Planning the Garden

New Year's Resolutions for Blount County Gardeners by R. Lieber

Every year in the spring it gets hectic and crazy as we try to undo the results of neglect last fall or over the winter as well as repair and fix what cycles of winter warmth and cold has damaged. Before we know it the bulbs have finished blooming and the nurseries are loaded with this year's must have plants. We never seem to catch up until, exhausted in fall, we collapse and say "I'll take care of this next year." Many gardeners make all sorts of resolutions to weed more, or buy less, promising ourselves that this year we will do better. Why not begin now by implementing some changes that we can do while the garden slumbers and the demands on our lives are a little less. Make these a part of your new garden resolutions!

Make an Effective Plan

First figure out what it is you most want to fix from the last few years of garden problems. Spend some time one evening to contemplate what was good and not so good in your last few years of gardening. Be brutally honest with yourself, no one else needs to know. The following are some examples of the kinds of questions you may want to ask yourself.

Were your eyes bigger than the space you have or did you buy far more plants than you have the time and energy to care for in a harsh summer? I know I paid for the latter during last summer's drought when I felt like entire days were devoted to watering plants. Even the drought resistant ones were hard pressed to make it and I was always exhausted.

Were you overwhelmed by weeds right from the last days of winter? Did you ever catch up or did you finally give in and have bigger problem to face next year? Did you mulch or use chemicals and did they make a difference?

Did you have trouble stretching the budget to buy all the plants you wanted to grow? More isn't always better and spreading your plants further apart can still look beautiful if you plan.

Did you have trouble getting around to pruning, weeding or fertilizing at the right time? Create a personalized plan and all of them can be done. The worst you can do is "hope" to get to it sometime.

All of these problems can be minimized if not avoided by planning for them and keeping a calendar. So sit down and write down week by week the things that should be done. Make a realistic plan for how much time you can spend and what really needs to be done, by spreading out the chores on a weekly basis.

Begin Work Now

I know, it's cold and blustery, nothing is growing (except the weeds) and you really need a rest from last year. To get ahead of the garden and not be exhausted next fall, try to find just a little energy to do some January gardening chores.

If you left your tools in a state of less than clean, and maybe a bit worn, now is the best time to clean them, disinfect them and get pruners and shears sharpened professionally. Begin looking at buying new tools or doing repairs. It doesn't hurt to do a little on line shopping while staying warm indoors. Beat the rush and have good tools to work with when spring finally returns.

Use those milder days with a promise of spring to pull those winter weeds creeping into the garden. Add mulch to cover bare spots in January. If we've had at least one very low temperature spell it is a good time to add some insulation once the ground has gotten thoroughly cold. It reduces heaving of perennials and bulbs when we get our alternating tastes of spring and bitter winter here in East Tennessee. Perennials and bulbs will be more protected from heaves and prematurely emerging.

Get some of the leaves that were blown into shrubbery and remaining perennials cleared away to keep vole damage down. If you like to use leaves as a winter mulch disturb the leaves frequently to discourage the voles and make sure you begin removing layers of leaves from close to stems and emerging bulbs well before warm weather returns or you can have disease and rotting problems.

Plan on What to Buy Before Everything is a Temptation

All the seed catalogs and many living plant catalogs are now in our mailboxes. They are the perfect planning tools if we don't succumb to "needing" one of each as we drool over the beautiful pictures. Make up your budget, including costs for fertilizer and other materials you will need in addition to the actual plants. This should let you know how much you can spend on plants and leave some wiggle room for that plant you find at a sale that you just have to have. This is important no matter what type of garden you love to grow, whether it is perennials and annuals, herbs or veggies and fruit.

Look at your garden and where you did well. Plan on repeating that effort. Then look at where you did less well and plan on different plants that could succeed more easily in those conditions. If your best plant was a blanket flower, and everything else dried up in the drought, maybe a plan to purchase more Gallardia in various colors would be a good bet. Have you lost another plant to a powdery mildew? Don't buy anymore of any variety of that plant for a few years and look for plants that can thrive in the same conditions that are naturally resistant to mildews. You may find that you want to plant lesser known plants like physostegia instead of phlox, for example. When and if you go back to phlox again, look for the ones with noted mildew resistance. This is the best time to research plants so that when you shop plant sales and nurseries you are well informed and can chose more wisely. Ask experienced gardeners near you for suggestions or pass-a-longs.

If you find your budget and your planting space are at odds, consider going with seeds and starting earlier. I've always resisted growing from seed because I do not have a good place to do so in my home; but this year I will be trying out a cool new method that has been getting quite the buzz in the last few years: winter sowing. It's perfect for those of us who like to grow perennials which can be quite expensive when bought as larger plants in the spring. The winter sowing topic will be coming up here in Hands in the Dirt, stay tuned!

Keep Records for Next Year and Beyond

If you found it hard to remember how things did in the garden last summer, or wish you could remember that plant you had 3 years ago that was so beautiful until someone stepped on it repairing the roof, this is the best time to begin a garden journal. You can make it pretty or plain, write in it like a diary, accounting book or just a simple listing week by week. If you purchase a lot of plants, keep their plant stakes after cleaning them in a pocket in your journal or a special file marked by the year. There is no perfect way to keep your journal as long as you can go back and remember the important things. You can make even better plans every year and learn from mistakes. Be on the lookout for a future Hands in the Dirt entry on Garden journaling if you are short on ideas. To begin one now simply use a spiral notebook and make notes as you go from your first resolution to the things you have accomplished so far. Then when you decide the kind of journal you want to keep you can transfer the information to it.

Blount County Extension Master Gardeners


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