G ifts for Gardenr
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By Lyn Chimera

This was an interesting summer, to say the least. There was something in the weather for everyone; it was hot, cold, wet, dry, and humid. There would be a week or two of one type of weather followed by a week or two of another. Granted, there was consistently a lot of rain. At the end of August, it got quite chilly and made everyone realize fall was around the corner, if not here already. Then this was followed by a heat wave during mid-September which made us feel like it was still July. It makes me wonder what the rest of the fall will bring. (I’m writing this in the middle of hot/dry late September).

The first lesson learned was the effects of water. There was so much rain in the early spring that many seeds rotted in the ground. That, along with the cool weather, delayed many planting plans. Lesson learned: wait and don’t start seeds outside, plant perennials or annuals while it is too cold and wet. They do much better in the long run if you wait until the soil temperature and moisture levels are conducive to good growth. This would mean soil temperature at 50 degrees or above and enough moisture in the soil to have the soil be moist but not clump together.

On the upside, all that rain made everything grow and bloom incredibly well. Starting with the amazing spring blossom displays right through the hydrangeas, which have not been this floriferous in a long time. The perennials and shrubs grew extra large from all the rain.

On the downside, many perennials got so huge they were crowding each other and needed to be cut back. There will be many perennials to divide and move this fall or next spring. Lesson learned: consistent watering is really important for the overall health of plants and rain water is much better for plants than “city” water.

Another disadvantage of all the rain was the amazing growth of weeds. It seemed that as soon as I weeded, more would grow and they were so huge! At the end of July, I went away for a week or so and when I came back I couldn’t believe how much the weeds had grown. It looked like the gardens had never been weeded. Lesson learned: it’s hard to keep up with weeding but it’s so important and time well spent it in the long run.

Some insects were extra plentiful this summer, possibly because of the mild winter we experienced last year. Lily leaf beetles were a huge problem in the area along with the ever-troublesome Japanese beetle. It’s a constant battle. Lily leaf beetles were a new problem for my garden so finding out how to control them was a primary objective. Whatever insect you have, it’s important to identify it and what is the best and most environmental method of control. A lot of “spray” can be wasted without knowing what is the best way to handle a particular insect. Lesson learned: identify the problem, and then research the solution. Using any “.edu” site will give you reliable information. It’s from an educational research University like Cornell or Penn State and not a site trying to sell you something or tell you about their grandmother’s cure-all. The same goes for plant disease problems.

One of the biggest lessons for me this season was learning that I couldn’t garden the way I used to, as I get older. My energy level and strength are not what they used to be. While frustrating, it’s certainly understandable and even expected as we age. Making a few modifications in what and how you garden can make the difference between a rewarding experience and a painful one. Instead of going full tilt for a whole day, try working for shorter segments of time with a rest in between. There are also many assistive devices that can help like using knee pads and tools with more comfortable grips or longer handles.

Gardening is a wonderful activity for people of any age. It keeps you active, gets you outside and is good for your physical and mental health. Gardeners on the whole are healthier and have more active lives than people who are more sedentary. So get outside and keep moving. It’s good for you and you’ll learn some lessons of your own.