Garden Smarter, Not Harder

Posted by Sheela Cooper

Gardening season will soon be in full swing! Even if you love gardening, there’s no doubt that it is a lot of work, especially when it comes to mundane chores like weeding. I want to share some tips with you to help you garden more efficiently so that you can have more time for other hobbies, like shopping!

I’ve been an avid gardener for many years, and it has taken as many years for me to understand my garden space well enough to plant what works and thrives instead of choosing whatever plants catch my fancy at the garden center. I hope the things I’ve learned can help you have a more successful gardening experience.

Tip #1:  Pay attention to how many hours of sunlight your garden gets each day and learn which sections get the most sun and which are shady. Also make note of afternoon sun versus morning sun – some plants may like lots of sunlight, but strong afternoon sun may be too much for them to take. Certain plants are very heat and drought tolerant, so those will be fine in afternoon sun.

Tip #2: Learn how your garden drains after rain or watering with the hose. Some sections may drain very well, but some may remain wet for a while.

Tip #3: Assess the soil quality in your garden. You can buy an inexpensive soil test kit at the home improvement store, or your local cooperative extension service may be able to test your soil for a small fee. You don’t even have to be so fancy – look to natural cues to understand the quality of your soil. Do you find a lot of earthworms when you dig? If so, that indicates a healthy soil system. When you dig a couple of inches down, do you hit clay or sand? If so, you’ll probably want to add a good amount of topsoil.

Our house was new construction, so the builders removed most of the topsoil during the building process (this is a common problem). Although our yard is small, we added more than a TON (literally) of topsoil to make our garden’s soil plant-friendly.

Tip #4: Once you get to the garden center, choose the right plants by reading the plant information tags. This sounds basic, but it’s easy to get excited about all of the pretty things and just start grabbing what catches your eye. Slow down and read the information carefully to make sure that you choose water loving plants for wetter areas of your garden, or heat tolerant plants for your west-facing garden. If you have deer in your neighborhood, remember to check whether or not the plants are deer-resistant.

Ask questions! Most garden center staff are very knowledgeable and love to help customers find the right plants. I have learned a lot from these kind and patient folks over the years, so take advantage of their expertise. (Bonus: learn which plants are native to your area and plant some of those in your garden.)

Tip #5: Whenever possible, choose perennials. These plants will come back each year, and they usually get better with age. Choosing perennials over annuals (which die at the end of each season and need to be purchased and planted each year) will save you much time and money over the years. Perennials come in all sizes, shapes, and colors, so there will be something that fits your needs. 

Tip #6: Get your plants into the ground as soon as possible. Once you select the right plants, it’s important to plant them ASAP. Plants in pots need to be watered daily, and it’s easy for them to dry out and die while they are waiting to be planted in your garden. This is frustrating and expensive for you, so try to plan your day with enough time to purchase and plant new plants in the same day.

Tip #7: When you plant, make sure to gently separate the roots before placing the plant in the ground. You can soak the plant once you remove it from the pot to make it easier to separate the roots before planting. Add some slow release fertilizer to the planting area to give your new plant a healthy start. Again, follow the instructions on the tag for plant spacing so you don’t overcrowd them.

Tip #8: Water your new plants thoroughly once they are in the ground. I water them daily for about a week so they can get established in their new home.

Tip #9: If a plant is too big for a spot or isn’t working where it currently is, don’t be afraid to move it. Transplant it using the same steps as when you planted it, and make sure to water it thoroughly when you’re done. Avoid transplanting in the heat of the day; try to move plants in the morning when it’s cool to reduce the amount of stress on them.

Tip #10: Take photos of your garden when it’s in bloom. Insert the photos into a document and mark which plants are perennials so you’ll remember what is where and won’t accidentally pull them up as weeds in the spring. Keep the document easily accessible so you can look at it in the spring to decide whether you like everything as is or if you want to change/move anything.

Tip #11: Pull weeds by the roots when they are small. Weeding is never a fun task, but if you look through your garden every couple of days and just spend a few minutes pulling any weeds, it will feel much less daunting than spending hours pulling up well established weeds. Always wear gloves when weeding (or planting). I like the ones with nitrile coated palms, since they resist water. Invest in a few basic tools to make weed-pulling easier – a trowel and a dandelion weeder are usually sufficient to make your job easier. Pulling weeds by hand helps you avoid using toxic weed killers in your garden, making it safer for you and the earth. 

Tip #12:
 Carry an old plastic pot or bucket with you around the garden as you weed to make clean-up easier. Then you can simply empty the bucket into your trash can one time instead of collecting piles of weeds in your arms from different areas of the garden and trying to carry them neatly to the trash.

Tip #13: Don’t forget about inexpensive seed packets – a $1 pack of seeds can add just as much beauty to the garden as a $7 potted plant. Things like basil, zinnias, cosmos, and sunflowers grow beautifully from seed.

Tip #14: Don’t be afraid to garden in containers, whether they are pots, and old boot, or a cute, sturdy tote bag, like this one from Home From India:

This bag works as an inexpensive planter that is unique and adds some great color and character to the garden. If you choose to garden in a bag like this, I recommend lining the inside first with some heavy plastic (a strong trash bag would work), then add in some pea gravel for drainage before adding the soil. You may even want to put some old plastic pots in upside down on top of the gravel to fill up some of the bag’s volume and use less soil. Here's how lovely and convenient this bag is as a tomato planter:


I hope these tips can help you get the garden you love with less effort. Some careful planning up front can bring you a beautiful, lower maintenance garden for years to come. Happy spring, now go forth and garden!

NOTE: I do not have any affiliation with any products or retailers (aside from Home From India) mentioned in this post. 





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