With the warm days of spring finally upon us, now is the time to get outside and tidy up the yard, the gardens and address the various winter damage caused to your lawn. Enjoy this article I’ve written and find a few tips and tricks.
Simple Tips for Simple Summer Gardening.
Psst… I’m a man and yes, I’m a gardener. There, I said it. Ask anyone who knows me and they’ll tell you that next to seeing my children become young adults, there are few things in my life that are as rewarding as the things I grow.
Like you, my life is complex enough without adding work. Yup, I like simple things. The way the air smells after a thunderstorm, watching families at a park, and enjoying the fragrances and beauty found in one or more of my gardens. But simplicity lends itself to balancing the complexity of life. While I may love to garden, I tend to like to do it the easy way. That includes minimizing weeding hours, simplifying chores, and investing a bit of time in the spring so that a summer garden provides pleasure without all the work.
There are a few tips that you can borrow from this lazy gardener that will help you reap the benefits and minimize the work all summer long.
Let’s start with the tools: Secateurs, hand trowel, Tine hoe, and a sturdy rake. Before I head out in the spring, the first thing I do is make sure my clippers and my trowel are sharp. There’s nothing that says WORK quite like a pair of dull clippers. They’re easy to sharpen by running them across a grinding wheel or taking a file to them. A few one directional strokes, and cleaning out the stems from last year’s spent blooms becomes simple and efficient. Collect cut stems in big paper landscaping bags so they can become someone else’s compost. Save the small stuff we’ll gently rake out of the beds for your own composter.
Soil testing is an important step both for new gardeners, but also for the experienced green thumb too. By knowing what your soils composition is (Sand, Clay, Loam or any combination of the three), it’s easy to amend, modify or enhance. And more importantly, we lazy gardeners like to know what we have so we can pick the plants that will work well within your garden. PH, composition, and suggested amendments are analyzed and included in most reputable soil tests. If you know what you have, you can change it, or you can live with it. It’s a personal choice.
Getting an early start might seem like a lot of work, but removing those spent annuals, hosta leaves, and perennial stems at this time of year gets your garden to first base. Those stems harbor last years diseases and often last year’s pests. Do yourself a favour and eliminate possible pests early, before they become a problem later in the year. If you have a plant that gives your trouble, either help it to heal, learn to accept it for what it is, or take the easy way out and get rid of it. There is advice a-plenty available on line, from local garden centers or from Master Gardeners of Ontario Inc if you have any questions about pests and diseases and how to combat them organically.
I like to keep track of what works, and what doesn’t work in my gardens. Sometimes I’ll plant seeds that do well, but other times they just don’t perform. I love blooms of all colours, shapes and textures. From the paper thin Oriental Poppies, to the more defined forms of snap dragons, and the bountiful bouquet of roses and Peony, I keep journals of what grows well, and where it does well. If it doesn’t fit, it doesn’t stay. By journaling, you can save the effort of planting what didn’t work last year. Did your wave petunias need constant watering last year? Even though they were beautiful, I spent way too much time pinching them back so their flowing stems likely won’t have a return ticket to my yard.
Check the shed or garage for chemicals, fertilizers and the like that may be old, outdated, or even illegal. Herbicides and pesticides are banned in many provinces in Canada, and while they can simplify the eradication of aphids for example, I tend to use alternate methods. You guessed it, I scrap the bug infested plants for more beneficial plants that attract bees, butterflies and other pollinators to my beds.
We all dislike weeds, but there are a few easy ways to eliminate their persistent re-appearance. Pull them before they flower, remove the seed heads if they do, and pull them out by the root if possible. Then get rid of them. April is a good time to pull out any that have hung around over the winter, and to kill off any seeds still in the soil (and some will last for 5, 10 or even 20 years in the seed bank), try a simple solarization technique. Remove the living weeds, then cover the area you want controlled with thin clear plastic sheeting. Keep it on the soil with rocks, or dirt, and after about 10 days of warm-ish weather, it will burn off those seeds up to a depth of 4”. Take the plastic off and you’re ready to plant into weed seed free soil. Most importantly, you will reduce your weeding time substantially.
If you’re planning to work with a professional, contact them early to avoid being put on a waiting list. Spring is when landscapers, designers, and contractors get busy. The good ones are often booked ahead, so reserve your spot early to avoid disappointment.
The warm weather WILL return, and a little work now will save hours of sweaty labour when all you really want to do is enjoy your garden. After all, a tall glass of iced tea, a cold corona, a martini and a summer garden are best enjoyed from a lounge chair. That’s where you’ll find me: Writing about gardens, planning and designing my newest client’s gardens, picking bouquets for the house, and enjoying my summer garden without all the work.