It’s a new year in the garden

By Heather Kirk-Ballard

LSU AgCenter Horticulturist

With a new year upon us, now is the time to sit down and reflect on last year and what you would like to do with your garden and landscape in 2024.

There are some consistent gardening trends across the U.S. They include alternative lawn options, water conservation, using less chemicals, more native and ecosystem service plants, edible landscape options referred to as edimentals, plants for smaller spaces and sustainable gardening practices.

These trends help combat the climate changes we have seen in the past decade. Last year was the hottest and driest on record for Louisiana. In addition, we are experiencing earlier and later freezes, and meteorologists are now talking about a polar vortex arriving later this month. Bottom line, people are gardening with a purpose, keeping the environment and unusual weather in mind.

First, people are looking for alternatives to traditional lawns, opting for more environmentally and ecologically sound choices that require less upkeep such as mowing, fertilizing and pesticide applications. Ecology lawns — ecolawns for short — replace grass with alternatives such as ground covers, herbaceous plants and other drought-tolerant and disease-resistant plants. Meadows have also seen a surge in popularity. These are typically planted with native wildflower seed mixes.

Additionally, water conservation remains important to home gardeners, and there are even more smart irrigation and water-wise gardening tricks for home gardeners. Smart yard technology can help gardeners conserve water. Options such as smart sprinkler controllers use up-to-the-minute weather info to water plants only when they really need it. Plus, with mobile apps, you can tweak and keep tabs on your watering schedule to save both water and money.

Gardens are also getting a boost from plants that do more than just look pretty. They're all about supporting the whole ecosystem — think bees, birds, butterflies and other wildlife. Home gardeners are continuing to look for more local and native plants that provide important services to the ecosystem. The one downside to this is the lack of availability of native plants. By joining native plant societies and connecting with native plant groups on social media, you can find a network of people who gladly swap and share plants.

Edible landscapes are in, making gardens look good and taste good. A great way to minimize your inputs while maximizing your garden outputs is to use plants that are edible. Many fruit and vegetable plants not only provide food, but they are also very beautiful. When you garden this way, your yard becomes twice as valuable by adding beauty while putting food on the table too. Edible plants can be just as attractive with blooms that later yield fruit. Many edible tubers such as sweet potatoes have beautiful foliage that have been bred to also be used as an ornamental gardening plant.

Container gardening is still going strong, perfect for city dwellers and others with small spaces. Growing plants in containers can be convenient. For one thing, it makes your plants portable. Unlike plants in the ground, containers can be moved to the perfect location for their growth.

Additionally, planting trees is a great way to fight climate change. In recent years, there has been a big push for tree planting by local groups and nonprofits. Get in on the excitement by adding a new tree to your yard this year. If you don't have much space, go for a slim, upright tree.

You also can get in on the action by participating in Arbor Day celebrations across Louisiana. If you are in the Baton Rouge area, join the LSU AgCenter for Arbor Day at Burden on Saturday, Jan. 20, as the Botanic Gardens at Burden collaborates with Baton Rouge Green from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Take part in planting your very own tree in the Burden Woods and monitor its growth using GPS coordinates. These newly planted trees play a vital role in reforesting the Burden Woods after previous hurricane seasons. Don't miss Baton Rouge Green's annual tree giveaway held in conjunction with Arbor Day.

In 2024, the essence of gardening lies in cultivating a space that is not only colorful and eco-friendly but also attuned to the needs of our changing climate. Reflecting on the previous year's experiences serves as a valuable guide for planning a garden that is sustainable and full of life.

Mixture of plants growing in a window box
Window containers offer a way to add plants in small spaces. Photo by Heather Kirk-Ballard/LSU AgCenter

Plants growing on a wall.
Making use of vertical space helps incorporate more plants in small areas. Photo by Heather Kirk-Ballard/LSU AgCenter

Grapes on the vine
A great way to minimize your inputs while maximizing your outputs is to use plants that are edible. Photo by Heather Kirk-Ballard/LSU AgCenter

Purple flowers

Take advantage of lawn alternatives for less upkeep. Photo by Heather Kirk-Ballard/LSU AgCenter

1/4/2024 2:13:24 PM
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