Southern Gardening: Consider these garden resolutions

The brand-new year is the perfect time to make gardening resolutions.
My job at Mississippi State University’s Coastal Research and Extension Center in Biloxi gives me the opportunity to answer a lot of questions and solve many garden problems. Based on this experience, here’s my list of resolutions Mississippi gardeners can make to be more successful in the new year.

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1) Planting: Competitive gardeners — and this includes me — want to have the first tomato in the neighborhood. This usually means putting transplants out in the garden a full month before the last frost date. Don’t do it. Plant according to the frost dates for your area. You may not have the first tomato, but you won’t have to replant, either.
2) Starting: Transplants are thought to be expensive, so many gardeners start their own seeds. This can result in disappointment and no transplants. Seedlings get leggy when grown inside without sufficient light. Unless you use grow lights, buy transplants from your favorite garden center.
3) Rotating: Every year, I get calls from gardeners asking why their tomatoes looked good one day and the next they have wilted to nothing. Mississippi has a high incidence of bacterial wilts that result from planting in the same spots year after year. Grow your tomatoes in a new spot in the garden each year to help this situation.
4) Discarding: This idea is for those gardeners who grow their own seedlings and often have extras. We don’t have the heart to just throw them away, so we end up planting them. This results in more work on hot summer days and takes a lot of the fun out of the garden. Consider making new friends by giving the extras to your neighbors.
5) Weeding: Weeds compete with garden plants for light, water and fertilizer. Once established, they are a lot of work to remove. Try to weed your garden on a regular basis. I like using a hula hoe to easily remove small weed seedlings.
6) Feeding: You have to fertilize your plants to have a good harvest. Get your soil tested and follow the recommendations. You will not be sorry.
7) Watering: You can’t rely on Mother Nature to supply enough water for your garden. Get in the habit of watering on a daily basis, preferably in the morning. If you don’t want to stand out there with a hose, there are inexpensive irrigation kits available at home improvement centers.
8) Preserving: Enjoying fresh vegetables is a gardener’s dream, but there are times when the harvest is just too much. Extend the harvest into the cold winter months by preserving your bounty. The MSU Extension Service offers advice on how to do so safely.
9) Sharing: If you don’t want to preserve your bountiful harvest, take the excess to your local soup kitchen or food pantry to share with the less fortunate. You may be able to make a little money by selling the extras at a local farmers’ market. Either way, always call ahead to see if there are any restrictions on what you can offer.
10) Recycling: Build a compost pile and always put used plant material and other organic wastes on the pile. Next year, add this black gold to your garden and start the cycle all over again.
If you follow these resolutions I can almost — notice I said almost — guarantee you’ll have more fun in the garden this year.

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