Q. How can I improve my gardening for next year?
A. Making the most of your gardening experience starts by repeating your successes and avoiding your mistakes. What is an easy way to improve your gardening performance? By keeping good records.
I agree that keeping records and storing them so you can find them again draws up images of laboring over piles and files, but the reality is much different. Garden record keeping can be done on a single tablet, calendar or computer.
By recording what happens in the garden, we can learn to avoid what went wrong and repeat what went right. This is where records play an important role in successful gardening. These records don't have to record every daily activity, but need to include a few important items. So during one of these cold December days, why not take a few moments to update your 2012 garden records and place them where you can find them next season.
What kind of records should you keep?
•The first item is to create a map of the garden and show what plants were planted where in 2012. This will allow you to properly rotate vegetables to reduce soil disease and nematode problems in 2013.
•Another important record is the pest control and fertilizer products applied over the season.
•Planting and harvest dates provide important information on when to begin soil preparation and when you can anticipate harvests for varieties you plant next season.
•Taking some notes on the varieties planted will help you select the best varieties for the next season. For vegetable varieties, note the days to harvest, general yield and eating quality.
Q. What can I do in the landscape this time of year?
A. Oklahoma provides a great place to live for gardeners. Our climate in Oklahoma allows us to get outdoors and garden year-round. While some may decry garden “chores,” true gardeners see garden tasks for what they are, a chance to get out of the house and enjoy some simple, invigorating activity.
Raking is one of those garden activities that many shy away from, but why should we? As we rake leaves, we get a great aerobic, low impact workout. The leaves we rake up can be added to a compost pile to make “garden gold.” Cool-season grasses, such as tall fescue or perennial rye go downhill quickly when leaves are left. Packed leaves not only kill small grass plants, but they weaken larger plants by blocking sunlight.
Watering is an important garden activity, even in the winter. During years with winter rainfall or snow, the watering is done for us. In dryer years, we need to provide water to newly planted shrubs and trees along with winter annuals like pansies. Check under building eaves more often, since less rain or snow falls in these areas.
Weeding is one of those garden tasks, that only gets harder when ignored. Ignoring weeds does not make them go away and weeds are much easier to remove when they are small. Small weeds can be removed by hand or with a sharp hoe. For larger weeds, you may want to try a long forked hand weeder when the soil is moist.
As you're doing some outdoor tasks, take time to enjoy the winter garden. For starters, evergreen plants provide foliage greenery. Holly and nandina shrubs have berries that add to foliage displays. Pansies provide flower color whenever the weather is mild.
Ray Ridlen is an agriculture/horticulture educator for the Oklahoma County Extension Service. His column addresses frequently asked horticulture questions. For more information, call 713-1125.