The Eyes Have It.
By Charlie Thigpen
I think the most essential tool used while gardening isn’t gloves, pruners, or even a hand trowel. If you want to be a really good gardener, the eyes are as essential to gardening as the tools in your shed. What do you see when you look at your garden? Are your plants green and healthy-looking? Are they planted straight, or are they crowded or leggy? If they are all leaning in one direction, they are probably reaching for the sun and don’t receive enough light. Watch your plants and begin to study them; they will show you what they need, and you will learn as you watch them grow.
Read Plant Labels
Before you ever plant an annual, herb, perennial, shrub, or tree, you should know something about it. Plant tags can be very informative. If plants don’t have tags, you can look them up online, for there are many websites full of plant descriptions and growth habits. Of note: Plant tags for shrubs and trees tend to err on the side of conservative estimates for growth and height, figuring on about 5–7 years of growing time. If you want to keep them in place longer, you should plan and plant for larger growth.
Stand Back and Look
When setting out plants in the landscape and in containers, place them, and then step back and look at the way they’re positioned. Getting a visual of the big picture before planting might just save some time replanting what’s not right. Did you know that there is usually a front and backside of a plant? When planting shrubs, look for this, and if any are flat-sided, plant toward the backside of the beds, where they will be unseen. When planting trees, always check to see if they are straight before packing soil around them. It’s hard to reposition a crooked tree once it has been planted and watered.
Watch Plants Daily
If you watch your plants each day, you will begin to detect issues that may need attending to, and you can prevent bug infestations and diseases. Plants that should be deep green but have a yellowish cast can be deficient in nutrients, or they might have red spider mites. You can actually rub your fingers across a leaf and feel a very light, gritty substance covering the leaf, or you can look at leaves with a magnifying glass and see tiny webbing when spider mites are present. Spider mites can be controlled by spraying plants with warm, soapy water or with neem oil. Plants that are deficient in nutrients can be given a boost with a little fertilizer.
On some of the first few hot days of spring and summer, new plants wilt in the middle of the day. If the soil or root ball is moist, it doesn’t need water. It simply can’t take up enough water to support it as it transpires. These plants should be fine. However, if a plant wilts early in the morning or late in the afternoon, before the sun rises or sets, it probably needs water (but always check the soil first.) Birmingham’s heavy clay soils often retain water, and plants can easily be killed from standing in water if the drainage is poor.
Be sure to use the most important gardening tool when you get out in the landscape. Train your eyes to see the good and the bad in your garden. Appreciate the beauty, but don’t forget to correct any problems that can be remedied. Don’t forget the eyes have it, and they can help take your garden to the next level.
Originally posted on Tuesday, April 1st, 2014 at b-metro.com