By Kristina Valle
Fall is a logical time to reflect upon how your garden fared during the growing season. What went right, what went wrong, what lessons were learned? This season presented ample opportunity to learn some gardening lessons. Conditions tested even the most experienced gardeners and the most established gardens. Here are some of the problems I tackled this summer and some lessons learned.
First, spring didn’t just come early this year, it came and went in a flash. As the air warmed and hinted that winter was over, I, like other eager gardeners, welcomed the chance to get a jump on the season. I proceeded with caution though, as spring in Minnesota can often be unpredictable. Sure enough, weeks of early warming were followed by very cool temperatures.
Lesson re-learned -wait to put out those tender annuals and tomatoes.
With a couple of growing seasons under my belt, I felt well equipped to apply some proactive measures to my gardening skills this spring. In mid-April, I walked through my garden daily, watching for the buds of my crabapples to start waking up and make subtle changes each day as they neared full bloom. Last year, they bloomed on May 6th, but this year, they bloomed a week earlier. I wondered if this meant that the Japanese Beetles would emerge a week earlier as well, and sure enough, they did. Luckily, I had decided to net their favorite tree. Unfortunately, the crafty beetles improvised, turning their attention to the two other crabapples in my yard that they had ignored in previous seasons.
Lesson learned – have a plan. Timing is key and netting is a great option for smaller trees. Unfortunately, I didn’t have nets large enough for the more mature trees in the yard and will be taking alternative measures next spring to protect my crabapples. For more information on Japanese Beetles, please refer to my article on Japanese Beetles on the Dakota County Master Gardeners website.
I naively assumed that this season would mirror the previous year and that my biggest challenge, once again would be the Japanese Beetles. But as we eased into the summer months, weeding and taking general care of the garden, the family decided that it would be a good idea to adopt a new dog, giving our existing dog a new playmate. Good for the dog, not so good for the garden. We were not prepared for the destruction that she would bring down upon our yard and gardens. The new dog enjoyed digging, racing through mulched beds, leaping into hydrangeas and drinking from the birdbaths. Between the two dogs, we had a combined weight of 140 pounds barreling through the gardens.
Lesson learned – Sadly, dogs do not have the same respect for gardens as we do; however, there are a couple measures you can take to pet-proof your landscape: create a “living fence” of dense shrubs to protect more vulnerable plants, install fencing around a garden bed and finally, consider container gardening.
By June an unexpected and prolonged heatwave brought on a drought that stressed many lawns and gardens. I did my best to make sure that my plants were being watered adequately but frequent time away from home created pockets of neglect that became increasingly evident as the season progressed. Finally, at the end of August, the rain arrived. The lawn started to show signs of healing and flowers returned to their usual vigor. I had planned on having some new landscaping completed in August but it had been pushed back to September due to the hot, dry weather. By mid-September, after several days of good, soaking rain, new flowers beds were created, new trees were planted and some existing plants found more suitable places in the landscape.
Lesson learned – Don’t panic. Many lawn grasses will go dormant under drought conditions. The first time you notice your lawn showing signs of drought stress, provide deep, infrequent watering (being sure to adhere to any water restriction guidelines in your area). Mowing higher will allow better moisture retention for the soil. Finally, do not apply any fertilizer to lawns experiencing drought stress as this will create additional stress for your lawn. Once the rains return, you should notice that your lawn returns to life. For any areas that remain brown and dry, they are likely dead and will need to be reseeded with dormant seeding sometime from late October to mid-November.
As I look back at my experience over the past growing season, I know that I will have a lot to think about over the upcoming winter. But, honestly, I’m ready for winter, for a break from a season of troubleshooting, to give myself and my garden a rest. These days I am focusing on providing my gardens with water to get them ready for winter, removing dead plants, mulching and taking lots of pictures so I know what plants are what when they emerge in the spring (I always forget!).
In retrospect, it would be easy to say that my garden struggled this year, due in part to my own choices. For anyone else whose gardens didn’t quite live up to expectations this year, remember . . . “There are no gardening mistakes, only experiments.” – Janet Kilburn Phillips
Here’s to a winter filled with grand designs and a spring ready for our ambitions!