Happy New Year and welcome to 2012. It is hard to believe that 2011 is over. Today marks the traditional start of the news year's resolution. One that should be considered is "to do better" at those things which are completed each year. Not only can this resolution make it to the end of the year but it improves as the year moves on, providing a sense of accomplishment as it is attained.
Remember that yard and garden soil is the basic building block of all things that grow. With an excellent soil, roots will grow easily providing a healthier plant which is better able to withstand disease, drought and insect damage. If a soil test has shown a good soil then work on not damaging it. Do not drive on a wet lawn or till when a garden is wet. If the soil needs organic matter then add compost, rice hulls or ground up leaves. If the soil test showed a high level of one or more nutrients then make sure not to add those high nutrients to the soil in spring. Purchase only the nutrient that is needed, such as nitrogen, instead of a complete fertilizer which contains nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium.
Another winter task that can be started in the garden is weed control. If Bermuda is the dominant grass in the yard then apply glyphosate in January to any grasses or weeds that are green in the Bermuda stand to achieve uniformity. This can be done again in February before applying a pre-emergent in early March.
Planning ahead for the year, especially when planting a garden should be a top priority now. Decide what will go where, what problems from 2011 might show up in 2012, what plants need to be removed because of disease or overcrowding and plan when to tackle those issues. If the lawn was thin then a priority will be to seed in spring and fertilize to create a dense stand of turf. If weeds were the biggest issue in 2011, then concentrate on eliminating them in 2012. Pest issues that occurred last year will likely show up again this year. Expect to see the same problems on ornamental plants an d look for them ahead of time. If an insect issue can be found and controlled before the population becomes high then plants will be better off. If diseases were present last year then prepare for them this season by using preventative spray, planting in full sun or using varieties that resist disease.
Pruning can be an important part of yearly maintenance for ornamental trees and shrubs. Even ornamental grasses need to be cut or burned down for proper care. The best time to prune is in February. Start on shrubs, move to trees and finish with ornamental grasses. When cutting trees and shrubs begin with broken branches and stems, then cut any diseased canes or limbs. Once finished with this take a look at the shape of the plant. Never remove more than 30% of the plant. If the 30% mark has not been reached then prune for shape. Remove any stems or branches that turn inward. This will open up the plant and allow for better air movement and less disease pressure. If you see signs of scale on woody plants then apply horticulture oil to the wood to suffocate the scale insect before they become active in warm weather.
Start the year off right by better preparing the yard now. By staying on top of the chores we often put off during cold weather the yard and garden will be ahead of the usual schedule when it does warm. Concentrate on the plan and make sure to complete tasks as they should be done. This alone will help complete the resolution "to do better".
The Extension office is open Monday - Friday, located in Kennett, Missouri at 101 South Main Street (the old bank) on the 2nd floor. For horticulture questions contact the horticulture specialist at 573-686-8064. MU is an equal opportunity/ADA institution.
University of Missouri Extension programs are open to all.
Sarah Denkler is a horticulture specialist with University of Missouri Extension
in Dunklin County.