As much as we are lovers of plants and flowers spending most of our time at work in the peak gardening months means that our gardens at home need to be pretty low maintenance and self sufficient. We have learned over the years what does and does not thrive in this environment. So what are our tips for having a beautiful garden without investing a ton of time?
Spend Time Upfront to Improve Your Soil
Taking care of your soil isn’t sexy, but improving your soil is one of the best ways to make gardening easier. Great soil means a good root system and healthy roots mean happy plants. Any time you spend improving your soil will pay you back over and over again. Incorporating organic matter, also called compost, will improve any soil. For more on improving your soil, click here and here.
Choose Plants Suited to Your Environment
Plant selection will have a huge impact on how time intensive gardening is. If you choose plants that are well-adapted to your environment, they will be much easier to grow. In other words, if your summer is hot and humid, don’t grow plants that prefer cool temperatures. If you tend to have dry conditions, choose plants that are drought tolerant. If you live where the summer is cool and cloudy, don’t choose plants that love heat. By selecting plants that like the conditions in which you garden, those plants will be predisposed to do well.
How do you choose well-adapted plants? Take a look around at plants that are native to your area or to areas with a climate similar to yours. Native plants and improvements on natives have adapted over time to their environment. The other suggestion is to look at plants that do well in public gardens or flower trials in your area. Public gardens know they must have beautiful garden beds and choose plants accordingly. Plant trials are conducted to choose the best plants for the conditions of that garden.
Now this doesn’t mean that you have to restrict yourself to only plants that are well-adapted to your environment. However, if you place more time intensive plants where they are easy to access and where you will see them often (this reminds you that they need you), then they are easier to tend.
Choose Plants with Disease and Insect Tolerance or Resistance
This goes hand-in-hand with choosing plants that are suited to your environment. Natives or improved versions of native plants are a good choice here, too. They have evolved to withstand the diseases and insects found in the local environment. However, they are not the only choice. Many common garden plants have been bred and selected to have greater pest and disease tolerance or resistance.
Pay attention to the write-ups on specific plants. In some cases plant breeders have been able to improve the disease or insect tolerance of new cultivars over what you would normally find for that species. These improvements in tolerance levels to known problems for a plant can make it much easier to grow a gorgeous garden.
Choose Plants That Do Not Require Regular Maintenance
Repetitive garden tasks can really add up for your garden workload. Deadheading is one such task. Conventional wisdom says that annuals should be deadheaded to keep them blooming all summer. However, some annuals don’t need deadheading at all and in some cases plants that would have traditionally needed deadheading have been improved to bloom all summer without it.
Proven Winners specifically chooses its annuals to bloom all summer without deadheading. One example of this is petunias. Petunias usually need to be deadheaded for continuous bloom. However, their Supertunia® series will bloom from planting to frost with no deadheading at all. If you choose plants with low-maintenance needs, you will spend less time on garden tasks and more time enjoying your garden.
Choose Vigorous Plants
I am a big believer in choosing vigorous plants. In my experience, vigor often translates into garden performance. Two of my absolute favorite landscape plants are Supertunia® Vista Bubblegum™ Petunia and Snow Princess® Lobularia. One of the reasons I love these plants so much is they are really vigorous. They grow quickly, cover large areas and have better summer performance than other plants of their type. Fast, large growing plants also mean that you can plant fewer plants, saving both time and money.
Combine Annuals, Bulbs, Perennials and Shrubs
While garden tasks that must be performed throughout the season require more time than ones that are performed once, decreasing the time these one-time tasks takes is good too. I like planting my beds with a backbone of perennials, shrubs and bulbs. These plants provide permanent color in my garden. I leave open spaces, which I fill with annuals for all-summer color. Because perennials, shrubs and bulbs don’t need to be planted each year, spring planting takes less time. There is some, usually yearly, maintenance involved with shrubs, perennials and bulbs, but this maintenance isn’t usually all that time consuming. I combine the advantages of all types of plants with this method.
Weeding is another task that can be time consuming. Preventing weeds can greatly reduce your time commitment. When improving your soil, make sure to use weed-free compost, either bought or make certain your compost pile gets hot enough to kill weed seeds.
Here are some other ideas. Pulling weeds before they set seed will keep existing weeds from spreading. Plant your flowers close enough together that they end up touching, keeping the sun from reaching the ground. Using a two-inch thick layer of weed-seed free mulch around your plants will also prevent sun from reaching the soil. If sun doesn’t shine on the soil, existing weed seeds won’t germinate. An added bonus of mulch is that it helps keep moisture from evaporating and you shouldn’t have to water as often.
Early in the season I weed often, until the plants grow to cover the soil. I don’t mind weeding when temperatures are nice and plants are smaller (they are easier to pull when they are small). When it is smoking hot, I really don’t want to be out there pulling weeds. Putting in the time up front makes things easier the rest of the summer.
Use Controlled Release Fertilizer
Fertilizing is one of the best ways to give your plants a boost. If you are using compost each year, you may not need any supplemental fertilizer. However, if you do want to fertilize, use a controlled-release fertilizer that is applied once or twice a summer. This is much less time consuming than applying a water-soluble fertilizer every 10 days to two weeks.
Install Soaker Hoses, Drip Irrigation or Automatic Irrigation
Watering can be a pretty minimal job, if you water your landscapes less often, but more deeply and use available tools to make watering easier. Soaker hoses, drip and automatic irrigation (or automatic drip irrigation!) are great ways to water your landscapes. These forms of irrigation, utilized correctly, use water efficiently and won’t need the time commitment watering by hand entails.
I tend to install soaker hoses in each of my flower beds. I add quick connector ends to each soaker hose (you can find them at your local garden or hardware store) and a water shutoff valve and the other half of the quick connector to the end of the garden hose. The quick connector allows me to basically snap the water hose to the soaker hose without having the screw the ends together (something that annoyed me to no end!) The shut-off valve means moving the hose without having to turn the water off at the faucet. I have to drag the hose completely across the yard to reach most of my flower beds, so the shut-off valve saves a lot of time.
Use Large Containers
I also subscribe to the theory that bigger is better when it comes to plant containers because they need to be watered less often. A large container holds more soil. More soil holds more water. This means you can water less often. Watering less often means less time is spent watering. What’s not to love! Making sure you water correctly will also help minimize how often you have to water and it will improve plant health.
Choose a Good Potting Soil
Just as good garden soil is the foundation for good plants, good potting soil in your pots is key to great container gardens.
Use Containers in Your Landscape
Putting containers within your landscape beds can be a great way to add height and color or to fill in a spot where a plant died.
Utilize Houseplants Outside
If you have houseplants, you might want to consider moving them outside after the threat of frost has passed. They are easier to care for outside, and watering when you don’t have to worry about getting your floors wet is simpler! Plus, you only have to care for plants in one place, instead of two. Just make sure you treat the plants for insect or disease issues before you move them back inside.
We all want more time relaxing in a comfy chair with a good beverage and if you implement even a few of these ideas you will most certainly have plenty of that this summer. Happy Gardening!
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