It’s A Homegrown Tradition: Amy Dismukes

It’s A Homegrown Tradition: Amy Dismukes

A Gardener’s Resolutions

It’s a new year … and it’s cold outside. What to do, what to do?

It’s the time of year when we all begin to ponder what we should or could have done the year before.  How about making a little list of all those gardening ideas you’ve thought about over the past years? Here are a few potential resolutions for your 2017 gardening enjoyment!

Start composting. It’s easy and incredibly beneficial for your landscape. Not only do you cut down on the amount of waste that you’re contributing to a landfill, but compost can improve soil structure and increase its nutrient content. Less water is required because fertile, healthy soil has greater water retention properties. Soil permeability (drainage rate) can also improve due to the addition of organic matter into your soil profile.

Don’t volcano mulch. Volcano mulching is a real problem in Middle Tennessee. Most roots grow in the top 2 feet of soil so when mulch is applied too heavily, the little feeder roots that are responsible for uptake of water and nutrients from the soil begin to choke. These little roots need oxygen just like we do. Excessive mulch can also cause the formation of a hydrophobic mat; ie. water cannot permeate the mulch therefore cannot be absorbed by the root system. Thirsty tree = unhappy, stressed tree.

Prune correctly … DON’T top trees. Crape Myrtle Murder is a big issue. Continual topping of any tree will eventually lead to problems. It’s recommended to ‘prune for health’. Remove any crossing or dead/diseased branches. Make sure to prune at the collar if the entire branch requires removal. If stubs are left, they eventually will rot, leaving dead wood in the tree canopy. A dead branch in a large tree is often called a ‘widow maker’ and that pretty much says it all.

Test your soil. I often hear from homeowners requesting lawn information, that they fertilize their lawn yearly, without knowing if they actually need to do so. Over-application of nitrogen can lead to Brown Patch, a fungal pathogen, in fescue grass. It’s always a good idea to test before you treat because you may not need any additional nutrients. Your local extension office can advise you further on the process, how to take a soil sample for best results and how to evaluate your results.

Don’t overhead water. Water your plants at the soil line. Why? First and foremost, plant leaves do not ‘take in’ water. Roots do. So why water the leaves? Overhead watering, especially if done later in the day before the leaves have time to dry, can also promote disease development. Most fungal pathogens require moisture or humidity to infect. Bacterial plant pathogens generally require water to disseminate to their host. When we water the leaves of a plant, we are also wasting water … hint, hint.

Don’t OVERwater. Do you want to stand in a bucket of water for extended periods of time?

Plant an edible landscape. Many herbs work great as landscape plants. Take rosemary, for example. It’s great as an anchor plant and can grow quite large. It’s also quite hardy and will generally last Middle Tennessee winters if healthy. Clumping parsley makes a great alternative border plant. Use like you’d use liriope (monkeygass). Blueberry bushes also seem to be showing up in many ornamental beds.

Don’t think about gardening as ‘yard work.’ If you stop to think about it, we see the therapeutic effects of gardening every day. Why else would so many people love to stick their hands in the dirt? It’s even been said that soil contains certain anti-depressant properties. Imagine that!

Scout your landscape for pests, insect and disease. Take time to take a peek at your plants. They can’t talk to let us know they’re not feeling well so they show us by exhibiting symptoms. Many times, you can catch a problem before it actually takes off. If you’re not sure, take notes on changes you are seeing. Not only will this assist in determining whether or not you’ve got a potential problem, it will also keep start you on a good timeline for 2018, knowing in advance what to be on the lookout for. I love a documenting landscape!

BE PROACTIVE VERSUS REACTIVE. As mentioned above, we can often slow or completely deter an issue by catching it early (as with insects and disease). One of the best proactive acts is the use of horticultural oils. Often we miss the opportunity to use horticultural oils because their application is based on the weather … too hot and the foliage can burn … too cold and efficacy is limited. Horticultural (summer and dormant) oil spray is basically mineral oil and water. If purchasing conventional products, an emulsifier and spreader sticker are added, which extends the residual abilities of the oil. When used properly, the oil wets and smothers over-wintering adults and eggs of many insects … some mites, adelgids, scale insects, aphids, leaf rollers, whitefly larvae, mealybugs, etc. … on fruit trees, shade trees, vegetables and ornamentals. It can also slow or stop the progression of certain plant diseases. Dependent on product, oils can be utilized at different concentrations at different times of the year. BONIDE ALL-SEASONS dormant oil provides mixing instructions for specific times of the year: (1) DORMANT STAGE (before buds show green tissue), (2) GREEN TIP STAGE (when leaves of blossom buds are bursting and show about ⅛ – ¼” of green color), (3) DELAYED DORMANT STAGE (leaves of the blossom buds are ¼ – ½”), and (4) during the GROWING SEASON. The best time to apply is above 40 ̊ F and below 80 ̊ F (many products say 90 ̊ F but I tend to play it safe).

And best of all, horticultural oils are considered organic. They’re also not a threat to our pollinators and other beneficial insects.

And last but not least, take time to enjoy ALL the beauty of the outdoors … be it another’s landscape or your own.

garden“A Home Grown Tradition” is written by Amy Dismukes. Amy is the UT/ TSU Horticulture Extension Agent for Williamson County, Tennessee and is a graduate of Auburn University, where she received a Bachelor of Liberal Arts, a Bachelor of Science in Horticulture and a Master of Agriculture in Plant Pathology & Entomology. She provides educational training for both homeowner and commercial clientele regarding issues concerning horticulture, conducts site visits throughout the county to diagnose and resolve issues with insects, plant diseases, soil and weeds, and is a frequent guest speaker for professional, garden and horticultural associations and commercial pesticide workshops/conferences. Amy also coordinates the Williamson County Master Gardner Program. Please email any questions or concerns to Amy at

This column includes research-based recommendations from Tennessee State University and the University of Tennessee. Extension is committed to affirmative action, equal opportunity and the diversity of its workforce. Educational programs serve all people regardless of race, color, age, sex, religion, disability, sexual orientation or national origin.

About The Author

Corey is one of the Co-Owners of BIGR Media, as well as the company's CTO and CCO.

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