Carol Quish photo

On this last day of 2009, I am making my New Year’s resolution list as a gardener. These are all the things I neglected to follow through at one time or another in my garden in previous years!

1. Mulch the pathways of the raised beds and the soil of the perennial gardens. This one act done early in the spring after the soil has begun to warm and spring to life, saves hours of weeding for the entire growing season. Mulching with an organic mulch like chopped leaves or shredded bark has the added benefit of feeding the soil as it naturally decomposes.

2. Have a soil test done. Soil tests are needed about once every three years. The standard nutrient analysis test tells the pH of the soil, levels of phosphorus, potassium, calcium and magnesium. It also tells the levels of micronutrients and whether they are in the correct range for the plants I am growing. Other information given on the simple $8.00 test or soil organic matter level, (low, medium, or high), and the soil texture, (sandy, loamy, or clay). All of this information is an important tool in providing the optimal conditions for the plants you are growing. UConn Soil Testing Lab has a link here, www.soiltest.uconn.edu.

3. Do Not Work in the soil when it is wet!  This single act can ruin the soil structure and cause compaction. Plant roots need to navigate the spaces between the soil particles. If you work the soil when wet, these spaces are squished out, smashing the particles into each other, eliminating the air spaces. The air spaces are where a thin film of water clings to individual soil particles, holding needed nutrients for plants.  Plant roots also need oxygen. Air spaces obviously hold oxygen. Soil needs to be light and fluffy enough so that 50% of the volume is airspace. Remember this when in the early spring when we can’t wait to get out to the garden. You maybe ready for planting but the soil may not.

4. Dead head flowers to keep the blossoms coming. A plant’s job in life is to reproduce, make seed for the next generation of its species. First comes the flower, then sometimes fruit, then the seed. If you keep cutting off the flower or picking the fruit, before the seed matures, the plant has not completed its job. So it makes a new flower to hopefully mature to seeds. By continually cutting off the flower or fruit before seed maturity, we extend the length of time the plant gives us more. Now if you are seed saver, let some plants ripen seed and then collect them for saving. If you are growing cutting flowers, the more you cut, the more the plant replaces keeping you season long bouquets.

5. Clean up the garden. In the fall, remove dead plant debris. Old plants can harbor diseases and hide overwintering insects. Adults and eggs can be attached to the previous year’s plants infecting the next year’s crop. Pull them out and bury in the compost, burn if allowed or dispose in bags in the trash. Put away tools and buckets and container pots. Oil handles and hoe blades for winter storage. All these sanitation tips done before it gets too cold to be working outside go along way to enjoying the next growing season.

Happy New Year.

-Carol Quish

Carol Quish photo