Writer : habits

Good Gardening Habits

People often marvel that in addition to running a business I maintain my gardens without help. Over the years, I've discovered that efficient maintenance habits, the right tools, and a few tricks can maximize my time. The diligence of a thorough weeding in the spring, yearly mulch, and preventing weeds from seeding are important principles, but no matter what the task, I pay close attention to the point when I cease to enjoy what I'm doing. If I've lost interest or energy, I'm usually less efficient and diligent, and that means I need to switch to another task, take a break, or quit. Garden maintenance has a lot of repetitive chores: weeding, mulching, staking, edging, deadheading, mowing lawn, pruning, dividing, watering, feeding. These are tasks that need to be done at the least yearly, usually weekly, and sometimes daily. If you hate doing a few of the primary tasks, your garden can quickly get out of control.

Take weeding, it can be a monotonous, backbreaking, cycle. No matter how virtuous your habits, weeds happen. If you hate to weed, do it in small chunks (maybe just ten minutes) and do a good job. Follow weeding with something you like to do. Positive reinforcement helps, so does using the right tool for the job. Attacking a large weed with a hand trowel puts enormous strain on your hands and wrists, takes much more energy, and probably won't be successful. Use a spading fork. Loosen the weed's hold in the ground by inserting the fork on several sides, wiggling, and gently lifting. Then pull the weed out by hand. There should be little damage to surrounding plants. I guarantee the task will be quicker and easier in the spring, and sometimes that's the only window of opportunity for eradicating a large burdock.

Resist the temptation to hack off the top of a perennial weed. It encourages growth and makes the weed twice as hard to get out. Wait until you have the right tool and spend ten minutes digging out a few big weeds. You'll save time in the long run. What if you keep forgetting the tools? A dandelion will remind you by getting bigger, by flowering, by producing copious seed, and a gazillion seedlings. Now you're REALLY overwhelmed. What to do? Accept the consequence of not weeding. If you know yourself and know you'll never convince yourself to weed enough to be in control, maybe you should hire someone else, or redefine your garden as "a place where any plant grows and flowers."

Before you reach that point I have a few other suggestions. Try to make weeding more physically comfortable. I can't kneel, so whenever possible I weed from a short, three-legged stool. If I bend from the waist when I lean forward this motion actually stretches and strengthens my lower back. The three-legged stool fits over and between plants to disburse my weight and lessen soil compaction. The stool also tilts when I lean, increasing my reachable range. Someone once asked, while observing this phenomenon, how I attached the stool to my pants!

Now I've a big confession to make. I like to weed. I even (horrors) encourage or leave some weeds to grow bigger because they make great compost. Yes, at times I do more weeding than I like or want, but for me weeding does triple, sometimes quadruple, duty (and that's not counting the back exercise). It puts me nose to leaf with my plants where I can catch bugs or disease problems early. I keep track of who's growing into whom and find seedlings and offshoots to move elsewhere. In between taking note of what's happening in front of me, I also plan gardens, my day, my life, and generally have time to reflect upon the universe. In fact one of the great things about gardening is that many tasks don't take 100% concentration. The mind is free to wander off to places needing extra time. Some of the best and hardest decisions of my life have percolated through a good weeding session. There have also been times when weeding, as a forced priority, has kept me from embarking prematurely on an unnecessary project. I guess you could say that, for me, weeding isn't so much time lost as time gained.

If you can't muster that much enthusiasm, here are a few tricks. Learn to tell annual weeds from perennial weeds. When lack of time forces priorities, leave the annuals. If you don't pull annual weeds out completely at least you've delayed flowering and seeding; they'll die at the end of the season anyway. Edging is another trick. Even weeds look attractive in a well edged garden. Or maybe the justification should be, who in their right mind would edge a garden full of weeds? Mulch can play a blanket role. If you find your garden carpeted with a dense crop of young weeds, a two to three inch cover of mulch will smother them. You not only save yourself the drudgery of weeding, you've done your garden a favor. Every gardener has a bag of tricks. Gardening is like a good board game. The luck of the roll comes and goes, but you can always control the strategy.