Garden Variety: Now’s the time to plan for next year’s garden

The end of the year is an opportunity to reflect and make plans in the garden as much as anywhere else in life. This year’s changing of the decade may even call for greater reflection and planning.

During the gardening season, lots of things are on top of your to-do list: that large shrub that needs pruning, the space that needs another tree, and that spot that holds water after every rainfall. But when winter comes, the list often is put aside and forgotten until the next gardening season.

Take advantage of mild days this winter to take a stroll through the yard or garden. Think about the challenges of last year and of the last several years, and consider improvements that could be made now and over the long term. Is this the year to finally add a water feature, plant fruit trees, start a vegetable garden or alleviate a big drainage problem? Be realistic and remember that gardens are meant to grow and change. To-do lists are never really completed here.

One of the bigger challenges of the last decade has been rainfall. Last year brought excessive rainfall to the Lawrence area and much of the Midwest, but for several years prior the region was suffering from drought.

It’s hard to say what next year’s weather will be like, but plant selection can make all the difference in how the garden tolerates Kansas’ weather variability. Think about which plants suffered the most. Are they worth constant watering if the drought recurs? Can they withstand another year of excessive rainfall? Can they be replaced with something that is more adaptable, or can you make changes to alleviate their stress?

Another challenge of the last decade is establishment and proliferation of the emerald ash borer and the Japanese beetle. For the ash borer, consider replacing ash trees or making a long-term plan for replacement.

For Japanese beetle host plants, know that the insect is here to stay but will fluctuate in populations from year to year.

While you are walking, look for spaces that could be more enjoyable with a new planting. Perhaps the yard could use another tree or shrub, a space could be brightened with flowers or a sunny spot would be perfect for growing fruits and vegetables. Make plans to prepare the soil in these spaces and/or plant in early spring.

Hardscape features might also be on your mind. Is there a space that would be made more enjoyable with the sound of running water? If so, consider adding a water garden or a simple water feature such as a bubbler. Perhaps the garden could use a path or a larger feature such as a patio or retaining wall.

For hardscape features, including water gardens, go ahead and plan the work or start contacting landscapers now. That way the project can begin as soon as the weather allows. Getting plans and estimates now will increase the likelihood of your project being on the top of the landscaper’s work list instead of caught in the spring rush.

Even well-established gardens that already have large features will have some tasks for spring. Perhaps plants have outgrown their spaces, or plants that prefer sun are now in shady areas because of tree growth. Make a list of things that need to be moved, removed, pruned or otherwise tended, and check to see when the best time is to perform these tasks. Most plants can be moved or removed in early spring, but pruning should be done at certain times depending on the plant.

Late winter and early spring are also an ideal time for tree pruning. Look up and around to see if your trees need work, and get in touch with arborists now if you’re planning to hire someone.

— Jennifer Smith works in regulatory horticulture and has worked as a horticulturist for various government entities. She has experience in landscape design and maintenance and as an educator.


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