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Departing with reminder of best gardening practices

Posted: August 26, 2012 - 12:13am

I knew this day would come: the day that I would write my last column. Over the years, I have been encouraged by the many comments have received. I would like to thank my readers for their suggestions and feedback.

When I started this column in 2007, the majority of my writing focused on some basic practices that needed to be done to have success with plants. So, I am going to leave you with these six practices.

1: Take a soil sample. You didn’t think a retired county agent would leave out soil sampling, did you? A soil sample indicates what nutrients are in the soil and eliminates guessing about how much fertilizer plants need.

2: Proper irrigation. Eighty percent of plant problems are because of too much water. Most plants need 1 inch of water per week to grow and do well, preferably applied at one time. This is called deep watering. Deep watering encourages a deep root system and is for shrubs, trees and lawns. Also, don’t water turfgrass until the grass starts turning a blue-gray color. When the grass wilts it causes the root system to grow deeper, looking for water.

3: Proper plant selection. Choose plants adapted to our area. A good plant book will show the plant zone that we live in – zone 7A or 8B. Also, choose the plant for the conditions that it will be growing in. Is the area in full sun, partial shade, full shade, a wet area or a dry area? Put plants that have the same water needs in the same irrigation zone.

4: Plant properly and at the right time. When planting a shrub or a tree, dig a planting hole that is two to four times larger than the root ball. Don’t plant it too deep. The root ball of the plant needs to be level with the top of the hole or slightly above it. When planting bare-root plants there is a soil line on the plant. Plant it at that depth. Large plants and trees need an earthen berm around them to hold water around the root system. After four to six weeks, pull down this berm. The berm should be pulled away so soil is not added on top of the root system. The best time to plant shrubs and trees is in the fall and early winter so they can establish a root system before the heat of the summer. Also, make sure to plant summer annuals after the last chance of frost. Warm-season turf grasses such as Bermuda and centipede should be planted in early May while cool-season grasses such as rye grass need to be planted in October. Warm-season vegetables should be planted as soon as possible after the last frost to allow them to grow and produce before insect populations build up.

5: Use mulch around plants. I know I have often talked about mulching plants, but this is one of the best things that can be done for plants. Mulch helps conserve soil moisture, keep soil cool, keep the soil from compacting and helps control weeds. Plants that have been properly mulched don’t get as stressed as those that have not. The proper amount of mulch is 3 to 4 inches in the bed area. Annual flowers need mulch 2 inches deep. Mulch beds around trees need to be increased in size as the tree grows. Don’t form tree volcanoes by increasing the depth of the mulch on the trunk of the tree. This does more harm than good.

6: Practice integrated pest management (IPM) principals. The basic thought behind IPM is to use cultural and mechanical practices to have healthy plants and to use pesticides as a last resort. These cultural practices include proper fertilization and watering and creating an environment that increases beneficial insect populations, such as planting flowers. Proper pruning and mowing increase the health of a plant. Mechanical practices include hand-picking harmful insects from plants and using traps or trap crops to trap insects.

Another principal of IPM is threshold levels. It takes a certain amount of insects or weeds before there is a decrease in yields or plant appearance. Positive pest identification informs the best control options. Lastly, read the pesticide label and follow all safety instructions.

Again, thank you for the support you have given me over the years – and happy gardening.

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