What is the garden and landscape game plan for 2016? Are you going to try something new? Change things up in the yard? Many of us have had gardening on the brain all winter, perusing seed catalogs and pacing the aisles of our local nurseries as the snow flies. There are important choices to be made before spring, and we can avoid the disappointment that sometimes follows impulse decisions by thinking things through a bit.
When it comes to planning the vegetable garden, think about plant placement. Aside from adding compost to the soil, placing plants strategically is one of the most important things to do. Tomato-growers should move the tomatoes to a different location each year. Then, find the correct neighboring plant for those tomatoes to maximize the growing area. You may have heard the catch phrase “carrots love tomatoes.” Well, they do, and these two make great neighbors or companion plants. Companion planting is a plant placement strategy with ancient roots.
One well-known companion planting trio was used by the Iroquois and was called “The Three Sisters.” In this garden, corn, beans and squash were planted together on the same mound. Each plant benefitted the others. The nitrogen-fixing roots of the pea plant provided nutrition. The towering corn served as a trellis, and the low-growing squash shaded the soil to reduce moisture loss. But companion planting is not just about the vegetable garden. It is helpful in other areas of the landscape too.
For example, edible and ornamental gardeners both experience our fair share of pest problems. Insect pests cause great frustration with not only vegetable plants but also landscape plants like roses, lupines and ash trees. They all can be invaded by aphids in early summer. Planting garlic, marigolds or chives at the base of the plant you wish to protect and can sometimes help. A better angle is to plant plants that attract small predatory wasps and hover flies. Planting shrubs like spiraea or flowers like yarrow or alliums will help bring these defenders of the garden into your yard where they will take action against aphids.
Another thought that should come into the planning process is the timing of everything. Do not be fooled by periods of warm temperatures in late winter and early spring. They are often followed by snow and rain. Speaking of which, this year we are having what is considered a normal precipitation year. But, after years of drought and shortages of moisture, all gardeners should make plans to continue to conserve water. One way to conserve soil moisture is to add mulch. Do not forget to mulch unplanted areas as well. Winter and early spring weeds enjoy the moisture we receive too, and mulch can help prevent them from germinating.
These and the many other decisions to be made in the yard all come back to planning and research. Time spent now will bring life to your beautiful landscape and garden this growing season.
Wendy Hanson Mazet is the Washoe and Douglas County horticulturist with University of Nevada Cooperative Extension. Have questions about your plants? Contact a Master Gardener at 775-336-0265 or firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit www.growyourownnevada.com.