A gardener laments lessons hard won

If only I’d known.  How many times have we slapped our forehead at our gardening follies and mumbled that under our breath.  So today, I am paying homage to the lessons my garden has taught me.  

Soil is god. 

Healthy soil grows healthy plants.  So pay attention to your dirt, um, soil.  Feed it lots of organic matter:  compost, chipped leaves, grass clippings.  And be gentle with it.  Tilling destroys soil structure and harms the soil critters that make soil healthy.

Most bugs are good. 

Only one in ten insects is harmful. The rest are good guys that help control bad bugs.  And another thing.  The uglier the bug, the more beneficial it is.  Look up assassin bugs or cicada killer wasps.  Yikes.  

Assassin bug

Chemicals kill bugs good and bad. 

Most grab-and-go chemicals kill indiscriminately.  Do you really want to take out your allies? I think not. Choose less toxic organic products and do things like hand-picking and crop rotation to keep the bad boys at bay.

Right plant, right place. 

Placing plants where they can not only survive but thrive is smart.  Put a water-loving plant in hot, dry clay and it will die.  Guar-an-teed.  Find out what a plant needs and give it just that for great results.  Don’t tempt fate. 

Plant tags lie. 

Many plant tags have good information, but it goes only so far.  So, do a bit of research online or in a good gardening book to confirm what a plant needs as far as light, moisture, soil and space. 
My beautyberry is 4 feet wider and taller than its tag indicated.  

Respect frost dates. 

Yes, I know.  You want the first tomatoes on the block.  But if you plant them early and they get zapped, you have no tomatoes.  So wait to plant tender seedlings. Mid-May is good. Later is better if your area stays cooler longer.

Always lay garden rakes and pitchforks with the tines away and down. 

Enough said.  

Landscaping fabric is evil. 

Advertised as a weed block, this black devil mesh does nothing but give weeds something to sink their roots into.  Weeds grow both up and down through it.  You will spend half your life wrestling it out of your beds.  

Adopting sickly plants is a bad idea. 

There is a reason they look unwell.  Whether they have been watered too much or too little, baked or chilled, had too much or too little light, or beset by bugs or disease, avoid them.  Smart money is on the healthy plants.  

Impatiens with gray mold

What we do in our garden matters. 

From choosing organic bug controls to making compost, picking drought-tolerant plants to planting flowers for pollinators, every action we take has consequences.  Making earth-friendly choices makes our gardens and communities healthier. 

I hope the lessons my garden has taught me help you to avoid some pitfalls.  In gardening there are oh-so-many ways to get it right.  And wrong.  The fun is in the trying. 

By Annette Cormany, Principal Agent Associate and Master Gardener Coordinator, Washington County, University of Maryland Extension. This article was previously published by Herald-Mail Media. Read more by Annette.

2 Comments on “A gardener laments lessons hard won

  1. That’s a good list, but it unfortunately perpetuates the misconception that the only temperature that is important is frost. Certainly in autumn, frost and freezing are key to established plants, but not the key for all annuals and vegetables in spring. Their pain threshold is much higher up the scale. I express it as the difference between thrive and survive. While new plantings may not die with nights in 40s, but may go into zombie mode if not even become weakened and ill. Obviously I’m not commenting on the many cold hardy vegs like kale, peas, spinach, etc. I don’t plant tomatoes until nights are forecast to consistently be over 50, and peppers and eggplants at 55. Particularly given temp differences throughout the state, as well as swings yr to yr, it is much better to use the thermometer than dates for our cues.

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  2. So, so true about landscape fabric. It blocks weeds for exactly one season. I used it in a peony bed where I didn’t think I’d need to dig or move anything. That was years ago, the fabric is still there (I find it every time I cultivate or…..pull a weed) and so are weeds.

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