I find myself in hundreds of yards every year helping clients make the most of their outdoor living spaces.  Over the years, themes, styles and trends come and go and I find these ever-changing inclinations fascinating and certainly insightful as a “green industry” professional.  When recently asked to prepare a program for a Master Gardeners training workshop I thought long and hard about what tendencies I could pull from my experiences that could provide a glimpse of an ongoing trend within todays landscaping activities.  As I considered the subject matter of my client visits and conversations, a recurring theme became apparent; help me streamline my gardening tasks and make it easier to maintain my yard.” Both young and old, large gardens and small, experienced and novice gardeners alike are seeking efficiency in their gardening efforts.  So a new program was born; 10 Ways to Make Your Gardens Easier to Maintain.  As best I could, I identified the Top 10 (David Letterman style) time consuming gardening activities; cutting grass, pruning, planting, spraying, fertilizing, watering, raking leaves, mulching, weeding and “the death stare.”  Absent accompanying pictures and sufficient time/space to completely communicate my entire program lets focus on the activities we are most likely to encounter this time of year. 

For those of you who cut your own grass, this may be where you spend the greatest portion of your gardening efforts.  To help reduce time on the mower consider using organic lawn foods that help eliminate excessive growth that can occur with faster acting, synthetic fertilizers.   

Weeding can be a therapeutic activity but too much of any good thing is still too much.  To help curtail weeding time in the garden consider the use of pre-emergent weed controls (Preen) that destroy weed seeds before they grow.  Continue to maintain a healthy layer of mulch to keep weeds from easily growing in your garden beds.   

Fertilizer is often misunderstood and improperly utilized.  I am a big proponent of organic fertilizers that not only feed your plants but greatly enhance the health of your soil.  Organic fertilizers help colonies of beneficial microbes develop within soils producing essential plant nutrients and improving basic soil structure.  Healthy soil makes for healthy plants making everything we do in the garden more productive.  Lawns, trees, shrubs, perennials and vegetables would all greatly benefit from the use of organic fertilizers.  Personally, I find the use of slow release fertilizers and/or water soluble plant foods most suitable for container gardens and hanging baskets.   

Mulching is another activity that many gardeners make much more difficult and time consuming than necessary.  First, many folks spread fresh mulch even though there is sufficient material already in place.  Often, a thorough cultivation of the beds is all that is needed to provide that fresh and clean look.  (The Garden Weasel is a great tool for this job.)  Next, realize that not all your gardens need to be mulched all at the same time.  Splitting up this task into smaller increments may be the best way to tackle larger mulching jobs.  Consider mulching perennial gardens in the fall, after plants are trimmed down, greatly reducing time required to do the same task when plants are actively growing in spring.   In larger mulched areas groundcover plants can eliminate the need for mulch as well as choke out weed growth.  Lastly, consider mulch products that persist and do not degrade quickly.  Pine nuggets, pine straw and washed gravel are examples of mulches with extended lifespans. 

We are very fortunate to live in an area with abundant water resources, but that doesn’t mean we can’t save time and energy with how we go about watering our gardens.  First, and foremost, the cool season turf grasses we have in our lawns are adaptable to summer drought and (in most cases) are quite capable of dealing with extended periods of little rainfall.  Plants in beds rarely (if ever) should require supplemental irrigation if bed soils are properly prepared before planting and proper design utilized plants adapted to specific planting locations.  Far too often we discover that a plant is suffering not from a lack of care but improper placement in the landscape.  Utilizing larger pots and high quality potting soils in our container gardens can make watering much easier and save time.  Small pots in hot sun are difficult to maintain making a seemingly simple task exceptionally difficult. 

Pruning is one of the more specialized gardening tasks requiring specific plant knowledge to be most effective and efficient.  Done correctly, pruning can greatly enhance the performance of and extend the lifespan of your landscape plantings, but if done improperly will deliver quite the opposite results.  Consulting with a landscape professional to help you better know your specific plants and their pruning needs is a worthwhile expenditure for those of you who want to do more than just chop away and hope for the best.   

To be efficient in our planting activities we really need to be aware of 2 major considerations; plant selection and site preparation.  Selecting the right plant for the right place means taking into consideration plant size, growth rate and site conditions.  A 10’ plant improperly planted in front of a 4’ window is far more common that you would think.  Preparing the soil for planting can be very easy or very difficult depending on the sliding scale of variables we are dealing with.  On one hand we have a range of soil conditions from wonderful loam to heavy, wet clay or dry, sandy soils.  On the other hand we have plants that may be adaptable to any one of or many of these soil conditions and we need know if we are adapting our plant to the soils or our soils to the plant.   

Luckily we have very little spraying to do any more given the resistance most of our newer plants have to general pests and diseases.  Some of us may still find a need to spray from time to time, but better soil preparation and plant choices can eliminate most all spraying needs.   

Raking leaves is an example I use to illustrate the few gardening tasks that are simply best hired out rather than done ourselves.  A crew of 5 with commercial blowers makes quick work of leaf cleanups saving an entire weekend for most of us.  Extensive bed preparation, tree/stump removal and landscape design are other tasks that are often best hired out to professionals.   

Last, but not least, is the dreaded “Death Stare.”  Realize it or not, we have all been there.  Looking at a job pondering the best way to go about it… is it a weed or a flower?  Should I cut this now or later?  Plant it here or there?  So there we are, staring off into space wasting our limited gardening time wondering what to do instead of doing.  Experts in the “green industry” are here to provide you the information you need to be efficient and successful in all your gardening pursuits.  Whether you spend 12 hours a week in the garden or 12 minutes, we want your time to be well spent, so utilize your local experts and seek their advice and make your gardening time as fun and fruitful as possible. 

Now go outside and have fun in the dirt.