Ann Wright: A new year, a new garden
Out with the old, in with the new – a common saying at the beginning of a new year. This is true for gardeners as well. As we look toward spring, January is a good time to evaluate what was successful in the garden last year, and to consider what changes need to be made this year for further success. This is a good time to toss out old, worn pots, continue garden clean up and start planning new garden aspects. This is when I remind myself to get going on a garden journal!
In planning for next spring, start by putting garden plans to paper – this will help make decisions about what plantings will be accomplished in the coming months. For vegetable gardens, think about what you and your family like to eat, and where in your garden it will do best. For ornamental gardens, think about what colors you enjoy and what will accent your growing area. For both vegetable and ornamental gardens, peruse the vast number of available seed catalogs, and begin making orders based on what you’ve planned, what you have room to grow, and how much time you have to spend. This is a good time to order summer blooming bulbs such as begonias, dahlia, gladiolus and lilies.
Planning for gardens includes, “putting the right plant in the right place” which is one of the more frequent mantras of Master Gardeners. This principle is one of the core concepts attributed to successful gardening. What this means is that gardeners select the right plant for the climate zone in which they live and the right plant for the amount of sun exposure. Likewise, the selected plant should grow in the soil in which it is to be planted and similar plants grouped together based on their water needs. Finally, is it the right plant for the amount of space in which it is expected to grow? If these factors are considered when planning gardens and purchasing plants, the elements for success have already been staged.
For vegetable gardens, consider crop rotation. Plant families have certain soil-borne pests and disease-causing pathogens that are specific to that plant. By changing the types of vegetables that are planted in garden areas each year, crop rotation is a strategy to group like plants in one area and then planting them in a new location after each crop.
The most common schedule for crop rotation is a three or four-year cycle. This rotation helps decrease the number of plant-family specific pathogens in the soil. For example, tomatoes which are in the Solanaceae or nightshade family (also includes sweet and hot peppers, eggplant and potatoes) could be planted in one section this year. Next year, the tomatoes (or other vegetable in the family) would be planted in new area. In the bed in which the tomatoes were grown, legumes such as peas and beans could be planted. Rotating the crops will ultimately help keep soil healthier, and thus grow healthier plants.
When considering new plants to add to the garden, check the seed catalogs or package labels for important information about starting seed. Carefully review seed packets, looking for disease resistance, germination rates and days to maturity. Look at local sources for seed adapted to our climate.
Some plants will do better by jump-starting seed indoors. If starting indoors, always use new seed starting mix and clean, sanitized pots or trays. If you have seeds left over from last year, and the seed has been kept dry, they will likely be fine to use this year.
You will also need seed starting mix – which is the medium into which seeds are planted. Starting mix can be purchased ready to use but don’t use garden soil or potting mix, as these are too heavy, are not sterile and often won’t drain well. Don’t skimp and use old starting mix – if it’s been sitting around over the winter, it may be contaminated with pathogens. There is nothing more frustrating than starting a flat of lovely seeds only to find they don’t sprout, or they sprout and die off suddenly – from dampening off disease which is caused by fungal pathogens. If you choose to make your own seed starting, or germination mix, use a combination of equal parts sterilized sand, vermiculite and peat moss.
Master Gardeners of Nevada County will be back doing virtual workshops starting in February. “Pollinators: Encourage These Vital Little Critters” will take place via Zoom on Feb. 13 at 9 a.m. “Bringing Native Plants into Your Garden – Part 1” is scheduled for Feb. 27, also at 9 a.m. on Zoom followed by Part 2 on March 6.
We hope to return to live, in-person workshops at some time in the future, but for now, we will be available via our website (http://ncmg.ucanr.org/) and on our radio show Saturdays, from 10 a.m. to noon on KNCO, 830 on the am dial.
Ann Wright is a Nevada County Master Gardener.
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