Roots and Shoots: New Year, New Garden

By Pamela Doan

If good intentions pave the road to hell, then it must also look like a yard with a weedy lawn, scraggly trees and a neglected vegetable garden. Landscaping is one of those areas where the divide between what we want to do and what we actually do can be huge.

The winter landscape is an open palette to imagine possibilities. (Photo by P. Doan)

The winter landscape is an open palette to imagine possibilities. (Photo by P. Doan)

After last week’s Roots and Shoots column about a mission statement to guide our relationship with the landscape, the next step is naturally to make resolutions for the garden now, too. Rather than a list of tasks, I thought about things that sounded like fun and then broke it out into how it applied to my landscape. Take a go and see how this works out for your yard.

Learn something new

Propagation and pruning are two areas that I want to know more about, and they could also be compatible. Starting new plants from cuttings is a technique that could generate all the new plants I need. Both pruning and propagating require techniques that are specific to the plant or tree. It’s always seemed like a lot of information is needed before starting out, but again, by starting with a couple of plants, I can learn what I need to know and try it out.

Plant seeds

I’ve installed a lot of seedlings and transplants. Only about 10 percent of my gardening has started from a seed I planted. Seeds are cool. There’s an innocent delight when you walk out to the garden one morning to find shoots poking through. Seeds are also cheaper. Since they come in packets with more seeds than a gardener typically needs, share them. Seeds are easier to buy online, too. You can get exactly the plant that you want instead of relying on the transplants available at the local garden center.

Experiment more

Gardening errors can have dire results. Something usually dies. Fear of making a mistake holds most people back from doing anything in the yard. Personally, I hold back from transplanting and dividing plants because I’m afraid of a misstep. The few times I’ve done it, though, it’s worked out. Just do a little research first; don’t destroy the roots and most plants will survive. Dividing plants is a cheap way to get more bang for your buck, so to speak. This year, I’m going to start digging up what’s there.

Have less lawn

Mowing is like vacuuming to me. I don’t mind it and it’s an easy way to notice results during a stressful week. It was long; now it’s short; something got done. Lawns don’t have much purpose in my mission statement, though. Diversifying the landscape with more plants is not only more picturesque, but also adds value to the ecosystem depending on what plants take the lawn’s place. As an added benefit, mowing less reduces your carbon footprint.

Easy fixes with big results

COMPOST. I need more compost. Everywhere. My small family doesn’t generate enough compostable materials and I need a new source. A neighborhood composting operation might be the answer. Simple to set up — just agree to a location. Then get a few neighbors to sign on and drop off their materials. Share the gold when it’s ready. Everyone has a source for organic matter, all the families stop putting reusable waste in the garbage bin, and the garden wins.

Live with messiness

Nature isn’t tidy. Plans rarely conform to the initial concept and that’s one of the things that I love about gardening, the unpredictability of plants. I want to accept more disorder in my landscape instead of trying to make it look a certain way. Fighting the nature of nature, so to speak, is one of the things that make gardeners unhappy and feel like something didn’t work. Let go.

Be smarter than an invasive weed

Last summer I interviewed landscape designer Larry Weaner, who specializes in meadows, and he said something that resonated with its simplicity. His point was that by understanding the behavior of a plant, we could more effectively manage it. As an example, he mentioned garlic mustard, an invasive weed that grows all over around here. Weaner pointed out that it’s a biennial, and if you pull it after it’s spread its seed, you’re actually helping it propagate by disrupting the soil, allowing the seeds to settle in. Instead, he said to cut it down before it goes to seed; then let it die over the winter. In two years, it will be gone.

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