With every New Year, most people look for a fresh start by making resolutions they might, or might not keep. This year, why not make garden resolutions? They will be good for the environment, your yard, and your health. Some may be hard work, but hey, it’ll be fun. After all, it’s gardening.
Here are some garden resolutions. Start off small, pick and choose what works for you, or challenge yourself to do them all.
If you do one thing, this is the one that will make the most impact. There are many different things you can do to practice water-wise gardening: try a drip irrigation system; plant drought tolerant plants; water early in the day; use a rain barrel. Contact your Extension Master Gardener office for additional tips.
Avoid exotic invasives
Many exotic ornamentals are perfectly lovely, well-mannered, and make wonderful contributions to your landscape. However, there are some exotic plants that grow vigorously, escape into the wild, and displace many of our native plants. Periwinkle creeps its way into the woods, as does English ivy. Others like Ligustrum spp. (aka privet) employ birds to aid in seed dispersal. See sidebar for a link to a list of other top offenders.
There are many beautiful native plants that make excellent garden ornamentals. North Carolina has one of the most diverse plant populations in the world so you are bound to find something you love. For flowers try Iris cristata; shrubs-Rhododendron; vines-Carolina jasmine; or flowering trees-dogwoods and redbuds. The North Carolina Native Plant Society has a great reference list.
Improve the soil
You’ve probably heard the expression that it is better to put a five-dollar plant in a ten-dollar hole than the other way around. Good soil is definitely key to growing a healthy garden. A great way to start is by getting it tested (see sidebar). Keep in mind that farmers are gearing up now. The soil testing lab charges a fee during the busy season, but if you wait until April, soil tests are free April to November.
Use the least toxic alternatives whenever possible
When you absolutely need to, use a pesticide, according to the label, but I must say there is great satisfaction in knocking Japanese beetles into a bucket of soapy water. Figure out what type of weed, insect, or disease you have, or ask your Master Gardeners, and apply an appropriate control. Many times there are non-toxic sprays such as insecticidal soaps and dormant oils that work great for specific problems.
Reduce, reuse, and recycle
Make a concerted effort to eliminate waste at the front of the cycle (reduce), then reuse what you can, offer cast offs to friends, repurpose items, anything you can do to keep items out of the waste stream. Recycle what you can’t reuse, but make sure that it is recyclable and follow the rules for your area. Just because a plastic has a number on it does not make it recyclable. If recycled waste has too many contaminants that are not recyclable, the entire load may be discarded, totally discounting your efforts along with those of others.
Right plant, right place
This one sounds so easy, but how many of you have doomed a plant because you put it in the wrong place? Now mind you, I’m all for bending the rules, but I don’t think a zone 9 plant is going to survive here if we have a cold snap. Keep a few common-sense rules in place: plant shade lovers in the shade, sun lovers in the sun, and don’t plant a crabapple that grows to 20 feet wide only 5 feet from your window.
Vow to grow some edibles
Start with some easy fruits like persimmon, fig, or blackberries. If you lack the full sun tomatoes and many veggies require, there are options that don’t need a full 6-8 hours. Parsley does well with partial shade. Blueberries are easy and will tolerate some shade (keep in mind that you need two different varieties for cross-pollination to get the best fruiting). And if you don’t have great soil, yet, (see number 4), try some herbs or cherry tomatoes in pots. Use a good potting mix and you’ll be amazed at how easy it is.
Build a compost pile or buy a bin
Oh, the joy of composting! Is there anything else so satisfying? Not only do you keep waste out of the landfill, but you will be able to build your soil (see number 4… again.) Compost adds nutrients, helps with soil structure, improves water retention, supports beneficial microorganisms, and so much more.
Spend more time in the garden
More and more research shows that being in nature is beneficial for your health. Thus, spending more time in the garden, whether to implement new resolutions, cultivate crops, pick flowers, or just relax, is something we can all agree is worth every minute. Now that’s a resolution we can keep.
Invasive Plants: https://ncwildflower.org/plant_galleries/invasives_list
NC Native Plant Society: https://www.ncwildflower.org/native_plants/recommendations
Soil testing: https://content.ces.ncsu.edu/a-gardeners-guide-to-soil-testing
Plants for NC: https://plants.ces.ncsu.edu/
NC Extension Gardener Handbook: https://content.ces.ncsu.edu/extension-gardener-handbook
Water conservation: https://gardening.ces.ncsu.edu/weather-2/dealing-with-drought/
Cynthia Sollod has always loved plants, hence a B.S. in botany and a Ph.D. in Plant Pathology. She has volunteered with the Wake County Master Gardener program since 1995. She enjoys painting, illustrating plants, and writing about gardening.