Gardening resolutions for new year

MCCLATCHY-TRIBUNE NEWS SERVICEJanuary 9, 2014 

I stopped making New Year’s resolutions years ago. Like most people, we have the best of intentions in sticking with them. Yet, sooner or later, some or all have been broken and we’re back to where we started. However, I’m happy to say that when it comes to sticking to certain commitments in my gardening and horticultural practices, I’ve managed to do very well.

For this and the following week, I offer some actions for your consideration that I’ve been doing myself for years. I find them easy to start and maintain, emotionally satisfying, and tangibly rewarding. I hope you will take the challenge too. It’s good for you, your garden, and the environment.

• Compost more: If you’ve read my column for even a few weeks, you already know I’m a huge fan of compost. It’s nature’s multivitamin for soil and all that grows from it. I’ve written plenty on the many benefits. But what I want to implore everyone to do starting right now, even in winter, is make your own compost. It’s free, it’s easy and it’s better than any store-bought soil amendment or fertilizer.

The No. 1 reason most people don’t compost is that they don’t know how to get started. Here’s a tip to help. If it came from the earth, compost it. That includes anything from your yard and garden — with the exception of diseased plants. From inside the house, food scraps (but no meat, grease or dairy products), paper products, even lint from the dryer. Find a place in your yard, perhaps a back corner and just start a pile. It’s literally that easy. No fancy equipment, no special bins — just a pile. Yes, there are infinite systems and setups you can buy or make. I’ve tried them all. Contained systems may keep everything looking a little neater or out of sight, but I don’t find any other advantages over an open heap.

• Use fewer chemicals: One of my main garden mantras is to feed the soil and let the soil feed the plants. Synthetic fertilizers are like junk food for your plants. Sure, your plants will love them, and they work very well. But, there’s no long-term value. Plus the runoff can cause residual harm to amphibious creatures and watersheds, while excess buildup of salt-based synthetics can create adverse effects in your soil. Instead, focus on adding nutrients to the soil in the form of organic matter (such as compost, shredded leaves, wood mulch, worm castings, etc.). Not only will it provide important nutrients, but the health and quality of the soil will be greatly improved too.

Pesticides, although effective at dealing with the immediate problem, have many unintended consequences that harm beneficial insects (including honeybees), wildlife and even humans in certain cases. Alternatively, lay off the pesticides, be more proactive yourself in manual controls, bring more beneficial insect-inviting plants and flowers into your garden and let Mother Nature do your pest control instead. I don’t use any pesticides in my garden, and thanks to a diverse landscape, any occasional problems that come up are easy to control naturally.

• Wildlife-attracting plants: One of the biggest keys to a healthy garden and landscape is to create an environment that’s attractive to insects and birds that help pollinate your garden and fight pests too. Plus, there’s no denying that a yard full of birds, butterflies and bees is not only incredibly entertaining, it’s a great testament to that fact that you’ve created a safe zone for the creatures that will help keep your garden thriving naturally.

Knowing what plants and flowers to add varies depending on where you live. There is a wealth of information online and in books to help you know what native plants and flowers will work best for your area. There’s even specific information depending on exactly what you’d like to attract if you have a particular preference.

Next week, I’ll close out this list with more important considerations I hope you’ll adopt into your outdoor routine soon. There’s no time like the present, especially when they’re so easy to implement.

Joe Lamp’l, host of “Growing a Greener World” on PBS, is a Master Gardener and author. For more information visit www.GrowingAGreenerWorld.com.

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