by Ken Lain, the mountain gardener
Time seems to drag when the voices of stress repeat themselves in my head, but stress is never an issue in the garden. Gardening is my escape from a hyper-connected world of Facebook, inbox, and scrolling Instagram posts. Gardening becomes my inspiration after spending too much time writing at my computer screen. A healing dose of garden can be coffee time with my thoughts, watching a sunrise, the majesty of a butterfly, or the buzzing of hummingbirds. Even gardening tasks can bring the same renewal of my spirit.
Gardener is a label I wear proudly, but there are some unpleasant gardening tasks that I wish could be eliminated from the job description. Weeds are my nemesis, watering is a bane, and chemicals are no-nos for a life lived well. Simplify is my motto in the garden. Simplification can be exemplified in doing something right the first time, so as not to perform the same thing again. Above my computer monitor is ‘Quality over Quantity’, one of the mottoes that I observe before writing anything about gardening. It’s a motto that applies to my philosophy of gardening, too.
Below are personal garden tips that make local gardening easier. I know some of the tips are common sense, and some seem like more work in the short term, but together they truly make for a more beautiful garden with less work.
Feed the Soil – Start with great soil and you’ll grow great plants. Many gardeners consider mulch only as decoration, as composted mulch does make a garden look more attractive. However, mulch also keeps soil and plant roots cool, retains moisture so plants need fewer waterings, it prevents weeds from sprouting, and feeds the soil. That simple list of mulch’s effects cuts down on watering, weeding, and fertilizing time.
Many folks are gardening in dead soil and don’t even realize it. The little topsoil that was on a home’s property was scraped away by the home builder to make room for footers, driveways, and patios. No living organisms, worms, or beneficial fungi remain in the soil. That’s why most soils need to be rebuilt to enable successful gardening results.
Choose Lower Maintenance Perennials – Perennial flowers that take care of themselves should provide the backbone of every garden. Plants like red salvia, blue Russian sage, agave, yucca, and sedums look good all season and don’t need deadheading, pinching, or staking. Click here for a link to more low maintenance perennials.
Raised Beds & Containers – It’s much easier to control a garden with definite boundaries. With containers, gardeners can create boundaries that allow control of the soil, water, exposure, and even limit the growth of the plants. Raised beds separate the garden beds from their surroundings. Not only do raised beds have the benefits of controlling a garden’s borders, but they are every gardener’s panacea to avoid back pain from too much bending!
Container Tip – Fill containers with Watters Potting Soil. This local soil recipe was created with mountain plants in mind. Plants love the “flavor” of the blend and quickly develop deep, nourishing roots.
Group plants by their needs – I’m sure you’ve heard the saying “Right plant for the right spot.” Gardeners logically put sun lovers in the sun and ground covers where they can roam. But consider how efficient it would be if all water hogs were planted together so sprinklers could be run more generously in one area only. Grouping is effective for plants that require a lot of deadheading or for vegetables that need a daily harvest. You can still enjoy different bloom times and variations in color, form, and texture. It’s just the heavy maintenance chores can be consolidated to certain areas.
Aqua Boost & Drip Irrigation– Drip irrigation is far more efficient than any other type of watering, as it pushes water deeply into the root level. A drip system sounds like it’s going to cost a fortune and require a professional to install, but that doesn’t have to be the case. Here at the garden center, we have reduced the science of drip irrigation to a Tinker Toy level of difficulty. Of course, there is an initial cost, although nowhere near what might be expected, and some measurements will be needed to determine amounts of materials for set-up. Add an inexpensive timer and plants are in for enhanced watering without a drain on the garden time.
Aqua Boost Crystals cut in half the number of times plants need to be watered. Watters’ crystals absorb 200 times their weight in water that is held at the root level. Beneficial mycorrhizal fungi are used in this formula to revitalize garden soil and stimulate additional root formation. A must for raised beds and container gardening.
Watters All Purpose Food – Natural garden foods break down slowly and allow better uptake for young plants. Watters All Purpose Food 7-4-4 was created with mountain plants in mind. It feeds landscape plants more effectively and is less likely to pollute well and local water sources. Because of the slow breakdown of this food plants have time to assimilate all the food, unlike synthetic fertilizers. It’s easy to use three times a year, in spring, summer, and fall.
Stop using synthetic fertilizers like Miracle Grow and Scotts turf builder products. These nationally branded fertilizers actually destroy beneficial organisms and organic matter within the soil and only provide a short fix. It’s like turning your garden into a drug addict. Once used, gardens need more doses to get the same effect. Also, they are very labor-intensive.
Prevent Weeds – PreEmergents prevent seeds from ever germinating, but timing is essential to good results. I use Hi-Yield Weed & Grass Stopper twice a year and rarely have weed outbreaks. I apply it now as the monsoon rains begin and again just after the New Year. This winter/summer application program greatly reduces the time spent weeding. One bag covers a very large garden plot.
New Tools – Good tools make a big difference in reducing a gardener’s fatigue. A lot of gardening is repetitive motion and can be stressful on the joints, especially the wrists and back. Tool companies have created better tools that work with the body. There’s nothing better than using a new, sharp tool in the garden.
Garden Carts – How long have you put off moving that cement bird bath, and how many plants are still sitting in pots on your driveway because you didn’t want to make “one more trip”? Every garden should boast at least one good garden cart, wheelbarrow, or hand dolly. They make many tasks easier around the garden and the house. If you have a very large plot, consider something motorized.
Children in the Garden– Lisa and I have raised four children here at the garden center. The kids, especially the boys, spent untold hours filling coffee cans with worms found under nursery pots, then releasing them into our home gardens. Youthful delight is found in the magic of insects, a vegetable harvest, flowers emerging from the ground, or feeding fish in a pond. Kids like to be outdoors; they just need a mature gardener to lead the way. Teaching by example can show our children and grandchildren how exciting gardening can be.
Until next week, I’ll see you here at Watters Garden Center.