Professional gardeners have developed many time-saving hacks to get the most out of their garden maintenance efforts. Use these tips to help you work smarter, not harder, towards a beautiful, well-kept, and healthy garden.
Use The Right Tool
Hand tools are the small garden’s best friend. High-quality pruners last for years and make pruning much easier. Garden sickles make cutbacks a breeze and a hori hori is fantastic for weeding and planting. Use a tarp or lawn bag to reduce cleanup time by saving trips to and from the compost pile.
When maintaining larger landscapes, consider power tools. Use line trimmers to control large patches of weeds instead of hand pulling. A mower or hedge trimmer can speed up perennial cutbacks in springtime and an electric leaf blower keeps long driveways tidy.
Don’t Pull Every Weed
Know your weeds! Annual weeds last only one year, so stop them from going to seed instead of pulling them. Periodically mow or line-trim large patches of Japanese stiltgrass (Microstegium vimineum) starting in late summer to stop it from flowering. If you start too early in the year, it will seed below where it was cut; timing is critical.
Garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata) is a biennial, meaning it lives only two years, flowering in the second year. Use a line trimmer to cut off garlic mustard’s flowering tops for easy control.
Remember that there is a seed bank in the soil that may take several years to deplete. Repeat these maintenance steps at the same time each year until annual and biennial weeds are under control.
Perennial weeds grow back every year. Dig perennial plants up entirely or keep them severely cut back to deplete them of sunlight and nutrients until they eventually die. For persistent perennials, some people choose chemical intervention. IPM is the least toxic and safest way to approach chemical use. Don’t forget; always follow the instructions on the pesticide label.
Compost Weeds on the Spot
Did you know that garden waste is just compost in the making? Hide garden debris in beds and it will break down into nutrient-rich soil. Pull weeds and drop them in place or toss them behind some shrubs where they are out of sight. Just be sure to remove seed heads or any plants that may re-root, like ground ivy.
Nature abhors a vacuum, so think like Mother Nature! Plant shrubs and perennials close together to out-compete unwanted weeds. Use colonizing shrubs like Virginia sweetspire (Itea virginica), sumac (Rhus) species or red twig dogwood (Swida sericea, syn. Cornus sericea) and underplant with perennials like golden ragwort (Packera aurea) or sea oats (Chasmanthium latifolium). Then let nature do the rest. Try to fill different vertical layers, especially the ground layer, so that weeds won’t have a chance to get established.
Set Garden Maintenance Priorities
When you are short on time, focus on areas that you see often, like the beds next to the front door or under the kitchen window. Weed and prune the edges of a bed first. This is the lowest-effort, highest-impact way to make a garden look cared for.
For those “out of sight, out of mind” areas, embrace a little messiness! Just make sure to stop invasive plants from spreading.
When tackling large areas that are overrun with weeds, focus on one weed species at a time to maximize efficiency. Target each species at a critical time in its lifecycle, like when it is emerging from winter dormancy or when it is about to go to seed. The correct time to intervene varies by species.
Use Free Mulch
Fallen leaves are garden heroes, providing essential habitat and food for native insects and other wildlife. They also break down to add nutrients to your garden and improve soil structure. So, leave the leaves in your garden beds! Just be sure get them off your lawn; piles of leaves will kill turf over time.
If the volume of leaves is too large or if you’re not sold on the look of whole leaves in your beds, chop them lightly with a lawnmower. Just note that this removes much of the benefit to wildlife.
During spring perennial cutbacks, chop last year’s dry foliage and leave this in place as well.
Another source of free mulch is green. Encourage wild violets and other ground covers to grow in empty spaces. This “green mulch” outcompetes weeds and feeds pollinators, too!
Not all areas need to be mowed frequently. Change your garden maintenance habits for areas of low use and mow monthly, not weekly, for a more natural look with sweeping edges and interesting paths. Only mow if the area gets weedy or if you want to change its layout.
For larger areas, consider installing a meadow! Warm-season grass and wildflower meadows should only be cut once a year and they’re important ecosystems for pollinators and other wildlife.
Right Plant, Right Place
This is the golden rule of landscape design. Select plants for the existing space and conditions, combine them appropriately, and they will thrive. Plant vigorous plants together and save specialty plants for the perfect spot.
Instead of repeatedly pruning shrubs to keep them off sidewalks or below windows, replace them with plants of the appropriate size. In a well-designed garden, shearing and pruning for size is simply not necessary.
Feeling lost? Why not consult with an experienced landscape designer?
Regular monitoring is critical to catching potential issues before they become major problems. Look for invasive plant species on neighboring properties to see what might try to move onto yours. Stop infestations before they become established! A monthly walk-through can eliminate hours of labor in the future.
Hire A Gardener!
If you’re still struggling to keep up with your garden’s maintenance needs, give us a call! GreenWeaver’s experienced gardening team will be happy to help.