DALY: New Year’s resolutions for the garden

Tim Daly

A new year is upon us. Time flies by since it seems as though we were just beginning 2018. Many people make resolutions for the new year. The most common ones are to lose weight, get into better physical shape, and to improve the management of personal finances. The beginning of the new year is also an excellent time to make resolutions for your garden.

Here are some ideas:

Proper pruning practices are essential to keeping landscape plants healthy and attractive. Unfortunately, many homeowners fail to utilize the correct pruning procedure — for example, many butcher crape myrtles, which stress the plant and make them more susceptible to pests.

When pruning them during the winter, remove branches that are crisscrossing each other, those that are growing inwards towards the center, and the seed heads. If you have large evergreen shrubs, such as hollies, wait until March to prune them severely. If heavily cut back now, the plants will be barren through the rest of the winter and are at increased risk for cold damage.

Plants that produce their blossoms on old wood, such as azaleas and forsythia, should be pruned after they bloom, to avoid removing the flowers. If they bloom on the new growth, such as crape myrtles, most roses and many fruit trees, can be pruned in the winter before they produce flowers. Coniferous plants, such as junipers, Leyland cypress, and arborvitaes, should never be heavily pruned since they will not regenerate new growth from the old wood.

Utilize integrated pest management that employs a multitude of tactics that control pests. Sanitation is the process of removing old flowers, fruits, leaves and branches that fall to the ground where they serve as a reservoir for insects and diseases. Cover barren soil with a one to three-inch layer of a fine textured organic mulch such as pine straw, pine bark or cypress mulch. Have your soil tested through UGA Extension Gwinnett to ensure you apply the correct amount of fertilizer and adjust your soil’s pH.

Excessive amounts of fertilizer can make plants more vulnerable to pests. For example, many fungal diseases on lawn grasses increase if too much high nitrogen fertilizer is applied. Make sure you put the plants in the proper sites. For example, azaleas prefer part shade and will suffer in full sun, whereas roses need full sun and deteriorate in the shade. Also, the plant material should be adapted to our climate, USDA Plant Hardiness Zone 7b. Oleanders are shrubs that produce colorful flowers and are quite commonly planted along the Georgia Coast. However, they prefer zone 8, and our cold winters can damage or kill them.

Consider planting something new in your garden. Many unusual fruits and vegetables thrive in our area. Examples include Jerusalem artichokes, goji berries and Kiwi fruit grow in our climate. Many ornamental plants have unique characteristics. Many have colorful leaves, such as the coral bells or Heucheras, with varieties having dark purple, caramel and light green foliage. As mentioned in my article a couple of weeks ago, seed catalogs and websites offer many ideas on new and different plants that will enhance the beauty of your garden.

Consider making some resolutions for your garden for the new year. The UGA Extension Gwinnett 2019 annual plant sale is underway. Many excellent plants are available at affordable prices. Choices include blueberries, gardenias, ferns, goji berries, and many others. To obtain an order form, one can be downloaded from the Extension website at www.ugaextension.org/gwinnett, or you can have one mailed to you by contacting the Extension office.

Timothy Daly is Agricultural and Natural Resource Agent with the UGA Extension Gwinnett. He can be reached at 678-377-4010 or tdaly@uga.edu