Reflections on the Gardening Year

It was the best of gardening years - it was the worst of gardening years. Happily, I vacationed in June before it got really hot, making watering correctly of critical importance in July and August. Our lawns were green and our gardens were lush, so many people asked me about watering.

First, I asked how they watered. I heard a variety of responses: "I water all my plants every day and my annuals still died." "I fertilized and watered all my plants and they still look terrible." "After this year, I may give up gardening altogether. I am so discouraged."

Good intentions do not make a garden. I water each bed about twice a week when the temperatures are high. I do it for about two hours with overhead sprinklers.

Several folks said they watered for 10 minutes each day! The problem is that water doesn't accumulate in soil as it does in a bucket. Water evaporates from soil and is pulled upward out of leaves by a process called transpiration.

What happens when gardeners don't water deeply is the development of shallow plant roots near the surface of the soil. When the soil dries out, so do the roots. In very hot weather, the damaged roots may not be able to regenerate (regrow) and the plants die.

Now, I don't want readers to say, "Carol Ann says to water for two hours, twice a week." I always stick my finger down into the soil or I dig a small hole to check how deep the water percolated.

This year I spent more time pruning. If I saw an overgrown plant, I cut it back. If there were browning leaves I cut them off. I pinched back annuals, reshaped perennials and yanked out a few poorly performing plants.

The result was reblooming catmint, transcendias, perennial geraniums, roses and annuals such as Marguerite daisies.

The mild winter did not kill back the summer flowering clematis and lavender. Usually, I cut them back nearly to the ground in the spring.

I wasn't sure whether or not to prune them back as far this year, so I did an experiment. I only cut off the dead branches of half the lavender but cut the rest of the plants back severely as I usually do.

The result? The lavender that was gently pruned became scraggly by mid-summer. The hard-pruned lavender was bushy.

I also did an experiment with the paired Polish clematis that grow on either side of a trellis. I cut one down to about six inches as I usually do after a normal WNY winter. I only removed the dead parts of the second one.

The result was that the unpruned clematis began to bloom about three weeks earlier than the pruned clematis but again got scraggly by early August.

The dahlias were magnificent this year. I promise to plant even more next year; there is an entire bed of them near my front door. They were planted in mid-June after the alliums finished and have bloomed continuously all season. All they ask for is water and the pruning of spent flowers.

Although I will dig up the tubers and store them for next year's garden, I really want to try growing some from seed. I will keep you posted on my venture next year.

I absolutely loved the heirloom tomatoes from the garden they were stunning and sweet. There were orange tomatoes, yellow, pear shaped, plum shaped, tiny, large and pointed.

Each of these Green Zebra, Emma, Oxacan Jewell, and Canistrino, traditional hybrids like Early Girl and Beefeater had its own unique taste.

Next year, I think I will purchase the hybrid tomatoes locally and experiment with trying out more heirloom tomatoes. And yes, for the first time, there were some plants with blossom end rot but that discussion is for another time.

It was a fun summer, and it's been a great year. I love hearing about your garden ventures, as well

Forever Young Magazine - October 2012