Marianne Binetti

Month by month, gardening will get you to your goals

The most universal New Year’s resolutions are to lose weight, eat healthier, get more exercise and save money — all goals that will be accomplished if you plant a vegetable garden.

The most common life goals are to create more peace and beauty. Both will happen if you spend more time improving your landscape.

Make this the year you dig into gardening with these monthly resolutions.

Resolve to not just write down these resolutions but to also post them some place where you will see them. Accountability is the fertilizer of success. So this year, write resolutions onto the calendar, and check them off once accomplished.

January: I promise to harvest bare branches of forsythia, quince and flowering cherry, place these leafless whips into a vase of warm water and watch the winter buds swell and burst into bloom. Start the year by choosing to find the beauty in simple delights — such as browsing a seed catalog or garden magazine on a cold winter night.

February: Hail to the hellebore, the most perfect perennial for Northwest gardens. This is the month I will visit nurseries to find more hellebore plants in bloom. I resolve to add to my hellebore collection as long as I can find space under my overgrown rhododendrons and hydrangeas. I also will float hellebore blossoms in a glass bowl to enjoy indoors. I intend to consider February the first month of spring — no matter how much it rains.

March: This year I will remember to fertilize my lawn by St. Patrick’s Day with a slow-release lawn food. By feeding in early spring the grass will have a better chance at crowding out any new weeds. I also promise to soak my pea seeds overnight before planting them into the cold soil. I will weed early and often this month. I will treat myself to several pairs of new garden gloves. Inexpensive splurges can be one of the most rewarding luxuries. Dry gloves on a damp day — priceless.

April: I resolve to plant all the new plants I purchase before buying more. (This is a resolution I know I won’t keep. So instead I resolve to keep all the new plants I purchase well-watered while they sit on the porch and wait to be planted.) I also promise to fertilize all my roses and perennials this month. I will celebrate the first sunny day of April by planting the seeds of leafy vegetable crops such as lettuce, cabbage and kale. I will remember to bait for slugs. I will not plant heat-loving crops this month — no matter how warm it gets on that first sunny day.

May: I promise to protect any newly planted annual plants from cold nights and hard rain. I will search out the hardy begonias, lobelias, and alyssum that can go into the ground early this month. I will remember that warm-season plants such as tomatoes, basil, geraniums and coleus need protection even in the month of May. I will plant those in pots and move them close to the house at night. I will harden my heart and cut back my sedum “Autumn Joy,” my mums and my phlox this month so I’ll have more compact, well-branched plants in the summer. I will try new plant combinations in my containers.

June: This will be the summer of the healthy rose plant. I promise to rip out any rose that is diseased or ugly and replace it with one of the new, much-easier-to-grow landscape roses. I will wait until a warm day in June to plant the seeds of cucumbers, carrots, squash, corn and other heat-loving crops. I will stake my delphiniums and tomatoes before they topple over.

July: I promise to share my garden and celebrate Independence Day by taking a red-white-and-blue flower bouquet to a summer party. I also promise to buy more basil and tomato plants midsummer if the ones I bought earlier have failed to thrive. A cool start to the summer is no reason to live without fresh tomatoes and fresh basil. I will get rid of plants that still look sad from winter damage. I will remind myself that life is too short to put up with ugly plants — and that plants are not children. You don’t owe them a lifetime commitment when they grow too big or become too demanding.

August: I promise to keep my zucchini, roses and hollyhocks watered this month so they don’t get mildew. I also resolve to pinch back the petunias and dead head all the annuals and perennials so I can enjoy an autumn full of summer flowers. I will also never complain about the warm weather this month. I will think back to how cold it was in January and smile. I will bait for slugs this month and I will water the rhododendrons and azaleas in early fall for maximum blooms next spring.

September: I resolve to actually feed my lawn in September and not just buy the fertilizer and let it sit in the garage for months. I will buy the slow-release lawn food that improves the soil — even if it costs a bit more. I will harvest all zucchini while still young and tender. I will bring my tender succulents into the house before the first frost. I will harvest my hydrangeas — because cutting back that stem with the flower is an easy way to prune hydrangeas.

October: I will cut back the yellowing leaves of my hosta this month so they don’t become slug motels. I will cut my peony plants to ground level to keep them free of disease. I will visit the local nurseries this month to snatch the end of season bargains and to look for more drought-resistant hardy asters to plant in my rock garden. I will remember that Fall is for planting.

November: I will rake the maple leaves from the lawn and save them in plastic garbage bags. I will add a scoop of soil and poke holes in the bag so the leaves can decompose over the winter. I will remember where I store these bags of leaf mold so I can use the contents to improve my soil in the spring. I will remind myself to see the beauty in an autumn afternoon — even if it means the end of the growing season.

December: I will prune my pine, cedar and laurel this month and use the pruning crumbs to fill my empty porch pots. I will prune off the old foliage on my hellebore plants so that I can more easily see the new flowers starting to bloom. Finally, I will look back on this past year and be proud of myself if I accomplish even half of my garden goals.