Keeping gardening resolutions

New Year Resolutions
1. Cut down on fertilizer use
2. Consider alternatives to pesticides
3. Plant more trees
4. Try something new

A new year brings new perspective to gardening, or at least the oppor­tunity to say you’re going to try something new and ­different. Or you may just make that resolution to keep plugging along the same way.

Gardening is one of those few joys that is ­different yearly. There are no identical years. Winter can be mild or seem like Hades is freezing over ­forever. Spring can arrive at the end of February, or stay ­hidden beneath a white blanket until April. And, when spring does arrive, she may draw it out like an opera singer’s note, or truncate it quickly allowing summer to take hold in a matter of weeks.

If you garden by the seat of your pants figuratively, your garden may suffer but you probably don’t fret that much. But, if you think through your planning and plantings, things tend to work out better. True, you may be fretting the season more and ­wringing your hands and sweating it out, ­figuratively and literally.

Gardening resolutions, like most, are easier to make than to keep, ­especially when gardening starts outdoors at least two to three months from January 1. It’s better off not making them and concentrating on some potential new gardening ­practices, if you can remember. If not, write them down and try to remember where you put them.

If you were to ask me, the following are four practices you should consider for 2017. Ideally, implementing them would be great.

1. Cut down on fertilizer use, or at least time and apply the fertilizer where it is the best.

We tend to equate fertilizer with food and growth. Plants can only take in so much so fast. While some of the excess may stay around, much of it moves through the soil profile and gets into the groundwater, or it could just wash away.

Slow-release or water-insoluble fertilizers break down slowly and stay around longer. They provide feeding bit by bit; so do compost and well-composted manures.

But more importantly, do you need the fertilizer? Are the plants ­growing enough? You will need fertilizer for annual vegetables and flowers.

And do you need every part of the fertilizer? A soil test can tell you if phosphorus and potassium are really needed. In many cases, they aren’t. Excess phosphorus can also wreak havoc with water supplies.

2. Think “do I really need to spray that pesticide?”

Decades ago, we walked bean fields in the summer. It was hot and crummy work, especially getting up at 5 a.m. to beat the heat. We pulled weeds out of lawns using a dandelion fork, which still makes one of the most glorious sounds as it does its job. We picked off rotting fruit.

In other words, think cultural and physical control options. Think about them strongly!

3. Can I plant more trees?

David Robson is Extension Specialist, Pesticide Safety for the University of Illinois. drobson@illinois.edu

Of course, the answer is always yes, though planting the trees may not occur in your yard. If you can plant them on your property, that’s great. If you have to plant them in a park, school yard, or someplace else, that’s okay.

Trees are the backbones of a ­landscape, but they also bring in lots of wildlife that can help control insects. They can cool the yard and house during the winter and shelter buildings from winter winds. They are an investment in the future, not the present.

4. Don’t be afraid to tear out ­something old and try something new.

Change can be hard, but it can bring so much unanticipated wonder. If it doesn’t work, well at least you tried something new in 2017.

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