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Garden Guru: Resolve to adopt new garden practices

By John Porter

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Last week, I discussed new possible trends for the 2014 gardening year, from sustainable gardening to growing your own ingredients to ferment into alcohol. During the month of January, I'll take a more in-depth look at some of these trends and how you can adopt them into your own garden to add interest and get more back from your gardening investment through a series of articles that we'll call "New Year, New Garden."

We'll start off by discussing how to plan your new garden, and some tools you can use to resolve to be a better gardener. Hopefully, you'll find something new to inspire you and your garden for 2014.

Planning a new project

This may sound like a no-brainer, but coming up with a detailed plan of what you want to do is crucial. I'm not talking about a general plan of "I'm going to build four raised-bed vegetable gardens" or "I'm going to plant a meditation garden." A plan should include a list of plants you want to add and what hardscapes -- the permanent physical elements that you build -- and any other building that need to be done beforehand. I can tell you from experience that trying to build six raised beds, fill them with soil and fill them with plants is not a project to be rushed.

I would suggest coming up with a timeline as well. Most of us are instant-gratification gardeners -- wanting to start and complete a new project as quickly as possible. But gardening is a process, so developing a new garden should be too.

Start your timeline by selecting plants you want from catalogs or local nurseries and develop a timeline for when you need to plant them. The plan should also include when you are going to build new beds and structures.

By turning the process of starting a new garden into a planned project, you can reduce a lot of stress and rush around getting everything ready at once. The timeline could be for just a few weeks or even up to a year or more, depending on the size of the project. Like I said, gardening is a process and not everything needs to be perfect right off the bat.

Selecting the right plants

Since January and February aren't conducive to gardening outdoors, it's a fine time to pick up all those garden catalogs and dream up a new garden. I would suggest making detailed lists of what you want from each catalog, then try to find them locally if possible. If you can't find things locally, keep in mind that a lot of the catalogs offer the same or similar plants, so try to order from a select few catalogs to save on shipping charges.

When trying new plants or varieties, do a little research before you commit, especially if it is a perennial, tree or shrub. Making sure you have the right growing conditions, enough space and the skills and patience to grow certain plants will go a long way toward improving your chances of success.

If you just don't have enough catalogs to look through, the website www.gardenlist.com keeps an extensive list of garden catalogs by category of plants. Be sure to hurry, though; if you are planning on starting vegetables or flowers from seeds, January and February is the time to start thinking about that.

Document your successes and failures

This is one of my gardening resolutions for 2014 -- keeping a garden journal. I can't stress how valuable it is to keep records of what you are doing in the garden. The recordkeeping could be as simple as writing what you plant and when on a calendar, but the more details you keep, the better your gardening will be in the future.

Writing down what varieties you plant, whether they thrive or fail, how you fertilize, and what pests you battle can help you be better prepared in the years that follow. Thomas Jefferson, Founding Father and prolific gardener, was a great garden experimenter and kept extensive (yet not always detailed) journals. In his journals, he detailed new plants and techniques, successful harvests and crop failures. Centuries later, his journals have been used to re-create the gardens at his home, Monticello. Not that your garden journal will be a long-lasting historical document found in a museum, but it still can make you a better gardener.

New gardening ideas

The West Virginia Nursery & Landscape Association presents "Winter Symposium: A Focus on Design" from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Jan. 24 at the Charleston Conference Center (former Ramada Inn). The symposium is open to the public. The lecture topics look phenomenal (and I'm not saying that just because I'm presenting). Presentations will include:

  • "One Man's Trash is Another Man's Treasure: Garden Art on a Budget"
  • "Blocking the View: Plant Selection for Screening"
  • "Plant Breeding for the Home Garden"
  • "Designed by Nature"
  • "Four Seasons of Containers"
  • "The Layered Garden"
  • "Pruning"
  • "Designing Gardens with Art"
  • "Designing with Technology"
  • "Creating Good Photographic Images"
  • It's an exciting array of speakers and topics -- just the ticket to brighten the day of gardeners during the bleak winter months. The fee is $100 and includes lunch. Find more details and reservation forms on WVNLA's website's symposium page, www.wvnla.org/pages/aa-pastsymposiums.html.

    John Porter is the WVU Extension Service agent for agriculture and natural resources in Kanawha County. He may be reached at john.porter@mail.wvu.edu or at 304-720-9573. Twitter: @WVgardenguru.


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