The gardening season will be upon us faster than we think. Because a large amount of gardening is dreaming, planning and learning, growing season is already here in a sense. Now is perfect time to resolve to do specific things that will bring more success and enjoyment to our horticultural pursuits. While individually these will not be a gardening “game changer,” combine them and you will enjoy very positive impacts for years to come.
Get Your Soil Tested
Getting a soil test will allow you to amend your soil most cost-effectively and with only what is really needed for your yardscape. While there are general practices that will apply most of the time across our valley, a soil test will allow you to be more precise. Yes, we know we usually have a lot of clay, and that soil will almost always be alkaline (that’s because the “parents” of our soil are the limestone mountains around us, ancient Lake Bonneville that covered this entire region long ago, as well as our low annual rainfall rate). We also know that typically there will be very low organic content (less than 1 percent, while 4-5 percent would be great!). Beyond this, applying fertilizers to get needed nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium (N-P-K, the major plant nutrients) without knowing what is present or absent, is a waste. So, test your soil, and be precise. The USU Extension has a reasonably priced service available (visit extension.usu.edu and type in “soil test” in the search window), or you can buy test kits from sources such as forestry-suppliers.com.
Buy a Copy of the Sunset Western Garden Book
No matter how long you’ve been in the gardening and landscaping arena, you can’t know it all. The next best thing is to know where you can find out answers to what you don’t know. This 1 1/2-inch thick paperback volume covers a wide range of items from plant propagation, pruning, plant varieties, plant characteristics, climate zones, garden samples, horticultural terminology, and some really beautiful photography that is sure to inspire you. If you want to get gardening-smart fast, and have fun doing it, I heartily recommend this to you. It is available both at local garden centers as well as online at Amazon.com or Ebay’s Half.com.
Buy one Professional Grade Gardening Tool
Tools that work really well and will last for many years makes gardening much more enjoyable. Choose one tool that gets regular use and buy the best your budget can afford. Candidates include spades, rakes, hoes, hoses, wheelbarrows and pruners. Higher quality items work better, and you’ll enjoy using them because they fit your hands better, and get the job done with less effort. In my case, I invested in a good pair of Felco pruners a couple of years ago. These Swiss pruners do a great job with a minimum of effort, and they cut very clean, which is better for the plants I use them on. There’s plenty of cheap pruners on the market. Avoid stamped steel models; they won’t last and you’ll have to replace them. By the time you buy two or three “budget” versions, you could have had the good one! The only problem I’ve had is they go missing from time to time. I solved that by giving my wife her own set this Christmas.
Complete One Community or Online Gardening Course
Horticulture is a fantastic pursuit for life-long learners — because there is always something more to learn and to become proficient. There’s plenty of opportunities to learn and make some like-minded friends right here in the Tooele Valley. The USU Extension will be offering it’s very popular Master Gardening course again beginning Thursday, Feb. 6. For more information on registration fees and to be put on the list, contact Patty Wheeler at the Extension office at 435-277-2409 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
In March, the Master Gardeners will be offering a Spring Gardening Expo, as well as Fruit Tree and Berry Pruning Demonstrations. There’s an incredible repository of gardening and horticultural information readily available from Utah State University. Visit their extension service website at extension.usu.edu to access the library or to sign up for newsletters or advisories on a variety of topics. I’ll also be doing public presentations on urban and compact gardening techniques at local nursery centers in the early spring. Watch for more information on those events right here in future articles.
Start Using a Gardening Journal
This simple act can do wonders for developing your “go to” list of vegetables, herbs and ornamentals. I’ve learned the hard way that no matter how much I think I’ll remember a particular plant cultivar (gardener lingo for “cultivated variety”), it gets crowded out by the time I need to recall what worked in previous seasons. Get in the good habit of jotting down specific plant variety planting dates, general weather conditions, sun exposure of where the planting was, pests and successful or unsuccessful controls, and general observations of results. You’ll get smarter year after year, and the whole experience will become even more pleasurable. Besides, a journal gives you a great way to brighten some cold, dark days just about the time “cabin fever” sets in late winter!
Get Good at Growing Another New Plant Every Year
Ask around or look up some online resources about the plant you’d like to try, and see what you can learn before proceeding. The goal is to find something successful and that you like and get to the place where you can dependably grow it from year to year. Last year, it was tomatillos for me. The upcoming season I’m adding a culinary hibiscus so I can make my own “Jamaica,” a tart, currant-like tasting beverage that I usually order when I have a meal at one of the Mexican food restaurants in town. Stretch out this year — try something new!