My, how times change. I remember sitting in my 7th grade health class, watching a film strip (you’re as old as I am if you remember those!) about hygiene. It recommended washing your hair at least every two weeks! An old magazine I recently unearthed advised housewives to put on a dress and make-up to greet their hard-working husbands at the door. And, the book that accompanied PBS’s Crockett’s Victory Garden (copyright 1977) offers a recipe for disaster with their diagram on how to plant a Christmas tree. Don’t blame Crockett, however—his directions followed what was then standard procedure. Yes, we’re always learning something new, even about gardening.
In case you’re wondering what was so bad about the tree planting diagram, here it is. See how the hole is deep and narrow, deeper than the rootball? Research done after 1977 reveals that the hole should be shallow and wide, giving the roots room to grow horizontally. It’s important not to go too deep, as you want good support under the tree to keep it from sinking. Additionally, mounding leaves around the trunk provides cover for voles, which relish tender bark. Now we suggest creating a volcano, with mulch over the roots but not touching the trunk. (At least digging the hole before the ground freezes and filling it with leaves as a temporary measure is still good advice.
How we plant trees is not the only aspect of gardening that has changed in the last 25 or so years. Remember when we all sowed our veggies in widely spaced rows? Now we see how much space—as well as fertilizer, compost, water—that wastes, and how many extra weeds we have to pull. Rows are great if you’re using machines, but for a small personal-sized garden, beds are far better for most crops.
Our watering practices have evolved as well. Water is becoming an ever more precious resource, exacerbated by extreme droughts (such as the one in California) and continued development. Xeriscape is the practical answer. Drip irrigation can often replace overhead sprinklers. Less-thirsty plants can look just as lush and green as the more-familiar water hogs. A properly done xeriscape can be a work of art—much more attractive than the “zero”-scapes I see around town!
Lawns are still an option, but they don’t need to cover every square inch of the yard. Rather, they’re limited to the areas that actually call for turf, such as backyard play areas. We in the West are realizing that our part of the country has a beauty all its own; there’s no need to imitate the grass-and-foundation plantings of wetter regions.
A growing awareness of invasive species has many of us taking a second look native species. PlantSelect introductions are new cultivars especially adapted to the Front Range. Creating a landscape is more fun than ever, with an ever-increasing palette of species to choose from.
New cultivars are resistant to an increasing number of pests and diseases. For example, my husband’s favorite apple is McIntosh. However, McIntosh trees are highly susceptible to fireblight, a major problem in our area. When I picked out an apple tree for our property, I chose MacFree. It has a high level of resistance to fireblight while producing the same crisp-tart apples my sweetie loves.
Much garden advice still stands. After all, we’ve been gardening since the very beginning—you’d think we’d have learned something about it by now. However, don’t get stuck in the same furrow year after year. Read new gardening books and articles. Take classes offered by your county extension service. Check for the latest research-based information offered through your local master gardeners.