New weather patterns will require smart gardening

Become a smart gardener by changing the way you manage your plants.

For gardeners in Michigan, we’ve just finished the hottest and driest season that we’ve have ever experienced. This challenging growing season and several preceding seasons have separated gardeners into two categories: the smart gardeners and the automatic gardeners.

The smart gardener can be defined as responsive or finely sensitive to their perceptions and environment. This is the thinking gardener. They are continuously looking and evaluating as they garden: How much rain is in my rain gauge after the last shower? What insect pests do I usually see in June?

Butterfly milkweed
Butterfly milkweed. Photo credit: Karan A. Rawlins, University of Georgia,

Automatic gardeners use their memory with little intelligence when solving problems. They follow routines or repetition to carry out their tasks mechanically or unthinkingly. They just go through the motions and repeat what they have always done. They are not aware that anything has changed.

Success or failure in this difficult growing season often hinged on how nimble a gardener’s thinking was. Smart gardeners put out their rain gauge and checked to see how much water was falling from the sky. They dug small test holes to see how damp the soil was and then replaced what was missing. They inspected both tops and bottoms of leaves for insect or disease damage. They mulched soil to keep it cooler and prevent evaporation of water. They got soil tests so they could apply missing nutrients. They were concerned with the health of the plants and were willing and eager to learn new information.

The automatic gardener was big on excuses this season. When plants died or failed to perform, the first comment was a defense of sorts. There were a variety of reasons: I took care of it like I always do; The plant looked fine and just dropped dead; It was a native plant and it was living in Michigan so it shouldn’t need any care.

Michigan State University Extension horticulture educators are declaring that this is beginning of the era of the smart gardener. Since weather patterns have shifted and all gardeners are now dealing with more extreme weather and increased disease problems, changes in gardening are necessary. The smart gardeners will be willing to learn more and adapt that information to their home landscapes.

Consider becoming a smart gardener in the coming years. For more information on a wide variety of smart gardening articles, or to find out about smart gardening classes and events, visit You can also visit us at the Novi Cottage and Lakefront Living Show on Feb. 21-24, or the West Michigan Home and Garden Show on Feb. 28-March 3.  

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