Gardening 101

Garden Journals: A Powerful Tool for Success

A garden is a pleasure that develops over years, and a powerful tool to capture the tug of time is a garden journal. Kept by technology, or touch, collecting three simple bits of information will carry your garden forward.

Your garden exists in a unique microclimate and experienced gardeners know how to make the most of their location. Recording when things occur is the foundation of your garden journal.

•    Noting dates of routine garden tasks—pruning, fertilizing, pest prevention, and planting—will help you develop a calendar that works for your location.
•    Recording when you start your gardening experiments will help you build upon your successes and reduce the failures.
•    Learn something new from a fellow gardener and want to try it yourself next season? Creating a reminder will help hold onto that good idea and possibly open up new opportunities.
•    Capturing dates along with environmental data such as temperatures, day length and rain fall will help illuminate the cause and effect of nature’s forces, allowing you to coax additional time out of the growing season or better manage pests and pathogens.

All of these interactions occur in a specific location in your garden. The shady, north side won’t produce the same results as the hot, west side. Recording locations in your garden allows you to analyze the present and project into the future.

•    Recording the location of plants, especially those that go seasonally dormant, allows you to better anticipate their needs while you wait for their return.
•    Documenting all of the plants and elements in a location helps you to analyze their interactions. Are your hydrangeas struggling under that oak tree? Sometimes it takes the act of identifying each element in a location to understand its interactions with its neighbors.
•    Locating the wet/dry areas in your garden along with the sun/shadow patterns is essential to understanding your garden’s microenvironment. It also allows you to analyze that which is slowly changing before your eyes. What was once a sunny corner can morph into a partial sun, and then a shady location.

Whether you are working with an existing garden or building a new one, knowing the plants in your garden and their requirements is the first step towards getting the right plant in the right place. Plants come to your garden from many sources—some with a great deal of information and some as mysteries. Regardless, your task is to identify the plant and learn its requirements.

•    Capturing images, either as drawings or photographs, will not only help you identify the plant but help show you how the plant changes over time. Plants can outgrow their locations and recording their appearance can help you troubleshoot why a plant that has once thrived takes a change for the worse.
•    Plants are just one of the components of your garden. Recording pests, pathogens and results of their presence in your garden will help you to better identify and manage them.
•    Recording the materials and supplies you use in your garden will help you evaluate your successes and failures. A simple list of products used or photographing labels will help to make better purchases over time.

The form your garden journal takes—from a notebook to a mobile device—does not matter. The act of looking and recording is the important skill to develop and the one that will produce results for you and your garden.

Dr. Lise Jenkins is a Master Gardener volunteer with Durham County.

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