The 2013 gardening season will begin soon . My house will be dirty. Meals will be late. I will have permanently stained hands. I will ache all over. Email will go unanswered. I can't wait.

And neither can you! Let's take some time today to prepare for the season ahead. Ready? Make a list of the more expensive items that you feel you must have for your garden. I am assuming you don't have unlimited funds. Make it something special,perhaps a garden arbor, a special tool, materials for a new pathway. Research it online, in magazines, at gardening seminars. Now purchase the one that is the best (for you).

It is never too early or too late to improve your soil. If you didn't mulch your autumn leaves and they are simply matted together on your beds you can rake them out and run over the leaves with a lawn mower. Now put them back in the beds. The leaves will suppress weed growth. Earthworms will thank you. Well actually the worms will eat the leaves and take them down into the soil where they will do some good. You have just amended your soil and it only cost you some time.

Are you walking on your garden? Try to work on your gardens from outside. Place stepping stones or pathways in larger gardens so you don't have to walk on the soil which only compacts it. Pressing down on the soil destroys air pockets which are needed for water to percolate down to the roots of the plants. Plus your added weight destroys roots and seedlings (weeds too actually) that are trying to get to the surface for light.

Have you tested your soil recently? At least consider learning its pH, the degree of acidity or alkalinity of your soil. This little piece of information can decide the ultimate success of the plants you put in your garden.

Plan to add some shrubs to your garden. They may require some periodic tidying up but it is only once or twice a year. They provide green or winter interest when not in bloom. Shrubs give more "bang for the buck" than other plants as they become permanent garden residents.

Flowering shrubs also add color, texture, and fragrance to the landscape. Many attract birds, butterflies or bees with their blossoms, nectars or fruits. To thrive in western New York, flowering shrubs' cold-hardiness must fall within the U.S. Department of Agriculture's plant hardiness zone 6b. Native shrubs, or plants that have grown in North America since before European settlement, often require less maintenance. A shrub to consider includes American holly (Ilex opaca),native to the eastern U.S. It grows to 12 feet tall. American hollies have spiney, evergreen foliage and produce white flowers followed by red berries. They prefer full sun to partial shade and moist, acidic, well-drained soil. If your soil is acid you might also consider Kalmia latifolia or mountain laurel, another native species. This evergreen shrub grows slowly to 15 feet with a 5-foot spread. Mountain laurels produce clusters of pink flowers and have dark, lustrous leaves. They prefer sun to partial shade and moist, well-drained soil. The buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis), a relative of coffee,is another native. It grows from 6 to 10 feet tall and blooms from spring to summer with aromatic, white flowers. It prefers full sun and moist to wet soil and attracts pollinators.

Forever Young Magazine - April 2013