Turn over a new Leaf

With 2017 officially here, now is as good a time as any to make some New Year’s resolutions that can improve your green thumb.

The start of a new year is a time when many of us resolve to make some changes and do things better in the year to come. If you are like most people, you might be thinking about ways to become healthier and more fit.

So, why not consider doing the same for your garden (and in the process, the environment too)?

“To be healthy, your garden needs basic care just like you do. This includes getting nutrients and a healthy diet in the form of nicely amended soil and a well-balanced fertilizer, a good dose of sunshine, fresh air, and it needs to be kept hydrated.” (Judi Gerber (University of California) Master Gardener, with a certificate in Horticultural Therapy) The simplest way to provide all of this is to start with a simple plan of action and then stick with it throughout the year.”

With that in mind, here are some gardening resolutions that will help you build a healthier, happier garden, as well as to work more in harmony with nature (“Green gardening”), giving special attention and mention to the role of shade trees in the garden:

This year resolve to:

1. Garden Plan: Create a garden plan so that you will know ahead of time what needs to be done and when. - this way, when you go buy plants, fertilizer etc., you will know exactly what you need to buy, no more or no less.

2. Improve the Soil: Never ever forget about the soil since soil is the number one key to a healthy garden. Learn what needs to be done to amend your soil so your plants get a healthy start. Consider making your own compost from kitchen scraps (like vegetable waste). Compost enriches soil fertility by giving it a shot of high-powered plant-loving nutrients. Aside from stimulating root development, the addition of compost to the soil, also improves soil texture, aeration, and water retention. So, start throwing on the pile!

3. Water Wise: By adopting a few smart-watering habits, you will do your part in “Water wise gardening”: Adding mulch or compost to your soil will retain water and cut down evaporation. Watering in the mornings will minimize evaporation from winds. And remember that the best place to drench your plants, are directly on their roots.

4. Choose the location: Always plant the right plant in the right location. If you select the wrong plant for a particular location you could end up with a constant maintenance problem. Always remember that different plants have different requirements. Some prefer more sun, some shade, some can tolerate wind and some can’t.

5. Go indigenous: When choosing plants for your garden, consider native plants. Already adapted to local conditions, indigenous plants are easy to grow and maintain, generally requiring less fertilizer and water, as well as less effort to rein in pests. Consider these indigenous plants (in flower this month): Agapanthus, Leucospermum sp., Gazania and Felicia amelloides.

6. Provide Shade: Strongly consider planting shade trees in the garden. Some of the advantages of shade trees: Trees alter the environment in which we live by moderating climate, improving air quality, conserving water, and harboring wildlife. Aimed specifically on summer (and the heat that comes with it): remember that the temperature in the vicinity of trees is cooler than that away from trees and by using trees in the cities, we are able to moderate the heat-island effect caused by pavement and buildings.

Consider the following indigenous trees to provide shade in the hot summer months: Harpephyllum caffrum (Wild plum); Fevertree (Acacia xanthophloea); Natal mahogany (Trichellia emetic) Celtis fricana (White Stinkwood)

Some more hardy, drought resistant shade trees suitable and well adapted to our climate, to choose from: Celtis sinensis; London plane (Platanus x acerifolia)

7. Look after the ecosystem in your garden: Insects in the garden are commonly perceived as something to be avoided or eliminated, for the damage they cause by eating plants. In reality, while there are a few garden thugs to be alert for, the vast majority of insects are in fact beneficial to the garden. They are important pollinators and serve as an important food source for birds and small mammals. Butterflies in particular are always welcome guests, but many other insects can be equally beautiful or fascinating, if seen in the right light. Of course, insects often eat plants, but usually the damage is cosmetic and minor. If you do need to control an infestation, opt for environmentally friendly and organic options.

8. Fun and Joy: Finally, resolve to never forget why you chose to garden in the first place: to have fun and enjoy your garden, and remember that the benefits of gardening are well documented in research: It relieves stress, improves your heart and flexibility, promotes deeper sleeping, help children develop social and intellectual skills and much, much more!

Happy gardening!

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