By our very nature, gardeners are well grounded. We’re inventive, not afraid of hard work, ready to try new things, clued in to the world around us and ever mindful of the earth’s natural resources. In short we’re no dopes.
We soak up garden tips like dahlias soak up sunshine. With that in mind, here are five ways to make sure you garden smart in 2013.
1. Compost, Compost, Compost
You don’t have to depend on store-bought fertilizers to enrich your garden before planting. Instead go organic and look around your kitchen. Make your own compost with raw vegetable scraps, fresh fruit waste, eggshells, coffee grounds and used tea bags. But avoid meat, oil, dairy products or cooked food, all of which might attract animals). Keep a compost bucket—something bright and cheery—in your kitchen.
When it’s full, dump the contents in your outside pile or container, where you can add shredded leaves, untreated grass clippings, straw and even dirt. Keep the pile moist and turn it occasionally.
2. Don’t Treat Mulch Lightly
It may seem like magic, but mulch is the real deal. Treat it right and mulch will smother weeds, conserve water and moderate soil temperature around roots. Remember that you don’t have to pile it on. A 2- to 3-in covering is just fine. Otherwise you’ll choke the plant. Spread the mulch after the earth warms up in the spring or freezes in winter.
And stay smart by using organic mulch—shredded tree bark is excellent—that breaks down and nourishes the garden.
3. Trash Saves Cash
Before you buy a fancy harvest basket, take a second look at that ancient plastic laundry basket—the one with latticelike sides. It’ll work just as well as a basket for newly harvested squash and tomatoes as it does for shirts and towels. It’s perfect for hosing off the veggies. And that’s just for openers. Use egg cartons for germinating seeds, keep your pruners and trowels in a cast-off mailbox, and fill empty tuna cans with beer to do in slugs. Or use old tea kettles or worn-out boots—or just about anything—as planters.
4. Water Without Waste
Water is our most precious resource. I’m not advocating rain dances but I am suggesting that we use our water wisely. In general slow and steady should be your strategy when watering the garden. This is best achieved with low-pressure soaker hoses or, if you can afford it, a drip-irrigation system, which, in the long run may be worth the money.
Soaking is best because it enables moisture to seep down to roots, and you don’t lose the moisture to evaporation or runoff. If you object to a soaker hose snaking through the beds, just cover them with mulch. If you use overhead sprinklers or rely on hoses, try to water in the morning so foliage dries before the cool of night comes. Install a sensor that turns off your system when it rains.
Also, rain barrels are good ideas, and rain gauges come in handy.
5. Plant Between the Rows
It’s called interplanting, and it pays off in produce. All you have to do is interplant fast-growing crops between slower-growing ones. For instance sow lettuce between rows of broccoli. The lettuce already will have come and gone in your salad bowl by the time the broccoli needs the extra room.
Or as the summer starts to wane, plant cool-weather crops between warm-weather veggies that are passing their peak. And I’ve been known to plant ‘Bright Lights’ Swiss chard, lettuce, and even tomatoes in my flower borders.
So resolve to garden smarter in 2013. Get an “A” for garden excellence.