by Ken Lain, the mountain gardener
Time seems to stand still when the stressed voices repeat themselves in my head, but not in the garden; an unplugged afternoon seems to melt away like a fading sun. Gardening is my escape from a hyper connected world of facebook, inbox and scolling instagram posts. It becomes my inspiration when spending too much time writing behind this screen. A good garden is coffee time with your thoughts, watching a sunrise, the majesty of a butterfly, or the buzzing of hummingbirds.
Gardener is a label proudly worn, but there are some unpleasant tasks that can be eliminated. Weeds are my nemesis, watering is a bane, and chemicals avoided for a life lived well. Simplify is my motto in the garden. Do something right the first time, so not to repeat. Quality over quantity are motos above my monitor before writing any garden advice.
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 make for more beauty with less work.
Feed the Soil – Start with great soil and you’ll grow great plants. Many gardeners only view mulch as decoration. Composted mulch does make a garden look more attractive, but it also keeps the soil and plant roots cool, retains moisture so you can water less often, prevents weeds from sprouting and feeds the soil. Right there you’ve cut down on watering, weeding and fertilizer time.
Many of you are gardening in dead soil and don’t even realize. The little top soil that was on you 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. You will need to rebuild the soil.
Choose Lower Maintenance Perennials – Make perennial flowers the backbone of your garden that take care of themselves. Plants like red Salvia, blue Russian sage, agave, yucca, and sedums look good all season and don’t need deadheading, pinching or staking. Here are even more low maintenance perennials.
Raised Beds & Containers – It’s much easier to control your garden with definite boundaries. You control the soil, water, exposure and even limit the growth of the plants in containers. Raised beds separate the garden beds from their surroundings. Ideally, lift the beds up by 12 inches or more. You’ll have the benefits of controlling your borders and you’ll be saving your back from some bending.
Insider Container Tip – fill containers with Watters Potting Soil. This local soil recipe was created with mountain plants in mind. Plants love the flavor and root deep into the soil without becoming soggy wet.
Group plants by their needs – I’m sure you’ve heard the saying “Right plant for the right spot.” Put sun lovers in the sun and ground covers where they can roam. But consider how efficient it would be if you put all your water hogs together so you turn on the sprinklers on in one area and done. The same for plants that require a lot of deadheading or vegetables that need a daily harvest. You can still mix in different bloom times and variations in color, form, and texture. It’s just the heavy maintenance chores should be consolidated.
Aqua Boost & Drip Irrigation– This is one of those suggestions that sounds like it’s going to cost a fortune and require a professional to install, but it doesn’t have to. Here at the garden center, we reduced drip irrigation to a tinker toy level. There is an initial cost, although nowhere near what you might think, and you need some measurements. Drip irrigation is far more efficient than any other type of watering. It pushes water deep into the root level. Add an inexpensive timer and think of all the time you’ve saved yourself.
Aqua Boost Crystal cuts the number of times you need to water in half. These Watters created crystals absorb 200 times their weight in water that holds moisture 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 a better update for young plants. Watters All Purpose Food 7-4-4 was created with mountain plants in mind. It feeds landscape plants better, and less likely to pollute your well and the local water sources. Because of the slow breakdown of this food plants have time to take up and use all the food, unlike synthetic fertilizers. Use three times a year, spring, summer and fall.
Stop using synthetic fertilizers like Miracal 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 started, you gardens need more doses to get the same effect. Very labor intensive.
Prevent Weeds – PreEmergants prevent seed from ever germinating, but timing is everything. I use Hi-Yield Weed & Grass Preventer twice and year and rarely have weed outbreaks. Apply now as the monsoon rains begin and again just after the New Year. This winter/summer application greatly reduce the work needed weeding. One bag covers a very large garden plot.
New Tools – Good tools make the difference. 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. Get yourself at least one good garden cart, wheelbarrow, or hand dolly. They just make everything around the house easier. If you have a very large plot, consider something motorized.
Child 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 released them into the 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. Show your children and grandchildren how exciting gardening is.
Until next week, I’ll see you here at Watters Garden Center.