The Compleat Home Gardener

"New Year's resolutions are made to be broken in the garden, but perhaps learning from the failures of others will help beginning gardeners avoid the mistakes of their horticultural buds. As the garden sleeps in early January, make a few notes to carry you through the spring and summer. Compiling the most common garden goofs into a general list wasn't easy, but try to avoid these bloopers: 1. No pruning before blooming. Many beginning gardeners feel the urge to tidy the overgrown rhododendrons and azaleas in early spring, usually the first sunny day of March. Wrong. Pruning the tips off of spring-blooming shrubs early in the season means you'll be sacrificing blooms by cutting off all the flower buds. Wait until after the overgrown rhododendrons or spindly azaleas bloom before giving them a haircut. 2. Weed and Feed is wasted if used too early. Many lawn weed killers that are mixed with fertilizers and known as weed and feed products won't do the job if applied in early spring when the weather is cool. You could also waste your money if these granular products are used just before a rainfall. Read and follow the label instructions exactly. Many herbicides need temperatures above 65 degrees for optimal effectiveness. Some weed killers also interfere with the germination of grass seed so avoid reseeding the lawn and applying weed killers at the same time. Also remember studies confirm that garden pesticides are leaching into our water supply. 3. Slugs are sneaky. I always hear tales of horror about disappearing seedlings and new bedding plants devoured overnight. New gardeners are the most susceptible to these sneak attacks. You might not see slugs in your garden, but that doesn't mean they aren't there. They feed inconspicuously on shrubs and decaying matter unnoticed for years. Then, a gardener adds a bit of color to the world and plants a few marigold seeds or brings home a flat of petunias. Instantly the slugs of the neighborhood are mobilized into feeding squadrons. Buy slug bait (Worry Free is a brand safe for children and pets) when you buy new plants and use it when you plant seeds into the ground. 4. A wilting plant doesn't always need more water. Your potted poinsettia is a good example. The leaves wilt a bit and instinctively you add water. Now the plant wilts more and starts to drop leaves. Most of us have made the common mistake of drowning the plant with still more water. This only speeds the death of a plant suffering from root rot or poor drainage. No matter if its a hanging basket, container garden, or newly planted tree or shrub feel the soil before adding more water. 5. Beware of invasive plants. Too much of a good thing can be suffocating - especially to nearby plants. English ivy wins the vote as the plant mistake most folks want to warn fellow gardeners about. This clinging vine will smother trees and shrubs, destroy the wood siding on homes and crowd out spring bulbs and summer annuals. The smaller leaved, variegated ivies are less invasive but can still get carried away. Other problem plants are St.Johnswort, wild violets, wood hyacinths, grape hyacinths and honeysuckle. What else made the list of most common garden mistakes? Planting trees and large shrubs too close to the house, using fresh, weed-filled manure on garden beds, mowing the lawn too short during a hot spell, getting dormant oil spray or granulated fertilizers on cement surfaces and the resulting stains, planting too many zucchini, and using lime or wood ashes around the base of acid-loving rhododendrons. The nicest thing about gardening is that dead plants cannot be considered mistakes. They are just fodder for the compost pile and trial and error learning experiences. Besides, if plants never died, you wouldn't have room to add more. Marianne Binetti has a degree in horticulture from WSU and is the author of Easy Answers for Great Gardens and several other books. For book requests or answers to gardening questions, write her at P.O. Box 872, Enumclaw, Wash. 98022. Send a SASE for a personal reply. "

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