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Parting tips from longtime gardening columnist

This photo shows a garden in New Paltz, N.Y.

Lee Reich via AP

Lee Reich
Associated Press
Farewell, fellow gardener. After almost 30 years of sharing my gardening experience, expertise and enthusiasm in columns for The Associated Press, I’ve decided to focus my time and energy in other directions.Thanks for joining me as, according to the seasons, I selected tomato varieties to grow, pruned ‘mums for best blooms or highlighted the darker side of mistletoe.Perhaps you're a brand-new gardener. Perhaps an experienced one. My goal has been to guide, to entertain and, most of all, to share with you the joys of gardening.I'd like to close by offering suggestions to help make your garden — whether it's a few flower pots, a large vegetable plot or a general home landscape — prettier, more productive, and more enjoyable to maintain.Suggestion #1: An important element of good gardening can be summed up in two words: organic matter. Autumn leaves, compost, sawdust, kitchen trimmings — that is, materials that are or once were living — are all organic matter. Added to the soil, it encourages a healthy balance of beneficial soil microorganisms that help fight plant pests and feed the plants.Suggestion #2: Did some insect or disease ruin your zinnias or other plant last summer? Don’t panic! Aphids, scab fungi and other pests are part of the natural world, and they can be part of what makes gardening interesting. Tolerate a certain amount of damage. Your plants can. Japanese beetles might chew off part of your rose’s leaves, but the plant compensates by ramping up photosynthesis in remaining portions. Find out specifically what the problem is, how and where it lives, and all possible ways of dealing with it before taking action.Suggestion #3: Have faith in Mother Nature and try to follow her lead. She’s been at it a long time. A seed dropped into a soil furrow really does want to grow. Bare soil is prone to erosion and wide swings in temperature. Nature clothes and protects bare soil with plants (weeds); you can do so with crop plants or mulch.Suggestion #4: Keep written records and photos of what you’ve done each year. Then you can better learn from your mistakes. There’s no end to what you can learn about gardening, unless you forgot what you did and what the result was.Suggestion #5: Don’t get boxed in by preconceptions. Allow me to offer three examples.a) “Weeding isn’t fun.” Weeding is enjoyable if weeds don’t get out of hand. One way to keep them in tow is with regular hoeing. Or with mulching. Or by not tilling.b) “Flowers belong in a flower garden.” Flowers in your vegetable garden will beautify it and attract beneficial insects. No need for the vegetable garden to look like a vegetable factory. A prettier vegetable garden is more inviting, to the benefit of both you and your plants.c) “I need an orchard to grow fruits.” Not if you integrate fruit plants into your landscape. Many fruit trees are decorative in their own right. In fact, some, such as juneberry, cornelian cherry, and Nanking cherry, are mostly grown for their beauty, without people knowing that the tasty fruits hanging among the branches are edible.Suggestion #6: Seek out reputable sources when you have a gardening question. When I need solid information online, I include “site:edu” or “site:gov” in searches, which calls up university or government sites, respectively. Sure, they’re not always 100% correct, but 99% is good enough for me.Suggestion #7: Grow a wide variety of plants, especially edibles. Years ago, a confluence of conditions in the Northeast resulted in late blight disease, which devastated many gardeners’ and farmers’ tomato plants. Mine also! But that year I still picked plenty of peppers, sweet corn, kale, and all sorts of other vegetables and fruits.Suggestion #8: Be careful not to let flashy catalogs or websites, or spring’s first warm breezes, entice you to plant too much. This is a tough suggestion to follow. I still fall prey to planting too much (although I rationalize that my plantings are also for workshops and demonstration purposes).GOING FORWARDAlthough I will no longer be writing about gardening for the AP, I’m not abandoning my hoe, my trowel, my whole garden. I’m planning some new fruit, vegetable, and ornamental plantings, and editing some of my existing ones by cutting down some pawpaw trees, planting a screen with layers of rhododendrons, arborvitae, and winterberry, laying another stone wall behind which to grow lingonberry and dwarf sweet box, and so on.I'm also not giving up writing. Every week I post a blog (leereich.com/blog). Come visit me there, where the whims of the weather and the weeds, a flower that caught my eye, a particular aroma, or the unfolding of blossoms or the ripening of fruits might dictate what I write.

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This photo shows a garden in New Paltz, N.Y.

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