I’ve been outside the last three days. In between stints of writing, gardening clears my mind of the spider webs of exhaustion.
While outside, I thought of several things I wanted to share with you. I’m including them in this potpourri of gardening tips and ideas. Here we go:
- Amend your soil with compost, either that which you’ve made or buy some. Nothing will help your garden more. Not even mulch. You can mulch with compost too. I use shredded leaves in early spring. Later, I add Back to Nature and finely ground cedar mulch. I don’t mix the cedar into the compost because it will take up nitrogen as it decomposes. I just place it on top and not very thick. As it decomposes over the season, you get a fine, chocolate cake texture to your soil. If you find a section isn’t draining well, dig holes in empty spaces and put in compost. They are little shots of organic matter, sort of like B-12 for the human body. Earthworms will take them and move throughout the soil. I had a spot where the soil was severely compacted. We’ve had a rainy spring so I could smell that the soil wasn’t quite right. I added a lot of compost to the area to improve drainage. If you have pure clay soils, you may never get them completely amended. Build raised beds or burms instead.
- Install some kind of irrigation now. Whether it’s drip, soaker hoses or some other type of water system, do it before the heat hits. Bill and I have checked on the system that waters the containers. We are also placing the soaker hose in the vegetable garden today. I know this has been a weird and cool spring, but summer will come. You don’t want your plants to die from lack of water. The last thing you’ll want to do outside this summer is setting up sprinklers, or standing with a hose.
- It’s okay to remove plants you hate. Trust me . . . you will plant things you later regret . . . like my monster of a rose bush, ‘Carefree Delight’, planted nearly twenty years ago. It seemed harmless at first but later revealed its true colors. It outgrew its spot every year. I had to cut it back by half to stop this. It was covered, and I do mean covered with prickles (thorns.) After it stuck me in the top of the head this spring while I was working underneath–I sat down in the middle of the garden, had a good cry, and decided it must go. I replaced it with Cotinus ‘Grace’ smokebush. Each time I walk past her, I am so glad ‘Grace’ has come to reign in my garden.
- If you have a small tree like a crapemyrtle you want to keep in shape, you’ll need to cut the shoots coming up from the soil. Otherwise, you’ll have a bush again soon. With grafted trees like dwarf fruit trees, you need to cut any saplings coming up below the graft, or your tree will revert to the larger size. I did that this morning with the Royal Raindrops(r) crabapples. If you have a plant with variegated foliage, and it is showing some foliage not variegated, remove it. If you don’t, you will end up with a non-variegated shrub or tree. I removed some regular stems from my variegated sage yesterday morning.
- Consider annuals living mulch. Plant them thickly and in odd numbers. By living mulch, I mean growing them closely enough together that when as they grown, they’ll force out competing weeds. You will still have to weed, but not as much as time goes by. When planting, dig holes in a staggered fashion like a zig-zag. When the annuals fill in, they will make a mat of color. If you have an empty spot in the garden, add an annual blooming plant or a tropical foliage one.
- Lay something in the vegetable paths to discourage weeds. Vegetables, especially seem to have a hard time with competition from weeds. They will produce less if too crowded. Know your vegetables. Some, like tomatoes and peppers, have long root systems, while others are more shallowly rooted.
- Speaking of weeds, this Dutch hand hoe is my favorite tool for going after them. I bought my first two from Smith & Hawken, and when they went out of business, I was very sad. Then, I saw that Dewit Garden Tools was making them. I bought one, and I’ll probably get another at the end of the season. I use mine constantly. Eventually, it needs sharpening. You can use a sharpening stone or bench grinder to sharpen the edge. Be careful though if you use a bench grinder and wear safety glasses.
- Hire some help in the garden if you need it. However, work alongside your helper to make sure they don’t weed your prize plant when you’re not looking. I sometimes get help with mulching during my busiest season.
- Appreciate Advil and Aleve if you can take them. This is the season where body aches are at their worst. Cutting down on sugar helps body aches too.
- Don’t worry about projects unfinished. You’ll have time to finish painting the arbor once the wind finally subsides.
Finally, let’s be grateful for everything we have. Gardens are all about moments. Sit back once in awhile and enjoy your garden for this one perfect moment because it will never come again. I find I forget to appreciate how beautiful my garden is. I always see the weeds that need pulling or peer ahead for the next big bloom cycle. I forget to just “be.” Let’s all take a moment today and enjoy where we are, and what we have. We only have this one moment anyway.