Keeping a garden journal

The best gardening advice that you can get may be your own. That doesn't discount reliable information from gardening books and magazines, or expert recommendations from your local garden center, but who else knows best about what has worked in your garden -- and what hasn't? Of course, recalling the exact variety of Lily that you planted three years ago, or when and how much fertilizer you applied to your perennial bed can be a challenge, unless you write it down. Keeping an accurate garden journal is the answer.

While it may seem like interrupting your progress to stop and record your gardening activities, you will find that this information will make you more productive and prevent future mistakes. And don't just record your successes. In addition to noting the varieties of plants that have performed well, and that you might plant again or recommend to others, make sure to record those that disappointed you. Making a planting mistake is one thing -- repeating it is really a waste of time.

Many types of journals are available -- from a simple notebook to online versions. Graph paper is useful for making sketches more or less to scale, indicating the position of plants or bulbs relative to each other.

When adding a new plant to your garden, be sure to record the complete name, including the variety. While one Tomato or Coreopsis may exactly suit your taste or style, another may not. When you order plants in following years, you can use your notes to help you select varieties that suit you best, based on personal experience.

Other important information to record includes:

Source of plants. This is important if you decide you want more of the same plant or if you encounter problems with the plant.

Planting date and exact location in the yard. It's often helpful -- or just interesting -- to know just how long a perennial, shrub, or tree has been growing in that space. Location is extremely important with bulbs and perennials, particularly those that are late to emerge in the spring, so you avoid inadvertently planting something on top of them. Diagrams of your garden work well for this purpose, as do pictures.

Fertilizer applications. Record the type, amount, and date. This helps you plan your next fertilizer application, and can be helpful when trouble-shooting growth problems.

Pests and actions to deal with them. Write down pests encountered and the date they appeared to help alert you to potential infestations in following years -- the same pests often appear at about the same time each year. Note what you did to minimize their damage -- what worked -- and what didn't work.

Flowering and fruiting times. By keeping track of when your plants bloom (or fruit), you can more easily plan for a continuous show of color in your garden. Keeping track of harvest times in a vegetable or fruit garden helps you plan for a more continuous supply of fresh produce.

Special care or comments. If a plant requires annual pruning, deadheading, staking, etc., it's worth noting so you are prepared and can perform the task at the appropriate time. Appealing fragrances, foliage color or texture, flower color, fruit flavor, etc., are also worth recording so you can make the most of them if you expand your garden.

Adding photographs. Pictures are worth a thousand words! Taking pictures for your journal helps you remember appealing combinations as well as those that need something added or removed. Photographs of annual plantings and container gardens will help you recreate those that were most successful. Photos also help you appreciate the growth and maturity of your garden through the years. Remember, you are your best source of information for your garden -- take advantage of it.