Califonia Bountiful

Gardening: Turning over a new leaf

Jan./Feb. 2008 California Country magazine

Whether you have a large yard, a small yard or just a few potted plants on the balcony, all would benefit from a little consideration during New Year's resolution time.

The reality of New Year's resolutions is that they often don't last more than a couple of weeks. We start out with good intentions, but then we get off track. Maybe it's because our goals are too far out of reach.

With that in mind, I'd like to help you kick off 2008 with a simple resolution that will pay dividends throughout the year. Repeat after me: I resolve to spend more quality time in my garden. Polls indicate gardening is one of the most popular hobbies. Whether you have a large yard, a small yard or just a few potted plants on the balcony, all would benefit from a little consideration during New Year's resolution time.

With water a tremendous concern here in California and throughout much of America, a resolution to use water more wisely and efficiently is another worthy—and not too difficult—goal. Of course, weather and soil type dictate overall irrigation needs, which will change from day to day and week to week. So, instead of having the automatic sprinklers go on every day for a few minutes, water less frequently for a longer period of time. Deep soaking will encourage roots to grow deeper, allowing a greater number of days between waterings. Lawns will generally need only two or three waterings per week during summer. Established trees and shrubs may need only one soaking per week during summer and perhaps as little as once a month or less during winter.

However, always check your plants in the afternoon when you begin a "proper" watering regimen and give them a little more water if they are begging (wilting!). There are irrigation controllers that use daily weather information to dictate irrigation needs and can save 30 percent or more on your water usage. Also adjust sprinklers so they water plants—not sidewalks, driveways or the house.

Whew, that was a long resolution! Here is a shorter one: I will remember to feed my plants. No longer will I buy fertilizer, take it home and just leave it sitting in the garage. If it is a water-soluble fertilizer, I will apply it at least twice a month. If it is a granular type, I will apply it as often as the label tells me to. Remember this: Plants need more than just water to grow and thrive.

OK, those were the easy ones. Here is one that may take you from your comfort zone: I resolve to grow something this year that I can eat. Whether it is an orange tree, a patch of zucchini or a few herbs in a pot, I will eat something that I grow. Try it! It can be as simple as a lettuce plant in a small pot, which will be harvestable from a transplant in as few as four weeks.

Finally: I will learn how to prune properly and not butcher my plants. Attend a seminar or ask someone at a local nursery who knows—but resolve to stop chopping this year.

This should give you something easy to follow through on this year. A little more exercise and a healthier diet might be good, too. Good luck and happy New Year!

Gardening to-do list for January/February

Protect cold-sensitive plants from frost by covering them with a sheet—preferably over a frame—and hanging Christmas lights over them to serve as mini-heaters. (To minimize fire hazard, use only the small lights designed for outdoors.) Move cold-sensitive potted plants under a roof or inside during cold nights.

Depending on your climate zone, February may be the month to begin applying a weed preventer to keep crabgrass and other warm-weather weeds from germinating. Check with your local nursery for appropriate timing.

Even if you get rain, your outdoor potted plants may still need to be watered. Often, leaves will shed rain away from the pots, preventing absorption.

Begin seed selection and garden planning for summer veggies. Seeds can be started weeks in advance indoors and transplanted outdoors when the weather warms up.

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