9 Resolutions for a Laidback Gardener

Lots of people make resolutions to start the New Year, and why shouldn’t gardeners too? Here are 9 resolutions that will make you not only a better gardener, but also a more environmentally friendly one, because, in my opinion, a good gardener should work with Mother Nature rather than against her.

Photo : cottonbro studio

1. I will no longer apply pesticides that are harmful to the environment.

Why use them, when there are so many alternatives available these days? Many organic products control insects, diseases and weeds. But we must also learn to accept the presence of some plant damage and rare weeds. A fine resolution! Secondly, only use organic products if you have a very serious problem, because even these products disrupt the environment.

Insecticidal soap, for example, although considered organic, doesn’t distinguish between good insects and bad ones. If we let Mother Nature take care of the little things, she almost always intervenes to eliminate the enemies. For example, when an aphid infestation begins, predators such as lacewings and ladybugs quickly appear and the problem disappears on its own.

2. I’ll learn to use mulch instead of weeding.

Photo: Maria Sbytova

Weeding is harmful to the environment: it destroys the soil’s texture, eliminates plant-friendly microbial flora, breaks down the root systems of desirable plants… and is time-consuming. Every time we weed, we bring weed seeds to the surface, where they germinate… and as soon as it rains, the soil becomes crusty again. What a vicious circle!

Under 7 to 10 cm (3-4 inches) of mulch, on the other hand, no weeds can germinate… and the soil, now protected from the rain, remains loose, never forming the crust that prevents air from circulating to the roots. What’s more, as the mulch decomposes, it nourishes the soil with organic matter and minerals. When the old mulch begins to thin, fresh mulch can be added.

3. I’ll be more respectful of my climate limits.

Much of the effort invested in gardening comes from the fact that gardeners seem to forget that they live in a cold region and grow plants from warmer climates. To protect these frigid plants from the cold, we have to go to great lengths in the autumn: ridging, cages, geotextile, etc. Worse still, the plants suffer in spite of it all. None of this is necessary, however, if we choose plants that are adapted to our hardiness zone or to any zone below. And the choice of hardy plants is so vast!

Photo: cottonbro studio

4. I’ll find out about plant resistance to insects and disease before I buy.

Most pesticide applications would be avoided if we had chosen plants that are naturally resistant to insects and disease in the first place. Why plant a hedge of Tataria honeysuckle (Lonicera tatarica) when you know it’s prone to the devastating witches’ broom, and there are plenty of other honeysuckles that aren’t? Just as there are crabapples that don’t scab, carrots that aren’t bothered by the carrot fly and even hostas that aren’t affected by slugs. Some plants shouldn’t even be sold in nurseries (the “Macintosh” apple tree, for example), so prone are they to disease. Since nurseries don’t take their responsibilities in this respect, unfortunately, it’s up to the consumer to be well informed before buying.

5. I’ll learn how to fertilize my lawn in an environmentally-friendly way.

Lawns are a major cause of water pollution in urban and suburban areas. Not only because of the pesticides we pour on them, but also because we over-fertilize. Let’s face it: a single annual application of slow-release organic fertilizer or compost, in spring or fall, is more than enough for a beautiful lawn, especially if you adopt the environmentally-friendly habit of leaving grass clippings on the lawn. People who suggest three or four applications of fertilizer are trying to make a profit on your back.

6. I’ll start making my own compost.

Photo: fotomem

Let’s not wait any longer for our cities to finally decide that it’s both more economical and more environmentally friendly to compost municipally rather than burn or bury decomposable waste. It’s almost criminal to throw away products that could have been returned to the earth, and since you produce waste, it should be up to you to take care of it. Composting is so easy! All you have to do is throw your table scraps and yard waste into a pile and turn it over from time to time.

7. I won’t water unless absolutely necessary.

So much treated water is wasted on gardens… and almost always for nothing! Most plants are perfectly capable of enduring a little drought from time to time (if not, stick to plants that can). An established lawn that doesn’t receive rain for a month or more doesn’t die, it simply goes into summer dormancy and will green up again when the rains return. In the event of drought, give priority to the most fragile plants (especially container-grown plants, vegetables and any newly planted plants). Most others can easily do without. And please, no watering in direct sunlight, as this only wastes part of your water through evaporation!

Photo: Karolina Grabowska

8. JI’ll create a wildlife corner.

Everyone wants to see birds and butterflies in their gardens… but not everyone realizes that these animals, as well as other less pretty but equally useful ones like toads, bees and bats, can’t survive if we surround our grounds with nothing but lawns. The more variety there is in plant life, the more variety there will be in animal life. So set up flowerbeds and plant trees, conifers and shrubs. Create a small water feature, even if it’s just a bird bath. And why not designate a less visible corner a “wild zone”, where you leave room for native wildflowers… and even “weeds”? Many of the most desirable butterflies live only on “weeds”, after all. Another great resolution for the year!

9. I’ll learn to trust Mother Nature more.

Strangely enough, it’s when you intervene as little as possible in your garden that you often get the best results. It’s sad but true: your plants don’t need you to survive. So, take it easy this year and let Mother Nature take care of your garden. You’ll be surprised how often the « laidback” method is not only the most environmentally friendly, but also the best.

Happy resolutions, dear readers!

Larry Hodgson published thousands of articles and 65 books over the course of his career, in both French and English. His son, Mathieu, has made it his mission to make his father’s writings accessible to the public. This text on resolutions was originally published in Le Soleil newspaper on January 9, 2005.

Garden writer and blogger, author of 65 gardening books, lecturer and communicator, the Laidback Gardener, Larry Hodgson, passed away in October 2022. Known for his great generosity, his thoroughness and his sense of humor, he reached several generations of amateur and professional gardeners over his 40-year career. Thanks to his son, Mathieu Hodgson, and a team of contributors, will continue its mission of demystifying gardening and making it more accessible to all.

4 comments on “9 Resolutions for a Laidback Gardener

  1. patcappelli

    Fabulous advice, if everyone followed this advice we would be on a path to restoration and balance of a healthier planet.

  2. Christine Lemieux

    Really good advice!

  3. This is all extremely good advice.

  4. Excellent advice. Larry was ahead of his time.

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