One of the resources I’ve relied on for several years to help answer garden questions is a book titled Month-By-Month Gardening in Tennessee & Kentucky, by award-winning garden writer Judy Lowe. The book was first published more than a decade ago by Cool Springs Press, and it holds a wealth of easy-to-understand information that is useful for gardeners in the southeast U.S., both novices and those with more experience.
There’s a new version of the book out now, also published by Cool Springs Press. I’m looking at the two books side by side, and loving the fact that I can find much of the same useful information in a glossy new format. (Read on for details of a chance to win a copy of the book!)
“The information has stayed pretty much the same, the activities are the same. But for those people who want to know everything in a month in a few pages, they will like this,” Judy told me when we talked by phone earlier this week.
What’s different? In the old format, the book is divided into categories – Annuals, Bulbs, Herbs & Vegetables, Houseplants, and so on – and each category is divided into months, generally with two pages for each month. Each month has information about planning, planting, care, watering, fertilizing and problems, with a timely tip or two.
The new, more compact, full-color glossy Month-By-Month Gardening is divided into months, using subheads, making it easier to see at a glance what needs to be done in each category that month. Each month has several “Here’s How” sidebars, and there are color pictures of plants, planting techniques, a few common garden pests and more. The pictures are especially useful.
“It does help, if you are new to gardening or don’t know a lot about it, to see those pictures — the close-ups, the illustrations,” Judy said. Some garden books are written in “garden language” that a new gardener has not yet learned. “Novice gardeners feel more comforted by seeing pictures and illustrations.”
Here in the middle of winter, there is very little real gardening to be done, but Judy passed along several ideas of how to begin to get ready for spring. Here’s what she suggests:
- “Start a garden notebook, if you don’t have one.” The notebook can be a simple looseleaf binder, one with pockets to hold labels, seed packets or other small items. “It makes such a difference in knowing what happened in the past and what you have thought of doing before, or want to do. It helps you keep a record of what didn’t work, and can help you not make mistakes in the future.”
- If you’re going to start plants from seed – and it’s really kind of fun, gives you a sense of satisfaction – start thinking about that in February.” Most common plants take only about eight weeks from sowing to setting out in the garden. “You want to be ready and get all your equipment together.” (And here are a couple of tips for growing your own transplants from seeds: You don’t need special grow lights, Judy said. For growing seeds, a couple of fluorescent lights will be fine. If you don’t have a grow light or a shop light, and you’re not getting enough light on your plants, use aluminum foil to reflect the light onto the plants. “It really helps, and it’s nice and cheap,” Judy said.)
- She also recommends February as the time to have the soil tested if you haven’t had that done in the past five years. You can do that through your county’s extension service now and avoid the rush of the busier time in early spring. It will make a huge difference in how successfully things will grow in your garden, she said. “In the lawn, it can tell you everything, and mean the difference between success and failure.”
- It’s also a good time to have your lawnmower serviced. “Particularly, have the blade sharpened. If it doesn’t cut correctly it can lave spots where disease can enter,” Judy said. “Lawnmower maintenance services get plenty busy in April, so get it done before the season starts.”
What’s your must-do garden task during the winter off-season? Leave a comment at the end of this post by 6 p.m. Friday, Jan. 31 to be entered in a drawing to win a copy of Month-By-Month Gardening in Tennessee & Kentucky. Don’t forget to provide an email address so I can contact the winner. (The book can only be sent to addresses in the United States and Canada.)