportunities for each of us to rediscover the joys of gardening and to build a track record for the future.
Jack Eden is the host of "Over the Garden Fence" Sundays from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. on WTOP Radio (1500 AM).