8 farewell tips from a retired gardening columnist



Farewell, gardener friend. After almost 30 years of sharing my gardening experience, expertise and enthusiasm in the columns of The Associated Press, I have decided to direct my time and energy in other directions.

Thank you for joining me because, depending on the season, I have selected varieties of tomatoes to grow, pruned mums for better flowering, or highlighted the darker side of the mistletoe.

You might be a new gardener. Maybe an experienced one. My goal has been to guide, entertain and, above all, share the joys of gardening with you.

I’d like to end by giving you eight suggestions for making your garden – whether it’s a few flower pots, a large vegetable patch, or a general home landscape – prettier, more productive, and more enjoyable to maintain.

• Suggestion # 1: An important part of good gardening can be summed up in two words: organic matter. Fall leaves, compost, sawdust, kitchen scraps, that is, materials that are or have lived on, are all organic matter. Added to the soil, it promotes a healthy balance of beneficial soil microorganisms that help control plant pests and nourish plants. Organic matter also improves soil aeration and moisture retention.

• Suggestion # 2: Did an insect or disease destroy your zinnias or another plant last summer? Do not panic ! Aphids, scab fungi, and other pests are part of the natural world, and they can be part of what makes gardening worthwhile. Tolerate a certain amount of damage. Your plants can. Japanese beetles may eat away some of the leaves on your rose, but the plant compensates by increasing photosynthesis in the remaining portions. Find out exactly what the problem is, how and where it lives, and all possible ways to deal with it before you act. When a spray is needed – and a spray should be a last resort – follow exactly the directions for the best effect with minimum impact on non-target organisms.

• Suggestion # 3: Have faith in Mother Nature and try to follow her example. She’s been working there for a long time. A seed that has fallen in a furrow in the ground really wants to grow. Bare soil is subject to erosion and large temperature variations. Nature dresses and protects the bare soil with plants (weeds); you can do this with crop plants or mulch. The natural habitat of Blue Flag Iris and Cardinal Flower is moist soils; that of the purple echinacea and the flaming star is dry soils. Plant the site accordingly.

A mixed garden of vegetables, flowers, herbs and fruits can appeal to all the senses.
– courtesy of Lee Reich via AP

• Suggestion # 4: Keep written notes and pictures of what you have done each year. You can then learn better from your mistakes. There is no end to what you can learn about gardening, unless you forget what you did and what the result was. Thomas Jefferson, a very good gardener, wrote: “Although an old man, I am a young gardener. He kept good written records but, of course, no photos.

• Suggestion # 5: Don’t get caught up in preconceived ideas. Let me give three examples.

a) “Weeding is no fun.” Weeding is nice if the weeds don’t get out of hand. One way to keep them in tow is to hoe regularly. Or with mulching. Or by not plowing. Plowing exposes the weed seeds buried in any soil to light, just what they need to germinate. Over 30 years ago, I gave up the annual ritual of plowing the soil, and now regular weeding only takes me a pleasant few minutes every few days.

b) “Flowers have their place in a flower garden.” The flowers in your vegetable garden will beautify it and attract beneficial insects. The vegetable garden doesn’t need to look like a vegetable factory. A prettier vegetable garden is more inviting, for your sake and that of your plants. Besides, there is no reason why vegetables should be confined to the kitchen garden. Eggplants, peppers, rainbow chard: they’ll all spice up your flower bed.

c) “I need an orchard to grow fruit.” Not if you incorporate fruit plants into your landscape. Many fruit trees are decorative in their own right. In fact, some, like the junkie, the carnelian and the Nanking cherry, are mostly cultivated for their beauty, without it being known that the tasty fruits hanging between the branches are edible.

• Suggestion # 6: Look for reliable sources when you have a gardening question. When I need solid information online, I include “site: edu” or “site: gov” in searches, which call up university or government sites, respectively. Of course, they are not always 100% correct, but 99% is enough for me. There are other sites with good information, of course, but it takes more finesse and knowledge to tell the good from the bad.

• Suggestion # 7: Grow a wide variety of plants, especially edible plants. Years ago, a confluence of conditions in the northeast resulted in late blight disease, which devastated many tomato plants of gardeners and farmers. Mine too! But that year I still picked a lot of peppers, sweet corn, kale, and all kinds of other vegetables and fruits.

• Suggestion # 8: Be careful not to let flashy catalogs or websites, or the first warm breezes of spring, tempt you to plant too much. It is a difficult suggestion to follow. I’m still plagued with over-planting (although I rationalize that my plantings are also for workshop and demonstration purposes). When visitors admire the abundance of my garden, especially vegetables and fruits, I tell them half-jokingly, “Don’t do this at home! Not that much, at least.

A mixed garden of vegetables, flowers, herbs and fruits can appeal to all the senses.

A mixed garden of vegetables, flowers, herbs and fruits can appeal to all the senses.
– courtesy of Lee Reich via AP

Go forward

While I won’t be writing gardening for the PA anymore, I’m not giving up my hoe, my trowel, my whole garden. I am planning new fruit, vegetable and ornamental plantings, and editing some of my existing plantings by cutting a few papayas, planting a screen with layers of rhododendrons, arborvitae and winter berries, in laying another stone wall behind which to grow lingonberries and dwarf candy box, and so on.

My gardening is something like my writing. I make a draft, then edit it over and over again.

I’m not giving up writing either. Every week I post a blog (www.leereich.com/blog). Come visit me there, where the vagaries of the weather and the weeds, a flower that caught my eye, a particular aroma, or the unfolding of the flowers or the ripening of the fruits might dictate what I write.

I have to go now. The garden beckons. Yes, even in December!

• Lee Reich has written on gardening for the Associated Press for almost 30 years. He is the author of several books, including “Growing Figs in Cold Climates”, “The Pruning Book” and “Weedless Gardening”. He blogs at www.leereich.com/blog. He can be contacted at [email protected]



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