Making gardening easier doesn't mean there won't always be something to do in the garden. Although most gardeners enjoy the time they spend working in their gardens, there comes a point when garden tasks can get ahead of you, making you can feel like you've bitten off more than you can chew. The following gardening and garden planning tips can put you a little ahead of the game.
Some of these tips are common sense and some may seem like more work in the short term, but they all really will make gardening easier for you. And that way you'll have time to create even more gardens!
- Feed the Soil You've heard it a thousand times, but do you do it? Start with great soil and you'll wind up with great plants. Healthy plants get fewer diseases, attract fewer insect pests and require less water. Plus you won't have to remember to fertilize every other week. Start with a good analysis of your existing soil. You can have all the essential nutrients tested or just the pH. Many nurseries provide this service as well as your local Cooperative Extension Service. If your soil is deficient in any minerals or nutrients, amend the soil according to recommendations. Then keep adding organic matter, like compost, regularly.
- Slow release, organic fertilizers can help supplement deficient nutrients. But feeding plants with synthetic fertilizers can actually destroy the beneficial organisms and organic matter within the soil and only provide a short fix. It's like turning your garden into a drug addict. It will need regular doses of fertilizer and more and more to get the same effect.
- Group Plants by Their Needs "Right plant for the right spot." That's the beginning of the equation. Of course, you're going to want to put sun lovers in the sun and ground covers where they can roam. But consider how efficient it would be if you put all your water hogs together so you could just turn on the sprinklers or drag the hose to one area and be done. The same goes for plants that require a lot of deadheading or vegetables that need to be harvested daily or hourly, like zucchini. You can still mix in different bloom times and variations in color, form, and texture. It's just the heavy maintenance chores that should be consolidated.
- Choose Lower Maintenance Perennials There will always be primadonna plants you have to have (although probably less and less of them as you get older), but make the backbone of your garden perennial flowers that can take care of themselves. Plants like Astilbes and Sedums, that look good all season and don't need deadheading, pinching or staking. Here are even more low maintenance perennials.
- Raised Beds & Containers It's much easier to control your garden if it has definite boundaries. Containers provide the ultimate in control. You control the soil, water, exposure and even limit the growth of the plants in the container. Raised beds separate the garden beds from their surroundings. Ideally, lift the beds up by 6 inches or more. You'll have the benefits of controlling your borders and you'll be saving your back from some bending.
- Add Drip Irrigation This is one of those suggestions that sounds like it's going to cost a fortune and require a professional to install - and it can. But it doesn't have to. They've reduced drip irrigation to a tinker toy level. Believe me, if I can grasp it, so can you. There is an initial cost, although nowhere near what you might fear, and you will need to do some measuring. But unless you rely solely on rain to water your gardens, you will actually save money in the long run. Drip irrigation is far more efficient than any other type of watering. Plus it puts all the water right where your plants need it. Add an inexpensive timer and think of all the time you've saved yourself.
- Mulch Again, this is common sense and something you've been told a thousand times. Yet many gardeners only view mulch as decoration. Mulch does make a garden look more attractive, but it also keeps the soil and plant roots cool, retains moisture so you can water less often, prevents weed seeds from seeing the light of day and sprouting and feeds the soil. Right there you've cut down on watering, weeding and fertilizing time.
- Time Released Fertilizer and Water Polymers Container gardens are the exception to the Feed the Soil rule above. It's not practical to use compost or garden soil in containers and so some supplemental feeding is necessary to keep the plants going. Containers also dry out more quickly than garden bed soil, especially if the bed is mulched. So start your container gardening season by adding some slow release fertilizer pellets and some polymer crystals that grab, hold and slowly release water to the plant roots. Add both at planting time. Both products are widely available at garden centers.
- Ergonomic Tools A lot of gardening is repetitive motion and can be very stressful on the joints, especially the wrists and back. Thankfully garden tool companies have been coming out with more and better tools that work with the body, taking some of the bending and squeezing out of garden work. Look around for ratchet pruners, bent rakes, cushioned handles and trowels that don't require you to bend your wrist.
- Wheels Watch a child with a new wagon. They can't find enough things to put in it or enough places to go. Now think about how long you've put off moving that cement bird bath or how many plants are still sitting in pots on your driveway because you didn't want to make one more trip. This is why man invented the wheel. Get yourself at least one good garden cart or wheelbarrow and don't go out into the garden without it. You can tote your tools, move plants, harvest, toss weeds right into it and glide down to the compost heap. No matter how small your plot is, you'll get more done with wheels. If you have a very large plot, consider wheels with a motor.
- Child Labor Show your children and grandkids early in life how much fun and how exciting gardening is. They may never enjoy deadheading the petunias, I know I don't, but planting, harvesting, learning what's a weed, collecting insects. These are all activities that will get them out into the garden. Okay, maybe it won't lessen the workload, but good companionship can make it seem so!