GOOD HABITS IN THE GARDEN
By Emily Shirley, Master Gardener
Bad habits are hard to break, and sometimes all it takes to break a bad habit or establish a new or good habit is to just give it some thought. Here’s some food for thought:
Get in the habit of controlling weeds every chance you get.
Do not let weeds get out of hand before taking efforts to control them. Dealing with weeds is an unavoidable part of landscape upkeep. Yards with regular weed maintenance tend to have less severe weed problems.
Avoid creating a landscape that demands more time and maintenance than you can keep up and enjoy. Get in the habit of finding ways to reduce the maintenance you already have.
It’s important to design a landscape that only requires as much maintenance time and effort as you have to give. Remember lawn areas, large vegetable gardens and flowerbeds are high maintenance. Consider letting some areas go native – plant native wildflowers and let that area be for a while. Maybe you will need to mow it a couple of times a year instead of every week.
Make it a habit of seeking out only gardening information that is appropriate for southwest Louisiana.
I have a pretty large library and a lot of shelf space goes to the gardening books. I try to focus on plants and gardening information on plants that will grow in the area where I live. The Internet is full of gardening information, but much of it is not suitable for our area. We want to focus on what grows here and how to manage what we grow here. For information on a wide variety of garden topics that is specifically prepared for Louisiana gardeners, check out the LSU AgCenter at http://www.lsuagcenter.com. Click on “Lawn & Garden” & “Get It Growing.”
Effectively use mulches in flowerbeds, vegetable gardens, around shrubs and other appropriate areas every chance you get. Good habit–replace as needed. Mulches — such as pine straw, leaves, dry grass clippings, ground bark and wood products — are our best, first line of defense in controlling weeds in beds. They also conserve soil moisture reducing watering, look attractive, and prevent soil compaction and moderate soil temperatures. There are few things we do as gardeners that are more beneficial than mulching.
Get the soil tested (good habit, at least every three years.) Getting your soil tested will help you make the best gardening decisions. Test results indicate what fertilizers are needed. And knowing the soil pH can help with plant selection. Instructions are inside the soil testing kit that you get from the AgCenter.
Attend as many gardening educational events as possible. You cannot get more local than attending educational events right in your state. You can learn so much from just having conversations with gardeners at gardening events and listening to lectures from experts in the field of horticulture. I so look forward to spring each year when I can start attending all these gardening events!
Visit the outstanding public gardens around the State, country, or the world. Always take a notebook and a camera to write down and take pictures of the things that you see that inspire you. When they have labels by or on their plants, I take a close-up picture of the label, then a picture of the plant. Besides the beauty of public gardens, they also can teach us many lessons about design and plant materials. We have so much to see in Louisiana! And, I’ll toss this in as a reminder of those of you traveling abroad. Always look up public gardens before you travel and make it a point of seeing some of the beautiful gardens of the world while on your trip. I’ve been to Monet’s Garden in France twice and am going again this spring. I just can’t get enough of it!
Grow something you can eat this year, and get in the habit of eating more clean food. One of the goals of the Beauregard Master Gardeners is to teach people to grow food. In this day and age of so many processed foods causing so many health (and weight) issues, it is even more important that we find a way to get back to eating good clean food. Growing your own is the best way. You don’t have to till acres of land in order to grow vegetables. You can grow just about every vegetable in a container. If you are new to vegetable gardening, don’t worry – it needn’t be complicated.
Take better care of your garden tools. Those that know me know that I am a little obsessed about gardening tools. I want three of each! I also like to see people take care of their tools. I must admit, there are times when I fall behind and let bad habits slip up on me. When I am really tired at the end of the day after being outside in the heat all day, I sometimes do not clean my tools before putting them away. But I try to not go for months without cleaning and oiling them. Good quality garden tools should last for many years. There are three important points: avoid rust-inducing moisture, keep them sharpened, and occasionally apply a coat of oil. For shovels, just keep a pail of sand with some oil soaked in sitting in the tool shed. When you are done with the shovel at the end of the day, stab it in the sand a few times to clean and oil at the same time. The easier you make something, the more likely you will develop the habit of doing it.
Start a compost pile, or if you have one, take better care of it. Nothing beats biologically active homemade compost when doing bed preparation or putting together potting mixes. Composting is not complicated; it can involve nothing more than piling up grass clippings, leaves and other landscape waste in an out-of-the-way area and allowing it to naturally decay. Toss in those kitchen scraps of greens and vegetables that go bad in the refrigerator and “make the worms happy.” Don’t forget to harvest it and use it as needed.