Through the years I’ve learned there are some jobs worth the effort to keep my yard and garden healthy and looking good. Some of these chores take some extra time and elbow grease, but in the end is a smart way to garden.
1. Pot ’Em Up
The quickest way to great-looking gardens is containers. It’s a great option for those limited on space. And containers’ versatility is endless. Because they’re gardens on the go, you can move them to focus attention where you want it. And the best part? Forget your battle with weeds; you won’t find any in these gardens. There’s no back-breaking digging or amending the soil. And chances of disease are dramatically reduced.
You can consider just about any container for plants. Just keep these points in mind:
- Good drainage is crucial. If the pot doesn’t have holes in the bottom, and you can’t drill any, try to find something else.
- Select a pot large enough to accommodate the plant’s root system.
- Plastic vs. clay. Both are excellent houses for plants. Plastic is lighter weight and comes in a wide range of colors and styles. Clay is porous; it breathes. Clay absorbs water, which means more watering. It is heavier and more costly but has a classic look.
- Other materials. If you use baskets, they must be lined. Tins, shoes, crates, etc., work as long as the materials are not chemically treated and have drainage holes.
2. Planting/Transplanting Trees and Shrubs
I’m always rearranging my garden—moving plants, trees and shrubs. A few years ago I stumbled on a great “sweet” tip to prevent transplanting shock.
Testing from the Bartlett Tree Research Lab found that watering newly planted trees and shrubs with sugar water for the first four weeks actually reduces stress and encourages root development. Their recipe: Mix 1½ cups table sugar into 1 gallon water. Water tree or shrub with ½ gallon of the sugar water once a week for four weeks, then stop. That’s it. And it really seems to work.
Also, if I’m planning to move or plant new trees and/or shrubs, I do it in spring to give the plant a full growing season to establish itself. I dig a hole about three to four times wider than the root ball and shape the hole like a large saucer. If planting a tree I learned to locate the root flare (first horizontal root) and plant the tree so it is at or slightly below the soil surface.
3. Mulch Madness
Mulching is invaluable in the garden. Mulch looks good, retains moisture while keeping plants hydrated, keeps soil cool and smothers weeds. During the winter in our area, it helps keep the temperatures from fluctuating, preventing frost heaving.
There are many different kinds of mulch. I love using grass clippings in the veggie garden. They offer a quick snack of nitrogen and break down quickly. In my landscape I prefer shredded mulch. I like the way it looks, and it’s easy to move around. The key with mulching is to be generous. A 1-in layer won’t cut it. To reap the benefits of mulch, I apply a layer at least 3 inches thick. If I can spare the time, I go the distance and lay down a few layers of newspaper first, then put mulch on top. The newspaper acts as a weak barrier for a couple of years—less work for me!
4. Dividing Perennials
Perennial plants might cost more up front, but in the long run they are terrific investments. Part of keeping perennials healthy and growing beautifully comes from dividing them every three to five years; otherwise they get overgrown and choke themselves to death. Dividing means digging the plant up, cutting it into pieces and replanting each piece. One plant could easily turn into five! You can divide most plants anytime, but if you want to enjoy the seasonal blooms, here’s a good rule of (green) thumb: Divide spring-blooming plants in fall and fall-blooming plants in spring.
5. Crop Rotation
Planting vegetable gardens shouldn’t be complicated. But you’ll save yourself huge headaches if you plant veggies according to their families to help avoid the spread of disease and benefit from other plants. To do this I divide my veggie garden into quadrants and plant crops in the same family together. Then I move the family into a new quadrant the following year. By rotating the crops, the plants help each other: Legumes, such as beans and peas, put nitrogen into the soil, so it makes sense to plant the nitrogen-loving nightshade crops (tomatoes, peppers and eggplant) where the legumes grew last season.