Gardening resolutions for 2018

It’s January and New Year’s resolutions abound. We humans vow to improve everything from bad habits to our diets.

Not surprisingly, there are resolutions we can make to improve our yards and gardens as well. I’ve made a quick list of a few things gardeners can do that will not only benefit their own yards, but will help the environment too. With limited space, I won’t go into detail, but plenty of additional information is readily available from Clinton County’s Master Gardeners at Penn State Extension.

Make your lawn a little smaller and take a more environmentally friendly approach to maintaining it. We Master Gardeners sometimes refer to large perfect-looking lawns as “green deserts” because they offer little in the way of food and shelter for pollinators and wildlife, yet they consume valuable resources such as gas and oil for the mower, fertilizer, water, pesticides, and time to maintain.

Fertilizer runoff is a significant problem in bodies of water and a considerable amount of that runoff comes from residential lawns. Don’t lime or fertilize your lawn unless it needs it. You can find out what, if anything, is needed by getting a soil test. They’re available at the Extension office.

Raise your mower blade to a higher setting. Allowing the grass to grow taller can help improve overall lawn health and allow it to naturally overshadow some weeds.

Many environmentally conscious gardeners have stopped bagging grass clippings, allowing them to remain on the lawn, decompose, and return some of the nutrients back to the soil.

Tips for maintaining a healthy lawn are available at http://plantscience.psu.edu/research/centers/turf/extension/home-lawns.

Make and use compost. Instead of placing items such as fruit and vegetable peels, leaves, and garden debris in the trash where they will take up valuable landfill space, you can compost them and use them to improve the soil in your yard or garden. Composting is easy, free, and an excellent way to enhance poor soil, especially the heavy clay soil that is so common here in Central Pennsylvania.

Reduce your use of plastic bags. Plastic waste is showing up in our oceans and lakes, along roadways, on playgrounds, and nearly everywhere. In addition to being an eyesore, it can be toxic to wildlife. Pick up some re-usable shopping bags and keep them in your car. If you’re like me, you may forget to bring them into the store with you the first few times, but with a little effort, you can make the change. The amount of plastic you can eliminate is significant. It’s not uncommon to end up with more than half a dozen plastic bags from one trip to the grocery store. Multiply that by 52 weeks, and by the end of 2018 you have eliminated over 300 bags. Imagine the difference we could make if everyone did that.

Reduce your use of pesticides. We’re learning that many pesticides are over-used or not used according to label directions, and the results can be very harmful to beneficial insects such as pollinators. Could you be part of the problem? Set a goal to learn more about pesticides and their alternatives in 2018.

In addition to information available through Penn State, the Xerces Society describes some of the things gardens can do at: https://xerces.org/wings-archive/neonicotinoids-in-your-garden/

Incorporate native perennials, trees, and shrubs into your landscape to support pollinators and other wildlife. Here in Central Pennsylvania we have some especially beautiful natives that can be used to enhance the beauty of our backyards while at the same time helping to sustain the pollinators that are critical to our human food supply.

You can talk with Clinton County Master Gardeners about these and other gardening topics at the annual Garden Sense Symposium which is scheduled for Jan. 20 and 27 at the Penn State Extension office in Clinton County. Registration, complete details and descriptions of all eight workshops are available at https://extension.psu.edu/garden-sense-symposium. I hope to see you there.

Wishing you plenty of sunshine, just enough rain, and a healthy garden in 2018.

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Debra Burrows, PhD, is a retired Penn State Extension educator. She can be reached at dcb3@psu.edu.

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