10 New Year’s Resolutions For The 2020 Garden

Given my preference for long days spent in the garden, December 21 is always cause for celebration. That’s because from that point forward every day will get just a little longer. And with the return of the light, my mind is filled with thoughts of the garden and plans for what the New Year will bring.

If you’ve been following this blog, you know that every year I post my New Year’s resolutions for both my individual and clients’ gardens. So without further ado, here they are below.


Given our changing climate, environmentally-responsible, sustainable landscapes are becoming more and more in vogue. As a result, you can now find more native species for sale at the nursery. These plants tend to look a little less ‘finished’ than what we are used to, but the flip side is that they come with many benefits.

Not only are native plants more hardy (since they are evolved to local conditions), but they also require less watering and fewer pesticides and fertilizers. Moreover, they provide food and habitat to birds and other local wildlife.

blue cardinal flower

Blue cardinal flower, Lobelia siphilitica, is a native plant of Maryland

This year, I resolve to learn more about my area’s native plants and add a few new species to my gardens. 


Most of us love birds, but can we name the ones visiting our garden? The legendary Ted Parker, who was known for his ability to identify thousands of birds by their songs alone, said

“Birding in tropical forests by sight alone is like watching the news on television with the sound turned off – you’ll miss most of what’s going on.”


The vireo is a small songbird native to Virginia

This year, I resolve to learn a handful of songs and begin building my birdcall repertoire. If this sounds like a good idea to you, too, writer Kenn Kaufman of Audubon News has some great suggestions for how to do so, including online bird guides, free ID apps and some good old-fashioned books.


Until last year, (when I and my team were growing massive amounts of zinnias for a wedding), I had had little experience with growing plants from seed. Truth by told, I was afraid of the whole project. Something about laying those tiny kernels in the potting mix shook my confidence in my own planting abilities.

But thanks to our efforts, I and the rest of my team (who were not afraid), were rewarded with hundreds of beautiful plants by mid-summer. Moreover, they were varieties that weren’t available at local nurseries. This helped me realize that growing plants from seed is not only economical, it opens up a whole new world of planting possibilities.

growing seeds

This year, I resolve to grow more annuals from seed to supplement the other plants in my gardens. 


While the huge purple globes of Allium ‘Globemaster’ get all the glory, there are many other spectacular allium species that bloom all through summer right up to the first frost. These include the mid-summer flowering Blue Globe Onion (Allium caeruleum) Stars of Persia (Allium cristophii) and adorable Drumstick (Allium sphaerocephalon), to name just a few.

Allium 'Drumstick'

Adorable, summer-blooming Allium ‘Drumstick’

In the fall, I resolve to plant a bunch of these other, lesser-known species to enhance the show in my 2021 garden.


For some time, I’d been watching moss slowly form a carpet under my flower pots. I knew I needed to add some pot risers, but hadn’t found any that didn’t detract from the look of the container. That is, until Julie Friedman of Exteriors Landscape Design recommended some invisible flower pot risers called LIFT MY POT. Made out of heavy black rubber, the round risers got the job done while completely disappearing from view. 

clay flower pots

I resolve to order more of these risers for the rest of my pots (and my clients’ pots) next season.


It seemed like fall 2019 was a time of garden rehab for my business. In early December, we hand pruned a large number of overgrown shrubs on two separate properties. One of my team members is an accomplished boxwood pruner (having apprenticed at the historic Georgetown estate called Dumbarton Oaks). Watching his technique as well as the tools he employed inspired me to come home and coax all my own boxwood into spheres. For a perfectionist like me, it was a deeply satisfying experience.

pruning shears

However, as we all know, good tools make a job more enjoyable and over the years, my tools have suffered much neglect. This year, I resolve to take better care of my pruning shears (perhaps buy some new ones) and keep them in clean and sharpened condition.


There are raspberries and then there are raspberries. Two years ago, a client of mine introduced me to the golden kind. Milder than their red cousins with a fuller, sweeter taste, they are the perfect summer snack right out of the garden. Golden raspberries come in both summer and fall-bearing varieties. including ‘Honey Queen’, ‘Fall Gold’, Golden Harvest’ and Anne’.

golden raspberries

Golden raspberries

This year, I resolve to add a small hedgerow of golden raspberry plants to my garden.


Almost nothing speaks ‘garden’ more than a long line of hydrangeas, the quintessential summer hedge. Yet many people opt for a single specimen or just a few, missing out on the grand statement these dramatic shrubs can make in a mass.

Although I’m partial to the old-fashioned, part-shade mophead varieties, my favorite easy-care species for full sun is the limelight hydrangea.

hydrangea hedge

Hydrangeas have the biggest impact as a hedge

This year, I resolve to make a grand statement and plant a limelight hydrangea hedge along the brick wall in the back of my garden.


Don’t we all wish for a better hose? I’ve tried them all from the rubber to the cloth. They’re either too heavy, always crimping, or just don’t feel right in my hands (like the accordion models in rubber or cloth). Luckily the wirecutter examined a bunch of them and came up with some recommendations. In 2019, they concluded that the neon green Flexzilla was the most kink-resistant material they tested. It lay flat and twisted and turned more easily than the others.

flexzilla garden hose

The lime green Flexzilla garden hose

I resolve to experience the joys of watering again and buy a Flexzilla garden hose for 2020.


Not everyone is a fan, but the facts are things are getting drier. If you want to save on irrigation and not worry if your plants will die over vacation, grasses are the ticket. That’s because, unlike more shallow-rooted perennials, grasses have long roots that penetrate deep into the soil to capture water other plants can’t reach.

Pampas, maiden and purple fountain grasses are all dependable garden denizens. But nowadays there are so many other exciting options available (including many species that come in more manageable sizes.) These include Little Blue Stem, Purple Moor Grass, Blue Oat Grass and Pink Muhly Grass, to name just a few.

festuca glauca

Blue fescue is a great, small sized grass with silver-blue foliage

This year, I resolve to expand my grass library and add some unusual specimens to my garden. 

Wishing all of my readers a wonderful New Year and successful 2020 season in the garden!


In The Zone: The USDA Plant Hardiness Map Explained

The 1967 Arnold Map/Image courtesy of Arnold Arboretum, Harvard University.

Most of us know not to plant watermelons in the mountains or aspen trees at the beach. But, when it comes to the myriad plants available to gardeners and landscapers at the nursery, things can get murky. That’s when a handy tool called the USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map can make all the difference. Not only can it tell you what plants will survive where, but it can also ensure a year’s worth of success in the garden. Continue reading

How To Pronounce Botanical Names (Hint: It Doesn’t Matter)

Just the other day, I was working with a bunch of Master Gardeners preparing a garden for the county fair when one of them noticed a bare space. Sure enough, in one of the central beds, a group of plants had recently given up the ghost on a prominent corner. In no time, we all agreed that a lacy evergreen would be the perfect replacement. And that’s when I suggested chamaecyparis. Continue reading

How To Build A Perfect Lawn: A Maryland Turf Expert Speaks Out

When it comes to experts on lawns, University of Maryland’s Chuck Schuster is a cut above. Not only is he an educator in commercial horticulture, but he also consults on grass with many nursery, greenhouse, turf and garden center industries. Oh, and in his spare time he provides guidance on turf protection to some of the largest stadiums and sports complexes in the Washington, DC area. Continue reading

Spring Fever: How To Force Branches To Bloom Indoors

Why wait for spring when you can force it to come early indoors? Spring flowering trees and shrubs are a ‘natural’ for forcing. Why? Because their buds formed in the fall before they went dormant. Once they’ve been chilled long enough, they’re ready to cut. And for many of us, that time is now. Continue reading

The Real Lives Of Yellow Jackets And How To Get Rid Of Them

Eastern yellow jacket cleaning itself on a leaf

Recently I published a blog post about bees, wasps and hornets. To add interest to the story, I created a graphic featuring 4 common species and asked my readers to identify them. One reader labeled three of them correctly and labeled the fourth one ‘jerk.’ (Actually he used more colorful language, but this is a family blog). That ‘jerk’ was the yellow jacket. Continue reading

Pruning Hydrangeas: A Step-By-Step Guide For Old And New Wood

To prune or not to prune? That is one of the quintessential gardening questions. Continue reading

The ABC’s Of Deadheading And Why It Produces More Flowers

Regular deadheading ensures the blooms keep coming all season long

Have you ever been frustrated by a beautiful plant that suddenly stops blooming? It’s time for a haircut. Continue reading

Weed ID: Get To Know What You’re Pulling

“My flower is an educated weed.” – Luther Burbank

Summer is coming and many of our plants are bursting into flower. But while we celebrate, there’s another less attractive family of plants springing into life as well. Continue reading

Five Reasons Why Trees Fail: A Bartlett Tree Expert Speaks Out

why your trees are failing

Trees are generally admired for their surface beauty, but their health and vigor springs from what’s underground. That’s according to Dr. Kelby Fite, Director of Research for Bartlett Tree Research Lab in Charlotte, NC, who spoke to Maryland’s master gardeners last week on the reasons why trees fail. His lecture entitled ‘Managing the Landscape Below Ground’ provided a wealth of information about how to improve the life of the trees in our landscape. According to Fite, it all starts with the soil. Continue reading