As we open the file on a new year, it's important to be aware that, while gardening is one of the most relaxing, stress relieving and rewarding of activities, we all need to move toward the realities of sustainability.
Sustainability means meeting the needs of the present without compromising the needs of future generations.
It also means being very creative and thoughtful in our use of all materials and plants.
Water use is, perhaps, the greatest issue. If we live in cities where water has restricted uses during hot summers, we need to be very resourceful.
Proper soil preparation with good moisture retaining materials is the first step. To ensure deep rooting, mulching with compost or `non-herbicided' grass clippings is a great way to conserve moisture, particularly around shallow rooted plants like rhododendrons, azaleas and many cedars.
The type of watering we do is also very important. Where practical, drip systems are, by far, the most efficient way to water containers, baskets and planters.
Soaker hoses are also key because they put water only at the root zones of plants and don't waste it through evaporation.
Hand watering with a hose end soft rain nozzle is also very efficient and effective.
Unless you have inground irrigation, lawns will require sprinklers, but here again there are more efficient models that help prevent overlapping onto driveways and sidewalks.
Even (luring the warmest summer weather, a sleep watering once a week will suffice, and it's also important to understand that, lawns can be allowed to turn brown without, any use of water over summer.
Water collection is also becoming more popular than ever before, and rain barrels placed at, the down spouts of eave troughs are perhaps the most efficient means of collecting clean water. If you keep the barrels closed, there is little danger of them becoming a breeding ground for mosquitoes.
There are lots of other techniques. to collect water, but the important thing is to recycle as much water as we can for our gardens.
Composting is an invaluable activity that can be used in so many ways. Small twigs, recyclable cardboard and newspaper can be composed along with grass clippings and other kitchen and garden waste.
To keep the decomposing material loose, with good air pockets throughout, be sure to build a `layer cake' of compost, adding soil to help separate potentially gooey, dense materials like wet grass and kitchen waste.
It will probably take about six months to breakdown your raw materials, so it's a good idea to keep a few composters going at the same time.
Composting is the ultimate form of recycling, and the results can be used beneficially almost anywhere in our gardens.
Nutrients are something we all need to consider more carefully. In the long run, organic nutrients are the best way to go because, if the right materials are used, the soil will ultimately replenish itself. It's a learned process that does not work quickly, but it provides great results both for short?; term crops, like vegetables and annuals, as well as long?term benefits for perennials, trees, shrubs and lawns.
Fortunately, a large selection of organic alternatives, for use both indoors and out, is available. They are a little more expensive and work more slowly, but the longterm results are beneficial for our soils and plants and for all of us.
Today, the word pesticide is treated like some evil alien, when in fact it really means something used to control pests that do serious damage to our plants.
We are finding more environmentally friendly alternatives for pest control, but keen observation and intelligent growing techniques are the very best controls.
It is true that healthy, well cared for plants are the least susceptible, but it also comes down to choosing plants wisely.
The philosophy of `right plant, right place' should be a guiding principle because this, more than anything else, will minimize pest damage.
A key factor today is the many new plants with a high tolerance to both insect and disease problems. From rustfiy resistant carrots and blight resistant tomatoes to blackspot and mildew resistant roses and scab free apples, there is a huge opportunity now to enjoy plants that have great pest tolerance.
The correct use of predatory insects and floating row covers make insect control far easier and more effective.
Organic acetic acid (vinegar) concentrates are becoming more effective at weed control, and fatty acid soaps are becoming more successful at controlling insects.
We're also getting better at feeding birds and attracting other wildlife, Like `good' bugs, that help us out with mosquitoes and many other annoying insects.
We are still going to need organic soils and soil additives to top up our gardens, but our carbon footprint should be minimal.
It takes surprisingly little effort to change the way we garden, but truthfully, it's time to become more sustainable.
Mother Earth will thank you