Things sure were soggy for gardeners this past year. But there's always 2010.
With just a few days left in the year, let’s reflect on what happened in 2009 and make resolutions for the upcoming season.
You can view 2009 as an extension of 2008. Nature continued trying to wash away something by bringing on the rains. And more rains. Most people can’t remember a wetter fall, particularly farmers who had to wait until this month to harvest most of their crops.
Most gardeners love rain. Most plants love rain. Occasionally, though, there may be too much rain, and people and plants get bothered.
One look at the plants, and you can see how the extra water was a benefit. It’s hard to remember a time in the last 30 years when lawns were as green going into December. It’s hard to imagine when they were as lush throughout the growing season.
Of course, this does mean more mowing. Correct fertilizing caused turf to develop more shoots and retain a richer green color that can be leached with too much water. With a thicker turf, there’s less weed competition. From the standpoint of weedkiller use, that can’t be praised enough.
Grubs didn’t disappear with the rain. They were still chomping on the roots, only moving below the frost line now to re-emerge next April.
But the grub damage was barely noticeable. If the grub eats one turfgrass root but the plant produces three new roots due to moisture and fertilizer, the plant is two roots ahead. Throw in phrases such as integrated pest management, aesthetic thresholds and a few others, but it amounts to money in the bank instead of the lawn. Gardeners love money in the bank.
2009 seemed warmer than 2008, at least in terms of number of days the air-conditioning kicked on. However, some vegetables still wanted warmer conditions. Tomatoes seemed to thumb their noses at the water and waited for warmer temperatures that never seemed to materialize. You can’t have everything.
If you are an arboreal gardener, you noticed trees and shrubs grew more this year, and grew for a longer length of time. Usually by August, most growth has ceased and plants start hardening off for the winter.
Yet clear into September — due to the moisture — the plants still were sending out more leaves and expanding their shoots. Plants still realized light intensity was decreasing, so they stopped growing.
This could mean two things: more flowers on the crabapples, magnolia and other blooming trees next spring. Or less.
The rain was ideal for keeping plants in a growth state and not switching to flower bud formation in September and October. Or, if the plants were at the “Enough growth!” stage, they could have started producing an overabundance of flower bud, which means 2010 could be a dynamic showcase, barring prolonged cold temperatures, early spring warm-ups followed by a hard freeze or drying winter winds.
Most spring flower shrubs are in the same boat. Come January, you could cut some of the plants, bring the limbs indoors and try to force them to bloom. Then you can gauge what spring might hold in store.
Surprisingly, few people reported heavy mosquito populations, which was the opposite of what was expected with all the rain. It’s possible there was too much, or that predator populations increased at the same time the mosquito wrigglers were hatching.
Other so-called “bad” insects didn’t seem as numerous, but alas, some of the “good” insects were down. For every decrease in yellowjackets and grasshoppers, there seemed to be a decline in butterflies, moths and ladybugs. Even the increase of soybean aphids flying around in September and October didn’t correlate to an increase in ladybugs.
Japanese beetles showed up about on time, stayed their four weeks and then took off, leaving behind their destruction of lindens, roses and other plants.
Coupled with the decline of insect and weed problems, diseases also seemed less this year, though it could be that gardeners are planting more disease-resistant plants or just pulling up plants that show fungal or bacterial problems. Many have learned it is not illegal to euthanize a declining or even healthy plant.
That brings us to next year’s resolutions, which all gardeners should follow.
1. Do not overplant. Plants are like a smorgasbord, and our eyes can be bigger than our yards.
2. Start more of your own seeds. Share extra plants with gardening friends.
3. Use fewer chemicals. Encouraging plant diversity helps. Having more than 200 plants in the typical yard cuts down on the need for chemicals.
4. Plant something new. Get rid of something old. Getting rid of a healthy plant in your yard is not a crime.
5. Visit garden centers and nurseries in the spring, but don’t buy anything. Look around. Take notes. Come back and research. If you truly want the plant the next couple of days, it was meant to be.
6. Keep the hoe and shovel sharp, and a container of water handy.
7. Use sunscreen more often outside.
8. Exercise and loosen up before starting out in the spring. Bend the knees more often.
David Robson is a horticulture educator for the University of Illinois Extension. For more gardening information or for your local extension unit office, go to www.extension.uiuc.edu/mg.