>Reflections on gardening

><!–[if !mso]> st1\:*{behavior:url(#ieooui) } <![endif]–>

Can we already be nearing the end of the year?   I write a neighborhood newsletter article on gardening and when I get to the end of every year, I want to escape talking about specific plants, etc and help people reflect on how to be a better overall gardener in Central Texas.  Many of these resolutions were adapted from Doug Welsh’s Texas Garden Almanac and I give a little bow of thanks to him for supplying such wonderful information in that book.
Resolution #1: I will water the lawn according to its needs, not by a rigid schedule and never in the middle of the day.
Even if you have a sprinkler timer system, you should always be watching when you need to change the schedule because of supplemental watering from rain or as the season changes.  Unless you are overseeding with an annual winter grass, most of our grasses are dormant in the winter months and sprinkler systems can be shut off for the lawn zones.  As growth begins to happen in spring and really kicks up in summer, you can change your sprinkler program to reflect your watering needs.  The goal in watering is to do it infrequently and deeply.  This helps plants and lawns form deeper root systems that can survive drought and heat better.
Resolution #2:  I will use a pesticide only when absolutely necessary and I will use the least toxic option.
Not all bugs are bad bugs- in fact there are 1,000 times as many good or neutral bugs as there are bad bugs.  But pesticides often do not distinguish between the two and can wipe out beneficial populations, thus exacerbating the pest cycle by taking away natural predators to the pests. So pay attention to possible problems and take action early with non-toxic options.  For example, pruning weak branches or picking bugs off or spraying them off with a strong blast of water can be a better option up front than blasting toxic sprays later.  And always follow the directions on any pest control product that you use.  We need beneficials like honeybees and lady bugs for healthy plants, so let’s be careful of what we spray in their habitat.
Resolution #3:  I will pay as much attention to the foundation of my garden as I do the plants that grow in it.
You can stick the healthiest plant in your garden, but if the soil and environment are not what the plant needs, it will perish.  An ideal garden soil is 50% organic matter and 50% native soil.  So add organic matter (pine bark mulch, compost, fallen leaves, etc) every time you plant annuals, perennials, vegetables or rework a bed. You can never add too much organic matter.  Aerating your soil either manually or with a tiller can help relieve stress on plants or lawns from compacted soil.
Resolution #4: I will appreciate Central Texas for the fantastic differences of our vegetable growing seasons, rather than mourn the absence of a “typical” spring and fall.
We have two warm seasons here- spring and early fall.  We get two chances to grow the wonderful warm season crops like tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, etc.  But you have to get going as early as possible, planting in early March/April and July/August.  By September and October, we are planting cool season crops. So appreciate the non-stop vegetable gardening opportunities we have here and keep an eye on the calendar.  You can see exactly when to plant vegetables by printing this calendar.  
Resolution #5:  I will recognize mulch for its wondrous powers to prevent weeds, conserve water, prevent diseases, and keep plant roots protected from heat and cold. 
Need I say more?  Make sure your beds are well mulched before every summer and every winter.  If not, add more.
Resolution #6:  I will not commit “crape-murder” by chopping off the tops of my crape myrtle trees.
The excessive pruning of the tops of crape myrtles ruins their natural structure and actually results in fewer blooms.  So save yourself some time by retiring this hefty winter chore or save yourself some money and tell your tree service not to touch your crape myrtles.  Pruning is acceptable to remove dead, dying or damaged branches or to remove a branch that is not consistent with the overall vase-structure of the tree.
Resolution #7:  I will get to know my soil.
Most of us add fertilizer in some way to our gardens and lawns.  But how can we know the right amount of fertilizer, organic or inorganic, to add if we don’t know what our soil needs.  There is an easy answer:  Get a soil test. http://soiltesting.tamu.edu/files/urbansoil.pdf   Test orders start at just $10 per sample!  The results will lay out a plan for you on what nutrients your soil is lacking and make your fertilization efforts more effective.  And never use a “Weed and Feed” product. The right time to apply “weed” chemicals and “feed” chemicals is never at the same time of year.  Applying a combined product means one of these chemicals is more likely running through your lawn into our groundwater and creeks.
Resolution #8:  I will accept my gardening environment and work with it to plant appropriately.
Repeat after me:  “I live in Texas, I have alkaline soil and lots of limestone.”  Look at what grows well in our location and work with native or adapted plants to create a garden and yard that won’t fight against our natural environment.  Check out the City of Austin Grow Green site for great plant lists.
Resolution #9:  I will give my new plants the best chance of survival by planting at the correct time. 
The best time to plant or divide perennials or plant trees is in the fall.  This gives them time over the winter to grow a strong root system and be ready to flourish in spring before the heat of summer moves in.
Resolution #10:  I will consider the future before I plant something. 
That tree that looks wonderful next to your house now may be laying atop your roof in 10 years so be sure to think into the future on how a plant at its mature size will interact with its surroundings.  
Be the best gardener you can be in 2011!