Planning for Your 2011 Garden

Mary Ann Ryan
Adams County Master Gardener

As the New Year begins, we all think about what has happened this past year and look forward to what will happen in the New Year. As gardeners, we look back at the weather, the soil, and the successes and the failures of our gardens, whether they were vegetable gardens, perennial gardens or shrub and trees. We think about what changes we can make in the upcoming season to improve production, improve visual impact, or even improve relaxation in the garden. We look back at the things that were right, even great, so we can repeat the techniques, planting schedule or just sit back and enjoy another year of a great garden this season. Also at this time of year, we often receive many, many garden catalogs, seed as well as ornamental plant catalogs. This gives us the perfect opportunity to plan for the upcoming gardening season.

Our gardens are always changing. Even if we donít plant anything new, the plants that we already have may change. Maybe they will die off for some reason, or new volunteers of a particular plant begin to grow. As a gardener, we know this to be true and adapt accordingly. However, we can take the next two months of winter and plan for our gardens so they are even more beautiful, successful and bountiful than last year!

Planning: After reviewing the structure of your garden, you may decide to add some plant material. Think about the space available, the soil, sun and moisture in that particular spot. Browse through the plant catalogs, the internet, or check out some gardening books at the library to find the right plant for the particular needs of the spot you want to fill. Donít assume that a plant that is good for shade will do okay in full sun.

Understand the size any particular plant will get at maturity. One of the biggest mistakes that I see? Larger plants are located in little spots, with the thought that pruning can be done to keep the plant within the restraints of the space. This only allows for potentially bad pruning, weakening the plant and opening it up for disease or insect problems as well as reduction in the life of the plant, not to mention some pretty ugly landscapes.

Perennials are great for locations that you may not want to replant year after year. However, perennials are not a "no maintenance" solution. Most perennials need some type of care over time, whether it is thinning by division, cutting back seed heads to reduce unwanted volunteers, or replacement due to unhealthy or weak plants. Getting to know the plants you have, or want to plant, can reduce the amount of work youíll have to put into your garden, so research becomes very important in plant selection.

Soil Test: If you havenít taken a soil test in the past two to three years, take the time now to do so. You can have your results back within a week this time of year. Although the ground is frozen, you can chip away at the soil, and thaw it inside. Soil test kits can be purchased at the Extension offices throughout the state. The test results will tell you the soil pH, an important factor for plant selection. It will let you know what nutrients are available in the soil, and what to do to amend the soil, if needed, for any particular crop you may be trying to grow.

If planning your vegetable garden for the 2011 season, check out the seed catalogs. Many new and improved varieties of any particular vegetable are being introduced yearly. Choices from new hybrids that are resistant to particular diseases, or heirloom seeds that are selected for taste are always found in seed catalogs. Read the descriptions carefully, so you know what youíre getting. Keep in mind the amount of space you have in your vegetable garden and choose accordingly. Some newer varieties of vegetables have been bred to be compact for smaller spaces.

Tools: Take this time of the year to check out the tools you have. Do they need to be replaced or fixed? Do you need additional tools to do the job? I know at my home a few more shovels and pruning shears would be great. It seems Iím always looking for a shovel, and the pruning shears Ė two very different gardeners in the house allow for tools to walk away.

Good planning and preparation for the upcoming season will allow for a great gardening year. New challenges will arise, allowing you more creative ways to fix and overcome them. Thatís what makes gardening so much fun! Enjoy these challenges of gardening, review the successes and failures, and you will have a great gardening experience!

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