Whether you are an experienced gardener or just putting your first plants into the ground, gardening is a continual process of learning and growing. Here are a few tips we can all keep in mind as we kick off this year’s gardening season.
Soil is what plants grow in; dirt is what gets under fingernails.
References to the 4-letter D-word might raise a few eyebrows amongst soil scientists and the most experienced gardeners. The rest of us will forgive you for a slip of the tongue as long as you are treating your plants right.
Remember: Soil is responsible for air and water movement that affects the growth of plant roots and is directly related to plant health.
Soil also provides support for plants and is a source of the nutrients plants need to grow. Take care of it and your plants will thank you.
Compost makes everything better.
If soil drains poorly, add compost. If soil drains too quickly, add compost. If soil is lacking nutrients, add compost.
The only time to avoid compost is when the soil already has adequate compost. When you see how much better your plants grow, compost will make you happy, too.
Some plants were only meant to grow in someone else’s yard.
Even the greenest-thumbed gardeners sometimes lose plants. Plant pathologists, Master Gardeners, and horticulturists can help determine possible causes, but post-mortem plant problems are especially difficult to diagnose.
Try planting something else, in another place, or with a different method.
On the bright side, dead plants make more compost.
Fantasy tree: Has pretty flowers, great fall color, few pest problems, small leaves that blow away on their own in the fall, and lacks messy fruit and/or seed pods.
Real trees are imperfect, but gardeners love them anyway (or some of them at least). Trees provide shade and beauty, create a break from the wind, and filter air and soil.
When planting a tree, look for species with few pest problems first (they live longer), and then decide which qualities are of next-most importance.
Volcanoes, especially volcanoes made of mulch, are out-of-place in the Kansas landscape.
When mulch is piled against the trunk of a tree, many bad things can happen.
First, tree roots may grow up into the mulch because of the moisture it holds. When this happens, roots also often wrap around the trunk into what tree specialists call Tree Girdling Roots, or TGRs.
Also, as the mulch decays, the roots that have grown up into it dry out and cause stress for the tree.
Third, the piled mulch creates a great environment for fungi and critters like voles that can feed on the lower bark and damage the tree. Mulch is good in moderation — try making mulch donuts instead of volcanoes.
Gardeners get to decide which plants are weeds.
Are those leaflets reminiscent of something you might have planted? Feeling the urge to pull up those columbines that have worked their way into another flowerbed? Go ahead!
Sometimes things will get pulled that maybe would have made nice flowers, and sometimes you might end up with a clump of grass that is a little less ornamental than hoped.
One word of caution: in cases where friends and families are gardening together, always leave the decision about weeds up to the head gardener.
Plants come with instructions. Follow them.
Putting things together without looking at confusing diagrams is one thing, but planting is another story.
The back of a seed packet will usually tell you how deep to plant the seeds, when and where to plant them, and how to space them. On potted plants, look for a tag with planting and care instructions.
If the plant tag is missing or the packet is blank, consult a plant book or educational website.
Avoid judging a plant by its flowers.
The prettiest, brightest blossoms are the first to go at the garden center, but there are plenty of summer and fall bloomers that will look nice in your garden also.
More importantly, pay attention to what plants grow best in your area and are suitable for the location you have in mind. See also Tip No. 8.
Gardens are a work in progress.
Plants grow and change, which is what gardeners want them to do, but it means a garden will always need maintenance.
Amounts of sun and shade change with the growth and death of trees. Plants can crowd each other as they grow and need to be moved.
Perennials need to be divided, and even the most maintenance-free shrubs will need pruning and attention from time-to-time.
The garden needs you.
Help is out there.
Overwhelmed? Unsure of what to do next? The Douglas County Extension Master Gardener Hotline is a great place to start.
K-State Research and Extension also has printed resources on everything from how to plant a tree to identifying tomato diseases that can be downloaded from their website or picked up at the Douglas County office, 2110 Harper St., Lawrence. We have at least a few of the answers.