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Gardening Resolutions for 2021

By Paul James

I usually avoid making New Year’s resolutions, particularly those that involve losing weight or exercising more, largely because I’m not very good at doing either (even though I need to do both!). But I have committed to a number of gardening resolutions. And I plan to keep every one of them. 

Less Lawn

Lawns are the most resource-consuming portion of our properties, requiring vast amounts of water, and in most cases lots of fertilizer, herbicides and pesticides, and labor. So I’m going to reduce the size of my lawn by creating a new shrub border and shade garden, a new perennial garden, and if Carrie and I can come to terms on the design, a large fire pit and outdoor seating area. Combined, they’ll reduce the size of our lawn by around 2,500 square feet. Hey, every little bit helps, and less mowing is always a good thing.

More Conifers

There’s always room for more conifers! Well, except in my garden. So I intend to plant a half dozen or so in containers, mostly smaller ones like Arborvitae ‘Gruene Kugel’ and ‘Whipcord,’ Deodar Cedar ‘Snow Sprite’ and ‘Feelin’ Sunny,’ Bosnian Pine ‘Banderica,’ and Cryptomeria ‘Dwarf Globe,’ just to name a few. Oh, and I’ll also be planting a bunch of those mini conifers in pots too — some solo, some in groups — because they’re so darn cute!

More Perennials for Pollinators

Plant once. Enjoy for years, even decades to come. That’s the power of perennials, and I plan to add at least 30 or 40 varieties this year in my new perennial garden, particularly those that are native and attract pollinators. The garden will be in front of my fenced vegetable garden, which is 80-feet long, and in plain view from my back porch. It’s gonna be awesome. And I’ll have room for more conifers!

More Trees

I have several large trees on my property and no room for more, but this past weekend I zeroed in on three spots — two in the shade and one in full sun — where I have room for small trees. So in the shade I’m going to plant two Japanese maples (haven’t decided which, but they’re all beautiful) and in the sunny spot I’m gonna go with a Gingko called ‘Jade Butterflies’ that grows to about 12 feet.

More Plants for Birds

In addition to planting specifically for pollinators, I’m going to focus on attracting more birds in my new shrub border. The area doesn’t get much sun, but that’s okay, because one of my favorite groups of shrubs, namely Viburnums, don’t need much sun and many of them produce berries that birds love. In an area that gets the most sun, I’m going to plant a Chokeberry and an Elderberry, whose fruits are also prized by birds. I’ll also add some large Yews — probably ‘Hicks’ or ‘Capitata’ — because their dense foliage offers ideal nesting sights, especially for robins and cardinals.  

And when that’s all said and done, I’ll have gotten quite a bit of exercise and maybe, just maybe, lost a few pounds along the way.

Happy gardening, ya’ll. And Happy New Year!

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27 responses to “Gardening Resolutions for 2021”

  1. Caroline Johnson says:

    I love your resolutions!! You are a perfect candidate for the Oklahoma Conservation District’s Yard By Yard urban restoration project. Be willing to bet your yard could qualify w/ these resolutions in place: Bravo!

  2. Mike Williams says:

    Thanks Paul, how big do the elderberry plants get? Can millet be grown in my flower beds, do they require a lot of water? I am looking for less maintenance plants for pollinators an birds.
    Any word on adult beverage seminars? Have you tried any new bourbons you might recommend?

    • Paul James says:

      Do I know you? Ha! Elderberries vary in height from around 5 to 12 feet. The dark purple variety gets larger than the chartreuse one. Yes, millet is easy to grow here, and doesn’t require much water once established. I hope to offer seminars by June. We’ll see. As for new bourbons, have you tried the Elijah Craig barrel proof? It’s not cheap, but it’s delicious. Happy New Year, my friend. Give my best to Genger. Holler sometime.

  3. Becky Brady says:

    I love a conifer in a pot! Will you put yours among the landscaping or on the patio?

  4. Cindy Shanks says:

    Thank you, Paul! I am inspired!

  5. Reta says:

    And you KNOW, we’ll wanna see pics!!!

  6. Joanna Darrow says:

    My garden has been a source of joy and stress relief this year. I love all these ideas and I really enjoy reading your essays on gardening. Keep up the good work and inspiration! Here’s to hoping for a better year next year!

  7. Joan locke says:

    Is it too late to plant tulips and what do u put with them when planting??

    • Paul James says:

      It’s a little late for planting tulips, but if you have some bulbs go ahead and get them in the ground. No need to add fertilizer at this point. Wait until the foliage begins to appear next spring.

  8. Debby Raskin says:

    I’m looking forward to watching your changes. I’d like to get rid of more grass too, so may borrow some of your ideas!

  9. Richard says:

    Paul, my wife and I remember you from your HGTV program, “Gardening by the Yard.” It was the BEST show on gardening, and we watched you religiously. It was informative, engaging with a bit of humor. We were very disappointed when the show ended in 2009, but glad to see you are still giving advice at the Southwood Landscape & Garden Center. I think there are many people with gardens who feel the same way we do. Too many of the things on HGTV now are too reality show oriented with little or no useful information. Change is not always for the best.

    Thank you for those many years of teaching us “How To.”

    • Paul James says:

      I appreciate the kind words, Richard. It’s extremely gratifying to know that I had an impact on so many fellow gardeners. Happy 2021, and give my regards to your wife.

  10. Mike Schneider says:

    Paul, on the same note as Richard above, my wife and I were big Gardening by the Yard fans. We were very surprised and happy to find the entire series is now available on Discovery+ streaming channel and I hope they are treating you right for that. We’ve re-watched the first few seasons and the information still holds up today. Thank you again for making such a wonderful show!

    • Paul James says:

      Thanks, Mike. Good to know people can watch my old shows. I’m not sure I can bring myself to watch it, except perhaps the episodes that feature my kids when they were younger. I remember an early show where my daughter was in diapers — she’ll be 29 this Saturday!

  11. AnnMarie Goldberg says:

    Happy HEALTHY 2021 to you and yours!! You’re really inspiring me to have some gardening resolutions. I did get some dwarf lemon cypress during the holidays that I am considering adding to my outdoor landscape and also considering more conifers. I definitely lean towards flowers so I can easily check perennials off my resolution list.
    We don’t have a lot of “real estate” for more plants and the front lawn is getting “shaded out” by trees. Any recommendations?
    Eagerly waiting for another livestream

    • Paul James says:

      I’m kicking of my 2021 virtual seminars on January 21. You’ll be able to register this Thursday. There are lots of perennials for shade, but ferns are my favorite. We can talk about more next week Happy 2021!

  12. Debbie says:

    Paul. My front bed gets afternoon HOT sun. I have a weeping Japanese Maple there I planted 3 years ago. Last year it struggled losing 1/4 the leaves. Is there a Japanese maple that can take this area? Also I’m tired of the privet hedges. Does boxwood do good in the heat? I too miss your show. So much great info. Do you have a YouTube Chanel? I follow Garden Answer and keep thinking you would make an awesome channel!

    • Paul James says:

      Japanese maples can’t handle afternoon sun, period. Consider a weeping Japanese Snowbell instead. Boxwoods can definitely handle the heat and sun. I occasionally post YouTube videos on Thanks for the kind words.

  13. Cathy Williams says:

    Hello Paul James! I just found you (that is found you again; watched Gardening by the Yard for years) and I’m hoping you’ll provide your seminars on line. My husband and I miss your show which provided wonderful information.

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