We gardeners are always searching for ways to make gardening easier. Gardening is enjoyable, rewarding, relaxing… and hard work There is always something to do – planning, planting, watering, weeding, harvesting.
Most gardeners enjoy the time they spend working in their gardens, but there comes a point when garden tasks can pile up, making you can just a little overwhelmed. Here are some gardening and planning tips that I’ve found can put you a little ahead of the game.
Most are common sense (you’ve heard them before, but maybe haven’t got around to implementing them), and some may seem like more work. But putting them into practice will make gardening easier for you in the long run, leaving you more time to sit back with a cool drink to enjoy your creation.
9 Ways to Make Gardening Easier and More Fun
1. Feed the Soil
Start with great soil and you’ll wind up with healthy and lush plants. Healthy plants get fewer diseases, attract fewer pests and need less water. Right there, you’ll save time!
Begin by purchasing a soil analysis kit and test your soil. If your soil is deficient in any minerals or nutrients, take steps to amend the soil with slow release organics. Then keep adding organic matter, such as compost, seaweed extracts, bone meal, fish fertilizers (we call it ‘fish and chips” here on the west coast) or well-rotted manure regularly.
Once you’ve added these organic amendments over three or four years, you can slow down on this type of soil feeding – perhaps adding freshly matured compost every second year.
Avoid any reliance on synthetic fertilizers that can actually destroy the beneficial organisms and organic matter in the soil. They are generally a short-term fix.
2. Group Plants by Their Needs
I’m sure you’ve heard the saying “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 with watering.
3. Choose Low Maintenance Perennials
Make low-maintenance perennials the backbone of your flower garden. These are plants that can take care of themselves, and require little in the way of deadheading, staking, pinching or pruning throughout the growing season. You’ll also have continuous beauty in your flower beds without the annual cost of – well, annuals!
Here are some low maintenance perennials to consider:
- Peony (Paeonia) zones 3-8 – I love these gloriously scented and long-lived perennials. Even the bushy foliage looks good. Remember to surround them with a support, as the huge flower heads can be heavy enough to droop to the ground.
- Daylily (Hemerocallis) zones 3-8 – Sure, you’ll have to remove the spent flower heads, but that’s a small price to pay for a plant that requires little attention otherwise. Daylilies are both long-lived and hardy perennials, and you can choose from over 70 different varieties.
- Black eyed Susan (Rudbeckia “Goldsturm”) zones 3-8 – This bright gold flower is a native North American. Its masses of gold blooms make any border come alive, attracting butterflies and hummingbirds. Although considered a short-lived perennial, rudbeckias will self seed.
- Purple Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea) zones 3-8 – This is another North American native, blooming throughout the summer. It makes a lovely cut flower, with its coned heads surrounded by pink-purple petals. It’s another butterfly magnet.
- Stonecrop (Sedum) zones 3-8 – These succulents are ideal for the more arid sections of your garden. There are over 300 varieties of sedums to choose from, and all are low maintenance. Sedums are either creeping or upright, so choose according to how you plan to use them. Creeping sedums root wherever they touch the ground, so can spread rapidly.
- Coral Bells (Heuchera) zones 3-8 – Another native plant, coral bells have an airy spray of tiny flowers rising high above lush and colourful pinnate foliage. Many varieties with leaves ranging in color from pale green through bronze, red, purples and deep green will add lots of color to shadier areas of the yard.
- Hostas zones 2 – 9 – These hardy perennials are one of the most popular garden ornamentals. Mainly grown for their foliage, the varieties range from specimens with blue, green, yellow and white foliage combinations. As well, there are now varieties with flat, curled, cupped, wavy, puckered, embossed, ruffled, wrinkled and pleated leaves. Hostas are true shade-loving plants, so a perfect choice for shady corners and under trees or shrubs.
Research what works best for your area, soil type, climate and personal preference. Your local garden shops should carry most of these perennials.
4. Use Raised Beds and Containers
Containers and raised beds give your garden boundaries, providing the ultimate in control, and can really make gardening easier. You control the soil, water, exposure and even limit the horizontal growth of the plants.
Raised beds separate the garden beds from their surroundings, keeping weeds from the garden soil. You have the same controls as in container gardening, just on a larger scale; and you’ll be saving your back from some bending. Either of these methods require monitoring soil moisture, as they will dry out more quickly.
5. Install Drip Irrigation
Drip irrigation sounds like it might be a chore to install, and it does take time – measuring, purchasing, and installing, but it has been reduced to a tinker toy level.
Unless you rely 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.
As a plus, it has the advantage of putting the water right where your plants need it. Since the water is slowly directed to the soil right around the plants, and not sprinkled on the foliage, plant diseases are kept to a minimum. By installing a timer, you won’t even have to take the time to turn it on.
Drip irrigating is a perfect choice for raised beds and container gardens, saving you time and concerns about your plants drying out.
6. Mulch Again
Mulching is common sense and something you’ve heard a thousand times. Yet many gardeners only view mulch as decoration. Mulch does make a garden look more attractive, but it also allows you to cut down on watering, weeding and fertilizing time, simplifying your job and again – making gardening easier!
Organic mulches – matured compost, bark chips, clean straw, dry grass clippings, pine needles and chipped wood – all encourage the proliferation of beneficial organisms in the soil. They will slowly decompose, further enriching the soil.
I’ve found mulching with a thin layer straw under and around strawberries will keep pill bugs and slugs from devouring the fruit. It will also retain soil moisture, prevent splash back of soil borne diseases and keep the fruit from sitting directly upon bare soil.
7. Get Some Wheels
One good garden cart or wheelbarrow can ease the carrying, lifting and moving you have to do in the garden. Don’t go into the garden without it. You can tote your tools, move plants, harvest, toss weeds right into it and wheel it down to the compost heap. No matter what size, you’ll get more done, with less stress on your body, with wheels.
8. Learn From Experience
Keep a special journal just for gardening, and jot down notes every week so you have personal garden records for next year. For example, diagram where you planted each vegetable so you can rotate locations next year. Adding photos can be valuable. Take photos of spring blooming bulbs so you have a reference in the fall, and you know where you need to add more. I’ve found this is the most important way to keep organized and it definitely makes gardening easier the following year.
9. Enlist Your Children
Teach your children and grandkids early in life how much fun gardening can be. Tailor the gardening activities to their age: for the youngest gardeners. It may only be mucking around with soil and water. Show them bugs, worms, roots, sprouted seeds and remember – watering is more fun than weeding. Give them a spot to grow their own plants.
Planting, harvesting, learning what’s a weed and what’s not, spotting beneficial insects – these are all activities that will get them out into the garden. They may not like pulling weeds or deadheading the flowers at first, but what child doesn’t like picking and eating fresh strawberries, raspberries or blueberries?
Many schools now have a fenced garden plot as part of their curriculum. If the school your children attend does not, then why not approach them and discuss setting one up.
You may be part of training a future gardener!