The Joy Factor
Here's my secret for successful and smart gardening: Think of it as joy, not work! Approach your garden every day as you would an old friend. Talk to it, walk it, enjoy the blossoms. After the fun, set aside just 10 to 20 minutes each day to tackle a weedy problem area. Don't let it overwhelm you -- just bend to the task and enjoy the simple acts of hoeing and weeding. A weed pulled and composted before blooming and setting seed is a weed conquered. Now, blanket your soil under 2 to 4 inches of mulch and move on to another area.
Pay Attention to Insect Pests
Your attention is the best preventive medicine for pests. Got aphids? Spray them off plants with water. Or, use packing tape wrapped around your hand to blot them away. Earwigs nibbling lettuce? Fill a shallow saucer with canola oil and a topping of soy sauce. Set it in the garden at night, and then remove (and dispose of casualties) in the morning. Repeat as needed. Cucumber beetles devastating plants? Suck 'em up with a shop vacuum. Or, stand by a plant under attack and hit it lightly with a stick while holding a bucket of soapy water below. Beetles drop for cover and -- did I mention? --they don't swim.
Warm Up to Worms
Millions of gallons of water and the makings of good garden compost are flushed down garbage disposals each day. You need worms. Red wigglers are undemanding "pets" known as vermi-composters. They'll thrive in a bin or even a covered garbage can, and they can eat pounds of your garbage every week. Use their castings to fertilize your garden for free.
Conserve and Save
Conserve water. This may seem like old news, but we need to be aware of every drop of water we use. Keep an empty bucket in your shower and catch the water before it turns hot, then use it to water plants. Reuse any vegetable water (unsalted) and dump tea and coffee liquid and grounds around the base of acid-loving plants such as camellias, azaleas, hydrangeas, and gardenias.