When I was a little boy, my dad gave me some tips on sports. He said: “Never bet against the New York Yankees, Notre Dame or Joe Louis.”
I know what you are thinking. Joe Louis? How old is this writer? Well, I have seen a lot since I received that advice, but it still applies today. Notre Dame is playing for the National Championship on Jan. 7.
What does this have to do with today’s column? Good advice can apply to almost anything, and today we are going to concentrate on the best advice we can give to gardeners.
Since we are limited to a given amount of space, we’ll focus on 10 good ones.
1. Buy the best garden tools that you can afford. They will last a lifetime and never break when you need them the most.
This includes everything – shovels, pruners, hoses, sprayers, saws, etc.
2. Along with using the best tools, buy good leather gloves instead of cloth or coated gloves.
You will be repaid every time you prune your roses, hollies, tea olives or barberry.
They will also save your hands when pulling wild blackberry or smilax weeds, and they will last for a very long time.
3. As for trees, don’t plant Bradford pear, river birch, silver maple, boxelder, mimosa or poplar.
All of these trees have short lives, nasty surface roots, insect issues and other problems.
I will probably be criticized by adding magnolias and hickories, but when you have to constantly clean up leaves and debris, there are better options.
Did you ever run over a large hickory nut with your lawn mower?
4. Don’t install common centipede grass! OK, now I have offended about 50 percent of local turf lovers.
Common centipede is prone to winterkill, and our region gets enough cold weather to do some heavy damage.
If you want to stay with centipede, get a hybrid like UGA TifBlair or AU Centennial which can take occasional hard freezes without much damage.
TifBlair is available from seed or sod while Centennial is only available as sod.
5. Don’t plant tulips or lilacs. This advice is directed to new or recent residents from northern climates.
If you have to have tulips, treat them as annuals and enjoy them but don’t expect them to return.
Our hot summers prevent them from developing for another year. You will find many articles about hybrid and species tulips that claim success, but I haven’t found any that will take our hot weather.
Now, we do have some southern lilac varieties that claim to be as good as the ones that grow farther north.
As a former Chicagoan who remembers great lilacs, I disagree with these claims. Plant crepe myrtles and spray some Chanel #5 on them for aroma.
6. Take care of your summer insect problems during the winter. Insects have life cycles that take them from eggs to adults. The life cycle is called metamorphosis and varies by insect type.
The best way to prevent the cycle is to disrupt it in some way.
Preventing the eggs from hatching is a good place to start. Use a horticultural type of dormant oil for the job.
Spray plants during January and February with a tank or hose end sprayer. Cover both sides of the leaves and avoid spraying if a freeze is expected.
Do not use a dormant oil on flowering plants such a camellia or Oregon grape holly which are about to bloom.
Always read the label carefully when using these products. A little work now will cut back on insect problems next summer.
7. Change the soil in your planters every year. Most planting soils have everything you need for a season of great growth.
Those plants need the nutrients to thrive, and they will use up everything that is available.
Don’t expect next year’s plants to do well in “used” soil.
A large bag of new soil is usually less expensive than the plants you purchased so don’t skimp on the essentials. Also, don’t forget to wash and sanitize those containers.
8. If you are planting a new tree, be sure to remove any wire, plastic or string from labels or planting instructions.
It is very easy to forget that they are there, and, as the tree grows, the wire, strapping or string will penetrate the bark and possibly damage or kill the tree.
The same is true for smaller plants in the landscape, such as azaleas, camellias and gardenias.
9. Know your sun conditions! Most of our summer plants need sun but all sunlight is not the same.
Hydrangeas do very well with morning sun but can dry out fast in the afternoon.
Annuals in containers may need to be watered two or three times a day to maintain sufficient moisture.
Crape myrtles need full sun to develop outstanding blooms.
Remember that the hottest part of the day comes in midafternoon.
Be prepared to give your plants extra water for some relief from the burning sun.
10. And now for the most controversial tip. Rethink growing tomatoes!
I know that it is every gardener’s DNA and their right as an American citizen to grow tomatoes every summer.
I also know that the Aiken County Extension office receives more tomato problem calls than any other topic during the growing season.
Most of the problems can be solved by purchasing plants that have built in protection against common tomato diseases. Rotating crop areas will help.
Watering with methods that keep the leaves dry will prevent disease. All of this help and more is available in Clemson’s HGIC bulletin 1323, which has six pages of very valuable information.
In my 30-plus years of living in Aiken, I have never had a bad crop. (I have always purchased my tomatoes at the Farmers Market!)
As I write this column, I am waiting for a Mayan visitor to tell me it is time to go.
If the doorbell doesn’t ring and we all have some extended time, I would like to remind you that our new series of Lunchbox Seminars will start on Jan. 21 with a new time – 12:30 p.m. – at Trinity United Methodist Church, 2724 Whiskey Road.
The first topic will be “Starting Seeds Indoors” by Master Gardener Betty Crowther. Free seed samples will be provided, and a seed swap will be offered.
Bill Hayes has been in Aiken since 1982 after moving from Chicago, Ill. He was in the chemical process industry for more than 40 years before retiring in 1999.