In my case, the bermuda grass is dormant, and the rest of the lawn needs mowing much less often. There are some vegetable plants that are just about done, and the annual herbs are just a memory. Thankfully, the citrus is finally ripening, and the joy that is harvesting fresh, clean food from my yard continues.
That is not to say that this past year was ideal.
We had far fewer grapes than usual, due to overzealous pruning the year before. Most grapes and perennial berries (like blackberries and raspberries) produce fruit on second-year wood. What that means is that the new branches (or stems, or vines) that grew this year will bear fruit next year. If we prune off too much new growth, it can impact how many grapes or berries we will get the following season. Last year, we didn’t touch the berry canes yet had plenty of delicious blackberries. We did prune the grapes, a little too much, and had a very light year.
We also fell a little short on thinning the young fruit of our apple trees and paid a price there, too. Not only did the quality of the apples suffer, but we also had more insect damage than usual. Thinning can be hard work, particularly in the hard-to-reach places, but it is definitely worth the trouble. A proper thinning allows air and light between the fruit as it grows and reduces both the likelihood of disease taking a foothold and the places where insects can hide. When thinning, always keep the fully-grown fruit in mind. What is plenty of room for an immature fruit might be nowhere near enough space to grow a full-sized fruit without it touching another.
We also made a few minor errors in the vegetable garden. We try to keep our sweet and hot pepper patches as separated as possible, to prevent cross-pollination, but somehow we managed to mix a sweet or two into the hots. I have saved the seeds from the hots, but I am a little worried about what I might get next year.
We also planted our tomatoes a little too close to each other. This is a common mistake for us. We have some strong, steel tomato cages, but every year, there are a few plants that overwhelm them and then sprawl freely. Our little tomato garden inevitably turns into a jungle — a delicious, tomato-y jungle. Maybe that isn’t such a bad thing after all.
My wish for the new (gardening) year for you is success. Try something new, revamp an area that just isn’t working, try a new technique — just take a leap of faith, and don’t be discouraged if it doesn’t work out exactly as you had planned. For most gardeners, our greatest teacher is experience (both good and bad), and we all have more to learn.
• University of California-certified master gardeners are available to answer gardening questions from 9 a.m. to noon Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays at 953-6112 or email@example.com. Questions for Heather Hamilton can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.